In the far north of Vietnam, there is a region well outside the popular well-trodden Banana Pancake trail in Southeast Asia. Ha Giang Province is so remote, that even the French once gave up on controlling it, instead building a gate to seal the region off.
The winding roads present stunning scenery and a wonderful opportunity for a motorcycle road trip in what has come to be called the Ha Giang Loop.
For good or for bad, things are changing. The Ha Giang Loop is gaining popularity among backpackers and travelers, both experienced motorcycle drivers and total newbies.
Should inexperienced drivers go on some of the most dangerous roads in the world just because motorcycling there is spectacular? Hell, no!
Many do though. Some don’t realize the risks, some are just plain reckless, and some are just stupid. Most of the time it all goes without a problem. But in some cases, things go terribly wrong.
If you’re going to do the Ha Giang Loop by yourself, regardless if you’re experienced and have all the documents or are a total newbie, who is set on doing a stupid, reckless thing, you should be prepared.
Here’s all the information you should know about the Ha Giang Loop.
How to get to Ha Giang
Ha Giang is in the extreme north of Vietnam. You can reach it within a day from the other popular tourism hotspots in North Vietnam – Hanoi and Sapa.
Some people rent a motorcycle in Hanoi and ride to Ha Giang. I wouldn’t recommend that option. It would cost you 2 days extra for the motorcycle rental and there isn’t really any worthwhile scenery between the two cities. It’s just an exhausting 7-hour drive one way.
Why do that, when you can comfortably relax in a Vietnamese sleeper bus? Any hostel or tour operator in Hanoi can book a ticket for you.
Honestly, tourism in Vietnam has exploded to such an extent that travelers’ convenience is unprecedented when it comes to transport. Tourism offices, hostels, and hotels all organize tickets and transfers at little or no extra cost. It’s easier than ever to travel for 2 weeks in Vietnam.
The bus to the Ha Giang Loop from Hanoi costs 250.000 VND / 10.7$ and takes 7 hours. You can travel during the day or during the night. The overnight one arrives before sunrise. Make of that fact what you may.
There’s a daily minibus from Sapa to Ha Giang. It’s not a sleeper bus and given the road conditions, isn’t the most comfortable. But it’s bearable. It costs 300.000 VND / 12.7$ and takes 6-7 hours.
Once again, you can easily book that through your hostel in Sapa.
How many days for the Ha Giang Loop?
The Ha Giang Loop is anywhere between 310 km and 450 km depending on the route you take and the number of detours. Thus, going around takes on average 3-5 days.
Anything under 3 days would be rushing it. You’d have to drive way too much per day and have little time to explore.
Three days (2 nights) on the loop is perfectly fine and most people opt for this option. This amount of time will allow you to see the main sights, do a detour to the northernmost point and the flagpole, and have enough time at each notable place to soak in the culture.
Four days (3 nights) on the Ha Giang Loop allows you to more leisurely drive between towns and give you more time to explore. Four days is my recommendation for the Ha Giang Loop.
Five days (4 nights) will give you one extra night in an off-the-beaten-track village to relax in this unique region of Vietnam. If you’re into slow travel, go for the laid-back 5D4N option.
Ha Giang Loop 4-Day Itinerary
Here’s the standard 4-day Ha Giang Loop Route that will bring you to the main sights and give you enough time to visit all attractions:
- Day 1: Ha Giang to Yen Minh (95 km)
- Day 2: Yen Minh to Lung Cu to Dong Van (87 km)
- Day 3: Dong Van to Du Gia (100 km)
- Day 4: Du Gia to Ha Giang (70 km)
For a 3-day tour, consider dropping Yen Minh and going straight to Dong Van on Day 1. Alternatively, just stop for a couple of hours at Du Gia, but don’t spend a night there.
For a 5-day tour, consider adding an extra night at Lung Cu (night 2) or Meo Vac (night 3).
I don’t advise you to do the Ha Giang Loop in 2 days as it’s too little time to explore the region and you’ll end up glued to your motorcycle for the whole time.
