Exploring Vietnam’s final frontier. A roadtrip through Ha Giang Province

Posted by on March 13, 2014

Sunset Ha Giang District, Dong VanHanoi was great to get a first taste of Vietnam. But after a few days in the city and touring its highlights, it was time for serious adventure again. Aris, a fellow traveler and photographer whom I met in Myanmar, recommended traveling all the way up North to tour the province of Ha Giang by motorbike. By many this remote and mysterious area is regarded as Vietnam’s final frontier. Bordering China’s Yunnan Province, the region boasts nature as you have probably never seen it. Massive limestone walls, granite outcrops everywhere, hanging valleys, rice terraces climbing to the clouds and winding roads carved into the mountains. This alone sounded like a great adventure but combined with the ubiquitous presence of the local hill tribes, mostly the proud Black Hmong, this tour quickly became a must do on our Vietnam itinerary.

Preparations

“Why would you want to go there? Tourists don’t go there.” was a common reply from locals, accompanied with a look which was a mix of confusion and reverence, we received when explaining our plans. Before heading to Ha Giang City, the region’s capital, we got in touch with Ha Giang local Nguyên.  The contact with Nguyên, a super welcoming and helpful guy working at Ha Giang Resort, was established by Aris and he was supposed to pre-arrange a decent motorbike for us. All of the conversation happened via Facebook and some short text messages, so we left Hanoi with a little bit of uncertainty since we heard motorbikes can sometimes be hard to arranged up there.

Transport to Ha Giang is surprisingly easy. A comfortable sleeper bus leaves several times daily (and at night) from My Dinh station. For a more than 8 hour ride the price of 200.000 VND is absolutely fair. We arrived in the sleepy town of Ha Giang City in the later afternoon and had the bus driver drop us off on the town’s main road. We quickly found a nice hotel for around 250.000 VND, settled in and I sent a final message to Nguyên. Things continued to fall into place as we met up with him the next morning at his resort where he showed us our ride – a sweet 125cc Honda, looking crisp and clean. After a small breakfast at the resorts restaurant we finally took off. First stop Dong Van.

Day 1: Ha Giang City to Dong Van (145 km)

The weather was perfect with the sun out shining bright, no clouds and a fresh breeze blowing in our faces as we started to drive into the Northern Vietnamese mountains. With the best still to come, the scenery was already amazing. As we were climbing up the narrow road, sheer limestone cliffs and surrounding mountains became our constant companions.

Enter road to Dong Van, Vietnam

Start of our trip

Fishermen fixing their nets on route Dong Van, Vietnam

Fishermen fixing their nets

Fishermen fixing net on the way to Dong Van

Delicate work

We stopped here and there but our first stop would be a small village not too far from Ha Giang. We just had a rough description of how to get there and where to turn but we eventually found it. Taking a hidden side road, crossing a rusty and suspiciously careening and creaking hanging bridge, we pulled into a small and very modest village. As usual the first ones to greet us were the local kids, screaming and shouting wondering what these strange visitors were up to. After wandering around the village for a while, I noticed a small and house with smoke rising out of its little chimney. I was attracted by loud laughter coming from the inside and I decided to give in to my curiosity and have a quick peek. As soon as the family inside spotted me, there was no turning back. I was happily welcomed and dragged inside. It was dim inside with only a couple of windows letting a bit of light in and the room was filled with thick smoke from the fireplace. It seemed to be one big family with several kids, their parents, grandparents and what seemed to be aunts and uncles.

The way into town over the narrow and rusty bridge.

The way into the village over the narrow and rusty bridge.

Preparing lunch for everybody.

Preparing lunch for everybody.

One of the two grandmothers.

One of the two grandmothers.

The kids of the family.

The kids of the family.

The very vital grandmother instantly offered us some homemade rice wine. As guests you can’t refuse such an offer so we went along and had one and then a few more. This stuff is strong and hence it didn’t miss its purpose. A bit tipsy, communicating all of sudden got a little bit easier. With a loosened tongue, our basic Vietnamese and the help of a little phrasebook, it actually worked out quite well and we had a great time. Right when we were about to leave and continue our trip, the family insisted for us to stay for lunch which they had prepared in the meantime.With every one of them being pretty assertive, there was again no way to refuse their generous offer. We all sat down on the floor, smiled at each other and ate. It was an experience I will never forget. This family didn’t have much, not even running water, but they were happy to share their meal with two foreigners they had just met. The kindness and open-heartedness of the people in South East Asia once again left me in astonishment.

Invited for lunch with a local family - somewhere in the Northern Vietnamese province of Ha Giang

Invited for lunch with a local family – somewhere in the Northern Vietnamese province of Ha Giang

We said good bye to our friendly hosts and continued our journey to Dong Van. We still had quite a ways to go and time had flown by. As we crossed a beautiful mountain pass with the poetic name of Heaven’s Gate on the way up, we still took our time and stopped several times to take in the beautiful scenery or to get our picture taken with local kids we met by the road. After a while dawn set in and dipped the landscape in a yellow and purple hue. As the last sun rays made it over the mountain tops, we had our first encounters with some of the regions ethnic minorities. Most of them Hmong, with the men dressed in high-necked tunics and matching berets and the women wearing colorful headdresses, carrying heave bamboo baskets on their back. It was so impressive and so different from we had seen before, that we forgot about time. Riding along the serpentine like road in darkness was exhilarating and a bit intimidating at the same time but after a good hour we finally and safely pulled into Dong Van.

View from the top of Heaven's Gate pass

View from the top of Heaven’s Gate pass

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New friends made on the road to Dong Van

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Black Hmong having a gathering

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Going home. Women work hard here.

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The local bus from Ha Giang plowing up the hill

The weekly market, a very important event for the local hill tribes, was scheduled for the next day.  Good timing for us but since we arrived late, most of the hotels and guesthouses were already fully booked. After asking around, we finally found a hotel which had a room. It was actually a nice place and the owners even had arranged our permits at the local police station, which are still needed to tour the Ha Giang region. We finished the day at a local BBQ place where we were once again invited for rice wine. And yet again, we had a great time with the locals and this time it ended not only tipsy but pretty much drunk.

