What is the Ha Giang Loop?
The Ha Giang loop is a motorbike loop that acquaintances you with the northernmost province of Vietnam, Ha Giang Province, that borders with China.
The time to complete the Ha Giang loop route varies. You have to keep in mind that the key point is not to rush it out and enjoy each second. If you're prepared to ride through steep cliffs and bumpy roads, you will be significantly rewarded for your efforts!
Ha Giang loop is home of the most breathtaking mountain passes in all of Vietnam and even Southeast Asia. The Ma Pi Leng Pass is nothing short of magical!
On your way, you come across numerous ethnic minority communities, who have unique customs and traditions.
Of course, on each stop on the Ha Giang loop, there will be plenty of accommodation options available, even for shoestring budget travelers. You can enjoy the authentic family-style meal at most accommodations you choose.
Ha Giang loop and the province itself has gained some popularity among backpackers in recent years, but tourism is still in its early stages. That means that the Ha Giang Province is still untouched by massive tourism that is plaguing lots of places around Vietnam.
Time to Complete
The total distance of the Ha Giang loop is around 350 km. You can easily make it to over 400 km taking numerous side routes and a longer route back (which we encourage you to do, by the way!).
You can manage to complete the Ha Giang loop in 2 days, which we don't recommend since it's very dangerous to rush on these steep passes. Keep in mind that you will miss out of most side routes and amazing scenery if you decide to ride the Ha Giang loop in just 2 days.
Take at least 5 days for this journey for a memorable experience. That way, you won't have fears of missing out! So, do yourself a favor and take your time exploring all that the Ha Giang loop has to offer! You won't be disappointed, we promise!
Road Conditions in the Ha Giang Loop
Road conditions between the main stops on the Ha Giang loop have drastically improved in recent years.
The loop is full of mountain passes that are carved into the cliffs that haul high above the river valleys and side roads that rush through limestone karst landscapes. The scenery itself is nothing short of breathtaking, and words can hardly describe the wonder of it all.
Expect paved roads in mountainous terrain, some rough sections and light traffic. There are still some rough road sections that are under repairs or suffer from landslides. Also, lots of potholes!
The ride through the Ha Giang loop can be challenging at times and we don't recommend beginners to drive on their own. You will often run into narrow roads and occasions where big construction trucks will block your way. The buses and truck drivers will drive like crazy and will seem to give little attention to safety.
Want to drive from Hanoi to Saigon after completing this stunning motorbike loop? Check out our Hanoi to Saigon motorbike journey and learn about road conditions, routes, costs and more.
You may run up to animals such as water buffalos and cows that may block your way, and an occasional local too! Keep in mind that you should ride safely to not injure any locals (or yourself!) as the procedure can be quite extensive, especially if a local labels you as a tourist who has lots of money.
So, prepare yourself for some bad road sections and sharp hairpin turns, especially at the mountain passes that are nothing short of awesome! Make sure to ride within your limits, as overconfidence can cost you your life easily! Drive during daylight hours (make sure to depart at early hours, sunset in the North will come very soon!) and rest during the night.
Most importantly, do not rush! Enjoy all that the Ha Giang loop has to offer!
Things to Know Before Starting with the Ha Giang Loop
Before you embark on a fantastic journey to the Ha Giang loop, you probably want to know a few things. How much money will you need for the optimal experience? What are some of the essentials you have to bring on your journey? Wondering about the best time to visit Ha Giang?
You can find all the answers to these questions in the paragraphs below!
Thinking of traveling from Hanoi to Saigon after finishing Ha Giang motorbike loop? Check out our comprehensive budget breakdown of Hanoi to Saigon trip.
Like with the rest of Vietnam, the Ha Giang loop is low-budget friendly! That is most certainly awesome news for you broke backpackers out there!
Actually, the approximate daily expenses for the Ha Giang loop are 500,000 VND/day (about $20/day).
We can break down these costs in several categories, pictured in the table below:
The bottom line is, the Ha Giang loop is certainly manageable on a tight budget!
Essential Items & Equipment
Of course, there are some pieces of essential equipment that you will need to complete the Ha Giang loop. Here is all that we recommend warmly to bring with you on this journey:
- Small or Medium Backpack for Essential Luggage - with a backpack, there will be no need to carry around your potentially huge travel bags where all your luggage is. You can leave your travel bags in your accommodation once you arrive in Ha Giang. Also, make sure to get a daypack if you're going to hike or take any of the side routes to have a lesser load on your back and your bike.
- Clothes for at least 3 - 5 days - as some roads are just pure dirt, expect to get dirty while riding the Ha Giang loop a lot!
- Hiking shoes or Boots - the terrain on the Ha Giang loop isn't something to underestimate. There are a lot of steep and rugged surfaces, and the flip-flops just won't make it a comfortable experience!
- Medicaments that you will need - make sure to get some anti-mosquito cream as these pests are everywhere! Also, bring all the stuff for your allergies, headaches and abdominal pain. We recommend taking some natural medicine that you will need to pack carefully, of course! (you can get it in Hanoi pretty easily)
- Swimming Equipment and a Towel - you will come across some waterfalls on the Ha Giang loop, and it would be a sin not to bask in these clear waters and let nature do its own thing! Go with a microfiber towel since it's getting dry very fast and it doesn't take much space in your backpack.
- Waterproof Jacket/Raincoat and a Backpack Cover - the weather on the Ha Giang loop can be unpredictable at some times, and you really want to be prepared for the rain. You can also use an extra raincoat as a cover for the backpack.