Day 1: Ha Giang to Yen Minh
Assuming you’re starting the loop in Ha Giang City, you’d want to wake up early on your day 1 and leave Ha Giang before 8 AM. That’s to avoid both police checkpoints and traffic.
The standard route is to do the Ha Giang Loop clockwise, so you want to drive north on the QL4C towards Yen Minh and Dong Van. The first notable stop is in 30 km at the Bac Sum Pass
Bac Sum Pass
The first of many passes you’ll cross on the Ha Giang Loop. Bac Sum Pass offers cool views of corn and rice fields, banana plantations, and beautiful lush green meadows.
Stop at the top to take pictures of the scenery and buy a dragon fruit from the local vendors.
Quan Ba Heaven’s Gate
Remember how I said that the French thought the region was too remote to control and built a gate? That’s the gate in question.
Around 15 km after Bac Sum Pass, you’ll see the gate. Fifteen meters high, imposing, and made of 150 cm solid wood. Except this is what the gate would’ve looked like in the 1940s, but today it doesn’t exist anymore.
Instead, you’ll see a sign saying “Cong Troi Quan Ba” where the gate formerly stood.
Now, don’t cry, you’re there for the views anyway and they are incredible!
Twin Mountains (Fairy Bosom)
Not too far from Heavens Gate are two well-shaped identical mountains right next to each other in a way that, well, look like the breasts of a giant woman. Weird name, I know.
There’s a Hmong legend that a boy whistled so marvelously that a fairy fell in love with him. Unfortunately, the Jade Emperor found out and called the fairy back to the heavens. The deed was already done though – there was a kid in the hands of that poor boy, so the fairy left her bosom there to nourish the baby.
Sleep in Yen Minh
Yen Minh is a relatively large town in the region with ATMs, a gas station, and a few shops. There are plenty of places to stay either in the town or in nearby villages. As a backpacker, my recommendation is Tom Homestay.
Day 2: Yen Minh to Lung Cu to Dong Van
Tham Ma Pass and Chin Khoanh Ramp
Departing Yen Minh, you will be steadily going uphill for the next 15 km until you reach the top of Tham Ma Pass. There locals have improvised a small market for flowers around the viewpoint towards the buckwheat fields underneath. This they call the Chin Khoanh Ramp.
Some older ladies might try charging you 10.000 to 20.000 VND (0.4-0.8$) for access to the viewpoints. Honestly, it’s up to you if you want to pay – you’d be supporting the locals, but there are also plenty of free spots available.
Lung Cam Cultural Village
As you descend down into the valley, you’ll see beautiful greenish-yellow fields of flowers and buckwheat. That’s the region’s main agricultural produce.
In Lung Cam, a tourist hotspot has formed around the community. I can’t judge to what extent this is an authentic village, but the fact that kids purposefully put baskets of flowers on their backs and charge for pictures settles it for me.
If you decide to enter, there’s a small fee of 10.000 VND (0.4$) to pay. I myself got enough just looking from the outside and munching on a buckwheat sweet snack.
Hmong King Palace (Dinh Vua Mèo)
Just off Sa Phin is the former residence of the Hmong King.
The Hmong are an ethnic group from Northern Vietnam, Laos, and Southern China with their own distinct culture, traditions, clothing, and language. They ruled the region for a few centuries with a monopoly on the opium trade. Opium is how the Hmong Kings could afford a magnificent palace.
I felt the Palace today was a bit underwhelming. Not much of the interior remains and there’s very, very little information in English. The price to enter is 30.000 VND / 1.27$. I say enter, but keep your expectations low.
Sa Phin Market
On the other side of the road from the Hmong Palace is the Sa Phin Market. It is unique that it’s a weekly backwards market, i.e. instead of being held on a fixed day, it’s every 6 days, so this week it might be on Sunday, but the next it’s on Saturday, then on Friday, and so on.
How to know what day it’s on? This is the real question, isn’t it? Unfortunately, there’s no information about it online, you just have to keep track of the calendar, I guess. As a tourist, your best bet is to ask your hostel in Ha Giang or locals around the area.