Partying with the locals

Partying with the locals

Day 2: Dong Van market and around

It was market day and the town was already hustling and bustling in the early hours of the day. Hmong women wearing vivid, traditional dresses filed down from their hilltop abodes carrying all sorts of produce  to the town market. Traders were offering everything from traditional clothing, tobacco, incents, and tea. Farmers steered water buffalo and hogs around the market’s edge. The people were busy haggling and looking for bargains but also happy to meet friends and relatives from other villages. It was busy, colorful and authentic with only very few foreigners around.  We wanted to get a local breakfast and took a seat at one of the stalls set up on the market ground. Freshly cooked Pho, the traditional noodle soup, was on offer, steaming hot and smelling all so tasty.

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Hot!

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Local girl daydreaming

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Discussing the prices

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Good times at the market

Pho in the making

Pho in the making

We walked around the market a bit longer and then decided to check out some of Dong Van’s other highlights. We first tried to make our way up to a small hilltop village. The road was really bad and some would actually not even call it road. Just a path carved into the mountain covered with rocks. We passed villagers returning to their villages and we realized how far away some of these people live. To make it to the market, they must have left their villages in the middle of the night. The path became more and more rugged and steeper and we started to worry about our precious bike. We finally decided to turn around not knowing if the village was still far or just around the next bend.

Riding through the North Vietnamese Hillside

Riding through the North Vietnamese Hillside

The sky cleared up and we decided to drive up to Lung Cu where the Vietnamese set up a huge flagpole on top of a hill overlooking China. The outlook of actually seeing China from up there was intriguing, but unfortunately we never made it. Once we pulled into town, we were escorted by a police officer on a motorbike to the local station. Apparently we had to register with them first. To our dismay we realized that our permits were inside our passports which we had left at our hotels reception. There we were, in a Vietnamese police station confronted by a grumpy official, in the middle of nowhere. Not a good feeling and when he let us know that we would have to instantly go back to Dong Van, we were actually relieved that we didn’t have to face more serious consequences. So if you think you can easily go without a permit, don’t do it. At least if you plan on venturing a bit out of Dong Van and Ha Giang.
It was already late afternoon when we headed back and a beautiful sunset compensated for the hassle before. Everything was glowing in yellow and orange tones with the surrounding mountains casting dramatic shadows over the valleys below.  Here and there we spotted some lonely Hmong women carrying wood and other things home. It was late, and we were ready to make it back to our hotel, this time before dark.

Sunset over Ha Giang Province and a lone Hmong woman

Sunset over Ha Giang Province and a lone Hmong woman

Compensation for the hassle with the police

Compensation for the hassle with the police

Day 3: Dong Van, Meo Vac back to Ha Giang (180km)

The next morning we set out early on the last leg of our exploration of Ha Giang: the 20 km journey from Dong Van to the town of Meo Vac, a drive that some say is the most splendid in the country. Having done a few extraordinary motorbike tours in South East Asia (The Mae Hong Song Loop in Thailand or the Thakhek Loop in Laos), I have to say that this was probably the best I have done. Built beginning in 1959, the slender road linking the two towns clings to the side of a massive gorge and is not for the weak of stomach. The road rose up and dipped, twisted and soared. Up at the Ma Pi Leng Pass the Nho Que river down at the bottom of the gorge looked like an ochre thread. Unfortunately the view wasn’t the best due to a rather misty sky. It was still impressive. The road carved into the side of the mountain took us down again and every bit of this 20 km ride was fantastic.

Valley and cliffs

Valley and cliffs

Enjoying the views

Enjoying the views

On the way up the Ma Pi Leng Pass

On the way up the Ma Pi Leng Pass

The Nho Que river down below

The Nho Que river down below

After short coffee stop in Meo Vac we gazed back at the road behind us and embarked on the long way back to Ha Giang. Along the way we passed many small villages and along with the scenery the architecture of the houses changed. It seemed like down here other tribes than Hmong had settled. We would have liked to find out more but time was precious that day. We still took our time to stop every now and then and had lunch with a bunch of locals in a roadside eatery. And once again we were invited for a few shots of rice wine. By this point it had already become a well-known custom for us. Tipsy again we took off and once again in the dark, we made it back to Ha Giang.

Last thoughts…

The Ha Giang Loop as I call it was without a doubt the best motorbike tour I have done in Asia. In terms of scenery combined with all the encounters with the local people, the trip is very hard to beat. After having already seen so much of Asia until that point, I was afraid that this trip wouldn’t fascinate me so much anymore. I had high expectations but they were even topped. Ha Giang is really a land like no other and the fact that it is still not so frequented by tourists makes it even more worthwhile. With all the reports about Sapa, a neighboring city, being spoilt by the massive influx of tourists, it was the best decision to explore Ha Giang instead. In my opinion this region can only be properly explored on a motorbike. It would not have been the same experience in a car, that is for sure. And you need sufficient time. The three days we took is the absolute minimum. I even wish we would have had more time to go further East and South to places like Cao Bang or Ba Be. But I am happy I did it and even though the ride from Hanoi is long, it was totally worth it. For me personally, this was the highlight of my month in Vietnam.

93 Responses to Exploring Vietnam’s final frontier. A roadtrip through Ha Giang Province

  1. marianina

    Absolutely gorgeous photos!

    • Phil D.

      Thanks Marianina, I really appreciate your feedback. Glad you like the photos.

    • Minh Thuong

      i very like your absolutely gorgeous photos.im in Vietnam but i never visit Ha Giang, wow,nit really speciala and dep :D. And one day when you visit Vn i will tell you mỏre place -it maybe u will like. i like your photo

      • Phil D.

        Hi Minh, would love to see more places in Vietnam. Which ones do you like and which ones would you show me?

  2. Kyong

    Great post and pics. I didn’t even know about this loop in Vietnam. Picturesque scenery and friendly locals make for an amazing adventure. Thanks for sharing.

    • Phil D.