- Camera (digital or GoPro) - the vistas on the Ha Giang loop are absolutely breathtaking, and you definitely should document these moments! You can get a digital camera or a GoPro style camera for pretty low and reasonable prices here in Vietnam (we bought an Eken H9k four our trip for 1,5 million VND, which is about $65)
- Mobile Phone with a Vietnamese SIM Card w/all the other accessories - you will definitely need mobile data that you can get from some of the Vietnamese SIM Card providers at the airports. This will give you access to all information regarding the Ha Giang loop such as maps etc. Make sure to save an offline map of the Ha Giang loop, just in case! Also, save contact details of your accommodation, so that you can call someone in case of emergency. Make sure to take your phone charger with you to keep the battery full of juice! Get a mobile phone stand to navigate the maps and all the information on the go!
- Sunscreen and Sunglasses - sun rays in Vietnam hit pretty hard with their UV index, even when it's cloudy. Bringing sunscreen is a must for warmer months if you don't want the sun burns! Also, sunglasses will come in handy when riding during daylight and will give you a decent cool factor (depending on the sunglasses, of course!). Get sunscreen from your country with you. Check out the sunscreen that protected us on our trip.
- First Aid Kit - if any emergent situation occurs, you will have a first-hand antidote for such a situation.
- Cash - there are ATMs along the Ha Giang loop, but you never know if a need occurs and the ATM just isn't out there in your vicinity.
Best Time to Visit Ha Giang
In the Ha Giang Province, weather differs between dry and low season.
The best months to do the Ha Giang loop are in the dry season. We're talking about March-May and September-October. In these months, you can expect warm temperatures, clear skies, bright colors and almost no rainfall! These are definitely the best conditions for riding the Ha Giang loop!
The low season occurs from June to August. You can expect lots of rainfall and more rough conditions on the road. Road slides and other hazards due to rain are not uncommon. During the low season, the Ha Giang loop suddenly gets more challenging and the views will be constrained by fog.
Winter in the Ha Giang Province comes along in November and lasts until February, and it can be pretty harsh up there in the North. It can get bitterly cold with lots of fog constraining your vision. You won't come across such amazing views during the winter, and the ride will be more challenging.
PRO TIP: Don't rely on the weather forecast since the weather is very unpredictable. We usually asked fellow travelers on Vietnam Backpacker Group about the current weather conditions.
How to Get to Ha Giang
Now that we've skimmed through the things to know before doing the Ha Giang loop, one question still stands. How to get to Ha Giang? Thankfully, Ha Giang is connected to the capital and the neighboring provinces, so getting there shouldn't be a problem.
Read our complete guide on public transport in Vietnam that will provide you with amazing tips on getting the cheapest transportation around the country.
Hanoi to Ha Giang
The Ha Giang loop is located 310 km north of Hanoi in Ha Giang Province. Arranging a trip to Ha Giang is fairly simple if you depart from Hanoi.
There are several ways to go from Hanoi to Ha Giang:
You can take a sleeper bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang. The journey will take about 5 - 7 hours, depending on the conditions on the road. The regular price for the sleeper bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang is about 150,000 - 200,000 VND ($9). Book the sleeper bus on Baolau where you can check out the recent prices and timetables.
Another option is booking a sleeper bus through your accommodation. The upside is that the folks at your accommodation will usually organize that the bus picks you up at the front door if you prefer that option. After all, private bus companies are more flexible than national buses, if you don't mind paying a bit more.
With the buses, you can choose to travel on the daytime bus or take an overnight bus. Keeping that in mind, it is recommended to take the overnight bus that departs from Hanoi at 9 PM and arrives at Ha Giang at 4 AM.
If you don't have any time pressing issues, and budget pressure, there is an alternative - renting a VIP van. This alternative is far more comfortable than a sleeper bus and is a bit cheaper. It will just take a bit longer to get from Hanoi to Ha Giang, but the price with everything included is around 300,000 VND (check out the current prices and timetables).
Sapa to Ha Giang
If you want to reach the Ha Giang loop from Sapa, you will need to take a 7-hour minibus. The minibus departs from the central bus station in Sapa Town. These minibuses leave twice a day, at 8 AM and 10 AM. The cost of the ride is 150,000 VND and you will pay that amount directly to the driver of the minibus.
Check out about timetables and exact prices here.
Make sure that you organize the minibus ride a day before departure through your accommodation in Sapa. They will gladly contact the bus company to reserve you a spot in the minibus.
After that, prepare to cover almost 250 km from Sapa to Ha Giang!
Renting a Motorbike in Ha Giang
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Before we go any deeper into the motorbike rental process in Ha Giang, as of 31 October 2018, all foreign riders in Ha Giang Province need to have a Vietnamese license or the International Driving Permit (IDP).
Regarding the IDP, ask around your rental company for further details to get a first-hand outlook on the current situation. Also, don't forget to read our guide on getting a Vietnamese driving license.
Read the ongoing discussion on police situation around Ha Giang loop and stay updated.
There are also some reported situations of police officers letting people go without the IDP for a small bribe. We wrote a guide on dealing with Vietnamese police where you can get interesting information on getting out of a sketchy situation.
You can easily rent a motorbike in Ha Giang. The best place to rent a motorbike for the Ha Giang loop is QT Motorbikes. There is no need to book the bikes ahead as they have a lot of bikes in stock. They have a choice of manual and semi-automatic bikes.
Expect to pay 250,000 VND/day for a 125cc semi-automatic bike. They offer Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and dirt bike types. Of course, all bikes have been previously serviced, include a helmet and full gas tanks.
QT Motorbikes also offer top-notch advice for route details of the Ha Giang loop, which comes in handy!
Other than QT Motorbikes, there are numerous other bike rental shops. Make sure to check their reviews online to check their validity.
