Vietnam is a very mountainous country. If I had to choose the best mountain area in Vietnam, I wouldn’t hesitate to travel to Ha Giang – and it’s for this reason I’m writing this guide. After extensively traveling my native land, Ha Giang is still my favorite destination when I want to get out of the busy city and enjoy some fresh air. Recently, Ha Giang has become well known to foreigners and is now considered a must-see spot in Vietnam.
How to Travel to Ha Giang, Vietnam
You might fly into Ho Chi Minh city, but it will be quite a distance from Ha Giang.
Ha Giang is around 300km from Hanoi, Vietnam, a long-distance to travel even for locals. Also, while its best to see Ha Giang on a motorbike, I recommend catching a bus to get there. Long hours on dusty, truck filled highways is not an enjoyable experience. You can easily find a bus to Ha Giang and hire motorbikes once there to explore the remote province. I recommend you to catch a sleeping bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang City, then hire a motorcycle when you arrive. You could find a second bus to Dong Van town, but you would miss some fantastic scenery!
The Ha Giang Loop is generally in fairly good condition. It’s a steep and mountainous region. I recommend traveling through on a manual bike or semi-automatic bike will be the best option. Smaller motorcycles won’t cut it. Be sure to thoroughly test your bike before you leave, especially the tires and brakes!
Ha Giang Loop
Most visitors traveling within the Vietnamese province complete the Ha Giang Loop – it’s a must-see item! You will find a magnificently scenic route through the mountains and villages. Around every corner will be yet another breathtaking vista, but here I will list a couple of highlights of Ha Giang.
Dong Van Town
Dong Van town is a lovely, small town where you’ll have a chance to socialize with local people and ethnic minorities of Vietnam. Also, on Sunday mornings, you can visit the local market where every people from different areas gather here to sell their products.
Remember: Ha Giang, is incredibly beautiful, and a spectacular place in Vietnam to travel too. Unfortunately, it is one of the most impoverished areas of the country. For example, some vendors will have to walk all night, or even for days to get to the market. So, please remember this if you are planning on bargaining.
The market is bustling, and you could find everything here from local products like fruits or corn wine to farm animals like buffalo or cows. The sticky rice is a cheap and delicious breakfast! Ethnic women often wear colorful dresses and carry baskets of produce on their backs, and sometimes even walk without shoes! The local market is always the beating heart of towns and villages in Vietnam, and this is one you won’t want to miss.
Ma Pi Leng Pass
Ma Pi Leng pass will be the highlight of your trip. This 20km pass will blow your mind. On one side of the road, you can see seemingly fathomless deep gorges and on the other, rugged, rocky cliffs. Riding along a road with such extremes on either side can be an exciting and thrilling experience. There are many opportunities to take a break and view the majestic mountains which seem to be sailing on an ocean of clouds.
On a clear day, you can look back and see the roads snaking through the hills. Nothing I can say or show you here can portray the layer upon layer, mile upon mile of the mountain pass. Ha Giang Loop must be experienced in its entirety. You have to take in all that this beautiful province has to offer. You truly will feel like you are riding into the sky!
Lung Cu Flag Tower
Lung Cu flag tower is Vietnam’s northern-most point. After climbing around 389 stone steps, you will reach the summit of the hill, which offers fantastic panoramic views of Ha Giang and the border between Vietnam and China. On the exterior of the tower, you can see stone carvings depicting the many triumphs achieved by the Vietnamese people. If you are not exhausted yet, there are around 140 more steps to reach the top of the tower, where an enormous flag proudly flies. From here, the houses and cars look like toys, and the river looks like a silky blue ribbon nestled amongst the hills.
The house of the Vuong Family, the last king of the Miao ethnic group, is located in Sa Phin, Dong Van. This grand old mansion has many rooms and passages to explore. There are also a few artifacts, used by the Vuong family scattered throughout the house, though unfortunately many of these are in poor condition.
Du Gia is a relatively new destination, a hidden gem just waiting to be explored. The road from Du Gia to Mau Due will bring you to this peaceful little town. Here, you can drive along narrow small roads and see local people are doing farm work. Additionally, you may find children playing on the roadside, or herds of buffalo eating their favorite food, grass. If you are lucky you will have a chance to see cotton tree blossom (hoa gạo) on the side of the road around summer. Du Gia is becoming more popular for backpackers, with several bars, and western-style food available.
Best Time to Travel to Ha Giang, Vietnam
Ha Giang, Vietnam is beautiful to travel within all year round. In January, when peach, plum, and canola flowers are blooming, the landscape is awash with shades of pink, white, and yellow. Then, in April and May, the terraced rice paddies erupt into a lush green. In September and October, these green paddies field will turn to a beautiful shade of yellow. However, the end of the year may be the best time to explore Ha Giang. This is when buckwheat flowers spread their purple color everywhere, covering the hills and gardens. These flowers, while beautiful, are also a source of food for locals here. They use them to make cookies and to flavor other local delicacies.
Tips before Traveling to Ha Giang, Vietnam
Bring both summer and winter clothes. You won’t know when you might need them. The weather in Ha Giang can be hot in the daytime and cold in the nighttime. Further, it can sometimes be quite unpredictable.
Bring enough cash with you because you won’t find many ATM or restaurants which accept cards. It is not an expensive place to visit. 500K dong (~$22) per day, including petrol, food, drinks, and accommodation should be more than enough, though please bring extra in case of a flat tire or a breakdown!
Take Good hiking shoes
For those who are new to motorbike riding, please be very careful. Vietnamese police rarely, if ever, check motorcycle licenses, so a car license/international driving permit will be enough for many. Please note, however, that most travel insurance companies won’t cover unlicensed drivers. Riding a bike with a car license is considered unlicensed.
That said, thousands of people (even locals) drive motorcycles unlicensed. So, if you are careful, and avoid unnecessary risks, you shouldn’t have any problems. I did this with a group of five people. Two were unlicensed motorcyclists in their home countries, one had never really been on a motorcycle before, and we experienced no problems whatsoever!
Thanks to my travel mate Josh Young for his amazing photos.
For more travel tips to Vietnam, click here.