Last updated December 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
This post was last updated 3 years ago. Please check the comments section for possible updates, or read more on my Updates & Accuracy page.
INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS
Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northern-most province. The mysterious landscape along the Chinese border – a mythical combination of conical limestone peaks and deep, craterous valleys – is probably the most striking in the country. Once considered the last frontier for adventurous travel in Vietnam, Ha Giang gained an almost legendary status among independent travellers. In recent years, visitor numbers have increased dramatically, and road conditions between Ha Giang, Dong Van, Meo Vac and Bao Lac have improved, making access to this remote part of the country relatively easy. With mountain passes hanging onto cliff-faces high above roaring rivers, and back-roads threading through forests of limestone pinnacles, it’s ideal territory for a motorbike road trip. Food, accommodation and ATMs can now be found throughout the region. Now is the time to ride the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop: before mass tourism arrives (which it inevitably will, especially as more travellers choose Ha Giang as an alternative to Sapa, which has suffered terribly from over-development) but after the completion of necessary infrastructure.
*IMPORTANT NOTE: from 31 October, 2018, it is now mandatory for all foreign riders in Ha Giang to have a Vietnamese license or International Driving Permit (IDP). Ask your rental company for further details.
GUIDE: THE HA GIANG LOOP
ROAD TRIP DETAILS:
- Total Distance: 350km
- Duration: 2-5 days
- Route: Ha Giang-Tam Son-Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac-Du Gia-Bao Lac [MAP]
- Road Conditions: very mountainous paved roads, some rough sections, light traffic
- Scenery: limestone karsts, deep gorges, remote borderlands, minority villages
ROAD TRIP CONTENTS:
- SECTION 1: Ha Giang-Tam Son (Quan Ba)-Yen Minh: 100km
- SECTION 2: Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac (via Ma Pi Leng Pass): 70km
- SECTION 3: Meo Vac-Du Gia-Ha Giang: 180km
- SECTION 4: Meo Vac-Bao Lac (for Cao Bang): 75km
ABOUT THIS ROUTE:
I’ve written this motorbike guide in 4 Sections. The main route (the blue line) is a loop: Ha Giang-Tam Son-Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac-Du Gia-Ha Giang. But I have also included several scenic side trips and alternative routes (the red lines). Another option is to forgo the loop by continuing southeast from Meo Vac down to Bao Lac in Cao Bang Province (see Section 4). The total distance of the main loop is 350km. You can complete the ride in 2 days, but the outstanding scenery is such that I recommend 2-5 days. Motorbikes can be rented in Ha Giang, but by far the best place is QT Motorbikes, who can also offer excellent route advice. Officially, foreign travellers still require a permit to visit this area. However, this is now just a formality, and travellers can simply buy the permit (200,000-300,000vnđ [$10]) when they arrive at their accommodation anywhere on the loop. Weather is best from March-May and September-October, when conditions are warm and clear, colours are bright, and rainfall is light. (It can get bitterly cold during the winter months.) Although most of the roads are now in pretty good condition, there are still some sections that are rough, under repairs, or suffer from landslides. In this guide, and on my map, I’ve included warnings of rough roads, as well as recommendations of places to stay and eat, and sights and excursions along the way.
The Ha Giang Extreme North Loop | 350km
View in a LARGER MAP
Route: Ha Giang-Tam Son (Quan Ba)-Yen Minh | Distance: 100km [MAP]
Ha Giang, the provincial capital, is a likable city on the banks of the Lo (Blue) River which, despite its name, usually runs muddy and brown. It’s a comfortable place to prepare for the loop and, after the ride, to relax and recuperate. There are lots of good accommodation options on both sides of the river: Nguyen Trai Street on the west bank and Nguyen Thai Hoc Street on the east bank, which are connected by two bridges, one at either end. I prefer staying on the east bank because it’s close to cheap food options and there are plenty good guest houses (nhà nghỉ) and mini-hotels, some that are right on the riverfront (see below for details).
For budget rooms with river views try Thuy Tien Guest House (19 Nguyen Thai Hoc; Tel: 0913 271 248) which has balconies overlooking the river, or River Queen Guest House which has clean, new rooms, or the familiar Western Backpacker vibes of Ha Giang Backpacker Hostel, including dorms, or the Vietnamese backpacker vibes of Ong Vang Hostel, which has pod-like rooms by the river, or the fancier budget option of Tiamo Hotel. Other notable cheapies are Kiki’s House Hostel, Bong Ha Giang Hostel, and QT Hostel (owned by the excellent QT Motorbikes). All of the above run from $5-$15 a night, representing very good value for money. Another good choice, especially at the end of the loop, is to ‘treat yourself’ to the relative luxury of Truong Xuan Resort, which has bungalows in lush surroundings on the edge of town ($30).
On Nguyen Thai Hoc Street there are several good ‘common’ rice eateries (quán cơm bình dân) where you point and order. These offer decent, local food for around 30,000-40,000vnđ ($2) per person (for more about quán cơm read this). If you’re looking for a feast – especially when returning from the loop after a few days of ‘mountain food’ – try the big riverside restaurants on Nguyen Trai Street; on the right hand side just north of the second (northern) bridge. Here you’ll find local specialities, such as salmon hotpot (lẩu cá hồi), for which the region is famous. For breakfast, I have a soft spot for this local place at 31 Nguyen Thai Hoc. A good place to buy supplies for snacks and picnics on the road is Ha Giang’s big central market.
Take Road QL4C north out of Ha Giang towards Tam Son. It’s only a few kilometres before forested limestone mountains tower over you and irresistibly-blue rivers (depending on the season) run alongside the road. After 30km of winding through beautiful valleys, a rather cheap-looking gate announces your arrival at the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo-Park. In case you didn’t get it the first time, there’s a sign on the hillside in giant Hollywood-style lettering with the park’s name in Vietnamese and English. The area was designated a UNESCO Global Geo-Park – only the second in Southeast Asia – in 2011. There are information boards by the roadside throughout the geo-park with (infuriatingly esoteric) details about the land formations in this region.
The road begins a long, snaking ascent up Heaven’s Gate Pass (one of several so-named mountain passes in Vietnam). The views back down over the meandering road are terrific. After crossing a treeless plateau, Heaven’s Gate Pass drops down into Quan Ba District and the town of Tam Son, nestled in a valley between dozens of limestone ‘molehills’. Near the top of the pass there’s a viewing point and information centre with a coffee shop, where various maps of the area are available. Climb the steps behind the cafe up to a small gazebo for unobscured views of the entire district. (Be very careful when riding Heaven’s Gate Pass: some of the twists and turns are tight and narrow, and local driving can be extraordinary dangerous and irresponsible. Take care.)
Despite its scenic location, the town of Tam Son (also known as Quan Ba) is a fairly prosaic place. Most people simply stop for some lunch at one of the roadside eateries and a drink at the popular Yen Ngoc Cafe, before continuing on the road. However, Tam Son does have a few places to stay on the main street, should you feel like stopping for the night. These include Kim Son Motel (Tel: 098 908 3222) and Van Duy Hotel (Tel: 097 479 8468), both of which offer decent rooms for around 200,000vnd. But a much better option for an overnight stop is the collection of homestays in the valley a few minutes southeast of town. Dao Lodge Nam Dam is superb and Ly Ta Danh Homestay is also good.
From Tam Son, continue on Road QL4C east down to the Mien River valley. Before reaching the valley, the road passes a pair of distinctively round hillocks, which someone imaginatively named ‘fairy bosom’. At the end of a series of severe switchbacks (affording yet more stunning views), the road crosses the Mien River, following its course north through a steep canyon. There’s something beguiling about this bamboo-lined river valley. Hamlets of wooden houses line its banks and naked children fish, play and jump from boulders into the sluggish waters. Before the road veers east, it passes the ruined fortifications of Cán Tỷ which, I’m told, are from French colonial times, although they look much older.
Another long pass climbs up through a pretty, cultivated landscape close to the Chinese border, before cresting at a cool pine forest. Descending the other side into Yen Minh District, you’ll see the limestone forests of the Dong Van Plateau in the distance, looking like the crenulated ramparts of a giant castle. Yen Minh is another small, dusty town in a basin surrounded by great limestone pillars. Although it’s not a particularly charming place to stay, it’s a convenient stop and the main street has a few hotels to choose from. Try Thao Nguyen Hotel (Tel: 0219 385 2297) or Hai Son Guest House (Tel: 0219 385 2091) for clean rooms from 200-500,000vnđ. Or stay a few minutes ride out of town at the quiet and lush Sinh Thai Guest House (Tel: 097 559 2624). Food is available on the high-street in the form of dozens of rice eateries (quán cơm) and there are a couple of cafes too.
Route: Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac (via Ma Pi Leng Pass) | Distance: 70km [MAP]
The 70km drive from Yen Minh to Meo Vac (via Dong Van and the Ma Pi Leng Pass) is perhaps the most remarkable stretch of road in the country. Road QL4C ploughs through a striking landscape of dramatic peaks and troughs, formed over millions of years by tectonic activity and the erosion of the limestone that defines this area. Limestone pinnacles rise and fall at regular intervals, creating the sense that one is in a stone forest. The shapes are so live and animated it’s as if the landscape were in fluid motion until it was suddenly petrified, like a frozen sea. The impression is of a mythical landscape equal to any Tolkienian novel or Chinese ink and wash painting.
Just as impressive as the topography are the ambitious roads that ride over and around this complex terrain. In the last few years, dozens of small paved lanes have been completed, criss-crossing the entire area. These offer tempting diversions, leading to isolated villages hidden deep in this strange landscape (see the red lines of my map).
The people who inhabit this region are predominantly ethnic minorities, particularly H’mong. For them, this rocky, treeless land offers little protection from the elements, and crops are limited because of the lack of fertile soil. Travellers who’ve come from Sapa, may find minority people in this region less forthcoming when compared to the business-savvy minorities in the northwest. However, children all along this route will skip and jump down the road screaming “‘ello” and occasionally putting their hands out for money. It might be a good idea to keep some small, nourishing snacks on you to offer these children as an alternative to money. One of the (many) problems is that, as the number of foreign travellers to this region has increased, many families have started to send their children onto the streets to ‘beg’ for money from these relatively wealthy visitors, rather than sending them to the local schools. Children may also pose for photos with foreign travellers and then ask for money. This is a dynamic which has made social interactions between foreign visitors and ethnic minorities in more touristy areas, such as Sapa, increasingly uneasy. It can be a difficult and confusing situation, and there are many different ways to think about it and to deal with it: do what you think is best.
A couple minutes after leaving Yen Minh, the road forks. From here, you can choose to ride the loop in either direction, but I have written this guide going clockwise on the loop, bearing left (due northeast) out of Yen Minh on Road QL4C towards Dong Van. A steep pass takes you immediately into the limestone karsts. Trees are noticeably absent from the rocky slopes, and there are no more terraced rice fields and fertile valleys. Instead, you’ll see acres of soy bean plantations, punctuated occasionally by clumps of sweet corn and stands of bamboo. Because there are no trees, the majority of structures are made of mud bricks or blocks cut from the limestone. Walled hamlets shelter in the tight clasp of conical hills, their shadows offering the only protection from sun and rain.
After cutting along steep, treeless valleys, the road winds up to what has become known as the ‘Nine-Turn Pass‘. A helter-skelter stretch of tarmac, this pass is a favourite photo-opportunity for road-trippers. From the top, you can see the road snaking down to a flat valley encased by limestone karsts. A little further on, a left turn (due north) offers the opportunity for a short side route, heading to the market town of Pho Bang and a remote Chinese border. This is worth it if you have the time, especially in October, when the purple, pink and white buckwheat flowers are in bloom. Otherwise, continue straight on, down into another incredible, martian-looking valley. At the bottom, there’s a little homestay village where you can spend a night in pretty-looking adobe and baked-brick homes.
After more glorious scenery, there’s another fork in the road at Sa Phin. For an interesting detour, bear left (due north) at the Hoa Da Guest House, onto a winding, scenic and remote road leading all the way to Lung Cu, Vietnam’s ‘North Pole’. A spectacular 45km loop (ending back in Dong Van), this is a popular pilgrimage for young Vietnamese groups, who make the trip on motorbikes from Hanoi, wearing red and yellow T-shirts with the Vietnamese flag and ‘I love Vietnam’ printed on them. On the way, the road briefly runs parallel to the Chinese border. The border appears fluid and unguarded: motorbikes cross over to China and back again, passing a sinister milestone with a black skull and crossbones next to a few red-painted Chinese characters. (Obviously, it’s not a good idea to attempt to hop across to China for a couple of hours.)
