Travelling Ha Giang: Explore Highlands in Northern Vietnam Part 1

Ha Giang province is located in the north of Vietnam by the Chinese border and has been gaining popularity among adventure seekers and travellers over the past few years. In my perspective, Ha Giang is a much better alternative to Sapa, one of the most popular destinations to travel in the northern Vietnam because Sapa now seems over-developed and over-priced. Whereas, Ha Giang is yet relatively undiscovered, but still with just enough facilities and development for travellers to enjoy at convenience. 

Information on the Internet about Ha Giang Loop was still very limited when I first visited last year. So I went on an adventure not knowing what to expect and I tried to suppress my expectations to prevent myself from being too surprised from lack of shops / hotels etc and I was prepared for the worst road conditions. But to my surprise, Ha Giang city is a much larger city than I had expected (as I had imagined it’d be a small village) and there were quite plenty of hostels and hotels in the city for renting motorbike and getting more information of the Ha Giang Loop. 

My first trip to the loop was successful and Ha Giang became one of my favourite places in Vietnam. Since then, I have been waiting for my second time back there. And I finally had the chance to go back again this month. This time knowing better what to expect and prepare. 

After my two trips to this beautiful mountainous loop, I thought it’d be a great idea to share with you everything I know about this place so that you can get some tips and information to help you with your visit to Ha Giang! 

Seasons in Ha Giang

There are mainly two seasons in Ha Giang – dry and wet seasons.

Dry season is between October and April and wet season is between May and September. Winter time between December and February can be quite cold especially in the mountains. And it can rain any time of the year like it did when I visited during December and it was freezing cold!

You can check the weather forecast online, but instead of checking Ha Giang city, check the weather in towns inside the loop as the temperature is usually few degrees lower than Ha Giang city. 

 

Picture from my visit in April

What to bring?

1. Comfortable clothes to ride on motorbike.

2. Comfy shoes. I personally prefer sports shoes to drive motorbike especially on the steep and bumpy roads there. You could also bring along sandals or flip flops for when you are in a place to stop for the night.

3. Raincoats. You can bring one from Hanoi or you can just buy it in Ha Giang city or towns in the loop if it rains. 

4. Warm clothes if you’re travelling during winter season (December – February). Do not underestimate the temperature here especially if you’re from a country with “real” winter season when temperature goes below zero. Although the temperature was 10 degrees celsius or more in the loop, it was raining and foggy for two days of my first trip in December and I was shivering from the cold. 

5. Swimwear if you’re travelling while the temperature is high. Summer time is between May and July here but it’s also rainy season. If you’re lucky, the weather might be hot and dry like I was able to go for a dip in a waterfall this time in April as the weather was nice and hot.

6. International driver’s licence if you want to drive the motorbike yourself. It is said that there are police officers checking your licence at the beginning of the loop (about 12km from Ha Giang city into the loop). Although I have not seen them present for both of my trips, you will need the licence to rent motorbikes. 

7. Last but not least, a bit of excitement to explore the beautiful sceneries that’ll accompany you throughout your time in the Ha Giang Loop. 

Transportation from Ha Noi to Ha Giang

Ha Giang is about 300km from Ha Noi and takes 6-7 hours by bus.

Taking a bus is a better option as there’s no train to Ha Giang city. There are usually two bus options.

1. VIP bus

It’s a renovated 16-seater minibus with only 9 seats at the back allowing more space per seat. The seats are comfortable and some buses even have USB docks by the seats so you can charge your phones / cameras while on the ride. I took this type of bus two times and the prices were  270,000 and 300,000VND per way. VIP bus departs several times a day (from either cities). This bus doesn’t stop to fill in the seats as many times as the big sleeping bus because there are less seats, so the duration could be shorter than the sleeping bus. My fastest ride with this was 5 hours including 30-minute break.

 

2. Sleeping Bus 

Sleeping bus is a big 45-seater bus with beds instead of seats. You can lie down and stretch your legs during the long bus ride. Maybe there’s not enough room to fully stretch your legs if you’re taller than… I guess 165cm, but I find it comfortable enough even without being able to fully stretch my legs. I took the sleeping bus two times too and the prices were 180,000 and 200,000VND one way. Usually, they depart twice a day from both Hanoi and Ha Giang – one in the morning around 7am and one in the evening at 8 or 9pm). These buses usually stop very often to load passengers on the way and the average duration is about 7 hours. All buses stop once half-way for about 20-30 minutes. 

 

You will be able to book the buses easily through your hostel, hotel or travel agency in Hanoi (mostly in the Old Quarter). They mostly offer pick-up and drop-off at your hotel or at least in the Old Quarter. However, you could also go to My Dinh bus terminal on your own to grab one of the buses to Ha Giang.

 

Renting Motorbike

My motorbike from December trip - it was only 3 months old!

When you arrive in Ha Giang, you’ll be able to find hostels and hotels that offer motorbike rentals. Most of them have good quality and new motorbikes. I rented motorbikes in different places and they were both 150,000VND per day. One hostel had an option of adding insurance to cover any scratch or breakage of motorbike for 100,000 VND per day. 

Most of the motorbikes are semi-automatic with four gears and 110cc up. I have been driving semi-automatic for few months in Hanoi before Ha Giang and it was still a challenge to get to know the gears for the steep heels. It was all part of the adventure and fun!

If you do not have your international driver’s licence with you or do not want to drive yourself, you can hire a rider to drive you for the entire trip. Price of an easy rider is 700,000VND per day. 

One other option is to join a tour group. They usually start with teaching you how to drive and give you some time to practise before beginning the journey.

Main Towns in Ha Giang Loop

Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Du Gia are the main towns in Ha Giang Loop. These are the main places where travellers can stop for a meal or to stay overnight. There are many small villages in between for you to stop for a drink or a meal as well.

In these towns, you’ll easily find homestays, hostels and hotels. For both of my trips, I did not make a single booking in advance and only booked the room once I arrived. There was always a room available, but if do not want to go through the hassle of knocking on doors after a long drive, you can always book online in advance. 

 

Routes 

The map above is the main loop and there are various different routes in between such as white lines and more. The loop starts and ends in Ha Giang city (red mark at the bottom left). It is up to you to choose which direction to go for. 
The route condition between Ha Giang city and Du Gia is bad and I was not recommended to go there both times, so I did an alternative route as below.

If you’d like to visit all of these places, expect to drive between 350km and 400km. I spent 3 full days in the loop for both of my trips and it was doable, but I had to drive most of the day and it was very tiring. After my first trip, I promised myself that I’d go back again but for longer days, but unfortunately I could only spare 3 days again for the second time. So I’m hoping that my third time will be for at least 4 or 5 days.

 

For more details of my itineraries in Ha Giang, check out

Travelling Ha Giang: Explore Highlands in Northern Vietnam Part 2.

 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Where shall I rent the motorbike in Ha Giang? Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hey, Charlie! I rented mine in Highland Hostel and Ha Giang Riverside Hostel. Bikes from both hostels were very new and reliable.

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