Renting a motorbike in Bong Hostel is also recommended. They have bikes of awesome quality. Other than bikes, they also provide accessories that you will need on your journey, such as bungee cords, gloves, helmets and more!
If you're a first-time motorbike rider, they also offer free motorbike lessons! The folks from Bong Hostel will also give you a detailed map of the Ha Giang loop and a huge amount of tips and recommendations for the road.
Their daily rental tariffs for the bikes are:
- 135cc Automatic Bike - 200,000 VND/day
- 110cc Semi-Automatic Bike - 150,000 VND/day
- 135cc Manual Bike - 150,000 VND/day
Anh Anh Guest House is also a good place to check out for motorbike rentals in Ha Giang, as they offer reasonable prices for bike rentals.
Truong Xuan Resort is another place where you can rent a motorbike, and their tariffs for bike rentals are:
- Semi-Automatic Bike - 162,000 VND/day ($7/day)
- Automatic Bike - 210,000 VND/day ($9/day)
- 150cc Manual Bike - 395,000 VND/day ($17/day)
If you want top quality motorbikes, check out the Honda and Kawasaki Service Centres in Ha Giang.
If you want to check out more options for renting a motorbike in Ha Giang, check out the Ha Giang Motorbike website!
PRO TIP: it is definitely possible to complete the Ha Giang loop on a powerful automatic motorbike, but it is recommended that you take a semi-auto bike or a manual bike. The main reason is that you don't have that much gear control on the automatic bike like with other bikes, and you will need all the control you can get on the demanding sections of the Ha Giang loop. If you're riding a geared bike for the first time, don't be afraid, as many bike rental shops offer free bike lessons.
Officially, foreign travelers still need a permit to visit the Ha Giang Province area. Nowadays, this is just a formality, and travelers can simply buy the permit for 200,000 - 300,000 VND ($10) at the accommodation located anywhere on the Ha Giang loop. That includes Ha Giang, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac. Remember, your passport is required while getting the permit, so it's best to get it on the day of arrival!
Of course, after renting your bike, make sure to visit a mechanic to check out a few things:
- Check the oil and change it if you need - the oil change should cost you about 100,000 VND and will be sufficient for the whole loop
- Check the brakes and tweak them
- Check out that all the electric parts on the bike are working properly
Also, when you're renting the bike, insist on the inclusion of rearview mirrors and a helmet. Remember, if you get spotted by the police without having any of these two, you will be stopped for sure!
Another option is buying your own bike in Vietnam. The bike can be a hit or miss, so we advise to spend a bit more on getting a reliable bike. Aim for real Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki bike. These are reliable and mechanics know how to fix and maintain these.
If you're not confident with riding a bike on the Ha Giang loop, there is an option of taking a car drive around the loop. You can easily rent a 5-seated car and an experienced driver that can take you around the Ha Giang loop for around 3 million VND ($130). Check your accommodation for more info about car rentals in Ha Giang.
The Ha Giang Loop Route
Now you know all the information to get you started with the Ha Giang loop. Now, the juicy part awaits - the Ha Giang loop route itself. We have prepared a map that shows the main route and all the detours with points of interest that you can see below:
NOTE: make sure to check out the filters on the map located on the map sidebar for all the route details!
So, without further ado, here is the Ha Giang loop route detailed!
#1: Ha Giang to Yen Minh (100 km distance)
Ha Giang City Overview
Ha Giang is the capital of the province of the same name. Its population is 71,689, which makes it quite a busy town for the North. Ha Giang is certainly a lovely city situated on the banks of the Lo River. The translation of the river name is Blue River, which is ironic as the river is muddy and brown most of the time during the year.
Ha Giang is definitely the most comfortable place to prepare for the Ha Giang loop from every aspect as is a great place to relax after doing the whole loop.
PRO TIP: ask around your accommodation for tips and recommendations for the Ha Giang loop. Locals know the best, after all!
Where to Stay in Ha Giang City
You can find a lot of great accommodation on each side of the Lo River. The main streets on each bank of the river are called Nguyen Trai Street (west bank) and Nguyen Thai Hoc Street (east bank).
Regarding some sources, the east bank is more preferable if you're traveling on a tight budget, as it is closer to cheaper food options. There are plenty of awesome guesthouses and small hotels that are situated right beside the river, offering awesome views.
Here are filtered accommodation options on Booking.com. Don't forget to check Agoda.com since we find out that the prices are a bit lower for the same accommodation than on Booking.com.
The best $3 accommodation options in Ha Giang are:
- Ha Giang 1 Hostel - offers dorm beds
- Ruby Hostel - offers dorm beds
The best $5 to $15 accommodation options in Ha Giang are:
- Thuy Thien Guest House - has balconies that overlook the river
- River Queen Guest House - offers cleaner and newer dorms
- Ha Giang Backpacker Hostel - has a western backpacker vibe with dorm rooms
- Ong Van Hostel - has capsule style rooms and is situated right beside the Lo River
- Tiamo Hotel - it is a fancier budget option
- Kiki's House Hostel
- Bong Ha Giang Hostel
- QT Hostel - you can rent a motorbike there easily, as this place is owned by QT Motorbikes. If you rent a bike here, you will get free accommodation for the night.
- Chopai Hostel - offers private rooms for $11 a night
The best luxury accommodation option is definitely Truong Xuan Resort. The resort is situated on the edge of the town, with bungalows in lush jungle. It is a perfect place to stay to relax after doing the whole Ha Giang loop.
Each room in this resort has a large double bed or twin beds, TV, air conditioning, private bathroom, bar fridge, coffee table and a balcony with an amazing view.