At Lung Cu, the ‘North Pole’ (entrance: 20,000vnđ) takes the form of a tall tower atop a small hill with excellent views across to China from the top. There are a couple of good homestays in the area, including the popular Ma Le Homestay, located between Dong Van and Lung Cu, and Lolo Homestay, which is 5 minutes west of the pole itself. Both offer cosy, very cheap, friendly, communal-style accommodation and food. These are good alternatives to staying in the increasingly tour-group-filled town of Dong Van.
If you don’t fancy the detour to the ‘North Pole’, take the right fork (due south, then east) at the Sa Phin junction to continue on the direct route (QL4C) to Dong Van. In a dramatic valley, just after the fork, there’s a small settlement clustered around a large stone building. This is the former palace of the H’mong king (entrance is a couple of dollars). Well worth a visit, this attractive stone and timber structure was built by the colonial French to keep the H’mong king happy (although I’ve been told several different stories about the construction of this palace). The H’mong king had a fearsome reputation and considerable wealth, gained from growing opium poppies in the area. The palace’s three stone courtyards and tiled rooftops look like a set from the Ang Lee martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Outside, there’s a local market selling seasonal produce: in the autumn there are walnuts, chestnuts and star anise for sale. The palace is signposted off the main road, down a steep lane leading into the valley.
The last 15km to Dong Van is an extraordinary ride through limestone pylons, each one casting a sinister shadow over the deep valley. The road is chiseled out of the mountains, gripping to the side of rocky cliffs. Sometimes there are no barriers; it feels like flying. But drive carefully, especially in the rain, because it’d only take a slight skid on a corner for you and your bike to plunge hundreds of feet into the valley. All along this road there are women and girls – from as young as 10 to as old as 80 – carrying heavy loads of wood, hay, and crops over their backs. The bodies of the older women have been permanently distorted, so that their backs are almost at right angles to their legs, even when walking unburdened. Before descending into Dong Van town, the main road (QL4C) is joined by the Lung Cu (‘North Pole’) road at Bui Homestay, which is a popular accommodation for Vietnamese backpackers.
Dong Van is a fairly dusty and relatively busy town that’s enjoying a significant boom thanks to growing interest in travel to the region. It is essentially the ‘Sapa’ of the Extreme North. The majority of travellers to Ha Giang spend at least one night here, making Dong Van the most touristy town on the loop, and there’s a distinctive backpacker vibe to the place these days. There’s a clutch of good places to stay and eat in Dong Van, and the town boasts two markets: a big market held on weekends (known as the ‘new market’) and a smaller night market held every evening (known as the ‘old quarter market‘). The Lam Tung Hotel is my pick of the hotels, boasting excellent rooms with balconies, and perfectly located between the ‘new market’ and the ‘old market’. Another good mini-hotel is Hoang Ngoc, and the recently opened Hoa Cuong Hotel is by far Dong Van’s biggest, plushest accommodation. Dirt cheap rooms, specifically aimed at budget Vietnamese travellers can be found along the west side of the old quarter on Pho Co Street. These style themselves as ‘homestays‘ – look out for signs saying: phòng nghỉ tập thẻ.
The phố cổ (old quarter), is where most of the action is. Originally a handful of picturesque old stone houses with tiled roofs, local authorities obviously recognized its tourist potential, because now a row of brand new ‘old quarter’ buildings have been constructed here. It’s quite tastefully done, with cafes and restaurants, some offering the mountain specialities of thắng cố and lẩu (horse meat and hotpot), and the night market held in the square here is a good place to while away an evening. For informal, cheap meals, rice and noodle eateries line Pho Co Street in the mornings and evenings. Decent cocktails (a rare treat on the Extreme North Loop) are served at the Green Karst Bar.
Saving the best until last, the final stretch from Dong Van to Meo Vac is a 22km ride along the Ma Pi Leng Pass, a staggering road clinging to the edge of a wall of limestone mountains, towering hundreds of feet above the craterous Nho Que River valley. If any mountain pass in Vietnam deserves the title ‘epic’ it’s this one. After a short climb southeast out of Dong Van on Road QL4C, the ground seems to fall away, and you’re left gasping at the enormous chasm below. For 15km the road carves a terrifying path out of the mountainside. Incredibly, farming continues on the near-vertical slopes below and above the pass. This deep, treeless valley has the acoustics of an amphitheater: you can hear the voices of children and bleats of goats from way down on the banks of the river, echoing around the mountains.
There’s a viewing platform about halfway to Meo Vac where you can find refreshments. A little further on, the twists and turns open up mesmerizing views over a vast landscape that appears to have no discernible ‘bottom’, because the levels are constantly changing. It’s enough to induce feelings of vertigo. A particularly popular photo opportunity on the Ma Pi Leng Pass is looking back across the valley, down into a narrow gorge created by the Nho Que River as it squeezes through the mountains. This is, apparently, one of the deepest gorges in Southeast Asia. However, it may soon lose some of its majesty, because a dam is being constructed downstream, which will lead to a rise in water-level. In good weather, this short stretch of road can take a couple of hours because the views are so superb. It’s a thrilling ride.
If you just can’t get enough of this incredible scenery, there’s a side route, leading down to the Nho Que River and off to a remote Chinese border, which you can take in order to extend the high road a bit longer. As the Ma Pi Leng Pass drops down toward Meo Vac, you’ll see an enticing little road wriggling around the mountainside on the opposite side of the valley. Turn sharply left (almost completely back on yourself) and roll down through a series of very tight switchbacks all the way down to the river. Here, there’s a makeshift bridge across the Nho Que River, from where the road continues to curl up the hillsides to China. However, after the bridge, road conditions deteriorate a bit and, as you get closer to China, you may find the police turn you back to the main road. But the excellent views make this easy side route a worthwhile detour.
Meo Vac sits in a sheltered basin, bathed in blue shadows cast by the ubiquitous, looming limestone karsts. Meo Vac is my favourite town on the loop: if you only stay in one of the main towns make it Meo Vac. It’s small and manageable: quiet in the daytime but pleasantly bustling in the mornings and early evenings. There’s a good market, a new night market, plenty of accommodation, and the location – at the eastern edge of the loop – lends it a certain far-flung ambience.
For budget beds, I like the spotless, large rooms at Linh Anh Guest House (63A1 To 2; Tel: 094 817 4669; 200,000-400,000vnđ), or try Mr Hung’s Backpacker Guest House, or the pod-style lodgings at Ong Vang Hostel. Of the dozens of other good-value mini-hotels, Mai Dao and Huyen Loi, near the western edge of town, are both decent, and Meo Vac Hotel is right in the centre of town. However, for some of the most atmospheric lodgings in the entire region, check out the Auberge de Meo Vac (Tel: 0219 387 1686). A small boutique accommodation housed in an old H’mong family home, with a beautiful stone courtyard and adobe walls, the Auberge has dorm beds on the floor (300,000vnd) or private rooms (from $50). But book ahead, because they can only accommodate about a dozen guests. One thing I’ve found to be lacking on all my visits to Meo Vac is good food. There are street-side barbecues opposite the market, and several OK rice eateries on the west side of the market. For breakfast, there are cheap fried egg baguettes (bánh mì) in front of the market. Coffee is surprisingly decent at the cafes around the main square.
From Meo Vac there are a couple of interesting side routes to explore, either as round trips or one-way (see the red lines on my map). For example, Road DT217 heads steeply out of town, via a good viewing gazebo, and leads southeast to the market town of Khau Vai and then down to the banks of the Nho Que River as it crashes through yet another rocky gorge. Khau Vai is famous for its annual ‘Love Market’, which takes place in the spring. However, this has become a massively touristy affair, so it’s best to ride this very scenic side route at any other time of year, when it’s virtually empty. It’s possible to continue on Road DT217 from Khau Vai to Bao Lac, in Cao Bang Province, although parts of the road are quite rough (see Section 4 for details).
Another side route is to loop from Meo Vac back up to Dong Van on road DT182 (marked in red on my map). This road sees hardly any traffic or foreign travellers. Passing through a dry, tree-starved landscape dominated by conical peaks and dotted with tiny settlements, the route offers an insight into how farming works in such a harsh region, and how difficult it must be to sustain a living on this land.
Route: Meo Vac-Du Gia-Ha Giang | Distance: 180km [MAP]
From Meo Vac, there are several ways to complete the loop back to Ha Giang. Whichever route you choose, it’s another spectacular ride through karst scenery. The simplest route back to Ha Giang is to leave Meo Vac on Road DT182 (also marked as DT176) heading west towards the Mau Due crossroads. This ‘lower road’ passes through a stark, rock-strewn limestone valley with some death-defying sections of mountain road, before looping back to Yen Minh after bearing right (due north) at Mau Due along a pretty river valley. From Yen Minh simply retrace your outward route on Road QL4C back to Ha Giang. At 150km, this is the shortest option back to Ha Giang.
However, another alternative is to extend this return route by adding a highly recommended and scenic southern excursion to Du Gia. At the Mau Due crossroads, bear left (due south) onto Road DT176. This is an extraordinary road leading up a seemingly endless pass over a chain of high, jagged limestone peaks, then down the other side through pine forests and mysterious valleys, before the final breathtaking descent into an idyllic valley where the tiny hamlet of Du Gia offers a handful of good homestays (see below for details). Road conditions between Mau Due and Du Gia are mostly fine, but there are a few rough, rocky sections.
Stay at the Du Gia Homestay (the most authentic option; Tel: 0165 772 0252), or QT Guest House (the cleanest option; Tel: 097 527 8711), or Du Gia Backpacker Hostel (the most western-friendly option), all of which offer cheap, communal dorms sleeping on mattresses on the floor under mosquito nets in wooden stilt homes, with good family-style meals. There are lots of activities nearby, including swimming in the river, fishing, and hiking which can be arranged through your accommodation. Of all the stops on the loop, Du Gia is the least-visited, but if anything this area is even more spectacular than the rest. Some travellers end up spending days exploring Du Gia.
From Du Gia there are several options for completing the loop back to Ha Giang. However, road conditions may determine which one you choose. Heading south on DT176 to meet QL34 at Na Sai is the shortest route, but in reality it’s a long and difficult ride because road conditions deteriorate badly on DT176, meaning this route may be best avoided. The most scenic option is to head back several kilometres north of Du Gia on DT176 and then turn left (due west) on DT181, which leads all the way back to Tam Son (see the red line), then connecting with QL4C back to Ha Giang. This is almost the perfect loop, but for a couple of short, terrible sections of extremely rocky road surface. With a good, all-terrain bike you won’t have a problem, and even experienced riders on any standard automatic or semi-automatic bike should be OK, but if you’re not a particularly confident rider, these rocky sections can be dangerous and difficult so, sadly, it’s best avoided. This leaves the third, final, and easiest option from Du Gia back to Ha Giang: retrace DT176 back to the Mau Due junction, head due north on DT182 to Yen Minh, and then rejoin QL4C all the way back to Ha Giang, thus completing the Extreme North Motorbike Loop.
Route: Meo Vac-Bao Lac (for Cao Bang) | Distance: 75km [MAP]
The Extreme North Loop doesn’t have to be a loop. In the past, Meo Vac was the end of the road (well, the end of the good road), so it was necessary for most travellers to head back to Ha Giang. These days, however, you can forgo the loop altogether by continuing southeast from Meo Vac to Bao Lac, in Cao Bang Province, and then linking up with the Northeast Loop.
There are two separate routes heading southeast from Meo Vac down to the Gam River valley: roads DT217 and QL4C. The former is the continuation of the Khau Vai side route from Meo Vac (see the red line), but this route suffers from unpredictable road conditions. Just south of Khau Vai village, Road DT217 crosses a bamboo raft ferry over the Nho Que River and continues on the other side all the way down to Bao Lac. However, the road conditions around the rivers were quite bad at the time of writing so, unless you have a good off-road bike, it’s probably best to take the other route (QL4C) from Meo Vac to Bao Lac instead. At some points along DT217 you might be forced to dismount the bike and nurse it across waterways that have flooded the road.
Road QL4C leads south of Meo Vac, passing more gorgeous valleys and descending a scenic pass to the Gam River. For the most part, this route is in good condition, but there are a couple of rough sections near the Nho Que River. However, I’d expect these to be finished by the first half of 2018. Road QL4C crosses the Gam River and ends at Ly Bon, where it joins QL34. Turn left (due east) towards Bao Lac. It’s usually significantly warmer and lusher in this valley than up in the higher lands around Meo Vac. QL34 is a beautiful route along a rich, fertile valley. But the road is cut out of steep slopes, so in rainy weather landslides are common. What’s more, there are currently (2019) major road works on the stretch of QL34 between Ly Bon and Bao Lac, so ride very carefully.