When I went there, it was not a market day and the bazaar was eerily empty.
Lung Cu Flag Pole
Instead of racing forward on the QL4C to Dong Van, turn left at Sa Phin towards Vietnam’s northernmost point. I found these roads to be the most beautiful in the region, so don’t miss the chance to explore some more of the Ha Giang countryside!
As you approach Lung Cu, you’ll be able to see the fenced border of China. There’s even a manned border post where you can take some pictures. Beware and ask first – taking pictures of borders is sometimes frowned upon.
I found Lung Cu itself to be very charming. It’s remote and authentic and the village-life vibe really was to my liking. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the tacky flag pole that is the big attraction there. It’s something of a rite of passage for Vietnamese youth who come from all corners of the country.
There’s an entrance fee of 40.000 VND / 1.7$ to go up to the tower and the viewpoint.
My suggestion: skip the stupid flag pole and go to the Northernmost Point of Vietnam instead.
Drive to Dong Van and sleep there
Dong Van is about 1h drive from Lung Cu. If it’s getting late or you’re tired, I suggest you spend the night in Lung Cu. There are some rustic homestays that will really make you feel like you’re far away from civilization. One such I can recommend for a budget traveler is the Lung Cu Homestay.
If you decide to drive and sleep at Dong Van, my recommendation for a hostel is Dong Van B&B.
Day 3: Dong Van to Du Gia
If there’s a section of the Ha Giang Loop you’d want to do over and over again, let this be it. The road between Dong Van and Du Gia is the most picturesque and the most breathtaking.
Ma Pi Leng Pass
It all starts with a slow 11 km ascent toward Ma Pi Leng Pass. This road was constructed in the 1960s by minority groups in the region – mainly Hmong, Lolo, Tay, and Zhao. The name comes from the Hmong language and means “bridge of a horse’s nose”.
The road is incredibly important to the region. Prior to its completion, this section of the Ha Giang Loop was totally cut off from the world. With the road came access to education, healthcare, trade, and of course – travel.
Crossing the pass might take you much longer than the distance suggests, as the views are simply incredible and will prompt you to stop multiple times on the way for pictures.
Nho Que River
While the river is visible from the main road, many venture down to take a short boat trip on it.
The road down to the river is 193A and starts about 5 km before Meo Vac. This detour is 4 km one-way and brings you to the boat tour ticket office.
A ticket for a boat tour on the Nho Que River costs 120.000 VND / 5$ and includes the bus from the ticket office to the boats. The tour lasts about an hour and takes you all the way to under Ma Pi Leng Pass. You might have to queue for pictures at the front of the boat though – the annoyances of mass tourism.
There isn’t much to see or do in Meo Vac, although it’s a nice little town where you can have lunch. Make sure to check the local market. If you’re a dog lover, I suggest you don’t look closely at the meat. Speaking from experience.
Mau Due Viewpoint
From Meo Vac go on the DT182 road going south towards Du Gia. This road is significantly worse than the rest of the Ha Giang roads. Slow down before turns, slow down even more if there’s sand or water on the road, and don’t take unnecessary risks. It’s not like I’m saying anything new here.
Just after the town of Mau Due, there’s a nice viewpoint overlooking the valley and its rolling hills.
Drive into Du Gia to spend the night
Another 20 km from the viewpoint and you will be in Du Gia. It’s a very rustic village. There are no ATMs here, so make sure you get cash in Meo Vac or Dong Van.
The place with the best views in Du Gia is hands down Du Gia Field View Homestay. It’s quite cheap too! Definitely gets my vote!
Day 4: Du Gia to Ha Giang
Last day on the Loop, time to wrap it all up with some nice views and natural attractions. First off – a waterfall!
Du Gia Waterfall
The Du Gia Waterfall is just 15 minutes from the town. On Google Maps it’s called Thâm Luông Waterfall. Even though it’s quite close, you might still want to ask your guesthouse for directions as the roads in this region are unreliable. It’s always nice to have local insights.