For $26 a night you get a superior double room with a garden view.
If you decide to invest $35 for a night, you will get a room with a king-sized bed, garden view included.
For $40 a night you will get a deluxe double bedroom with a river view.
Where to Eat in Ha Giang City
On the eastern bank of the Lo River (Nguyen Thai Hoc Street) are several rice eateries scattered around. On Vietnamese, these are called quán cơm bình dân, so look out for these signs. In rice eateries, you point and order your food and look at the food being prepared in front of you. These eateries offer decent local food for 30,000 - 40,000 VND (about $2) for a person.
If you're looking for a feast (especially when coming back from the Ha Giang loop and from less than ideal food options in the villages on the way), you can try the bigger riverside restaurants on the west bank of the Lo River (Nguyen Trai Street).
These restaurants are located on the right side of the street and you can find the street we're talking about just north of the northernmost bridge over the Lo River.
There, you will get access to some local specialties, like the salmon hotpot, for which the Ha Giang region is famous.
Also, there is an awesome place for rice breakfast on the 31 Nguyen Thai Hoc called Phú Oanh.
If you want to buy snacks, the Ha Giang central market is a great place to go.
Slice 1: Ha Giang to Tam Son
To begin the first leg of the Ha Giang loop journey, get on the QL4C main road and start riding north towards Tam Son. Just a few kilometers out of Ha Giang, and you will begin to awe at the limestone mountains and clear rivers along the road. The roads on this slice are pretty narrow and the air is really fresh.
Soon, you will reach the first major mountain pass - the Bac Sum Pass. It is full of hairpin turns with breathtaking views over the valleys below. If you have to refresh after doing this part of the slice, there is a cafe called Diem Gioi Thieu Va Ban that is situated in the mountains just after the pass.
Some 30 kilometers later, after traversing through breathtaking limestone valleys, you will spot a gate that will indicate that you have arrived at Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo Park. This area is the second UNESCO Global Geo Park in Southeast Asia that was designated as such in 2011. If you're more interested in this GeoPark, there are a lot of information boards along the road that explains the details behind the land formations in the region.
Once you reach Dong Van Karst Plateau GeoPark, the road will take a form of a long and serpentlike ascent up the famous Heaven's Gate Pass or the Quan Ba Pass. The views from this mountain pass are jaw-dropping to say at least. Near the top of the pass is the viewpoint that offers even better views! There is an information center with a coffee shop located at that spot.
You can find it useful for your travels through the Ha Giang loop as there are various maps of the area available there. Behind the cafe are the steps that you can climb for an unconcealed view of the whole Quan Ba District, which is nothing short of awesome!
Make sure to take extreme caution while riding through Heaven's Gate Pass! There are some narrow twists and turns and the local driving skills may hinder you on your path too.
After the Heaven's Gate Pass, you will cross a treeless plateau that will take you down to Quan Ba District. There, you will arrive at Tam Son.
Tam Son Overview
Tam Son is located in a valley just between dozens of limestone hill formations. It's quite an inspiring location to say at least. Even though it's located it is quite an ordinary town.
There is one side route going from Tam Son, just after the gas station. Turn left from the QL4C and continue on the 5 km path to reach the Lung Khuy Cave.
This path will take you through small mountain villages, streams and the beautiful valley where you will eventually reach a car park, where you will need to walk for 1 km uphill to reach the cave.
You can take the circular path that runs through the cave that will offer breathtaking views over the immense cave, but with poor lighting.
If you enter through the left side instead, you will go through a more adventuristic path that has a lot of low hanging rocks. Duck under these rocks and you can descend steeply down into the mountain towards a dark pool of water.
Where to Stay in Tam Son
There are a few reliable places to stay that are located on the main street if you feel like you should rest for the night.
Kim Son Motel and Van Duy Hotel offer decent rooms for around 200,000 VND/night.
Also, there is a collection of homestays located in a valley that is just a few minutes away from the town. Dao Lodge & Homestay is a superb option and Toongmun Homestay is reasonably good.
Where to Eat in Tam Son
In Tam Son, you can stop for lunch in one of the numerous roadside eateries. The best way to find them is to just pay attention to your senses!
You can stop for a drink at the popular Yen Ngoc Cafe.
Slice 2: Tam Son to Yen Minh
The second slice of the Ha Giang loop journey will start from Tam Son. Get on the QL4C and continue to the east, down to the Mien River Valley. Before you reach the Mien River Valley, you will most probably awe at a pair of round hills that look like they've been taken out straight from a fantasy novel.
You will pass through a series of hairpin turns going down to the valley, so tread carefully! This road will reward you with some amazing views.
After passing these switchbacks, the road will cross the Mien River and continue on to the north through a steep canyon. This bamboo-filled Mien River Valley is simply astonishing. You can see wooden house hamlets along the Mien River banks and children playing and fishing by the river as well as seeing them jumping in the river from the rocks. Really a humbling sight.
Before the road switch to the east, you will pass along the ruined fort of Cán Tỷ. Apparently, these ruins date to the French colonial period even though they look much older.
Afterward, you will go through another long pass that will go up a pretty and refined landscape that is very close to the Chinese border. The climax of this long pass is the Yen Minh Pine Forest. This is a beautiful forest that bursts with positive energy. Also, it offers inspiring views to the valleys below.
After passing the Yen Minh Pine Forest, you will start to descend to the other side, to the Yen Minh District. There. in the distance, you can see the seemingly endless limestone forests of the Dong Van Plateau.
#2: Yen Minh to Meo Vac (70 km distance)
Yen Minh Overview
Similarly to Tam Son, Yen Minh is another small and dusty town located in a basin, surrounded by towering limestones and rice fields. The main road QL4C is cutting through the town, so it's very easy to navigate there.