      Hey Kyong, I know you wold have liked that tour. Was better than the Mae Hong ong Loop. How are your travels going? Glad nothing more serious on your recent encounter with that butterfly. Sounded like it was literally on the edge. How is u anyways?

  3. AngelicaTravels

    Stunning landscape, especially that of Ha Giang. Thanks for sharing! Another rewarding adventure you’ve done. 😉

    • Phil D.

      Hi Angelica, thanks again for stopping by. It was an adventure and that in a country where true adventure has become sort of hard to find. In the end Vietnam has become quiet touristy already.

  4. juliaracemusicservices

    Your photos are amazing! Your “compensation” photo is now part of my desktop.

    • Phil D.

      Hi Julia, thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate it. Glad you like the pictures. I feel honored to have a picture of mine on your desktop. Thanks again for stopping by. Greetings from Germany, Philipp

  5. rinda

    Hi Phil, I really like the photos of the market, a lot of interesting scenes. Is that their traditional clothes? So colourful…

    • Phil D.

      Hi Rinda, thanks for stopping by. It is there traditional outfit and the cool thing is, that they don’t just wear it for special occasions or even worse for the tourists. It’s their everyday outfit, just normal. And as you can see, they shop for new clothes at the weekly market. Very, very interesting there. If you get the chance to visit that area, then I strongly recommend doing it. For me, it was the best part of all of Vietnam. Very unique, very interesting and still not that touristy. But I bet that this will change very soon ….

  6. Jens

    Hi Phil! Awesome trip… When exactly did you travel there? We are going there this summer (july-august) but we’re hoping the weather will be OK.. On your pictures the weather seems really nice. Have you perhaps seen some larger villages or guesthouses on the road from Meo Vac to Ha Giang…? We would like to start our drive back from Meo Vac to Ha Giang after the sunday markets in Dong Van and Meo Vac but the whole distance seems a bit too much for just 1 afternoon. And I don’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere with no place to sleep… :p I also hope it will still be as untouristy as you mentioned. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea to talk so much about it on the internet 😉

    • Phil D.

      Hi Jens, I traveled there just last year in mid-October. I am not sure but July – August might be rainy season. You better check before you go but even in rainy season it should be doable. A friend of mine did it but he said it really rained a lot which makes it a little less enjoyable I would think. On the way back from Meo Vac you just pass some small settlements and I am not sure if these have proper guesthouses. We basically plowed through and didn’t really stop in any of the villages. Maybe you can ask some locals either in Ha Giang or in Dong Van if they know if anything. Why not spend the whole Sunday in and around Dong Van – Meo Vac and then drive back the next day? It’s nice up there and there is heaps to see and explore beside the markets. It is really worth it in my opinion. And then the drive back is definitely doable in one day. I am sure you will have a great time…. where else in Vietnam will you go? Cheers, Philipp

  7. Jens

    Yes maybe we should just stay there for the whole sunday and just walk or drive around a bit. What road did you take on the way back to Ha Giang? I prefer not to take the same road back but I haven’t read about the road conditions of the road from meo vac to Ha Giang. We are travelling to HCM – Hoi an – Hue – Ninh Binh – Bai tu long bay/quan Lan – Hanoi – Ha Giang province (Yen minh, dong van, meo vac, hoang su phi) and after that we will have to choose between a few days in Bac Ha or a few days in the Mekong delta before heading back to HCM :) I think we will let it depend on the weather. Any other advice for the rest of our trip? :) Cheers!

  8. Phil D.

    Going by the weather is a great idea. When we were there, the South and Central Vietnam were hit by a huge Taifun but the North was ok. Sometime the weather really dictates your itinerary. For hte exact road, please check my blog post. I posted a map which outlines the exact route. The road from Meo Vac to Ha Giang is totally fine. The last stretch was being renewed but still ok driving, no problem. Your itinerary sounds great, I bet you will have lots of fun. If I was you, I would opt for a couple of days in the Delta. It’s unique and for me it was a must see although it of course has become very touristy. I also posted some info about it in one of my last blog articles. If you have the time, maybe you can manage to stop in Dalat. It’s really enjoayble there… Also good for motorbiking and outdoor activities ….

  9. Patrick

    Hey Phil,

    Great pictures. I’m looking to add this area into my travels this fall, but am a little unsure about transportation. Were buses a realistic option for taking in the sights? Do you know if car+driver is available for hire in the region? Were the motorbikes you used automatic or manual?

    Thanks and good luck.

    • Phil D.

      Hi Patrick, no problem at all. You can do any of the option you mentioned. Getting around by bus is really easy in any of the destinations. But it also depends on the sights you wanna visit. If they are remote, you need to find a way to go there yourself. In that case, you can either rent a motorbike (I drove mostly manual because I like it, but Automatic bikes are available as well), hire a driver or rent a tuk tuk or a local motorbike driver for a day. It is really easy and once you are there you will find out what the best ways are to make to a specific site. Don’t worry. Where exactly are you planning to go then? Cheers my friend, Philipp

    • Phil D.

      Hi Patrick, I spent a whole month in Laos ad basically crossed the whole country from the far North to Southern border with Cambodia. It’s a nice country to visit, check out my blog posts on the different places I visited. Just search Laos or click destinations up in the menu and then Laos.

      I wouldn’t worry about the roads or border crossings…. no problems there. I think it doesn’t really matter in which order you visit the countries. I would rather determine the itinerary according to the time you have and how long you wanna spend in each country and which places you wanna visit. If you have a short time only, this will probably be the limiting and deciding factor.

      Haven’t made it to Cao Bang but you can combine this with the Ha Giang Motorbike Tour which will extend the tour by a couple of days. A friend of mine did it and said it was nice. Maps: I picked up a papermap in a bookstore in Hanoi. I don’t remember the name but it was totally enough. I also navigated a lot with google maps….basically checking the route at the hotel the night before and then using it offline on the road. GPS always works without having internet access. The main circle is really easy and it’s hard to get lost. Only if you venture off and go to some smaller villages….. But yeah, it should be doable for you.