At the waterfall, you can swim and jump from about 5 meters. It’s a nice place to relax for a while before moving on for the day.
Ban Vai Viewpoint
From Du Gia some people go west towards Quan Ba again, passing through Duong Thuong and Lung Tam. While these places are indeed quite nice, I decided to go south in order to make it more of a loop. It’s the Ha Giang Loop after all right?
There is way less traffic than anywhere else between Du Gia and the QL34 in the south which is all the more reason to pick it. First stop: Ban Vai! Enjoy the same beautiful views as elsewhere in Ha Giang but without the crowds.
Towards Ha Giang
The road to Ha Giang is really pleasant to drive on. From Ban Vai to Na Sai there’s very little traffic and from Na Sai to Ha Giang the road conditions are very good. It’s the smoothest riding day and you can take as many stops as you wish.
My advice is to spend the night in Ha Giang and take the morning bus to Hanoi (or Sapa). If you’re short on time, you can take a sleeper bus to Hanoi, but since it only takes 7 hours, you’ll arrive in the middle of the night. Not ideal.
However, with the day bus, you will arrive in the middle of the day which gives you an amazing opportunity to go to one of these cooking classes in Hanoi.
Where to sleep on the Ha Giang Loop
Depending on how you plan your Loop adventure, you’ll probably be sleeping in Yen Minh, Lung Cu, Dong Van, Meo Vac, and/or Du Gia.
|Place on the Ha Giang Loop||My recommendation for budget backpackers|
|Ha Giang||Ha Giang Ali Hostel|
|Yen Minh||Tom Homestay|
|Lung Cu||Lung Cu Homestay|
|Dong Van||Dong Van B&B|
|Meo Vac||Lo Lo Homestay & Cafe Meo Vac|
|Du Gia||Du Gia Field View Homestay|
What is an “Easy Rider”?
Easy Rider is the general term used for when you are on the back of a motorcycle driven by an experienced driver. This is how most people do the Ha Giang Loop. You can either hire a private driver or join a tour.
The cost of hiring a private motorcycle driver on the loop is upwards of 800.000 VND / 34$ per day, and you should also pay for their food and accommodation.
Easy Rider tours generally go for a minimum of 2.500.000 VND / 106.5$ for a 3D/2N tour, inclusive of accommodation and food. However, most tours are offered more in the range of 4-5 million VND (170-210$).
If you’re an inexperienced driver, I strongly suggest you carefully consider an Easy Rider. Just because some reckless people do the Loop independently, doesn’t mean you should too.
What bike to rent for the Ha Giang Loop?
There are many different motorcycles out there, but they all fall into three categories.
Scooters (fully automatic)
No, just no. Don’t ride a scooter on the Ha Giang Loop.
These are the bikes without gears where you just turn the handle and go. For one, it’s not possible to change down a gear to add more power to the bike, so you can go over steep sections. For two, going downhill, you’re running the risk of overheating the brakes, as the engine can easily go into automatic and not help with controlling the speed at all.
Scooters are for cities, not for mountains.
These are the best choice for the Ha Giang Loop and the most common choice for riders.
Semi-auto bikes have gears but don’t have a clutch. Changing gears is easy and learnable in 20 minutes of practice. Gear will allow you to go up steep slopes and more easily control your speed going down.
The most common semi-auto bike in Vietnam is the Honda Blade 110 CC which has 4 gears.
The cost of renting a semi-auto in Ha Giang is around 150.000 to 200.000 VND (6.4 to 8.5$) per day.
Manual bikes are an excellent choice for the Ha Giang Loop. These bikes have both gears and a clutch allowing you maximum control. The most popular manual bike in Vietnam is the Honda XR 150 CC.
The cost of renting a 150 CC manual bike is around 350.000 VND / 15$ per day.
Renting a motorcycle in Ha Giang
You can rent a motorcycle pretty much anywhere in Ha Giang. Almost all hostels offer motorcycles for rent. You cannot walk more than 200 meters without seeing a rental shop there. It’s Vietnam – a nation of 82 million with 50 million motorcycles.