Yen Minh feels very non-touristy an authentic. You can spot kids in side streets, playing football or volleyball. Curious looks from locals await you, and these locals are very friendly. They will usually invite you for a drink after having dinner in one of their restaurants.
Yen Minh isn't particularly charming, but it's a convenient stop on the Ha Giang loop where you can choose between a few accommodation options.
Where to Stay in Yen Minh
The main street in Yen Minh has a few hotels to choose from. Thao Nguyen Hotel and Hai Son Guest House offer clean rooms for 200,000 - 500,000 VND/night.
Ha Anh Homestay is a place where a family-style dinner is served. That is a typical Northern Vietnamese homestay dinner where you get some type of meat, fried spring rolls, vegetables and cooked white rice combined with beer, of course!
If you want some calm and quiet, there is a place located in a lush landscape just a few minute ride away from the town that is called Sinh Thai Guest House.
Where to Eat in Yen Minh
Just as with the accommodation, there are dozens of rice eateries located on the main street. Your senses don't lie when seeking out these eateries.
For refreshments, there are a couple of cafes on the main street too!
Slice 1: Yen Minh to Dong Van
This 70 km part of the Ha Giang loop will take you through Dong Van and Ma Pi Leng Pass. The section we're talking about offers the most stunning roads in Vietnam, subjectively and objectively.
QL4C road cuts through awe-inspiring landscapes of dramatic limestone peaks and valleys that are millions of years old. The landscape looks like it came straight out of an idealistic fantasy novel, reminding of a forest petrified in time.
Surprisingly, the roads are equally as impressive as the landscape that surrounds them. In the last few years, lots of small paved roads have been completed, unlocking parts of the province previously unreachable by motorbikes.
There are lots of isolated villages hidden in this marvelous area.
This region is predominantly inhabited by Hmong ethnic minorities. The land is treeless and rocky, and by being so, offers little protection from various dramatic weather conditions that can impact this area. Crops are also limited because of the lack of fertile grounds. It can be pretty hard for the minorities to coexist with nature in this area, but they have managed to do so for many years.
NOTE: Beware, travelers who come from Sapa! The minority people here may not be so hospitable as the people from the Sapa region, especially when keeping the business savviness of the minority people from Sapa!
Another situation that you may possibly run into on this section of the Ha Giang loop is "beggar kids". One of the biggest problems that have risen due to the increasing tourist activity in the Ha Giang region is that the local parents have started sending their children to beg, effectively denying them a chance for education.
Lots of cases have been reported when children pose with travelers for a photo and then ask for money afterward. This tradition has made interactions between foreign visitors and ethnic minorities a bit uneasy, as the general perception is that the foreigner has money to hand out.
In these situations, do what you think is best; there are different ways to deal with such a situation.
If you want to learn more about the scams in Vietnam, we wrote a huge guide that covers more than 30 scams we experienced during our time in Vietnam.
Back on the route! A few minutes out of Yen Minh, the road will fork. From this fork, you can ride the Ha Giang loop in either direction. In this guide, I will detail the route going northeast.
When you head northeast on the QL4C, you will be on way to Dong Van. Soon, a steep mountain pass will immediately bring you to the area filled with limestone cliffs. These rocky slopes are treeless, with no rice terraces and fertile valleys. Instead of those, you will see a lot of soybean plantations, sweet corn clumps and bamboo stands. As there are no trees in this area, most of the structures here are made of mud bricks or limestone blocks. You will pass along some walled villages in this area,
After buzzing through hilly and treeless valleys, the road will culminate on the Nine-Turn Pass (Dốc Chín Khoanh). This pass is one of the favorite photo opportunities for road trippers in Vietnam. You can see the road twisting and turning to a flat valley towered by limestone cliffs.
Here are also two side routes worth mentioning:
SIDE ROUTE #1: Pho Bang
On the Nine-Turn Pass, you can take a left turn that heads north, taking you to the town of Pho Bang. This town is known for its market. There is a remote Chinese border there too.
This side route of the Ha Giang loop is worth taking if you have the time, especially in October. In October, the buckwheat flowers are blooming in purple, pink and white colors, creating a beautiful atmosphere.
SIDE ROUTE #2: Sung La Valley
From the Nine-Turn Pass, continue a bit further and take a left turn to the Sung La Valley.
The Sung La is positioned slightly off the beaten path and is rarely visited by people riding the Ha Giang loop. This detour is absolutely worthwhile, even though the road to Sung La Village is a dangerous one. Remember, do not attempt this side route if you're an unconfident biker!
Eventually, when you follow the road, you will reach the peak of the mountain. This peak is 1500m above sea level and offers amazing views over the limestone mountains. The limestones seemingly stretch for eternity and you can see the bustling fields in the valleys below.
Otherwise. just continue straight on, where you will end up in another stunning valley. There is a little homestay village at the bottom of this valley. You can spend a night in pretty local homes located there.
After more amazing scenery, there will be another road fork at Sa Phin. You can head over to Lung Cu (or the Vietnamese "North Pole") from this fork.
SIDE ROUTE #3: Lung Cu
If you want to reach the northernmost point of Vietnam, bear left to the north at the Hoa Da Guest House on a remote and scenic road that will eventually lead to Lung Cu.
This is a magnificent 45km loop that ends back in Dong Van. It is a popular pilgrimage route for young Vietnamese groups. Just follow the red T-shirts and patriotic locals, and you will find the flag tower in no time!
