My last minute decision to head to Vietnam for the final 9 days of my trip came with ZERO regrets. Travel pal Thijs had been talking about the Hà Giang Loop in North Vietnam for as long as I’d known him. With that in mind I decided to join him and our friend Vesna for the trip, as I knew I wouldn’t have had the balls to do a motorbike trip like that otherwise (you know me).
Having done a bit of research and found these Hà Giang Loop itineraries; 3 days 2 nights and 5 days 4 nights, we set off without a definite plan in mind knowing we could (hopefully) work it out as we went along.
The state of Hà Giang is arguably one of the most beautiful areas in the country. Having travelled around Vietnam back in 2015, I was excited to experience this unchartered territory. Hà Giang borders China and is home to breathtaking landscapes, winding roads, gorgeous greens and friendly, welcoming locals.
We travelled 470km on some interesting, and often dangerous roads. Be warned, there’s hairpin turns, cliff edges, rubble, rocks, holes, down hill, up hill, trucks, cars and confident locals to handle. Despite not being a confident driver I had a good crack at navigating these intrepid roads and quickly became addicted to the wind in my hair, and that feeling of freedom as I wizzed around corners and looked on in awe across mountains and textured landscapes.
Let’s get into the details of the Hà Giang Loop:
So, where did we go I hear you cry!? Below I’ve detailed our route, with some notes on changes I would recommend given our experiences of the roads.
Here’s a Google map with some views, hostels/homestays and places to stay en route, and below is our itinerary with some other options based on our experiences on the road.
First, go from Hanoi – Hà Giang:
This takes about 7 hours and there’s a number of different buses. We booked a night bus for 280k Dong (around £9) at our hostel, and we were dropped off just outside of town at around 4am. There was a couple of hostel / homestays around there but we managed to get a taxi up to Chopai Hostel and had booked to sleep there for a few more hours.
The following day we went to Anh Anh Motel and Motorbike rental. We took two 150cc Automatic Bikes for 150k per day, with a 1 million dong deposit per bike. We’d been advised that a semi-automatic might be easier but we were fine on these bikes, it’s personal choice – each bike is a slightly different price per day based on engine size, automatic or not and depending if you take out insurance.
Day 1: Hà Giang to Yên Minh – 99km
We sped off from the Motorbike shop at around 2pm, which was quite late in the end. We knew we wanted to make it to Yên Minh before it got dark which gave us around 4.5 hours to complete the first leg of the trip. Up into the mountains and countryside, through small towns and village to the first “view point” at Quan Ba Heaven Gate.
Around 43km North of Hà Giang, this is the highest point on the road from there to Quan Ba Town at an altitude of 1500m above sea level. From here you can see the Tam Son Valley and the ‘Fairy Bosom’ (two mountains that look like boobs – they all looked pretty booby in my opinion).
Our journey took us through valleys, up into the mountains and back down again towards our destination. We chased the sunset, pulling into Yên Minh at dusk. Guided by a friendly local to a restaurant, Nhà Hàng Quang Lan, who inadvertently also had a homestay, we decided to stay the night here.
Chatting with the owners, sharing football experiences, drinking tea (not me) and eventually getting some kip in a basic dorm room with another rider, for just 50k Dong per person.
Day 2: Yên Minh to Lũng Cú – 57km
We set off earlier on day two to make sure we travelled far enough before sunset. First stop however was our first mystery breakfast of the trip – after an attempt to communicate with a local cafe owner we were given a delicious banh mi with egg and sausage in.
Fuelled up and ready to go we set off travelling further north to the Chinese border. During today’s trip we soaked up views across Dong Van Plateau, explored the wooden Chinese Hmong Royal Palace and met views across the landscape peppered with humpy looking mountains. Given the stops we took throughout the day (a lot more than given we weren’t as rushed as the day before), we decided to stay in Lũng Cú.
A slight detour North off the main road QL4C, took us up towards the most Northern point of Vietnam. Along the way it’s possible to visit the border belt to China. We parked up and wandered over to edge of Vietnam/China and there’s a huge break in the barbed wire barriers.
I’d read online about people sneaking over into China, some warned against it but there was no guards there on our arrival so we took a look at the views over there. We were kindly and drunkly welcomed by some tipsy Chinese locals drinking what I imagine was some kind of Baju or rice wine. They were very keen on us joining them – which of course we had to politely decline, with hand actions simulating “we have to drive”! After a few quick photos we headed back to drive further north to Lũng Cú.
The Penultimate stop of the day was Lũng Cú Flagpoint, a 30m tall tower holding a large Vietnamese flag to represent the most Northern part of Vietnam, and home to breathtaking views of the surrounding countries. Just up the road from here we stopped for dinner and sleep; for just 180k at Cực Bắc homestay we had a bed for the night and a tasty group meal.