Bao Lac, where several rivers converge, is a natural rest stop for travellers going between the Extreme North and the Northeast. There are a couple of decent places to stay on the riverfront and plenty of food and drink. I like Thuy Duong 2 Hotel (Tel: 096 442 0802) and Duc Tai Hotel (Tel: 0919 835 866), both with rooms overlooking the river and town for around $10. A popular choice for backpackers is Viet Hoang Guest House (Tel: 020 637 0879). There are rice eateries and cafes on the dusty main street, and there’s even a couple of cocktails available at Tri An Cafe & Bar. Bao Lac has a decent market, which is at its busiest in the mornings. From Bao Lac it’s a straight shot on Road QL34 all the way to Cao Bang City, or south from Nguyen Binh on Road DT212 to Ba Be National Park. To find out more about continuing east to Cao Bang Province, take a look at my Northeast Loop guide and my High Roads guide.
Today we rode Mèo Vạc to Bao Lạc. We wound up taking a more northerly route than what Tom describes here, and I’d recommend it. After crossing the bamboo ferry, continue until you get to the point where on Google Maps “Long Hoàn Quán” is located. Split off of DT217 there. The road goes north for a while before rejoining DT217. Today was 2-3 days since the last rain and while there were a couple construction/mud spots, nothing very challenging. It was a really nice route, worth taking!
Thanks for the update – that sounds like a great alternative route. I’d like to try it next time I’m up there.
Hello, I wanted to write and say thank you for putting up all the information. I arrived Hanoi on 1st November and left Hanoi on 29th November.
I stitched out a route reading your motorcycle guides and started with the North East and then the Extreme North. My last town/city was Ha Giang before I decided to ride back to Hanoi and return the Honda XR150.
I really enjoyed myself and my favourite town/city was Bac Kan, Dong Van and Cao Bang.
I am planning to return to Hanoi again mid 2023 and plan to pick up from Ha Giang my last stop and work westwards to complete the whole of North Vietnam. And then do the central highlands.
Is summer a good time to do the North West and central part of Vietnam? I read that May to September is the summer season.
Thanks again for all the work that you do to provide a comprehensive guide.
Thank you for your message. It’s great to hear you enjoyed your northern ride and that you’re planning to come back and do more.
Summer is a pretty good time of year to ride the north and central regions, however there will be fairly frequent rain, too. May and June is best. Take a look at my Weather Guide for some more information.
I hope this helps,
Travelled from Bảo Lạc to Du Già and wasn’t sure which route to take. Southern (QL34 + DT176) or Northern (QL4C + DT176).
After reading the comments below we decided on the Southern route, because short crappy roads, might be better than long crappy roads. Unfortunately we ran into some bike troubles 5km after the Cao Bằng township with my partners Honda RX (mine is a Suzuki GD 110CC). Long story short after some friendly locals helped us, and 3 mechanics in Cao Bằng, we were left with no choice but to leave her behind (as instructed by bike rental shop owner) and double up for our trip to Du Già. We had also wasted a good 3 hours trying to sort out the issue.
We continued on our choice of the southern route knowing we’d get there in the dark. The first 10kms of the DT176 weren’t as bad as previous comments suggested. It took us longer as we drove in the dark, Yes there are some pretty rough patches, but doable if it’s dry and you have confidence (not necessarily a confident rider).
Not the worst 40km stretch of road by a long shot. But be safe, listen to your gut and drive to the conditions. Thanks for your awesome blogs Tom!
Thank you for sharing your trip report and updates on road conditions.
I’m sorry to hear that you had bike problems on the way, but I’m glad to know you made it safely to your destination.
Hi Tom, you’re knowledge of this area is incredible – thanks for such a great resource.
After being up there for 7 days and in an attempt to not retrace my tracks, wondering if you might know which of the following routes would be the fastest way back to Ha Giang from Meo Vac:
a. DT182/176 from Meo Vac to Yen Minh, retracing way back to Ha Giang; or
b. Staying on DT176 a little further, turning off onto DT181 around Lang Khac, taking this via A Boong Waterfall, into Ha Giang (preferred)
Do you know how long (rather than k’s) it would take to do each in one straight shot?
Thanks for your comment.
Unfortunately, DT181/176 between Meo Vac and Yen Minh is currently undergoing major road works (see the previous comment below). So if you want to get back in one day, I think it’s best to retrace your outward route via Dong Van.
An update on the road from Meo Vac going west toward Yen Minh/Du Gia (DT182 also marked as DT176).
This road is being resurfaced and under heavy, heavy construction. It is all but impassable except for very experienced riders. I was able to make the journey on a semi auto 125cc Honda, but I also have 10+ years of riding experience in Vietnam.
The road has no guardrails, is completely dirt or mud, with many sections of loose rock that hasn’t yet even been pounded into gravel. Complicating things is the fact that there is tons of heavy equipment parked throughout the road, as well as ongoing construction that you have to avoid while it is operating on very narrow roads, mountain roads. Picture: driving under an excavator while it is operating. The heavy equipment does not stop for riders.
This road is drivable in good weather but will not be leisurely. If you’re up for the challenge, take it, but be aware of what you’re getting into. It absolutely is not for beginners, and even people who are highly, highly experienced will find it extremely rough going.
Thank you for this important road update. Sounds like it’s definitely one to avoid for now. Hopefully, within a few months it will be shiny, smooth and new.
I feel I’ve got some pointers to add although only on day 1 of the loop, I did however do a mini Ha Giang-Du Gia loop yesterday as I’ll be continuing on east after Meo Vac and wanted to see the region.
For people visiting the waterfall The DT176 South of Du Gia (back to the QL34) is honestly the worst 40KM of riding I’ve had so far in the North. I would STRONGLY advise against it. I would return back up the DT176 and turn off to the DT181 which was a lovely ride in lovely condition. Which leads me to my second point, where I don’t know if by chance but the whole ride was incredibly scenic and then it eventually spat me out a mere 7km from Ha Giang on the QL4C. The route isn’t on Google Maps as I looked at the location of Photos on my phone and they didn’t match. But it shaved a decent amount off as I ended going nowhere near Quan Ba like Google Maps shows. The route felt pretty standard to follow also.
Day 1 of the conventional route and like Brice before me mentioned, you have a choice of Yen Minh 40km or 20km away once you cross the Can Ty bridge. I honestly don’t think you can miss the shorter option. It provides stunning switchbacks until you’re up in the clouds. I did however return for a loop once I showered and staying on the QL4C up through the Pine Forest is gorgeous in its own right. Either way you really can’t lose. Traffic being much lighter on the extended route. I don’t recall any uncomfortable riding, a pure joy all day.
Thanks for the trip report and road updates.
Sad to hear that DT176 south of Du Gia is still in bad condition – again, that’s a road whose surface has been bad for many years. Surely, they will repave it soon.
I think the road you’re referring to that took you back to Ha Giang without going via Quan Ba must be the new Thái An hydroelectric dam route via A Boong waterfall. It is actually on Google Maps, but the road has only been open for a couple of years at most.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.
It had to have been that road I recognised the bridge you cross to come onto the QL4C at the end. A lovely drive.
Also Meo Vac to the bamboo ferry crossing is all in super condition. A great drive up until about 500m out where the actual crossing point is a little confusing and the correct ‘road’ is actually no more than a footpath! And the other side the road, as you mentioned, is severely off road for about 10-15km. I did manage it on a Honda Blade however but thankful for the good weather on the day. It was an extremely adventurous day – one I’ll remember for years, and thankful that the lads on the ferry were also going to Bao Lac. I wouldn’t recommend going that route solo just in case
Thanks, Pat. This is all good information and updates for riders.
These posts are incredible!
Thank you for sharing such helpful content.
My girlfriend and I are planning to visit from Dec 31st – Jan 4th.
Does the weather at this time of year effect the destinations you would choose? We would like to try and reach Bảo Lạc and get back to Ha Giang by Jan 3rd PM, so we can leave back to Hanoi early on the 4th.
Also it worth trying to spend New year in a certain town/city? Do they celebrate this time of year in the part of the country?!
Thanks so much again mate!
It can be pretty cold at that time of year, but lots of people still ride the loop and really enjoy it. You will need appropriate clothing, though.
Assuming you are taking the bus (not riding) between Hanoi and Ha Giang, then a few days is enough time to ride the Ha Giang Loop to Bao Lac and back.
Yes, New Year is celebrated in Vietnam. They’ll be parties in Ha Giang, and smaller ones in towns on the loop, such as Dong Van and Meo Vac. But Vietnamese love a celebration, so wherever you are there’s likely to be food, drink and fun.
I’m riding the Ha Giang loop and side trip to Cao Bang with a mate in October 2022 on Honda Blade 110cc, we will each have our own bike. We have 9 days for the trip………..
● 1 night Ha Giang (start trip)
● 1 night Yenh Minh
● 1 night Dong Van
● 1 night Meo Vac
● 2 nights Cao Bang
● 1 night Bao Lac
● 1 night Ha Giang (finish trip)
QUESTION – Do you think we will do Meo Vac to Cao Bang in one days riding? Is it too far and too long to ride in one day? And then riding from Bao Lac back to Ha Giang what road do you suggest?
Yes, it’s possible to ride Meo Vac to Cao Bang in one (long) day as long as you start early in the morning and take the most direct route: QL4C and QL34. It’s roughly 200km. However, because the roads are so mountainous, your average speed will probably only be 30kmph. So you’re looking at 6 hours riding not including stops: this means at least 8 hours on the road. Also, there have been reports of major construction on road QL4C so you’d need to be prepared for delays.
In general, those northern mountain roads are often subject to landslides which can slow you down and you never really know when roadworks may be going on. When you ride the Ha Giang Loop you’ll meet other travellers coming in the opposite direction who’ll be able to give you current road updates.
From Bao Lac back to Ha Giang you can stay on QL34 all the way – apparently that road is now in good condition.
New roads are constantly opening in that region so again it’s worth asking around when you’re there.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the info Tom, considering the long ride to Cao Bang, I think I will stop over for the night in Tinh Tuc and ride to Cao Bang city the following day.
Cheers again your website and your personal replies are extremely helpful
Thank you so much for your detailed and informative posts. Your posts are a great resource for the biking community. I plan to bike the Hà Giang loop this September or October. One question: what do you think of riding this tour on an e-scooter (such as a VinFast) or an e-motorcycle (such as a DatBike Weaver 200)? Your thought will be greatly appreciate.
Thanks for your comment.
Yes, that’s a good question. I’ve been thinking a lot about e-scooters recently, too. In theory, if you followed the standard loop, it should be OK. However, Ha Giang is perhaps not the best place to try long rides on e-scooters, because the terrain is very mountainous and steep, and sometimes road conditions are unpredictable. The battery would probably only last around 50-100km, so you’d need to recharge at least once a day. I’m only guessing, but that seems likely. Anyway, if you do decide to ride the loop on an e-scooter, please let me know how it goes.
Thank you for your prompt reply. I’m still undecided about the type of bike to use for this trip, ICE or eBike. I’ll keep you posted. Keep well and ride safely.
Thank you so much for creating / running this website. It is super helpful.
Planning on doing the Ha Giang loop (ha giang city to yen minh to dong van to meo vac back to ha giang city) in June over four days of riding.
Should we try to skip sleeping in dong van and instead do ha giang city to yen minh to meo vac back to du gia to ha giang city?
We are not experienced motorbikers – do you think we will be okay on the route?
Any other tips? We are a group of young guys who are looking to go with the cheapest option in most situations.
Sorry for my slow reply.
Whether you sleep in Yen Minh or Dong Van doesn’t matter so much (although there is a much wider range of places to stay in the latter). But you should definitely at least ride through Dong Van and then down to Meo Vac, because that is the Ma Pi Leng Pass, which is probably the most spectacular section of the entire loop.
Keeping prices down should be fairly easy: eat street food and stay in homestays or nhà nghỉ (local guest houses).
As most of the roads on the standard loop are now paved and tourist traffic is still relatively light after the pandemic, you should be fine riding without much experience. However, you need to be extremely careful: the roads are very windy and sometimes very narrow. Ride slowly and cautiously: you never know what is coming around the next bend; never assume anything. Be particularly careful in wet conditions and with mud or gravel in the corners.
I hope this helps,
Fantastic site which was a great help when I did Hanoi to HCMC in 2018
At last I’m on my way back in September and the north loop looks like my first choice after a few days in Hanoi
What would you recomend as the best way to get to Ha Giang where I plan to use QT motorbike hire to start my 5 day trip
Thanks in advance
You can take a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang. There should be lots of buses to choose from, including so-called ‘VIP’ ones with flat beds. Also, when you contact QT Motorbikes they should be able to give you more advice about transportation from Hanoi to Ha Giang.