On the way to Lung Cu, the road will briefly run in parallel to the Chinese border. This border crossing is seemingly unguarded. You can see that motorbikes cross over this border crossing fairly regularly, passing a sign with a black skull and crossbones symbol.
NOTE: This is actually an indicator for a minefield based on reports from fellow travelers, so every action beyond this border crossing is at your own risk!
The entrance to Lung Cu or the "North Pole" costs 20,000 VND. This "North Pole" takes a form of a tall tower located on a small hill that offers breathtaking views over the Chinese Yunnan Province. You have to take some 500 steps to reach the top.
There are a couple of good homestays in this area if you choose to stay here during the night!
Ma-Le Homestay is located between Dong Van and Lung Cu. It offers a cozy accommodation experience that is very cheap with friendly staff serving commune style food.
Lolo Homestay is located 5 minutes to the west of the pole. It also offers a decent accommodation experience, based on its cheap price and the friendly staff that offers commune style food on its menu.
These homestays are great alternatives to staying in Dong Van. Dong Van has become increasingly impacted by tourism, as you can see from a lot of tour groups there.
Take the right fork that goes to the south, then to the east at the Sa Phing junction to continue on the QL4C route to Dong Van. Just after the fork, you will run into a spectacular valley where there is a small settlement situated around a large stone building.
This stone building we're talking about is called the Hmong Palace or the Opium Palace (the entrance cost is a few dollars). It is the former palace of the Hmong King, Vuong Chinh Ducbeing. This building is made of stone and timber and was made by French colonists in 1914 to keep the Hmong king happy. Of course, several different backgrounds are circulating, but this is the "official one".
This Hmong king had a fearsome reputation and was very wealthy, as he was growing opium poppies in this area.
Outside the Hmong Palace is a local market that is selling seasonal products. In autumn, you can buy walnuts, chestnuts and star anise.
Getting to Hmong Palace is fairly easy, as there is a signpost for the palace just off the main road. Then, you just go down a steep road into the valley.
From the Hmong Palace, there is 15 km of road left to Dong Van. This last slice of the road to Dong Van is an epic ride through limestone pillars that cast dramatic shadows over the valley. The road is cut right into the mountains, going right along the side of rocky cliffs.
Sometimes there are no barriers on this stretch of the road. Be extra careful while driving through this slice, especially when raining, as one slight skid could take you flying down the valley.
Along this road, you will see an occasional sight of women and girls from 10 years to 80 years of age that are carrying heavy loads of wood, hay, and crops on their backs. One peculiar detail is that the bodies of the older women have been completely distorted due to carrying the intensive load on their backs through the years.
Before you descend to Dong Van, the QL4C road is joined by the Lung Cu road at Bui Homestay, a popular resting place for Vietnamese backpackers.
Dong Van Town Overview
From the moment you step in Dong Van, you can see that it is a busy and dusty town. It has enjoyed a significant boom during the last few years thanks to the increasing travel interest in this region. You can call in the Sapa of the Extreme North of Vietnam.
This is the most touristy town on the Ha Giang loop, as the majority of travelers spend at least one night here. These days, Dong Van has a distinctive backpacker vibe going for it.
There are two markets in the town. The big weekend market is called the New Market. There, local women dress up in sparkling and brightly colored clothes that capture attention.
The smaller night market is held every evening and is called the Old Quarter Market.
The Pho Co (Old Quarter) is the busiest part of Dong Van. Before, there were just a few old stone houses with tiled roofs there. Now, local authorities have recognized the tourism potential of this part of the town. That resulted in a new row of these old stone houses being in construction.
Where to Stay in Dong Van Town
There is a handful of great places to stay in Dong Van.
The best hotel to stay in Dong Van is Lam Tung Hotel. It has excellent rooms with balconies that are perfectly situated between the two markets.
Ly Hoan Guesthouse is located next to the local market. It offers spacy rooms with large and cozy beds, air conditioning, flat-screen TVs and hot water shower.
Other places to consider are Hoang Ngoc, a fairly good mini hotel; and Hoa Cuong Hotel, the biggest and most luxurious accommodation option in Dong Van.
You can find dirt-cheap rooms that are aimed at budget Vietnamese travelers along the west side of the Pho Co Street in the old quarter of Dong Van. The mentioned rooms are styling themselves as homestays. Just look for the signs that say phòng nghỉ tập thẻ.
Where to Eat in Dong Van Town
The best places to eat in Dong Van are definitely in the old quarter (Pho Co Street). There are lots of cafes and restaurants scattered around the town.
Nguyen Coffee is notable for awesome coffee and cinnamon-infused rice.
Some restaurants offer the local mountain specialties: horse meat (thắng cố) and hotpot (lẩu).
For cheap meals, aim for the rice and noodle eateries in the morning and evening hours.
Decent cocktails are served here in Dong Van, a rare treat on the Ha Giang loop. Check out the Green Karst Bar for this treat!
Also, a local bar named Nha Hang Xuan Thu offers a wide selection of beer, cocktails, wine and local food. A pool table is also included!
Slice 2: Dong Van to Meo Vac
Before we head to Meo Vac, there is one side route heading to one scenic spot near Dong Van that you shouldn't miss!
SIDE ROUTE #4: Don Cao
Don Cao French Fortress is located just a 5-minute motorbike ride from the town center. You will reach a steep driveway that you can ride all the way to the top of the limestone mountain.
Don Cao sits on top of the highest limestone peak in Dong Van District. It offers 360-degree views over the valley below.
Waiting for you ahead is an epic 22 km ride through the Ma Pi Leng Pass (also called "The Happiness Road"). It is a stunning road that goes along the edge of a wall of limestone mountains.