      How much time did you say do you have for the overall trip including Vietnam and Laos?

      Cheers, Phil

      • Patrick

        Hey Phil,

        My schedule is fairly flexible, but I’ve been thinking 2-3 weeks in Northern Vietnam and 1.5-2 weeks for Laos before crossing into Thailand. Sound reasonable or will I be spending most of that time on buses?

        Thanks again for the info. I’m definitely going to tear through the rest of your Laos and Vietnam posts.

  10. Patrick

    Hey Philipp,

    Thanks for the info. It’s good to know I have a number of options. Did you have any phone or internet access in the Northern areas? Were you able to find some decent maps beforehand? I’ll be coming up from Indonesia and am still trying to decide if I want to do Laos->Vietnam or Vietnam->Laos. I’ve read that the overland border roads are a bit of a nightmare in that area and I’m not sure if it’d be easier to go Hanoi->Ha Giang region or Luang Prabang, Laos->Ha Giang->Hanoi. I’d also like to hit up Cao Bang and visit Ban Gioc falls. Did you head over to Laos on your trip?

    Thanks again.

    • Phil D.

      Hi Patrick, 2-3 weeks in Northern Vietnbam is def. enough time. 1.5 to 2 weeks in Laos is good but you would probably still have to kind of plan what you wanna see. It’s probably not enough to see the whole country without being in a rush. But yeah, just decide what kind of stuff you wanna do and see and then build your itinerary around that. Should be a really nice trip ….. Nice man, I am already jelous 😉

  11. bro9ando

    Hey Phil,

    First off, I loved your post and the photos are nothing short of stunning! My buddy and I are going to be traveling to Ha Giang in early October and intend to do the same as you–starting in Ha Giang and renting bikes from there. I was just wondering if you had contact to the man who sorted out your bike rentals? That is the one thing that’s a worry for me–I want to make sure we both have solid bikes ready for us when we get there. Thanks so much!

    -EJ

    • Phil D.

      Hi Elijah, yes I had contacted the guy beforehand via Facebook. He was a receptionist at a resort a bit out of town. Worked very smoothly, wasn’t the cheapest though. Maybe there others who rent for less. But yeah, I just wanted to make sure since I heard it could be a bit difficult. It’s a great trip.. I am sure you will enjoy …

      • Jun Béo

        Now there are some motorbike for rent shops in Ha Giang city, quite easy to find on Internet or you can ask bus driver for shop’s contact.

        If you still make your plan to go there, I can help you with more details, tips and very useful information. No worries, just a Vietnamese traveler like you guys.

        Have a great trip!

  12. tony

    hi phil .
    great trip you guys did awesome
    me and my girlfriend are going to do this trip in dec januari .
    first of , do you know any good motorbikes Company you can hire at and how much did you guys pay för the bikes , and how about insjureences ?
    and last can anyone get permitts easy and where ?

    sorry for my bad English

    • Phil D.

      Hi Tony, I don’t know of any bike companies there as things aren’t too developed. Just ask around or at your hotel when you are there and they will sure be able to hook u up. Permits can also be arranged by your hotel or guesthouse. That was fairly easy. Insurances? For what? If you break things you pay it. It’s easy … and if you do, make sure to get it done by a mechanic of your choice before returning the bike. Price per day for a 125cc was about 10$ which is comparable expensive. You might be able to get a better deal these days. I hope that helped a little. Let me know if you need further info … Cheers bro

    • Jun Béo

      Hi Tony,

      I’m so get into your adventure. Quite interesting to read your sharing, your thought about Vietnam, HG in particular – my nation. As a Vietnamese worked in Ha Giang for 1 year, I completely agree with Phil D that Ha Giang is worth to travel that far. Friendly local people, nice scenery and interesting customs.

      Ha Giang now is more popular, motorbike renting easier. If you plan to visit Ha Giang, just feel free to contact me if you need any help or information or some tips.

      On the way back from Meo Vac/Dong Van to Ha Giang, you can spend 1 night in Quan Ba or Yen Minh town as middle point. Small town, local food, easy to find hotels, not too bad facilities but I think 1 night is fine (think about the people and the beautiful scene in stead of facilities in this remote province).

      Don’t be scared. I’m just a traveler who is really fell in love with Ha Giang and the people there and I’m so proud to introduce it to foreigners, who love travelling like me. OMG! I have so many things to share 😀

      My e-mail add: suachuada202@gmail.com

  13. Sarah and Jason

    What a beautiful blog! We are heading to Ha Giang on Monday. I was already really looking forward to going and now after reading your blog I am even more excited.
    We had a very similar experience to the one you had when we were in China. We were staying in one of the poorest provinces and was shown such kindness and generosity by the people there! It’s amazing how people with so little are still able to be so generous! I feel I have a lot to learn from these beautiful and kind people.
    Your photos are stunning too!

    • Phil D.

      Hi Sarah, I am jelous now. I bet you guys will have a wonderful time up there. Enjoy the trip. Can you tell me where in China that was? It sounds really interesting and like a place I would enjoy as well. Thanks a lot. Philipp

      • jasonahmed99

        I’m really excited we just arrived in Ha Giang this morning. We are just trying to find where to get the permit! Your photos are so beautiful. The place in China was a village called Getu, it has the Great Arch there. It’s about an two hours away from a places called Ziyun. We went there for rock climbing. It was beautiful! If you get chance the blog I have written about there is called Another Story From Getu. If you go let me know! I can give you some tips if you need them.

        • Phil D.

          Hi Jason, great that you are in HG now. I am so jelous ;). I hope everything will work out for you guys..enjoy the trip. I am sure you will have an amazing time. Let me know how it went and what you did. So nice up there.
          Oh and thanks for the tip about Getu and Ziyun…I will for sure look it up as I really want to head to China sometime soon :)

          • jasonahmed99

            Thank you! Will definitely keep you posted. China is amazing, we spent three months there. You should definitely check it out. We stayed awsy from the usual spots that people visit. Only head to Ziyun to get yo Getu though, there is not too much there. The people in Ziyun are happy to see you though but its just a town where people go get their supplies.