I rented a semi-auto Honda Blade from my hostel – Ha Giang Ali Hostel and was very satisfied. The bike was new, I had no problems at all, and I knew that even if I had, I could rely on Mr. Ali to help me.
Rentals usually require that you leave your passport while renting the bike. It’s standard practice, although I always give my ID card instead and they’ve always been happy with that all around Vietnam. Carry a photocopy of your passport with you on the Loop if you leave it in Ha Giang.
What documents do you need to drive legally on the Ha Giang Loop?
Legally speaking, to drive the Ha Giang Loop, you need:
- Ha Giang Loop Permit;
- Motorcycle Driver’s Licence;
- International Driver’s Licence from a country that has signed the 1968 Vienna Convention;
The Ha Giang Permit
Nobody actually cares about this one. Most people don’t even bother to obtain it. Yes, you are legally required to have it, but even police don’t ask to see it at road stops. But then again, you never know.
Nevertheless, if you want to be totally in the clear, head to the Ha Giang Immigration Office, pay the 230.000 VND / 9.8$, and get it in 30 minutes.
Motorcycle Driver’s Licence
That would be Category A on the Road Convention Classification. Category AM doesn’t cut it, as it’s only for motorcycles reaching max speed below 45 km/h.
Category A1 is also okay, as long as the motorcycle you rent is under 125CC.
International Driver’s Licence
Crucially, Vietnam has NOT signed the 1949 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, only the 1968 one. Thus, any country that has ratified the 1949 one, but not the 1968 one will produce an IDP invalid in Vietnam.
Examples of such countries are the USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Ireland, India, and Argentina among others.
If you have a 1949 IDP, then the only way to legally drive in Vietnam is to obtain a local driver’s license. It’s a complicated process and no wonder most people don’t bother with it. You can read all about obtaining a Temporary Vietnamese Driver’s Licence for Foreigners here.
There are two types of insurance that you want to have on the Ha Giang Loop: personal and motorcycle.
IMPORTANT: Your travel insurance WILL NOT cover you if you drive illegally. That also includes driving with a 1949 IDP.
Travel insurance when driving without a valid license is basically worthless.
That one is up to you. If you’re traveling, chances are that you already have one. Just make sure you are covered for traffic accidents in the insurance policy.
This one is offered by the motorcycle rental for an additional cost. Your travel insurance, depending on the policy, could cover you for third-party liability and property damage. Otherwise, I suggest you buy insurance from your renter.
I paid 100.000 VND / 4.25$ per day for motorcycle insurance.
Police Checks on the Ha Giang Loop
In recent years police presence in Ha Giang has increased. Given the fact that the Loop has started attracting many new riders, most of whom inexperienced, and with a few fatal accidents every year, their presence is probably warranted.
Still, there’s very little police on the actual loop. Most police stay at the exits/entrances of Ha Giang, sometimes also Meo Vac and Dong Van.
I didn’t see a single policeman in my three days driving on the Ha Giang Loop.
Whether you’re driving legally or not, I suggest you do your best to avoid dealing with the police. On your day 1, wake up early and leave Ha Giang before 8 AM – that’s when the police start manning their posts. They usually stay here.
What to do if you have an accident
An accident on the Ha Giang Loop can mean anything from a light scratch on the motorcycle to death. You don’t want either, of course, but let’s assume you’re physically okay after a crash. What now?
Call your rental. They have had this happen before and know what to do. They also speak Vietnamese, so they can speak to whoever else was involved in the crash.
If there’s light damage to someone else’s car or motorcycle, you can probably get away by just paying a few hundred thousand Dong. They don’t want to call the police just as much as you, so chances are they will take the money.
If there’s damage to your bike, call your rental to discuss the next steps. Don’t repair the bike without consulting them first.
Fuel costs around 20.000 VND / 0.85$ per liter on the Ha Giang Loop. It’s readily available. There are petrol stations in all the cities – Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Du Gia, etc. and between them, there are locals selling 1L bottles of petrol on the street.
Motorcycles have around 3L gas tanks. Three liters last around 120 km. You should top up at least every 100 km.