These mountains tower around 1500 meters over the Nho Que river valley that is full of craters. This is one of the most epic mountains passes that you will see in Vietnam and the whole of Southeast Asia! The mountain pass is what the Ha Giang loop is known for treacherous roads, jaw-dropping views and adrenaline-fueled adventure.
It is an interesting sight to see the fields on these almost vertical slopes. Local farmers and water buffalos work in the fields deep within the valley. Stop for a while and you will hear echoes of local children playing and goats from way below on the banks of the emerald green waters of the Nho Que river.
You will need to ride 15 km along a terrifying but epic path carved in the mountains.
There is a viewing platform about halfway to Meo Vac where you can get some refreshments. You will come across a small tea house on the corner of one of the sharp turns around one of the mountain peaks. Park your motorbike there at the front and go through the tea house.
Exit through the back door where you will reach the spiral staircase that leads to the viewing platform. The viewing platform overlooks the breathtaking Nho Que river valley and the cliffs reaching to the bottom of the valley.
Head further, and the numerous twists and turns will give place to the epic views over a vast landscape that seemingly has no end. There are layers and layers crammed on each other.
If you're a photographer, you will definitely enjoy this slice of the Ha Giang loop that looks down into a narrow gorge created by Nho Que river. If you catch good weather there, this short slice of the road could take you a few hours, as the views are simply jaw-dropping.
This is apparently one of the deepest gorges in all of Southeast Asia. It will soon lose its majesty though, as there is a dam construction plan in mind for that area.
If you are craving for more of this incredible scenery, here is a perfect side route just for you!
SIDE ROUTE #5: Nho Que River
This route leads down to the Nho Que river and extends to the remote Chinese border.
The Ma Pi Leng Pass drops down to Meo Vac. There, you will see an appealing little road that hugs the mountainside on the opposite side of the valley. From there, you should take a sharp left turn and roll down through a series of tight hairpin turns all the way down to the Nho Que river.
You will come across a makeshift bridge crossing the river, where the road will go up the hillsides to China. After the bridge, the road condition will fall off rapidly in quality. As you get closer to China, the police may turn you back to the main road. Regardless of that, the awesome views make this easy side route a worthwhile endeavor.
Shortly afterward, you will reach your next destination: Meo Vac.
Meo Vac Overview
Meo Vac is located in a basin that is sheltered by towering limestone karsts. This is one of the most gripping towns you will encounter on the Ha Giang loop. It feels larger that Yen Minh and Dong Van.
Some points of interest in Meo Vac are colonial architecture and a football stadium.
Meo Vac is quiet in the daytime but bustling in the mornings and early evenings. You can find a good day market and a new night market, as well as plenty of accommodation options.
On Sunday, the market gets a new look. As it is the biggest market in the region, you will encounter food sections, smartphone sections and livestock sections. The market starts working at 6 AM.
An interesting insight, this is not a market for tourists, but for the locals (you may call it a "real" market). You will see cattle, water buffalos, rice and corn wine on sale there.
This market gathers lots of locals from minority villages in Meo Vac. They wear their traditional attires, something that you don't see too often. Kids gather around the stalls that sell jewelry and toys. Adults sit together and drink beer and corn wine. This creates a relaxing atmosphere regardless of all the craziness and chaos around the market itself.
The location of Meo Vac at the eastern edge of the Ha Giang loop gives it a remote ambiance.
Do not miss the viewpoint on top of a hill, that was a pagoda before! From there, you get an awesome view of Meo Vac and the surrounding area. It is a great place to drink a beer and watch the sunset.
To get there, follow the QL4C south and after passing the stadium, turn to the left on the road that goes up the hill. Follow that road until you see a car park to your right. There, just take the stairs that lead up to the viewpoint.
Another point of interest in Meo Vac to check out is the Uncle Ho Monument. It is located along the QL4C road, opposite the football stadium. The path to the monument is lit by lanterns, and the statue is lit too. That creates an interesting vibe.
Where to Stay in Meo Vac
There are plenty of accommodation options in Meo Vac. For budget options, check out the Linh Anh Guest House, that offers large rooms for 200,000 - 400,000 VND for a night. Other notable budget accommodation options in Meo Vac are Mr. Hung Hotel and On Vang Hostel with capsule style lodgings.
We can count three good value mini-hotels in Meo Vac. Mai Dao and Huyen Loi are located near the western edge of the town, while Meo Vac Hotel is located right in the town center.
Arguably the best accommodation option in Meo Vac is Auberge de Meo Vac. It is one of the most atmospheric lodges in the entire region that is located in an old Hmong family home. A beautiful stone courtyard will await you while arriving there. Dorm beds on the floor cont only 300,000 VND for a night. There are private rooms that are quite expensive (50$ for a night). If you are planning to stay here, book ahead, as they don't have a high capacity for visitors.
Where to Eat in Meo Vac
Food in Meo Vac is a bit lacking compared to other stops on the Ha Giang loop. During Sunday (market day) get inside the indoor market. Inside the main hall will be many little stalls that serve various soups and rice dishes.
For barbecued food, check out the street just across the market. There are several decent rice eateries on the western side of the market. Cheap Banh Mi sandwiches are served in front of the market for great breakfast!
There are cafes around the main square that offer surprisingly great coffee!
Two side routes that start from Meo Vac that offer a one way or a round trip are worth mentioning:
SIDE ROUTE #6: Khau Vai
Road DT217 heads right out of the town and leads southeast, to Khau Vai, a market town. Further on, this route leads down to the banks of the Nho Que river where it steers through another rocky gorge.
Khau Vai is famous in these parts for its Love Market, that takes place in the spring season. This market has become a target for massive tourism, so it may probably be better to ride on this side route during another time of the year.