          • jasonahmed99

            Would you be wanting to do China on a bike? We are just back from Ha Giang, it was amazing. Oh by the way its Sarah messaging you, Jasons wife.

    • Phil D.

      Can you tell me which places you enjoyed most or which you recommend. 3 months is a good time to see places and you guys seem to travel the same way I am enjoying it. Would be happy to get some tips from you. Thanks a lot 😉

    • Phil D.

      Hi Sarah, glad you had a good time up in Ha Giang. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind riding a bike in China but I could also imagine traveling by local transport…buses and what else might be there. I am just eager to do it and see some of the more remote and authentic places.

      • jasonahmed99

        Doing Chins on local transport is fantastic, you get a real feel for the place and everyone is so happy to see you. Some of them have genuinely never seen a foreigner before. Chinese people are some of the kindest people I’ve come into contact with. I would definitely recommend you explore the Tibetan Plateau. It’s in the Sichuan Province of China. You need a Chinese visa but nothing additional. It’s a magical place. The Sichuan Province and Yunnan Province were my favourite places in China. Ha Giang for me was kind of like being back in China, which is why I loved it so much. I would also highly recommend Taiwan, lots of surfing, trekking, biking, cycling, diving, Taiwan has everything!

    • Phil D.

      Wow, your description sounds amazing. I heard a lot about Yunnan Province and it really must be great to see. I haven’t herad so much about Sichuan so that is definitely a valuable tip. After I just read your comment, wanderlust really came out with full force again.
      Could you give me a few specific tips on which places are great to see in these two provinces, or like an interesting route you guys took? That would be terrific and a great help.

      Taiwan sounds also cool. Might as well do it if I am in that region already hehe. I didn’t know they had surfing there. Makes it even better.

      OK you guys, thanks so much for the information. That’s really great. Where are you off to next? Have a safe trip. Philipp

      • jasonahmed99

        So when are you setting off again? You are welcome for the tips and info, I’m glad some of it has been useful for you. Feel free to ask away about China and Taiwan. I can talk for hours about then both. Taiwan is probably one of my most favourite places we’ve been, such an amazing country. The people are so beautiful there. I’m glad you like our Taiwan blogs, there are a lot of them. Did you bookmark the cycle you’re we did on road bikes or the motorbike one? You will love Taiwan. Lots of surfing there too, I think we wrote a blog about the surfing we tried.
        Def check out Sichuan, heading west of Chengdu. We only had five days there and I was gutted we didn’t have longer. My friend went motorbiking around that area(Tibetan Plateau) and visited all the villages and had an amazing time. You can also enter that area from the North of Yunnan. I will get some details together for you on China too. I hope they will be useful for you, a lot of the places we visited water for rock climbing.
        If you get chance have a read of a few of the China ones too.
        So we are heading to Laos next, or that’s the idea at the minute. We’ve marked the motorbiking you did there too, thanks for that it sounds cool.
        Let me know when you decide to head to China and Taiwan! I will be super jealous!

    • Phil D.

      By the way, I have just read all of your Taiwan blog post. So cool and so much good info. I instantly marked the bike trip you did in my google maps wish list. Thanks a lot..realy helpful…

  14. Phil D.

    Hi Sarah,
    i read the blog about your stay in Sichuan and your tour to the Tibetan nomads. Another thing I instantly bookmarked. One question about your friend who toured the area by motorbike. had he bought or reted the bike somewhere?

    And about Taiwan, I bookmarked the bicycle trip you did. I actually haven’t seen a blog about a motorbike tour. Can you send me the link please…. that would be really interesting to read.

    And yes, if you could send me some info about places in China, feel free to send me those. I’d really appreciate that.

    If you need some tips about Laos, let me know. I spent a month there and saw quite a bit. I reckon you guys would love the far North as it also similar to the Vietnamese North. From there you can take a boat down the Nam Ou river which I found pretty cool.

    Thanks Sarah and have a great week ahead. Phil

  15. Jhania Maliniemi

    Working my way through your blog here, good stuff. I have traveled several times in SEA, but now gearing up for a much longer trip of 5-9 months. Highly interested in doing the loop described above. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Phil D.

      Hi Jhania, where are you from then? Your name sounds Finnish but don’t be mad if I am wrong here ;). It’s great to hear that you already got to travel SEA several times. I was the same before I decided to embark on a much longer trip. It was the best decision and I am sure you will also have the best time. The tour in the far North of Vietnam was a definite highlight of my entire journey. Do it if you can! Cheers and all the best, Philipp

  16. Jhania Maliniemi

    Nope not mad, spot on Maliniemi is my Finnish husbands name ( and mine now too), but I am Australian. Actually my hubby and I met in SEA, and I have been itching to go back there for a longer trip and now just today we booked it! In the past I have always done SEA solo, but we did Africa last year together, so really looking forward to this trip! One can never visit this region enough I think! Still cruising through your blog, and I am so impressed. Love it!

  17. Phil D.

    Hi Jhania, what a cool story that you and your husband met in SEA. You are right, one can never the region enough. I will return as well I reckon. How long will you guys have? Did you get unpaid leave or how is it working out for you. Take care and happy planning 😉

  18. Daniel L

    Hey Phil, I found your blog a few weeks ago searching for bike trips in SEA and after reading your posts on the tha teak and ha giang trips I ended up doing both! I just returned from ha giang, a five day bike trip around the same loop yesterday, taking in a couple of the markets. I’ve been travelling for four months but this was probably the highlight of it all. The combination of super friendly people, amazing ethnic dress, and the jaw dropping scenery made for an incredible trip. I wouldn’t have known about either trip if it weren’t for your blog so I’ve come by to say a big thank you! Amazing pictures and great lively writing. Keep up the good work!

    • Phil D.

      Hi Dan, thanks so much for your great feedback. Honestly, that is the best feedback a writer or blogger can hope for. I am happy that you found some inspiration in my story and they actually inspired you to the two trips. Even better that you enjoyed them as well. And also for me, the Ha Giang trip was one of the best things I did during my year in Southeast Asia. I am glad that I did now before this part of Vietnam gets discovered by mass tourism just as Sapa. How long will you be traveling before heading home then?