I hope this helps,
So I’ve got a question. I am driving from Hanoi to Ha Giang (stopping half way and staying one night). I arrive in Ha Giang on the 18th of June. I need to be back in Ha Giang on the 24th. Will I have enough time to do the extreme North Loop as well as Ban Gioc Waterfall Loop. This will be my second time doing the Extreme North Loop. If I remember, I did it in 4 days so this should be plenty of time, but I am not sure of how much time I need to a lot for Ban Gioc.
Well, yes that should really be enough time to include the ride out to Ban Gioc too, especially since you’ve ridden the Extreme North Loop before. However, there’s always the chance of something not going according to plan: heavy rain causing landslides, blocking roads or making them muddy and slow, for example. But the ride from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc and back again can be easily managed in a day if you’re pushed for time. Although of course it’s much more fun if you have time to stay overnight there.
I hope this helps,
It does! I was going to extend the trip but was informed that Ha Giang is enforcing a 21 day quarantine..
Oh dear, sorry to hear that. I hope you get a chance to do it again soon when this 4th waves is overcome.
Hi,my name is tuti.japanese.
I went to ha giang by rental moto. date was 2021/March, 2 Weeks.
rental from HA NOI to CAO BANG,THAN BAN GIOC,BAO LAC,LUNG CU,HA GIANG,DU GIA,and DIEN MAC.
in my trip, your site was very useful! thank you!
i want to tell about new information about DT217,
south bambo ferry area.(town name is NA HU?)
in your article, road condition was quite bad,dirt road.
you are right, i went there. my case, it was dirt and muddy.
it was sunny day, so i run with sand(soil) dust air.
if it was rain, quite dangerous.
my route was from BAO LAC to bamboo ferry.
when i was in COC PHUNG area,(dirt and muddy road driving!!! cannot engjoy!!!)
i was able to see great view TRA LY area,great views my right side.
so i turned back and change route to TRA LY. it was beautiful! and road is better than COC PHUNG.
road was not asphalt,soil. but hard soil. good condition. not dusty maddy!
I recommend TRA LY better than COC PHUNG! ( view of field and house are great!)
Thank you for sharing your trip experience and road conditions in this area.
Tra Ly sounds great.
thank you for your reply. another question.
do you have paper map? do you buy paper map?
when i went to Thailand, i could buy “ROAD MAP” at convenience store.
this map is one sheet paper, big and folded type.
but i search bookstore and AEON mall(in long bien), i could not search.
only tourist map and whole vietnam map.
google map on smart phone is useful, but it has no passion.
if you have information. pls teach.
while driving, I want to have google map and paper map.
I have written about printed maps on this page.
If you can find the latest version of the printed map I mention on the page then it’s quite nice to have it as well as google maps.
I hope this helps,
Fantastic Site thank you so much for all the very handy information and map. This just made my planned trip so much easier.
Thank you for the kind words – I’m happy to hear you’ve found the site useful.
I’m considering riding around mid-late March, planning 5 days. Take my time, not rush.
Any recent reports on the DT176 road south out of Du Gia, connecting to QL34 back to HG? I’ll be on Blade or Future, not off-road bike. Thanks!
I have heard reports that QL34 back to Ha Giang is in better condition now, but parts of DT176 between Du Gia and QL34 are still quite rough. However, apparently the rough section of DT181 between Du Gia and Tam Son is now in good condition. But please note that these updates are via other readers and commentators, not from my personal experience so I can’t vouch for them. Another good source of updates is the Vietnam Back Roads Facebook page: you could post your question there and I’m sure people will have answers.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom. Appreciate your informative sharing.
What do u think about the wind and cold riding the loop during TET middle of Feb.?
I’m not sure about the wind, but yes it will probably still be pretty cold on some of the high passes and low valleys up in Ha Giang during Tet. However, lots of people still ride the loop at that time and really enjoy it despite the colder conditions.
Hi Tom, as always your guide is so useful, really love your site.
I just come back from the loop and just one comment, on the route from Du Già to Quản Bạ, we took the 181, I didn’t notice any rough patch (or really small, nothing compared to the ones on the southern route), and not sure if where you marked it they are doing some works (after a village they were putting some gravel).
Also around that point:
There are two routes to go back, if you go left you go along the river, if you go right the mountain road. Everybody warned us not to go through the mountain (not sure if related to some landslides), and the river road that some people call “new” was of very good quality and not sure if lucky but we didn’t see any vehicle bigger than a scooter. I think they might have built a small road just to join the already existing river road.
Cheers and thanks for all your hard work
Thank you for these updates – they’re very useful.
It’s good to hear that 181 between Du Gia and Quan Ba is now mostly in good condition. There are so many scenic roads in that region – it’s a beautiful part of the world.
I am riding the loop now, I think it could be useful to others :
The “shortcut” to Yen Minh at Can Ty is now open and the road is really good, most of the buses doing the HG – Dong Van seems to use it (from Google Maps it’s cutting 20′ off). There is a signboard right after the bridge at Can Ty. When you reach the top the way down to the QL4C is really beautiful (on the way Quang Ba – Yen Minh).
Thank you for this update, it’s really useful and great to know. I can’t wait to get back up to Ha Giang and try it out.
I hope this wasn’t asked before. When did yous exactly go onto the loop? The weather is amazing in your pictures. I know you gave a range when the weather is best but was wondering when you went.
Your picture (where you stand at the The Ma Pi Leng Pass) can I just ask how did you get there? When looking up the viewpoints they don’t seem to be that one and I came across that one on a few blogger pages.
Thanks a mil. Stay safe,
I’ve ridden this loop many times at many different times of year – the photos in this guide are a selection from several different trips. But in general, the best times of year to ride this loop are Sept-Oct and April-May.
When you are on the Ma Pi Leng Pass there are dozens of good photo opportunities and viewpoints like the one in the photo – many of which are right beside the road.
This all looks incredible, thanks for taking the time to detail the journey!
A few of us will be looking to replicate a fair amount of this next month. If you were to recommend a rest day, where would it be? Preferably somewhere where we could explore a little, either on foot or a short bike ride away.
Sorry for my slow reply.
The most common stops on the loop are Dong Van or Meo Vac. I prefer Meo Vac because it’s not as touristy as Dong Van. But if you stay at one of the nice homestays outside Dong Van this should be a good option too. I mention accommodation options in the guide and on the map.
I hope this helps,
A couple of questions.
1. Weather – it seems to be suggested April, May or September, October is best. What is wrong with June July, i would expect they are the warmest months there – but is there a lot of rain then?
2. Getting from Hanoi to Ha Giang and back. I have talked with QT and I am not happy about the idea on them insisting that a drivers licence or passport original be left with them as security deposit for the duration of the rental. So i will go back to my old friends TIGIT who i have used a couple of times before . As i want a XR150 or similar it doesnt seem there is anyone in Ha Giang who can supply this type of bike other than QT. So the question is, can you suggest any interesting routes from Hanoi to Ha Giang and back (preferably two different routes), that are not horrible highways laden with large trucks and busses? I have plenty of time
Yes, it’s still fine to ride the loop in June and July, but because that’s the rainy season it’s possible that conditions will be wet.
There are many ways to ride between Hanoi and Ha Giang, but the best way to do it would be to go there via Thac Ba Lake for a night at the homestays there, and then return via Ba Be Lake at the homestays there.
For more about linking Ha Giang and Ba Be and the Northeast take a look at this page and this page.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom. I have reviewed my plans and will shoot for a mid October trip.
Have taken your advice and will plan route from Hanoi and back following your guidance.
Hi all, just so you kow the whole of Nam Dam village near Quan Ba is closed for about a month if you were thinking bout staying there
Thank you for this update – much appreciated.
Thank you so much for this information. Do you know about any other areas of the loop that might be closed?
We are thinking of going there tomorrow maybe.
Thank you for the excellent information. I’m planning on doing the loop early March 2020. Is it necessary to book accomodation and bikes in advance? I’d prefer not to to allow some flexibility. But will do if you think it’s risky to play it by ear at this time of year.
I look forward to hearing from you!
If you happen to be travelling on a weekend or public holiday it might be necessary to book in advance.
Personally, I would suggest booking at least your bike in advance (you can start by looking at QT Motorbikes – they’re very good).
In general, during the week you shouldn’t need to book accommodation, unless there are particular homestays/hotels you want to stay in.
However, bear in mind that the Ha Giang Loop is increasingly popular, so demand is always going up.
I hope this helps,
May I also ask if it’s easy to get a sim card in Vietnam, and would google maps work for most of the loop? I wondering if I need to get a hard copy map. If so, do the bike hiring places sell those?
Yes, sim cards are easy and cheap to buy in Vietnam, and Google Maps should work for most of the loop.
Fantastic. Thanks Tom!
Hi Tom~ Thanks for all the info. So…planned a loop tour starting March 8. Is there any restictions related to corono virus?
There are apparently no restrictions for travel in Ha Giang at the moment.
I hope you enjoy your trip,
Great site thx for all the info .
Im going to do The Loop later this year , i did ride a lot on a motorbike in Inda, Nepal and Thailand
What about what kind of bike you need , you did it on a scooter , did it have enough power uphill , or is it better to take a bike with some more power ?
What about petrol on The loop do you need to bring extra petrol with you or are there plenty opportunities to buy petrol ?
On the regular route (the blue line) there’s no need to have anything more powerful than a scooter or a regular 125cc semi-auto (as long as it’s in good condition). But if you want to ride some of the side routes (especially the ones with road works or rough dirt roads) then you’ll need something a bit more powerful. You can check out QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang – they have lots of different bike models available.
There are gas stations at all of the towns on the loop so petrol shouldn’t be a problem.
I hope this helps,
Thanks so much for all the info.
My partner and I are doing a three week honeymoon in March 2020. I am wondering if you could give me some advise on our (rough) itinerary. The only things booked are 5 days in Hoi An on arrival (time to unwind after a DIY wedding!) and a 2 day Halong cruise near the end of our holiday. so far this is what I have but am wondering if I should omit anything for a longer stay doing the Ha Giang Loop.
5th Arrive Da Nang and stay in Hoi An
11-13 Phong Nha
13-14 Ninh Binh/Tam Coc
16- catch day bus to to Ha Giang and one night before loop
21 Return to Hanoi
26 fly home from Hanoi
Any recommendations or advice would be truly appreciated
I would take a night sleeper bus to and from Ha Giang (get one of the ‘VIP’ limousine buses with flat beds) thus giving you at least one (if not, two) extra full days on the loop. You could also cut out one of your days in Hanoi, thus either giving you an extra day in Phong Nha or Hanoi.
Personally, I think Ninh Binh/Tam Coc is overrated and overtouristy, especially when compared with Phong Nha and Ha Giang (although the latter is very popular now, too).
I hope this helps,
How do you download the map on mobile phone for offline use while phone is in airplane mode? Is it possible?
I’m not sure about that – but you can try opening the map in the Google Maps app on your phone. Or you can export the map to KML file and then upload it to the Maps.me app on your phone, which works offline.
If this doesn’t work, try googling it for a solution.
I hope this helps,
Hello! We are Currently in Yen Minh for our first night of the loop. Thanks for your information, it has been so useful!
I do have a question though about lung cu flag pole, and how you acquire a permit? Or do you not need one?
Thanks in advance for anyone who can help
Hollie & Cal
I’ve never needed a permit to visit the Lung Cu flag pole before. So unless something has changed, it’s not necessary to get one.
Not sure if you still follow this but these maps/descriptions are amazing. My wife and I are doing the loop later this month and these are very helpful. Hopefully we don’t freeze but this is my #1 thing to do in our 3 weeks in Vietnam. Thanks for all the information
Yes, I still keep up with the comments and it’s great to hear you’re using this guide for your road trip – it probably will be cold though 🙂
Just want to start off by saying this page has been incredible and has essentially guided us from south to north! Thank you so much for the time and effort you’ve gone through.
We are finishing our trip off through the Ha Giang loop and my bike has proven to be a little less than reliable over the last few weeks. Do you know if mechanics are easier to spot throughout the loop or are they a little more sparse considering its a rural area.
I am looking into renting a bike as an alternative but we are up against time to pursue this option as I would need a few things to fall through prior.
It’s very nice to hear you’ve had a good trip and that my guides have been useful along the way.
Yes, there are plenty of repairs shops/mechanics along the Ha Giang Loop – it’s so popular now that even if you were to have a problem on a more remote part of the loop, it wouldn’t be long before someone came by to help. I’m sure you know this, but the Vietnamese word for mechanic is sửa xe.
But renting is also a good option. It shouldn’t be at all difficult to arrange a good rental bike in Ha Giang.