From Khau Vai, you can continue along the DT217 to Bao Lac if you want.
SIDE ROUTE #7: Back to Dong Van Loop
This side route goes along the DT182 road. There is almost no traffic on this road or any foreign travelers. You will pass along the treeless landscape that is filled with conical peaks and tiny villages.
This route offers an interesting insight into farming in this harsh region. You may ask yourself how difficult it may be for locals to live sustainably in this beautiful and remote land.
#3: Meo Vac to Ha Giang (180 km Distance)
There are a few options to choose from to complete the Ha Giang loop and get back to Ha Giang. Whichever you choose, it will be yet another breathtaking ride through limestone karst scenery.
OPTION #1: Meo Vac to Yen Minh to Ha Giang (150 km journey - shortest route)
Leave Meo Vac on the DT182 (it is also market as DT176 for some reason) that heads west to the Mau Due crossroads. This lower road passes through a treacherous limestone valley that has some dangerous sections, so tread carefully.
Bear right at Mau Due crossroads (due north) alongside a wonderful river valley. Eventually, you will loop back to Yen Minh. From there, simply retrace the route you took before on QL4C back to Ha Giang.
This path takes about 7 hours of constant driving. Make sure to set off in a reasonable hour.
OPTION #2: Meo Vac to Du Gia to Ha Giang
Taking this route will extend your return route to Ha Giang. It is definitely worth it as it is a beautiful and scenic side endeavor.
At the Mae Due crossroads, bear left (due south) on the DT176 road. This will be an extraordinary ride that leads through a mountain pass that goes over a chain of huge limestone peaks.
You will then go down on the other side through pine forests and valleys. At the final stretch of the road to Du Gia, you will make an amazing descent in an idyllic valley where a small village of Du Gia is located.
The road conditions between Meo Vac and Du Gia are fine for most of the time, but there are a few sections here and there.
Du Gia Overview
Du Gia is the least visited area on the Ha Giang loop. Regardless of that, this area is even more spectacular than the rest!
There are numerous activities nearby that can be arranged through your accommodation.
You can go swimming in the river. To get there, you will need to ride on a short, but treacherous 10 km road to the local swimming spot. At the end of the road, you will run across a dirt car park. Just park your bike here and hike along the edge of a fast stream for some 10 minutes and you will reach the falls.
You will most likely be greeted by the local children that will enthusiastically show off their cliff jumping skills. It is really amazing to see children actually interacting in nature rather than staring in their phone screens and social media.
Along with swimming, you can also go fishing and hiking around Du Gia.
Where to Stay in Du Gia
Du Gia has an offer of good homestays. The most authentic accommodation option is certainly Du Gia Homestay.
Du Gia Backpacker Hostel is the most western-friendly accommodation option. They have large and clean private rooms with a pool table and a shared dormitory. It radiates with a cozy family atmosphere. Other services that these accommodation offers are free water refills and apples, and hot showers with rooms that overlook the surrounding valley.
They also serve a family dinner that costs 80,000 VND. It consists of homemade pumpkin curry, fried fish, stir-fried sweet pork, fried garlic water mimosa, french fries, cucumber salad and rice. They also have an unlimited supply of "happy water", which is essentially a corn wine that will surely hone new friendships!
The cleanest accommodation option in Du Gia is QT Guest House.
All of these accommodation options offer cheap and communal dorms with mattresses on the floor under mosquito nets, with good family-made meals.
Where to Eat in Du Gia
You can eat family-style meals in the accommodation you choose that are on offer for visitors. The prices are very reasonable too!
There are a few options to complete the Ha Giang loop from Du Gia, Keep in mind that road conditions may differ depending on the route of your choice.
OPTION #1: Via Na Sai (the shortest route)
Head south on the DT176 road and connect to QL34 at Na Sai. This makes for a long and difficult ride from a realistic perspective, as the road conditions will greatly deteriorate on both routes.
You should best avoid this route unless you are a true adrenaline junkie.
OPTION #2: Via Tam Son (the most scenic route)
Head back several kilometers north of Du Gia on DT176. Afterward, turn left and head west on the DT181. This road will lead you all the way back to Tam Son.
After riding this section, connect to QL4C and ride back to Ha Giang.
This is almost the perfect slice of the road. There are a handful of short but terrible sections of a very rocky road surface. Good all-around bikes won't have many issues on this slice. Even experienced riders on a semi-auto or automatic bike won't have many problems.
If you're an unconfident rider, these rocky sections may prove too difficult. In that case, it's best to avoid this slice altogether.
OPTION #3: Via Yen Minh (the easiest option)
Ride along the DT176 back to the Mau Due crossroads. Then, head north on DT182 to Yen Minh. Afterward, connect on QL4C all the way back to Ha Giang.
Hit the Road Jack!
Congratulations, you have completed the Ha Giang loop! I hope that you enjoyed the ride and that you've found this guide super helpful!
You will pass along the most beautiful landscapes and breathtaking viewpoints in Vietnam on the loop. The Ha Giang loop is particularly a great way to escape from the overcrowded tourist path in Southeast Asia.
On the Ha Giang loop, you will cross paths with local people who surprisingly still leave surprised and excited looks on their faces when they see foreigners visiting their villages. As much as this land is a wonderful sight for us foreigners, such is the sight of foreign people for the locals.
Ha Giang loop is challenging, and at times, dangerous ride. That makes it even more worthwhile!
After all, some roads don't lead home, but definitely lead to happiness, as the name for the Ma Pi Leng Pass suggests!
Have any more questions or want to add something to this guide? Do so in the comment section below!