      All the best and thanks again for your encouraging feedback. Cheers!

      • Daniel L

        Not at all! A testaments to your great photography. Yes very much the same same with me – a pleasure to find somewhere so untouched, though the rice wine shots were deadly when I still had driving to do in the day!! I read the vietnamese government intends to make the area a prime tourist location by 2030 so we got there just in time.

        I have only two weeks left now – have been to Indonesia China Japan cambodia Laos and I will spend the final two weeks moving down through Vietnam. I’ll be sure to check out danang on your recommendation and I’ll keep my camera very close at all times in Saigon!!

    • Phil D.

      Sounds like an awesome trip. Enjoy the rest of it. Where did you go in China and how did you it? I have been wanting to go for a long time but I am rather interested in the more rural areas like Yunnan or Xihuanbanna etc. Hopefully I can make it some day. Take bro and happy travels! Phil

  19. Alexandra Ulmke

    Hey Phil,
    Firstly what a fantastic and informative blog you maintain! I really appreciate the time and detail you put into your blog posts and to responding to all the comments. It really makes the blog feel alive, which is quiet unique.
    I am traveling to Vietnam in two weeks with my best friend and this loop is the first thing we are planning on doing. I have researched this loop a little bit but I must say your article excites me more than anything else I’ve read.
    How long was the bus ride in total from Hanoi to Ha Giang? Did you transfer at all in Lao Cai at all?
    Any other tips for the area or must see’s in Vietnam?
    Hope all is well. If you ever make it over to Seattle let me know!
    Cheers, Alex

    • Phil D.

      Replied in the comment above 😉

    • Phil D.

      OH, I just saw you live in Seattle. I actually might be very close soon …. would you mind dropping me an e-mail? Then I wont forget and can get in touch if I really make it over… CHeers

  20. aulmke

    Hey Phil,
    Firstly what a fantastic and informative blog you maintain! I really appreciate the time and detail you put into your blog posts and to responding to all the comments. It really makes the blog feel alive, which is quiet unique.
    I am traveling to Vietnam in two weeks with my best friend and this loop is the first thing we are planning on doing. I have researched this loop a little bit but I must say your article excites me more than anything else I’ve read.
    How long was the bus ride in total from Hanoi to Ha Giang? Did you transfer at all in Lao Cai at all?
    Any other tips for the area or must see’s in Vietnam?
    Hope all is well. If you ever make it over to Seattle let me know!
    Cheers, Alex

    • Phil D.

      Hi Alex, thanks for stopping by and thanks as well for your encouraging feedback. That is always good to hear and really keeps me going. Good for you that you traveling to Vietnam. For how long will you and your friend be staying then?
      So concerning your questions: The bus from Hanoi doesn’t go via Lao Cai but straight to Ha Giang. The ride took us about 7 to 8 hours if I’m not mistaken. The bus is super comfy since it is a sleeper, even during the day time. So it’ll be a relaxed ride for y’all. If you have the time and wanna go, you can take a bus or van from Ha Giang to Lao Cai. Not sure what’s there though. I guess it is a hub for going to Sapa which you don’t wanna see after having toured Ha Giang.

      So tips for Vietnam: Depends on what you are after I guess. I personally didn’t bother to go to the beaches and only spent a day in Nha Thrang as part of a stopover. I had seen enough beaches at that point. I personally really liked Dalat where you can do an awesome motorbike day tour. Then, again if you have the time, there is the option of renting a bike in Hues and driving all the way to Hoi An via Danang. I really loved that little tour and Danang is great. Rather non-touristy, authentic and lively. You can do a one way rental in Hue which is really fair priced. I think we payed 30 USD for three days, no extra for the one way trip or anything. We just dropped the bike of in Hoi An. Perfect.

      If you plan on heading across the border to Cambodia, you can spend a day in the border town of Chau Doc. In my opinion way underated region which most travelers just pass through on their way to Cambodia.

      So yeah, that’s it. Let me know how your trip is going and if you discover some more hidden gems. Have a good trip, Philipp

  21. aulmke

    Hey Phil,
    Thank so much for such a quick response! We are headed there for only 18 days. I’ve already been to Thailand but this is my best friends first time in Asia, so we are pretty excited. Thanks for the info about the bus, I’m always surprised how everyone makes it sound so difficult to get to Ha Giang, when it’s only a long bus ride away. It shall certainly be a highlight of this trip.
    After our road trip of the north we are going to go to Ha long bay and then cruise down south for some of the beaches to round up our trip. But your idea of renting the motorbike from Hues to Hoi An sounds pretty fun. I suppose we shall see where the wind blows us but also pick up tips from other travelers (always a great option).

    Are you still traveling or are you staying put for a while?

    • Phil D.

      Hi Alex, sounds good and I bet you guys will have a great time. Would love to hear about it. I was pretty disappointment by the Ha long Bay Trip…but yeah, guess one has to see it to be able to judge…. go and see for yourself.
      I have been staying put all of last year actually, but I will set out again soon. As I said, might be in North-America very soon. West Coast to be exact…. Cheers and have a great trip

  22. Kara

    Hey Phil, I was wondering what month you did this trip. It looks incredible!

  23. Henry

    Hi Phil, great photos and writing!

    I am boarding the night train tonight in Hanoi to Lao Cai with a rented DRZ 400. I will head to Bac Ha, then up to Ha Giang and do some of the loop you did, and possibly head down to Ba Be Lac, and from there either drive to Hanoi, or hit some other places in the north and train back with the bike to Hanoi from Lao Cai.

    Was getting petrol easy enough? My bike has a range of about 200 km. I should be ok I think. How about hotels? Just as easy as the rest of Vietnam? Any particular spots worth reaching? Everywhere looks beautiful. Any routes you didnt go to that you heard were worth seeing with more time? I have about 6 days and pretty capable off road bike.

    Any words are appreciated.