I cannot thank you enough for writing this article. I have just finished the loop and it was the most amazing thing ever.
Thanks again, you’re the best.
Thanks, Shady. Really great to hear that. I’m glad you enjoyed the loop.
I did and after returning to Hanoi, I decided I should go back again up north to Cao Bang!
I read your other article and it’s helped me plan one big loop that included Ban Gioc, Bao Lac, Ba Be and then back to Cao Bang. I even saw the roller coaster pass you mentioned and climbed up a view point where you can see it all very clearly, I can’t attach photos here but it’s on my Instagram if you’d like to see it. @shadyym9 http://instagram.com/shadyym9
And to be honest, this has been one of the most incredibly beautiful experiences of my life and J owe a huge part of it to you and your fantastic guides and articles.
Also, you’re quite famous now in Ha Giang, man, almost everyone on the loop knows about the Vietnam Coracle 😉
Thanks, Shady. That sounds like a great road trip. It’s such a wonderful part of the country up there.
And it’s great to hear people know my site up in Ha Giang 🙂
I just wanted to say thank you for your contribution. You have created a wonderful ressource!
Thank you, Alan
Thanks for the great guide. Going to Vietnam with a few friends in Mid-November and would love to do this loop. Most of us don’t have much to any experience on motorbikes, would you advise against this ride given that?
Well, many people do the loop successfully and safely without having much previous experience riding motorbikes. However, it’s important to realize that it can be very dangerous on Vietnam’s roads, so if you decide to do it obviously you need to be extremely cautious. I’d recommend renting from QT Motorbikes – they have good safety standards and will be able to help you get used to riding before you set out. And, if you decide you don’t feel comfortable riding yourself, they can arrange for you to ride pillion instead.
I hope this helps,
Very helpful, thanks Tom. I know you mentioned the ride can be done in 2 days. Given the lack of experience, do you think 3 days would be enough to complete the loop without pushing ourselves too much?
Yes, I think if you make sure to leave at a decent time in the morning each day then 3 days is enough to complete the standard loop.
I just cycled the DT 217 from Bao Lac to Meo Vac, and in many parts this cannot be called a road it is rather a mud trail. But the bmboo raft river crossing is certainly spectacular.
Yes, sections of that road have always been pretty muddy and bad. Thanks for the update. And glad you enjoyed the river crossing.
love your post!!! Thanks for your advise on the loop route. All set and I will be there on 30/7 until 3/8 🙂
That’s great. I hope you enjoy the loop.
What a beautifully helpful website you’ve created here. First and foremost thank you ever so much for all this precious info, it’s helped my wife and I enjoy the hai van pass and phong na amazingly. I’ve just got a few questions regarding the ha giang loop. We wanted to go over there in about a week or two. Do you know of any reliable website to check the weather conditions ? Also do you know if any roads might be damaged ? Finally is it best to hire a motorbike straight in Ha Giang or in Hanoi? Considering that we are not very experienced drivers I wonder if it’s enough with and automatic ( airblade or equivalent) or do we need to look for something a bit more powerful.. thank you very much for your help and your precious infos!
For weather I use the Windy.com app – it’s fairly accurate and has lots of different satellite views, including rain & thunder, wind, cloud cover etc.
I’d rent a bike in Ha Giang. There’s no reason to ride the long crawl from Hanoi to Ha Giang if you don’t have to. QT Motorbikes is a reputable rental shop in Ha Giang.
If you’re sticking to the main loop, then any bike is fine, including automatics such as the Airblade (as long as it’s in good condition). But if you going to travel some of the other roads off the main loop, it’s probably best to have a semi-auto or manual. The rough sections of road are marked on my route map, but of course, conditions change all the time.
If you have any updates and road reports after your trip, please write them here so that I and other readers can benefit.
Hi! Amazing information for the Loop! Thank you! Does anyone has any updates on the International Driving license matter? I have no time to get one where I live and I need to do the loop. I dont care if the ask me for 1.000.000VND if they let me go through… The owner of the hostel said me that it in not necessary
It’s best to ask around in Ha Giang for the current situation. But from the most recent reports you should be OK – if you get stopped you’ll most likely have to pay a fine rather than having your bike impounded.
I hope you enjoy the loop,
I will be doing a portion of the loop in a couple of days, how’d it go for you? Any problems with the police?
The situation is pretty much the same at the moment. If you see police they will likely stop you and, if you don’t have a license, they will likely fine you or, in the worse case scenario, impound your bike. However, still most foreign bikers in Ha Giang don’t get stopped by the police. It’s just a chance you take if you choose to ride in the area.
Another super informative post.
I shall return to ride more of Vietnam and finally see this region in November.
Just wondering about route DT176 from Du Gia to Ha Giang, how bad is this in 2019? I will be on a Honda XR150 with big wheels and dual purpose tyres and am experienced on gravel roads.
It wasn’t in good condition in 2018, especially after the heavy rains during the end of that year. But even so, on an XR you should be OK.
If you ride that section, please report back here with updates on road conditions – it’s a great help to me and other readers.
We have seen your blog and we are reamly motivated to do the Ha Guang loop from rhe 11th to the 15th of July now. But we are concerned about the rainy season. Maybe you can give us some advice and help us having a better idea of what conditions we should expect and if it is safe to do the loop now? Good to know that we are two unexperimented drivers.
Thanks a lot,
At that time of year the weather can be good and bad. A typical day is usually dry and sunny in the mornings, then clouding over by the afternoon with some heavy tropical downpours.
It’s fine to ride Ha Giang in July but be prepared for some rain.
Hi! Love your posts!!! I’m in Vietnam right now and I’d planned to do the Ha Giang Loop but the weather predictions are really bad, with rain all the days. Is it worth to do it anyway? Thank you in advance!!
It’s difficult to know for sure, but I had a look at Windy weather map for the next couple of days and it does look quite wet. It depends how much time you have: if I were you, I’d still go if I had a few days, but not if I only had a couple of days. Another (hopefully drier) alternative for great riding and scenery if you decide not to go to Ha Giang is Phong Nha – rent a bike there and ride around: there are loads of great roads, routes, loops and scenery.
I’m planning to do the Ha Giang loop for around 3-4 days in a few weeks once myself and my bike have made it up to Hanoi from South.
I’ve heard a couple of people mention that you can take a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and put your motorbike on the bus. Do you know much about this and in particular, if it exists what companies and prices exist for this? Would be a great way to kill the 6-7 hour ride there and back, and avoid having to hire a bike when I already own one.
I’ve looked for more information online but can’t seem to find much information. Let me know if you know anything!
Yes, that’s right, but I don’t have any solid information about it. I’m pretty sure any of the popular backpacker hostels in Hanoi or Ha Giang will be able to provide more details though. There might even be a post about it in the comments on this page, too.
If you do take your bike on the bus, please share your experience of it here.
Hi Tom, thanks for tons of tips.
I’m planning to do the Ha Giang Loop around the last week of May (from 25th to 30th)
Do you think there is no problem with the rainy season?
May is usually quite a good month, but there will probably be some rain too. It’s very difficult to predict weather in those mountainous regions.
I hope you enjoy it,
Hi Tom, thanks for the quick answer.
Do you know about the police check? I don’t have de IDP, only my driver license from my country.
And again, thank you so much 🙂
Apparently it’s OK at the moment, but you can never know for certain.
Hi Tom! Thank you so much for making this incredibly detailed website, it’s helped many people (including us) plan their Ha Giang journey. Yesterday we took the alternate route DT217 from Bao Lac to Meo Vac and had quite the adventure ? It was our bad for not listening to your warning, but I would recommend taking the option off of your map because I think many people attempting some of the sections would not make it. We got extremely lucky and some of the local people drove us out of the dangerous area. Much of the road is extremely narrow and literally on the edge of a cliff, it would only take one teeny tiny mishap to slip and fall to your death. ? Thankfully, the area is pretty populated and many people driving past were happy to help. Next time we’ll make sure to study each section much more carefully. ??
Thanks for sharing your experience of that road. Yes, it can be pretty hairy there – it’s really only for riders with bikes capable off-road and with off-roading experience.
But I’m happy to hear you got out safely 🙂
Thank you so much for all the precious information on this blog, it has made our exploration of Vietnam surely astonishing ! As for the Ha Giang loop, the state of things on April 8th is : it is supposedly mandatory to have an international motorbike driving licence. The police stands at one point shortly after you quit Ha Giang. They will charge you 1 million dongs per vehicule if you can’t show a valid permit, but they will let you go afterwards, and they don’t control returning travellers. Also, there are some specific times during the day when they make a break. But as you mentioned, the road is sometimes very dangerous and previous experience with a motorbike seems to be a pre-requisite.
Hope that helps future travellers.
P.S : if you have also travelled through Laos and Cambodia, I would like very much to read your “off the beaten path must sees” !
Thanks for the updates. I’d heard that the police had actually stopped the check point altogether a couple of months ago. I guess it comes and goes.
It’s a long time since I’ve explored Laos and Cambodia so I can’t really offer any tips. But Laos in particular is great for riding. I’m sure you’ll love it.
I have a Cambodia motorcycle license. From what I hear a licence from an Asean country is good for all Asean country members. I never had a problem in Thailand or Laos. Vietnam should be the same?
I don’t know for sure. You can check with the rental companies in Ha Giang, such as QT Motorbikes.
Bonjour, nous comptons partir demain pour faire la boucle à moto. Nous n’avons pas de permis. Pourrais tu nous dire où été la police, si nous pouvons éviter ce point de contrôle.
You could ask at the rental shops or hostels in Ha Giang city, especially QT Motorbikes.
1- Tom , you are a total legend, THANKS!
2- I’m Riding the extreme north loop starting on 9 or 10 April ( I’m staying 60km south of Ha Giang tonight 8th) and have been riding aline for a few days (Hanoi – Sapa- Bac Ha- Xin Min, ) which has been great and I’d love to ride some of the loop with other riders so if anyone is leaving HG on 8 or 9 April please get in touch if you’d like to join up with me, I’m Australuan semi experienced rider, very experienced traveller , musician with a terrible sense of humour and direction , so perfect really!!
Cheers , Adrian
Whatsapp – +61 407297041
Insta – Adrianheath
Thanks. Good to hear you’re enjoying your road trip.
As Ha Giang city is such a mecca for independent bikers these days, I’m sure you’ll be able to meet up with some people there. At the hostels, for example.
I hope you have fun,
I land in Hanoi the evening of April 29th and leave Hanoi on the 5th of May. Do I have enough time to do the North loop in 3 days? I am a solo traveler.
Sorry to bug you on your page when everyone is asking you the same question. I tried to get in contact with a shop in Hanoi but got no response. The ticket is already booked as I am doing a visa run from Thailand… I really would like to see some of this stuff but wonder if I can even bother now.
Yes, you should have just about enough time to do it, or at least part of the loop.
You would need to get a bus between Hanoi and Ha Giang then rent a bike in Ha Giang – try QT Motorbikes.
However, when you’re travelling is a public holiday weekend in Vietnam and this means that transportation and the Ha Giang Loop will probably be quite busy. So it’s essential to try to book your bus and bike in advance.
Hi tom.we are planning to do the loop for 3 days. As my wife doesn’t ride a bike,do you know if there are big enough bikes for 2 people that are comfortable for the ride of 3 days,and if so where can we rent them.
Yes, sure, check out QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang – they have lots of different types of motorbikes for rent.
3 of us plan on a 4-day tour. We have Hostels reservations in Ha Giang and then again 4 nights later. Do we need to reserve rooms now or wait until we are on the trip for the 3 nights?
It depends when you’re travelling and where you intend to stay. For example, if you’re travelling on a weekend or public holiday then it’s a good idea to book in advance because the loop can get busy during those times. And if you have specific places that you’d like to stay on the loop then you should book those in advance so that you can guarantee a room.
If you’re travelling during the week and outside of a public holiday and don’t mind where you stay then there shouldn’t be any need to book in advance.
Amazing article. Is this loop possible to do on an automatic bike? I have been hearing very mixed reviews from people.
Yes, the main loop (in blue) is possible on an automatic. I actually always use my automatic on all my routes. The problem is that they’re generally not very good for off road sections. This is one of the reasons some people prefer manuals. But as long as the automatic is in good condition, there’s no reason you can follow the main Ha Giang Loop on one.
I hope this helps,
We are very inspired by all the interesting and detailed information on your website and are highly interested in driving the Ha Giang Extreme Loop. We are planning on riding our motorbike for about 4-6 days in the northern region. However, we are unsure how to read the map (the sections in blue). How is it possible to drive a loop without riding a section twice? We would highly appreciate your recommendations on how to drive the loop. Also, can you explain to us, how we can activate the navigation mode to use your maps on the road?