Day 3: Lũng Cú to Nà Phòng – 97km
It was during day three we changed our rough plans (which had been to drive further over to Cao Bang and then visit Ban Gioc Waterfall but we just didn’t have enough time), and decided to take a shorter route. Thijs wasn’t well, and we were feeling the effects of long, tiring, concentrated motorbike driving.
Tip: we underestimated how tiring driving would be, so make sure you schedule in lots of rests, take snacks and plenty of water. Account for this in your planning of how far you can physically drive each day. It’s not like driving on the motorway at home, you have to concentrate a lot so it really wares you out.
Early afternoon we stopped in Nà Phòng and found lunch at what seemed like the only place serving food. Despite a longer menu on the wall, the guy was literally cooking rice and noodles. So, we had rice and noodles (surprisingly delicious). We rested that afternoon and later on Vesna and I made friends with some locals who invited us into their home.
We hung out with the local kids and communicated via Google translate with the adults (very handy, recommend downloading for offline use on the road). After, given there was only one place to eat, Vesna and I had the same rice and noodles for dinner. We were the only foreigners in the whole town!
Day 4: Nà Phòng to Du Già – 106km
The penultimate day of driving brought some of the most beautiful landscapes, complemented by some awful, awful roads. For the first part of the journey we took the main QL34 road around towards Ha Giang, following the Gâm River as it snaked around the mountains. The road took a turn right up the DT176, and a turn for the worst*.
*TIP: I do not advise this route at all, an alternative would be to drive from Lũng Cú to Mao Vac (instead of to Nà Phòng). Then take the DT 176 from Mao Vac DOWN to Du Già rather than the second part of the road we took, which was UP to Du Gia.
But, we were on there, so we drove. The first 30mins of driving was along a bumpy af rubble road. Vesna hated it so I took over and powered on through. We reached the first village and the road drastically improved, with just some horrible rubble every now and again from there onwards.
The views were dramatic, greens in every shade, weed plantations and plenty of locals zooming past us, no fears. After a long journey and a minor accident on a hill, we finally arrived around 5pm at Du Gia Hostel.
That evening we had a family dinner with other bikers – an enormous feast including chicken, tofu, veg, rice, eggs and a side of the ever fateful rice wine (not for me, but it certainly wets the appetite of some). The rest of the evening included beers, chatting and laughs all round. I think actually it the most expensive place we stayed at 100k dong to sleep and 100k for the dinner. They did do 241 on beers 6 – 7pm too though!
Day 5: Du Già to Hà Giang – 111km
Saturday in Du Già is market day! A colourful showcase of local life, clothing, culture, spices and handy household items. Vesna stocked up on chilli powder and peppercorns, and we reviewed the size of the local skirts – sadly a little small for us both.
Next stop, and the reason we made the visit to this lively little town, the Du Già Waterfall. An easy concrete road to start us off, which soon turned into a rubbly, twisty path. We abandoned the bikes and took the rest of the path by foot. Many people drove this way, but it’s just a personal preference – there’s only so far you can drive before you have to walk anyway.
Given it was a weekend, the waterfall was bustling with local kids, nimbly climbing and jumping from heights we were afraid to reach, teasing each other, joking around and generally enjoying themselves. We took the plunge into the water which was surprisingly deep and cold. The kids brought us some entertainment for a while and then it started to get much busier with other tourists visiting – it was time to hit the road.
The last part of the journey was the longest we’d done in a day as we made a conscious decision not to take the DT176 down (which is that awful way we came up), we went up on the DT176 and then turned left onto the QL4C. Ultimately a longer journey in km, but MUCH safer and a more enjoyable ride (check out my Hà Giang Loop map if this doesn’t make any sense hahah).
We rolled into Hà Giang just before sunset, exhausted but so happy and proud of the journey we’d made over the past five days. Upon return to Anh Anh Motel and Motorbike rental we had a couple of damages to pay for. The price of this was determined by a price list we were shown, which was reasonable, and it was good not to have to negotiate being ripped off, as does happen in some places. With that in mind, it’s also good to consider insurance but otherwise this place is a good spot to rent from.
We easily booked onto a nightbus back to Hanoi that evening, via Chopai Hostel. Plus, that place makes the most incredible fresh spring rolls. Literally, the best any of us had EVER eaten.
Should you do the Hà Giang Loop too?
An incredible adventure into the most northern parts of Vietnam. Despite there being a “route” here, it’s relatively unexplored by tourists, especially in Nà Phòng where we stayed in the motel for a night.
110% recommend taking this trip. Do it in your own time, at your own pace, your own speed and enjoy every twist, turn and view that this part of the world has to offer.
What. A. Journey.
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