    Again, great photos and writing.

    Henry (Canada)

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Henry,
      funny, I am in Canada right now. But concerning your questions: I also wanted to head to Ba Be Lake but didn’t make it since I did not have enough time. I reckon that anywhere you go up there must be super exciting and beautiful. Just go, take some roads you discovered and see what’s at the end. I think that’s a nice way to travel. Hotel no problem. Well, it was kinda hard to get a room on the day before the weekly market in Dong Van. I mean we still managed, but it was a close call since we arrived late at night. Gas is absolutely no problem. Refill bottles can be bought alongside the road. You will never run out and if you do, the next shack who sells is just a few hundred meters away. Apart from that, I can’t give anymore recommendations… Just go and see what’s there. Any yes, please let me know how it was. Seems more and more people head up this way now … I don’t what to think about that haha … Cheers brother and happy travels. Philipp

  24. Yahel Lotem

    Hi there :)
    What an amazing post! Definitely one of the reasons me and my husband are set on visiting Ha Giang..

    Unfortunately (I guess), neither of us drives a motorcycle.
    We’re planning on taking the bus from Hanoi to Ha Giana, and manage from there.. We’re mostly interested in getting to Dong Van and Meo Vac, and do some hiking.
    Any tips you can give us?

    Do you happen to know of a way we can arrange in advance a car+driver to take us around?

    Thanks so much for sharing all this great info!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Yahel, I have no direct contact but I could imagine tha every hotelhas contacts. So if you end up making a reservation for your accomodation, I would just ask them. Vietanmese people just make things happen, they got lots of contacts. But if I was you, I would just inquire about it once there in town …. then you can compare prices and haggle a little bit which is never wrong in Vietnam haha. Always lots of room for negotiations which you can’t do by arranging it beforehand … Cheers Yahel, let me know how it went. I really love the area up there …

  25. Yahel Lotem

    Thank you!
    I’ll report back with mt impressions :) Can’t wait to get there already, it’ll be one of our first destinations.

  26. Roy

    Hi Philipp

    Thank you for this excellent blog post, I really enjoyed your writing and photography. I am heading to Ha Giang next week (first time in Vietnam) and had a question for you: How many days would stay in this area if time is not a major constraint? I have 9 nine days that I wanted to dedicate to both Sapa and Ha Giang, but after reading more about this area, I am tempted to skip Sapa and spend the whole time here.

    Take care and thanks for such a great blog.

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Roym that’s great to hear and thanks for stopping by. Good on ya for choosing Ha Giang, I am a bit helous hehe. Time really depends on your mode of transportation and on your interests. Can you ride a scooter? If so, you can spend days up in Ha Giang. Do you wanna go trekking, plan in a few more days. Sapa offers lots of treks. I think nice days is good for both parts…However, I would go to Sapa first and then Ha Giang. Otherwise you might be disappointed…. If you have the chance to go exploring by motorbike / scooter in Ha Giang, do it. In Sapa it is not necessarily needed… Cheers Roy, and keep me updated …

      • Roy

        Hi Phil,

        Thank you for your reply. I will rent a scooter when I am in Ha Giang and explore the area. Someone else told me to base myself in Dong Van (i.e. get a hotel there) as it is more interesting. Would you agree?

        I will spend at least 5 days in the Ha Giang area – then move on. Part of me wants to skip Sapa (because of all of the tourists) and then proceed to Mu Cang Chai which is also supposed to be beautiful.

        Anyway, I will send you an update after I return. Thanks again for your help with this.

        • Philipp Dukatz

          Perfect Roy, if you have a scooter, you can spend heaps oftime there just exploring. I wouldn’t necessarily base myself in Dong Van. I mean you can spend a couple of days there and go exploring like I did. But I wouldstart the trip from ha Giang…. it is nice trip up to Dong Van from there. Mu Cang Chai is supposed to be amazing, so tat would make for yet another stop. Whatever you decide on doing, it will for sure be a great trip. Please send me an update about how it was.. always interested to hear about people going up tere … Cheers and happy travels …

  27. Paul

    Great post! Roy, me and my girlfriend used a hotel 20km away from Ha Giang (on the way from Hanoi, http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g1544599-d7914246-Reviews-Huong_Tra_Hotel-Ha_Giang_Ha_Giang_Province.html) as a base for our trips to Dong Van and Panhou Village. It was great for making 2-3 day trips, then recharge ore batteries in a calm place and then head off again.

    Dong Van is a must!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Paul, great to hear you had a good time in ha Giang. Your hotel tip sounds good, I bet a lot of people will check that out. You are right, Dong Van is a must… I sincerely hope it will not turn into a second Sapa. Cheers mate!

  28. Becca

    Great post and amazing pictures! I’m currently half way round the loop but can’t make it any further at the minute due to rain!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Becca… you are on the Ha Giang loop right now? Where are you stuck and how is it going? Hope you can continue soon. Good luck and keep me posted …

      • Becca

        Yes I am, had a great day driving yesterday from Ha Giang to Dong Van but since I arrived in Dong Van it’s been torrential rain! Can hopefully get back on the road tomorrow and go to Lung Cu and Meo Vac before heading back to Ha Diang – I have to be back in Ha Giang tomorrow night though do you think it’s possible to do both Lung Cu and Meo Vac and back to Ha Giang in a day?

        • Philipp Dukatz

          I honestly don’t think so. No way oyu can do an extra day. Especially if it has been raining, you won’t be able to go super fast. Better factor in some extra time …… Are u riding by yourself on a motorbike?

          • Becca

            Hey Phil, I took your advice and decided not to complete the loop in one day. Unfortunately I had to be back in hanoi so I went to Lung Cu the afternoon I messaged when there was a slight pause in the torrential rain (although the roads were bad and there were lots of landslides) and then went back to Ha Giang the way I came the next day, luckily it was Sunday so I got to see the amazing markets and take my time. I’m a bit gutted I missed the drive from Dong Van to Meo Vac but all the more reason to come back I suppose!