Thanks and many greetings from Germany,
Matthias and Maren
Hi Maren & Matthias,
To ride the loop follow the upper blue line: start from Ha Giang, then go to Tam Son (Quan Ba), then Yen Minh, then Dong Van, then Meo Mac; then return from Meo Vac via the lower blue line, which eventually links back with the upper blue line at Yen Minh, then retrace the route back to Ha Giang.
To follow the map on your phone you need to export my map to KML, then upload the KML file to the maps.me app on your phone. The process for doing this differs depending on the device. I suggest you google something like: how to export a map to KML on (your device name).
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom –
Thanks so much for putting all of this helpful info online. It’s very helpful in putting together my itinerary, and much better than anything else I’ve stumbled across.
My question: which route would you recommend for traveling between Ba Be Lake and Meo Vac? We’ll be in a car with a driver and guide, if that makes a difference. Looks like there are two routes that are shorter – via Tinh Tuck and then Bao Lac, or via Bao Lam. The former looks like 231 km and 7.3 hours while the latter looks like 215 km and 7 hours according to Google maps, not counting of course road construction, accidents, flat tires, kids and misbehaving farm animals. Any comments appreciated. Thanks again!! (I thought I posted this question a couple of days ago but can’t find it on your site — if I’m wrong, my apologies!)
For the quickest, easiest route between Ba Be Lake and Meo Vac I would go up to Tinh Tuc then across to Bao Lac and up to Meo Vac on QL4C. It’s probably a 6 hour drive, not including stops. It’s very scenic, too.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom! It’s nice to hear that the ride won’t be as long as I originally thought. I’m really looking forward to this adventure!
Riding Legally in Vietnam.
A couple of years ago Vietnam signed up to the international driving permit convention. This validates foreign driving licences for use in Vietnam.
My understanding is, if you have a valid motorcycle licence and you wish to ride legally in Vietnam you will need to be in possession of an International Driving Permit (IDP).
What is not widely know is that there are two separate conventions.
One agreed 19th September 1949, the other agreed 8th November 1968.
Vietnam has signed up to the 1968 convention, however until recently most IDP’s issued in the UK were for the 1949 convention and so not valid Vietnam.
The good news is that a 1968 convention IDP is now available for UK travelers.
Note that the post office say it is not valid until after 28th of March 2019.
It costs£5.50 and lasts for three years rather than one with the old permits.
If you are also riding in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia you will need to get a 1949 IDP in addition to the 1968 version.
Both types are available from the Post office counter at £5.50 each. Take a passport sized photo for each IDP and your domestic photo driving licence.
Both IDP’s look similar – so check you have to correct one.
Note: If stopped, you will also need to be in possession of your domestic licence as the wording on the IDP says that you have the right to ride the categories of vehicle that are shown on your domestic licence.
Thank you for this valuable and very useful information, both for me and for other readers and riders.
Congratulation and many thanks for this guide. We start in 2 days our Ha Giang loop. I’m wondering if you have some experience with police stop, i hear so many stories and dont know what to expect.
According to reports, as of October 2018, police on the Ha Giang Loop will stop all foreigners riding motorbikes and turn them back immediately if they do not have a local license or appropriate international licenses.
does anybody have recent experience with police checks on the loop?
We do not have an international license and unfortunately we can only obtain it in the Netherlands.
We have our own bikes.
Hope to hear from someone!
As of October 2018, police on the Ha Giang Loop will stop all foreigners riding motorbikes and turn them back immediately if they do not have a local license or appropriate international licenses. There might be exceptions, but as far as I know, this is the current reality on the Ha Giang Loop.
If you decide to ride the loop without a license, please let me know what your experience is.
Hi there! Feb of 2019 just finishing up the week of Tet and I’ve only seen a single police on the road, and he had pulled over a young Vietnamese man in a caravan of teenagers on motor scooters. I have an international driver’s permit, although it appears that police are not currently bothered at all about even being seen, let alone pulling over foreigners (I’m pleased to report!).
Thanks for sharing your experience. The reason for the lack of police presence might be because of the Tet holidays – often the police will be out in force across the country before Tet, but not after – at least until near the end of the Tet holidays. That’s just a possibility.
First of all, thank you again for this guide. It’s extremely useful and everyone we’ve met so far on the loop had read it or was following it exactly. You did a great job!
In case others are thinking of riding from Hanoi, we did it 5 days ago and followed your suggestion of spend the night in vu Lihn and it was perfect. Roads were fine.
Now we’re in meo vac and we’re thinking of heading to halong bay or cat back from here, but can’t find any information regarding a route from here to there. I wonder if the lack of information means that it’s not a good idea?
What would you recommend? I haven’t found any routes for this on your website…. Do you have any tips? Would be much appreciated. Thank you!
I’m glad you enjoyed the route to Ha Giang.
From Meo Vac to Halong Bay or Cat Ba is a very long, mountainous, and circuitous route. From Meo Vac you can ride QL4C down to Bao Lac. From Bao Lac you can either ride to Ba Be Lake via QL34 and QL279 and then join QL3 down towards Hanoi again and then due east through busy industrial suburbs and busy roads to Halong or Cat Ba; or you can link up with QL279 from Ba Be and follow it almost all the way to Halong; or you can continue on QL34 to Cao Bang and then take QL4A towards Lang Son and link up with QL279 to Halong.
All three routes have some great scenery, but all three routes are long and have some unpredictable road conditions.
Along the way, Ba Be Lake Homestays are great. Remember, the roads will probably get crowded with domestic tourists from Feb 5 onwards, because of the Tet holidays. And Halong Bay might be extremely busy.
I hope this helps,
Hi! We’re doing the loop in a few days. Your blog is helping us big time to prepare it. Thank you so much for all the information.
I’m wondering if doing the loop during Tet (chinese new year) will affect the trip. I heard the cities close down and there’s not much to do, so I thought doing the loop during those days is a good idea. But what about gas stations and places to eat? We would book acommodation in advanced to be sure….
What would be your advise? our other option is going to ha long bay.
Thanks a lot
The Ha Giang Loop will probably be very busy during Tet, because after Tet day (Feb 5) the entire country goes travelling. Some businesses close but many will stay open because of all the tourists. I would definitely advise booking your accommodation in advance.
I hope this helps,
Thank you so much, Tom.
If we don’t take too long, tet will be on our last day of the loop. So we hope it will be alright.
Also, we want to ride the bike from Hanoi, but we are not very experienced ridersso we are thinking of sleeping one night half way. Would you recommend doing this? Where would you recommend to stop for the night?
Thank you so much. All the infirmation you share is of sooo much value!!!
Yes, that should be fine.
You could stop off at Thac Ba Lake homestays for a night on the way – it’s a little detour, but worthwhile. If not, just stop by at a roadside guest house along road QL2 for the night.
Hi Tom (and everyone else),
Another weather question for you for the extreme north districts- these are my possible travel dates:
March 11th thru 22nd
— OR —
April 1st thru 12th
Looking at weather data it seems a like a lot less precipitation in March vs April, but I’ve also heard that it can be quite foggy and “socked in” at times.
Thanks in advance, this website has been an outstanding planning resource.
Both of those months are generally good times to visit Ha Giang. I would probably choose April because the temperatures will be a little warmer at that time 🙂 And if there is any morning fog then it should lift with the warmer mornings.
I hope this helps,
Thanks a million Tom, both for the advice and the great website.
hello, thanks for the great information about the northloop. We are planning the last week of March for about 7 days to loop the haGiang, dong van, meo vac via ma pi leng, possibly du gia, back to ha giang via ba be national park to return the motorcycle. is it possible to include the ban gioc waterfall tour this week, or is it getting too stressful? what’s your experience?
Personally, I think that adding Ban Gioc to that itinerary with that time frame would be too much. Most travellers always try to do too much in too little time. So I suggest you stick to your original plan. That way you will have plenty of time to enjoy the ride and the scenery and to allow for any unforeseen circumstances, such as minor breakdowns or bad road conditions etc.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the detailed info which we will be using for our trip to Ha Giang. Only thing holding us back is the decision of when to do the trip. We are working in Hanoi until May 2019 and have limited leave. Our 3 options are the week over Christmas, the week over Tet or a 5 day extended weekend mid-April. Trying to weigh our options based on pros and cons- our biggest concerns being rain and poor visibility (can prepare for the cold) and just general scenery. Wondering if you can offer any guidance on the following:
1. The extended weather forecast for Christmas time isn’t looking too promising so do we risk doing it at another time.
2. Will Tet affect our trip by way of increased activity on the roads, business closures or other.
3. Which time of year (out of our options) offers the best scenery.
If we go over Christmas or Tet, we will look at doing the loop in 5 days and have an extra 3 nights to treat ourselves to a stay somewhere nice. Can you recommend anywhere close by or en route?
In terms of weather, there’s no question that the later option is the best: mid-April.
However, the problem you’ll have with all of those dates is that they are all public holidays (I understand you don’t have another choice) which means the Ha Giang Loop will most probably be pretty crowded, and that makes the roads more dangerous.
Christmas might be less busy because it’s not technically a Vietnamese holiday. Or, if you can get up there before Tet day (which I think is Feb 5) then you may be able to beat the crowds.
Otherwise, I would go for April, but expect it to be busy if it coincides with the King Hung or Reunification or Labour day holidays.
If you’re looking for somewhere to break the journey between Hanoi and Ha Giang, consider stopping at the Vu Linh homestays for a night.
Remember that it is now essential that foreign riders on the Ha Giang Loop have Vietnamese or international driving licenses.
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom , me and my boyfriend are planning to do this route in mid December , is that a good time to do it ? Is it possible at this time of year? Also we do not have much experience with motorbikes and only hold UK driving license, will we be able to rent bikes? And would a 50cc be powerful enough to do the route ? Thanks for the help
December will be cold, but plenty of people still ride the loop at that time of year and enjoy it. But you will definitely need some cold weather clothing.
Given the recent situation with licenses in Ha Giang Province, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to do the loop without either a local Vietnamese licenses or an International Driving Permit (IDP). But I recommend you contact QT Motorbikes to ask their opinion – they will know.
I hope this helps,
Thank you very much !
“from 31 October, 2018, it is now mandatory for all foreign riders in Ha Giang to have a Vietnamese license or International Driving Permit (IDP). Ask your rental company for further details.”
I guess you mean only if you want to rent motorbike in Hia Giang ? I already own a motorbike and will do the loop next Monday if everythithing goes according to plan 🙂
You will still need either a local Vietnamese driving license or an international driving permit (IDP) in order to ride the Ha Giang Loop now. There are reports of a police check point near the beginning of the loop just outside Ha Giang city which is unavoidable. Some riders set off before 5.30am when the check point is apparently unmanned, but personally I don’t advise it. You need a license.
I hope this helps,
We are planning to do the Ha Giang north loop combined with part of the north east route. However, we are planning to do the route backwards to fit in with our dates in Vietnam and arriving in Meo Vac on Saturday night and Ban Gioc and Pac Bo on weekdays. So I am just wondering if there is a disadvantage to doing it backwards and why nearly all suggested itineraries go clockwise?
I am also unsure of the stopover and roads for the first part of the journey. The plan is to start in Ha Giang on Saturday morning , then head to Ba Be National Park with a stopover somewhere in between. From Ba Be to Cao Bang for one night, then to Ban Gioc for 1 night, then back to Cao Bang for 2 nights with a day trip to Pac Bo cave. Then to Bao Lac for one night, then arriving in Meo Vac on Saturday night. Then Ma Le, Yen Minh, arriving back in Ha Giang on Xmas day.
I’m hoping that this itinerary gives us enough time to do small side trips like visiting the Hmong palace in Sa Phin and Lung Cu flag tower. What do you think?
Also we are a group of 3, 2 bikes with 2 of us riding 2 up. That of course might slow us down a bit. So open to suggestions about this.
There’s no real reason why you can’t do the loop ‘backwards’.
Between Ha Giang City and Ba Be Lake there are several routes you could take, but all of them can suffer from rough road conditions – check out this guide for some more details. Apart from the main towns, there are several local guest houses (nhà nghỉ), but not much choice. For more about nhà nghỉ take a look at this.
Because that whole loop is so mountainous, it’s best to stay as flexible as possible with your itinerary – there’s bound to be something that doesn’t go according to plan: maybe there’ll be bad weather, or a landslide, or one of you will get a flat tyre – any of these things can slow you down, so try to allow for that.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom, and thanks also for the info on nha nghi accommodation. Very useful!
I’m on an Android phone, not a computer. Can anyone describe how to save the map as a KML/KMZ file to use offline in Maps.Me?
I guess you’ve tried googling it already – if not, this is the results page I got.