To go around the loop, a regular motorcycle needs around 10 liters of fuel.
There are some ATMs in Dong Van and Meo Vac, but I suggest you take enough cash with you to cover all costs during the 3-5 days you’ll be on the Ha Giang Loop. Cards are not taken anywhere. Can you imagine a traditional Hmong market vendor taking card payments, hah, wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?
Both Google Maps and Maps.me provide good navigation on the Ha Giang Loop.
Ask your rentals for a smartphone stand (phone mount) for the motorcycle and under absolutely no circumstances, use your smartphone while driving.
When NOT to go on the Ha Giang Loop?
The rainy season hits Ha Giang in full force between June and September. Think of pouring rain, landslides, floods, and mud everywhere. It’s really not an enjoyable experience, read about last year’s damage here.
I strongly advise you to reconsider doing the Ha Giang Loop during the rainy season. The possibility that you have a miserable time is way too big. Yes, the weather is always unpredictable in Ha Giang, but don’t risk it with July and August.
On the flip side, the dry season in North Vietnam is between October and April. It can get cold in the winter in Ha Giang, thus the absolute best months to visit are October, November, March, and April.
Ha Giang Loop Rapid Answers
All your questions (hopefully) answered.
How many days for the Ha Giang Loop?
Between 2 and 5
How long is the Ha Giang Loop?
Between 310 and 450 km depending on your route. The standard route is Ha Giang -> Yen Minh -> Lung Cu -> Dong Van -> Meo Vac -> Du Gia -> Ha Giang which is around 370 km.
How to get to Ha Giang from Hanoi?
Book a sleeper bus (day or night) from any hostel or tour operator for ~250.000 VND / 10.7$.
How to get to Ha Giang from Sapa?
There’s a daily minibus from Sapa to Ha Giang for 300.000 VND / 12.7$.
How hard is the Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop?
It’s hard and that’s the beauty of it. Don’t underestimate the roads nor overestimate your abilities or the bike’s capabilities.
Can you do the Ha Giang Loop as a beginner?
Technically yes, but I strongly, strongly, STRONGLY advise you to take an easy rider.
Can I drive on the Ha Giang Loop without a driving license?
Legally no, but many do anyway. The penalty, if the police catch you, ranges from a small fine to bike impounding and potentially even more serious consequences.
Can you do the Ha Giang Loop by car?
Yes, but the true magic is on the back of a motorcycle. If you can’t drive yourself, take an Easy Rider.
Can you do the Ha Giang Loop by public transport?
Yes, but it’s not a lot of fun. There are minibuses between Ha Giang and Dong Van, and also between Dong Van and Meo Vac, and from Meo Vac to Ha Giang.
However, getting anywhere off-path is very difficult, and stopping for pictures is obviously out of the question.
Can you do the Ha Giang Loop on a scooter?
It is possible, but a semi-automatic bike is a much better and safer option. Changing gears helps you with both going up and down steep slopes.
The engine helps keep the brakes from overheating and the foot brake gives one of your hands a rest from the brakes.
What bike to rent on the Ha Giang Loop?
Honda Blade 110 CC is the most popular bike and powerful enough to get you everywhere hassle-free.
Which months to avoid for the Ha Giang Loop?
July and August have the most rain and the biggest chance of landslides and floods.
What clothes to pack for the Ha Giang Loop?
Waterproof jacket, raincoat, blouse of some sort, long pants, closed shoes you don’t mind getting extremely dirty.
How much money for a 4-day self-organized Ha Giang Loop?
Around 2.500.000 VND (106$) including everything.
Parting Words of Advice
The Ha Giang Loop is awesome! It’s so unique and so remote that a lot of its authenticity has been preserved to this day. In the face of growing tourism and outside influence, now might be the perfect time to visit it.
Make no mistake though – this is a dangerous road trip with significant risks to your health and life. If you’re not experienced enough on a motorbike, please take an Easy Rider – don’t become a statistic!
One way or another, have fun and enjoy the marvel that the Ha Giang Loop is!