          • Philipp Dukatz

            Oh no, you missed the Mai Pi Leng Pass then… you really need to come back then… Why such a rush? I could spend like two weeks up there and maybe I will one day. But good u got to see the market…that is very cool as it gets more and more popular among tourists …..

          • Becca

            I know I was gutted! I had friends waiting for me in Hanoi that I hadn’t seen in a long time, I’d already made them wait an extra day in Hanoi so had to head back. The ride was still great though and now I know for next time to give myself more flexibility :)

          • Becca

            Oh and yes I was riding alone…which is why I went for the safer option the next day rather than rushing!

          • Philipp Dukatz

            Better be safe…especially when riding in Vietnam haha

  29. B Long

    Philipp,

    Excellent blog post and photography! Thanks for sharing your experience. I am looking to head into Ha Giang for ~5 days with my girlfriend in mid-July and would like to spend the time doing a motorbike tour. I ride a bike (KLR 650) back in the States and want to get something in Vietnam that will fit both of us. Did you put two people on your 125cc Honda? Also, what are your thoughts about getting a bike in Hanoi and putting in on a train/bus versus getting one in Ha Giang? Obviously I would rather reserve one to be picked up in Ha Giang as you did, but am worried about the availability. Any thoughts? Mind sharing your contact in Ha Giang? Thanks so much!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Bryan, sorry for the late reply. To answer your questions, yeah we rode on a 125cc Honda which worked fine. Just took small backpacks so it was alright. It’s economical to rent and it is strong enough for the mountains. If you only need a bike for the Ha Giang Loop and not the entire stay in VN, then definitely rent in ha Giang. Things change quickly there, as far as I have heard, it is no big deal to rent bikes there anymore. You can easily do it on the spot at your hotel. Wouldn’t be too worried about it. I don’t have have the contact of the guy in ha Giang anymore but yeah, I really think you will be fine sorting out a rental once you are there. People will definitely help you out. Hope that helps a little bit …. Cheers Phil

  30. Lara

    Hey there! My friend and i feel exactly the same as yourself. We feel sapa is too touristy and we want to go to ha giang province. I would extremely appreciate if you would be able to forward me the cpntact details of the guy who sorted your motorbike nd do you remember the name of the remote village you went to before getting to dong van???? It would be of great help thanks!!! My email is lara.mesanza@hotmail.com

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Lara, I don’t have his contact details anymore but you shouldnt have a problem when u are there. The place has changed within just a short period of time. Motorbikes are readily available now…. Just ask at your hotel or guesthouse. I have sent a few people that way and it never has been a problem. I don’t even know if that village had a name… we just turned somewhere and took our chances… guess we just got lucky. Sorry that I couldnt be of more help here … Cheers

  31. Helen

    Hi Phil,

    Great to read your blog and I will be heading out there next week!

    Quick question-do you think it is OK to walk the pass between Dong Van and Meo Vac? We are hoping to do it in six hours (at a moderate pace). Just wondered if you passed much traffic?

    Thank you!

    Helen

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Helen,

      I think it would generally be ok but it is super long and you’ll be walking just along the road …. I don’t know if it’s that pleasant. But yeah, if you think you can do in terms of distance, it is doable. Let me know how it goes …. Cheers, Philipp

      • Helen

        Hi Phil,

        Thanks for your advice. I think we might get there and see what the weather is doing, if it’s raining/too cold it might be a bit of a no no but I’m keen to try! Otherwise we might just get motorbikes. Having never ridden them in that part of Vietnam would it be very unsafe do you think? I’m hoping if we do go ahead and rent them then we will not encounter much traffic.

        Thanks,
        Helen

        • Philipp Dukatz

          Hi Helen,
          yeah, check the weather and then take it from there. Safe or unsafe will solely depend on your skills. Have you ridden bikes before? How familiar are you with it? It is maybe not the place to learn but also not too bad compared to other places or actually most other places in Vietna. Just thinking about the bigger cities or the Highway 1. I think you can decide once you are there, there is always a way. I hope you will have good weather to enjoy the view over the Ma Pi Leng Pass. All the best and let me know how it was 😉

  32. wilaipond

    Hi, Thanks for your wonderful sharing. I am going there in May for 8 days. I am woman traveling alone. Is it safe? I will catch night bus to Ha Giang. Should I book agent tour in Hanoi or I can find there? Are 5 days enough to enjoy this loop?

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi there… I think it should be safe for women, for sure. I don’t know about tours as I have done a motorbike trip by myself. I would probably inquire once in Ha Giang… there will be enough on offer. 5 days are def. enough…. no worries.. Hope that helped

  33. Ivo

    Hi Philipp!

    Please, receive kind regards from Croatia!

    So, me and my two friends are heading to Vietnam soon (from March 12- March 23), and afterwards for two weeks in Philliphines.

    To cut it short, before I bumped on Yours blog, I had some vague plans how to best organize our whole tour in Vietnam, but Your story & pictures & thoughts of doing Ha Giang loop, caused it to drop it all off, and start planning again. Well, shame on You:)

    We’ll land in HCM, then Hanoi, and then doing the loop in exactly the same way & time frame as You did.

    Hope I’ll be able to convince my mates to join me…

    Thanks for Your stories…

    Best luck!

    Ivo

  34. Sheila

    Hello Phil,

    I am interested to travel to North from Hanoi, but apparently I only have max 3 days to do and return to Hanoi. Is this trip doable in 3 days? Is it safe to do alone? Where can I rent a motorbike?

    Btw, beautiful pictures! :-)

    Cheers,
    Sheila

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Sheila, 3 days is not enough. It takes a day to make to Ha Giang from Hanoi and a day back. That would only leave a day up there… Maybe you can free some more time …

  35. Wilaipond Siringam

    First of all, I would like to say million thanks.
    I have followed your guidance and completed Ha Giang Loop. I was so lucky to see Khai Vai~Love Market in Meo Vac~~
    Solo traveler is safe and sound to go there.

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi there, thanks for your message. Glad you enjoyed and got to see the Love Market …. something that I had missed. Do you have pictures up on the internet?

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