As long as you can export the map you can then upload it to the maps.me app on your phone, then you should be able to follow the map with your current gps location marked on it, but no audio directions (but you shouldn’t need them).
I recognize that the export/import map situation is frustrating, and I’m developing an app to take care of it, but it will take a long time.
This is for people from the future travelling with just their phones and no computer that want to use these coracle maps offline. I cannot export these maps to kml or kmz on the latest version of Android (9). Fortunatelythere is a website that can do this. First save the URL of the map you want to convert. I did this by sharing it by email and then copying the URL from the email. Once you have the maps URL, go to the GPS visualizer website here: http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/map_input?form=googleearth. I was then able to paste the URL and have it generate a kmz file which I was then able to open offline in Maps.Me. Hope this helps others and hopefully Google adds this functionality to the Android version of Maps.
Thanks for sharing this – it’s very useful.
I tried this just now and got the following message:
Due to dramatic reductions in Google’s quotas, you can no longer convert Google directions URLs unless you supply your own API key. See http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/misc/google_api_keys.html for more information.
It only takes a few minutes and is, initially, free. Just remember to copy your API key to a notepad or document because it’s less than easy to find again.
Thanks for the post – great photos and great insights. Regarding the new IDP enforcement. I have a travel agent who claims to be able to get me an IDP in Hanoi. Do you think this will be acceptable? I just have a regular UK driving license for a car – do you think this would allow for me to drive a motorbike in Vietnam?
I don’t know for certain, sorry. It’s probably best to contact your rental company and ask them for confirmation.
I am in the same situation, i will go in Hanoi in 5 days and looking for a solution for renting a motorbike in Ha Giang (I have only my french driving licence with me). If you have any tips for getting an IDP in Hanoi, let me know! Thank you very much.
I advise contacting QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang – they will be able to give you more information.
Thanks for an amazing and invaluable guide. I just wanted to give an update on the DT217 from Cao Bang to Meo Vac which I rode on my Honda Win two days ago. It was a muddy mess and I found it very difficult and slippery, and borderline dangerous when going downhill. I fell off about 7 times!
Also the river crossing is with a man who pulls you and your bike across on a wooden raft for 50,000. It is steep from there up a small muddy track. The views are amazing, though. Just be careful, or have an XR!
Thank you for the update on road conditions here. Yes, I know what you mean about road 217 – it’s always been a bit of a mess on the southern section especially. I mention this road and it’s dodgy condition also in my High Roads Guide.
I’m glad you made it through without incident. I agree that an XR is necessary for this route 🙂
thank you so much for a great blog. I am leaving soon to Vietnam and will follow your tips. You are doing great job. I would like to ask for your help. Trying to export maps to maps.me, but if its kml.xml form it cant be exported and if it is kmz after export the folder is empty with no data. I am using iphone8. Am I doing something wrong?
thank you so much for your help. Vaclav
It sounds to me like you’re doing the right thing – export my google maps to KML then upload that file to the maps.me app. However, the process does tend to change with different devices and/or browsers, so I’m guessing that’s the problem. Try googling around for ‘how to export google maps to KML on (device/browser name).
I’m working on a Vietnam Coracle map app to address this problem, but it won’t be finished for a long time.
I hope you find a way to do it,
First off, wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people thanking you for the work you’ve put in to this rich resource. I did the Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand a year ago and am hungry for more. I plan on doing the loop in late September of this year. It’s a ways off, but I’m at the point where I’m starting to book my flights and necessary travel arrangements. Before I go all in I was just wondering if you, Tom, or anyone else has heard anything about the current state of the roads on the loop. I’ve heard the region received a lot of rain over the past several months. I emailed QT motorbikes and they didn’t say the roads were unridable or anything but they also did not very explicitly answer my question about the road conditions. Just wanted an outside opinion.
It’s very difficult to know for certain what road conditions are going to be like, and they can change all the time, especially if there’s been recent heavy rainfall. But currently, I’ve heard that the main Ha Giang loop is fine, however the side routes to the south (to Du Gia) and the north (to Lung Cu – the North Pole) are bad in places. I’ve also marked sections of bad road on my map of the Ha Giang Loop on this map with a ‘workmen icon’.
I hope this helps,
Very helpful. Thanks a lot!
Hello, I am a French girl who is travelling alone. I have already driven a scooter but never driven a motocycle. I am very interested in the section 3 and the third and easiest option. Do you think it’s possible in 2 and a half day (I will arrive the 2nd of August at 3pm and leave the 5th at 9am).
Thank you so much for your blog which is so helpfull!
That means you will only really have two full days to complete the ride: Aug 3 and 4. If you leave early in the morning on both days then you can ride to from Ha Giang to Meo Vac (via Dong Van) on Day 1 on the upper route (Road QL4C) and back from Meo Vac to Ha Giang (via Yen Minh) on Day 2 on the lower route (Road DT182). However, this will be two full days of riding.
Try contacting QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang for bike rental and up to date information about road conditions, because there has been a lot of rain in the region recently which has made some sections of the road quite rough.
I hope this helps,
Thank you very much for the informations, you answer very quickly, thank you very much!!
My friend and I went to Ha Giang following this very “EXCELLENT AND DETAILED GUIDE!!!!” It was super helpful and easy to follow with your detailed map and complete information.
What a fantastic job you did!
Thank you very much Tom and I hope to keep doing many more trips like this.
Thanks, Maurice. That’s very kind of you to say so. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the trip. I can’t wait to get back up there myself sometime soon.
Did this loop in two long days the last weekend in April. Perfect weather and insane scenery. Hated to do it in only two days but still totally worth it! From Du Gia took the shortest route and it was in very poor condition. I actually enjoyed this because it made the riding interesting and it wasn’t too terrible if you chose good lines. This route is truly amazing 🙂
Good to hear you enjoyed the ride and thanks for the road updates – it’s always been a tricky section south of Du Gia.
Hi! We are planning to ride this Ha Giang Loop next year so Your article is really helpfull. Please, tell me, is it possible to do this route on automatic scooter or something more powerfull is neccessary?
Greeting from Poland, Ania
Yes, it’s possible to do this loop on an automatic scooter, as long as you’re not planning to go off-road. QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang city has lots of different motorbikes available, so you can choose which one suits you best.
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom! This loop looks amazing. Do you have advice on riding the Northwest? I’m renting a bike in Hanoi. I wanted to try to hit Khau Pha Pass, Pha Din Pass, to Sapa, then over to Ma Pi Leng Pass, then back to Hanoi. But I’ve had a hard time finding info on the west. What are the roads like to Khau Pha Pass, Pha Din Pass and then to Sapa? Are there places to stay along the way? Do you have a recommended route? I’ve been riding for about 10 years, mostly on roads, but have also done some off roading. And I’ll be traveling alone. What I’ve found recommends against riding in the Northwest alone, but I’m not sure if people are just being overly cautious. And about how long would that route take?
Thanks for all your work putting these amazing routes together!
It’s fine to ride alone on that route – Vietnam’s still a very safe country in which to travel, and people (especially in the countryside) are warm and hospitable. Just take all the normal safety precautions you would when traveling and riding anywhere else in the world and you should be fine.
The roads to the passes you mention are all in decent shape. The Khau Pha Pass is on QL32 which is good; the Pha Din Pass is on QL6 which is also in good condition. They’re all on my list of the Greatest Roads in Vietnam – check it out. But you need to bear in mind that road conditions in those mountains are always subject to landslides if there’s been a lot of heavy rain.
You can do a loop from Hanoi to the northwest by following QL32 and QL6 via those passes, then linking them together via QL12 and QL4D to Sapa. Other link roads between those two are DT106 and QL279. If you play around with those roads you should be able to work out a good northwest loop.
Mini-hotels and nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) can be found in all towns on those routes.
I hope this helps,
At first, you’re blog is really helpful! Thank you so much!:)
Just a question, met and my boyfriend are in Vietnam and planning to do the heaven’s gate in ha giang.
Do you know wether it’s possible to leave you’re big backpack in a hotel in ha giang and just be packed with a little backpack during the trip?
I have no expereinces so far with motorbikes, my boyfriends have some experience with a scooter in Thailand and now in Vietnam. Do you recommend to go on one motorbike?or is it possible that a local can drive me?
Yes, it’s probably OK to leave your bags at a hotel in Ha Giang and pick them up on the way back – but as long as you stay there on your way back too, of course 🙂
You can ride two on a bike – that’s OK. Or, if you like, you can someone to drive with you on the back. Check out QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang – they rent good bikes, and they can also arrange someone to drive you too, if you want. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.
I hope this helps,
Thank you for you’re awnser!
It really helps, we will do the trail in a few days, looking forward to it.
Absolutely love your site. Def going to be doing the loop with my girlfriend soon. Been to VN 3 times now and it is an amazing country as you know. Thanks for all the helpful info you supply. So looking forward to this adventure. Regards Charlie . Cape Town South Africa.
Thanks, Charlie. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this loop – it’s a fantastic part of the country.
I was planning for 4 day loop, found your blog very useful. Big thanks for helping fellow travelers with necessary information.
I would like to know what the weather will be like in July(1st week) around Ha Giang province. Being wet season of the year, I’m bit worried if I can able to do this circuit. Will there be heavy downpour? Thanks again.
Yes, July is the wet season and also the hot season: it’s likely that the mornings will be dry, sunny, hot and humid, and then the rain clouds gather in the afternoon for a downpour. If you’re unlucky you it can sometimes rain the whole day. But you should still be able to ride the loop. I’ve done it in July before and enjoyed it.
Thanks for the reply. Will there be any landslide/road blockage which I need to worry about?
If there has been particularly heavy rain then there is a possibility of landslides in that area – but that is the same all over northern Vietnam because it’s so mountainous.
First of all, thank you for your website- I will be sure to subscribe and support it, it has been really helpful!
I am planning to buy a motorbike in Hanoi then do the ha giang loop- however I do not want to spend too much time getting from Hanoi to Ha Giang. Do you recommend motor biking there or finding a bus service which allows us to bring our motorbikes with us? Alternatively I can also go back to Hanoi and buy a bike after the Ha Giang loop to continue the reds of my journey down south.
Thanks for your help,
If you don’t want to ride to Ha Giang from Hanoi, I think it’s probably best just to take the sleeper bus there and rent bikes from QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang, then do the loop and head back to Hanoi.
I hope you enjoy the ride,
Thank you for your wonderful website! My boyfriend and I just got back from a 3 day trip in Ha Giang and it was an incredible experience. Every time I close my eyes I still see the mountain scenery. The road from Tam Son to Du Gia was a little bumpy in places, but we had dry weather and it was manageable. We did hit some very misty weather on our return from Tam Son to Ha Giang. Fortunately, everyone seemed to be driving slowly and carefully and the weather cleared as we descended.
I am curious what time of year your photos are from? We had fairly hazy skies, although the scenery was no less spectacular for that. There was a fair bit of slash-and-burning going on, which also affected the air quality.
We also took a lovely walk (the road was a little too bumpy for us after a day of riding) from Dong Van in the direction of the Chinese border, which went up into the hills and was signposted with very detailed information about the fossils found in the area and various geological events.
Your website was a huge help in planning our trip. Thank you again,
Good to hear that you enjoyed the loop – it sounds great. The photos in this guide are taken throughout the year because they’re pulled from multiple different trips that I’ve made to the area. But the best ones for light and colour tend to be from September. But of course the weather in Ha Giang Province is pretty unpredictable because it’s such a mountainous area.
we had a wonderful time in Ha Giang few weeks ago. Thank you for your map that we found very helpful. We did the loop in 5 days, with no experience riding a moto, but everything was fine and it was so beautiful. We rent the moto from QT Motorbike as you suggested and we were happy with the good product and service they offer.
Thank you for the precious informations you share on your website.
Annie and jean-François
That’s great. I’m glad you did the loop and found it fine without having any previous experience on bikes. It’s a wonderful area. Good to hear that it went well with QT too.
Many thanks for this wonderful guide. My girlfriend and I, motorcyclists in the US, will be heading to Vietnam this May, and will be in the northeast for four days. Do you have any idea what the weather might be like in the northeast in mid-May? Also, do you happen to have any pictures of the road conditions on DT176/QL34 between Na Sai and Ha Giang? Or of the conditions on DT181 between Du Gia and Tam Son? I’m not sure how rough the conditions might be – we have some offroad experience, but we also know that our power is limited when riding 110cc semi-automatic bikes. Some visual examples would be incredibly helpful, as taking 176/QL34 would shave about 3 hours off of our last stretch.
I think we are going to follow your itinerary as follows:
Ha Giang -> Yen Minh (110km, 3-4 hours) – stay 1 night
Yen Minh -> Dong Van -> North Pole -> Dong Van (103km, 3-4 hours), stay 1 night
Dong Van -> Du Gia (100km, 3-4 hours) – stay 1 night
Du Gia -> Ha Giang via Yen Minh (160km, 5-6 hours)…or Du Gia -> Ha Giang via Na Sai (90km, 3 hours)
Do I have the time estimates correct (barring any stops, etc.)? And is this a good pace? I’m unsure if 5-6 hours on the last day is asking for too much.
Sorry for the many questions, and thank you very much for everything!
The weather in May should be pretty good – it will be getting hotter and it’s on the cusp of the raining season, so you might get some rain too.
181 between Du Gia and Tam Son is 90% fine – it’s just a 5-10km section that’s very rocky and potholed. If it’s dry you can manage it fine by riding slowly and carefully, but in wet weather it would be much more difficult. The same goes for 176/34 but the bad sections are longer and muddier – which is harder to ride in. However, road conditions change all the time in Vietnam, so when you get to Ha Giang ask about current conditions at QT Motorbikes, or other travellers.
Those time estimates are OK, but it’s very difficult to predict accurately. In general, because the roads are so mountainous, you can expect an average riding speed of 30km per hour, but that doesn’t include all the stops that you’ll want to make in order to admire the landscape. Also, I strongly recommend that you go via Meo Vac, because road QL4C between Dong Van and Meo Vac via the Ma Pi Leng pass is exceptionally scenic.
I hope this helps,
Very helpful – thanks so much!
I’ve just returned from a trip to Ha Giang, and it was an incredible experience. Undoubtedly one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken. The area is so remote, filled with beauty, adventure, and not filled with tourists – I want to go again already. Now the trip has left me with the desire to explore more of SE Asia by motorbike. Do you have any suggestions for similar motorbike trips? Anything else scenic and remote like Ha Giang? I’m now considering the Thakek loop in Laos or the Mae Hong Son loop in Northern Thailand.
Thank you so much for the detailed write-up and information – it was a great aid in our trip!
Glad to hear you enjoyed the Ha Giang Loop.
There are loads of other routes in Vietnam that are just as fantastic. If you’re particularly interested in mountains check out the Ho Chi Minh Road from Thanh My along the way to Pheo (see sections 4-6 of this guide). And take a look at the other routes in my Northern Archive.
The Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand is very famous, and apparently the riding in Laos is among the best in Asia.
I hope this helps,
I am a 26 years old woman, willing to do the loop (or at least a big part of it) alone. I’m driving a little motorcycle in Vietnam since december 2017, but I’ve never done such tour in moutains. Do you think it is safe to do it ? I’ve checked the weather which sounds alright for the next few days and I’ve read your articles about section to avoid but I would gladly have your point of vue 🙂 I would go in Ha Giang by bus and then rent a motorcycle in the place you recommend.
Yes, I think it’s safe for you to do the Ha Giang loop. Obviously you need to be careful on those windy mountain roads – watch out for slippery mud, potholes, and gravel on the corners – and drive carefully, and then you should be fine. People are usually friendly and helpful to foreign visitors in that area.
I hope you enjoy it,
I am currently in Ha Giang, came here for the loop as the last destination in my Vietnam trip.
The problem for me right now is the weather, its raining all day for most of the days ahead now, and the mist reduces the visibility massively.
Does it worth to still go for it even though the whole point of the loop is seeing the amazing landscape and views in good visibility ? Or do you suggest to wait for a few days in town and reconsider it ?
I personally prefer to make the most of this loop’s experience, and would not be too sad to give up on it if conditions force me to.
It is not my last time in Vietnam anyway.
Thank you very much
Sorry to hear about the bad weather.
It’s very difficult to say whether it’s worth going or not. I would check some decent weather apps, like Windy. And perhaps ask what they think at QT Motorbikes. It’s such a mountainous area that conditions can vary a lot from place to place.
But, yes, ideally it would be better to see this region in better weather conditions.
Firstly I’m so glad to have found your website! What an amazing resource. Thank-you for all the work that you share.
My partner and I are heading back to Vietnam for the seventh time this May (we love it but always in short visits unfortunately) and have never travelled the North. We have a pretty ambitious rough itinerary over approx 9 nights: Hanoi-Sapa-(Lao Cai)- Bac Ha-Ha Giang (classic Ha Giang Loop clockwise over 3 nights/4 days)-Hanoi. We plan to only use a combo of train/bus for the main journeys and rent bikes in Ha Giang for the Loop. I’ve already been in contact with QT! Can I ask some advice?
Getting from Bac Ha to Ha Giang isn’t impossible on buses but there’s not a lot of great info. It’ll probably eat up a whole day. Is it best to go Bac Ha-Xin Man-Ha Giang? Or back to Lao Cai then direct bus to HG? We don’t even mind breaking up the journey in Xin Man for a night.
You’ve offered some great advice for inexperienced riders before, what do you suggest for two healthy and capable but complete motorbike newbies? The best we’ve done is auto mopeds in Myanmar. QT does have great options for pillion tours.
Keep up the amazing travels and posts!
If there are local buses between Bac Ha and Xin Man then I would recommend doing that – the journey is very scenic and Xin Man is a weird place (in a good way) to break the journey, and then take the bus from Xin Man to Ha Giang. It’s a very mountainous journey, however, so it will be slow and quite bumpy at times – also, if it’s been rainy there’s a high chance that landslides will block the road.
Another alternative would be to hire a car and driver from Bac Ha to take you to Ha Giang. This would cost about $100 but might be worth it. I did that with my family last autumn and it worked well.
The Ha Giang Loop is an amazing experience on motorbikes, but of course you must be extremely careful on those mountainous, windy, narrow roads. QT Motorbikes will give you a test ride and some tips – they are very professional. I would advise making your mind up after your test ride, because then you will have a better idea of whether or not you feel comfortable riding the loop yourselves, or riding pillion with QT.
I hope this helps,
Thanks so much Tom,
Great advice. Our trip keeps evolving as we learn more about the region and different options! It all started as a visit to Sapa with a side trip to Bac Ha for a few days and return to Hanoi, but the more I read – the less inclined we are to see Sapa at all. I’ve flipped the itinerary around with Hanoi-Ha Giang-Ha Giang Loop (Yeh Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac-HG)-Bac Ha-Hanoi. This also gets us into Meo Vac on a Sunday and seeing the market day would be a highlight.
How many hours should we allow for the shortest route Meo Vac-Ha Giang on the last day of the Loop? And I like the suggestion of a car/driver to Bac Ha. How long should we allow for that trip from our experience?
Meo Vac to Ha Giang on the shortest route will still take the best part of a day.
If you’re only going to Bac Ha to see the market I would suggest that perhaps it’s not worth it: Bac Ha Sunday Market is impressive but a massive tourist spectacle these days – the markets in the towns on the Ha Giang Loop as much less crowded by tourists. But if you do go to Bac Ha you can go there and back in two days and one night with a car and driver.
Thanks for writing the article and sharing your insight. We currently have 2 options which we are undecided on:
1) Take the evening bus and arrive at Ha Giang 1am Monday (early hours)
2) Take the morning bus and arrive at Ha Giang at 12pm Monday.
We are worried that we miss the evening in Hanoi and probably can’t see much on the way due to darkness / not being able to sleep. In addition, most hotels (private twin room) and hostels (would rather not stay in one) will have closed their check-in desks even if we have booked in advance, resulting in us having to sleep in the lobby. However, with option 2 we are worried that there is not much to do in Ha Giang upon arrival to keep us busy for the day. In addition, it may be a bit too late to start our ride.
What would you advise? Either way, we hope to finish the loop by Friday evening and take the bus back. At the most Saturday evening.
P.s. Have you been to Phong Nha? Would you recommend visiting for the hiking aspect rather than seeing caves.
I would take the bus that gets to Ha Giang at 12pm – it’s not fun arriving at 1am. On that first day in Ha Giang you can spend your time getting your bike, looking around the city, and planning you route – it’s interesting enough for a day.
Yes, Phong Nha is a beautiful place. There are lots of hikes. Try contacting Easy Tiger Hostel – they have lots of information about outdoor activities in the area. It’s also a great place for motorbiking.
I hope this helps,
We’re a group of four who will be doing this loop for around a week.
We’d like to really take our time and explore the area- take some side routes that you suggest etc.
Question is, since we are a group do we need to book accommodation before and if so how far in advance?
Want to make sure we have a place to sleep and not end up on the road..
Dates are around 12-20th of April.
You shouldn’t really have any problem finding accommodation at most of the places mentioned in this guide if there are only four in your group. However, on weekends it can get quite busy with visitors arriving from Hanoi, so if possible, try to visit during the weekdays. Also, avoid public holidays (when it definitely will be difficult to find accommodation). Holidays at that time of year include: King Hung’s Day (which I think is April 20-something this year), Reunification Day and Labour Day (end of April).
I hope this helps,
Hi! Love your site. I was wondering if you knew any options available to rent a motorbike in Ha Giang and return it in Hanoi? In the (likely) event that the answer is no, I have a follow up query: how difficult would it be to buy a motorbike in Ha Giang?
As far as I know it’s not possible. But try contacting Rent a Bike Vietnam, because I think they may have some kind of contact there, and especially QT Motorbikes because they are based in Ha Giang. Also, try asking QT Motorbikes if they sell bikes too. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.
I hope it works out for you,
Thank you so much for the info about the loop!
We are heading to Hanoi in a week and then to Ha Giang for the loop. Have organised a bike from QT.. so all good!
We are thinking 4 nights/return to Ha Giang 5th day and catch the bus back to Hanoi. Hoping 4 nights will give us enough time to see most of the loop.
Let you know how the trip goes!
That’s great – I hope you have a good ride and that the weather is OK for you.
I’m planning to take this route. However I already had rented a bike in Hanoi, do you have any recommandations on how to start the loop from Hanoi? Is there a nice route that connects Hanoi with Ha Giang? Thank and my compliments on your wonderful blog.
Unless you want to extend your ride to Ha Giang by taking the long scenic route via Bac Can and Ba Be Lake (connecting with the Ha Giang Loop at Bao Lac on road QL34 at the southeast corner of the loop), it’s probably best just to head straight there from Hanoi on the most direct route possible: Highway QL2. It’s not an especially pleasant ride (the first hour or two getting out on Hanoi and its industrial suburbs is always fairly hellish), but it gets better as you get deeper into the countryside, and you can complete the ride in one day if you leave nice and early in the morning.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for your prompt answer. We will be heading out of Hanoi around 7.30 tmr.
Hi and thank you for all the informations on this site.
We are planning doing the Ha Giang loop in mid-March and we have few questions about:
1) Is it possible to be two person on the same moto ? is it less safe? (I would prefer to be passenger instead of driving)
2) Will we have enough place for one backpack if we are two on the moto ?
3) What king of moto should we rent for two passenger?
4) Do you think we will find one easily on the spot at Ha Giang or by calling the day before or do we need to reserve in advance? (we would like to be more flexible on date regarding the weather and the rest of the trip)
Yes, you can ride two people on one bike. You will have less room for your luggage, of course, but most bike rental companies have luggage racks attached to their bikes so you should be fine. Two people on one bike is a little more difficult if you’re not used to riding, because the extra weight changes the balance. There are lots of bikes to choose from: all of them are fine to ride this loop, so it just depends on whether you want to ride an automatic or a manual.
Try contacting QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang, they offer excellent service and bikes. Ha Giang is very popular on the weekends and public holidays so it’s advisable to book at least a little bit in advance if you can.
I hope this helps,
gefeliciteerd met je machtig mooie en overzichtelijke site !!! Wij gaan zeker gebruik maken van de vele tips qua route, verhuur en overnachting en “Vietnam Coral” want dit jaar doen we Noord Vietnam voordat we doortrekken naar Laos en Cambodja;
Kan je een scooter huren in Ha Giang en achter laten in Sapa?
Heb je ook een scooterloop richting Laos?
Wij hebben ook wel wat schrik met het huren van een scooter omdat je bij een ongeval of je nu in fout bent of niet, niet verzekerd bent. Kan je je hiervoor op een of ander manier toch indekken?
It’s quite unlikely that you will be able to rent a motorbike in Ha Giang and leave it in Sapa, but try contacting QT Motorbikes to ask if they can do it. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.
No, you are not insured if you have an accident on the roads in Vietnam. You can check with your insurance company what the requirements are, but they will probably need you to have an international driving license and a local license and local insurance.
I don’t write guides to Laos and Cambodia, but you are allowed to ride across some of the borders from Vietnam to those two countries.
I hope this helps,
My boyfriend and I were planning to do the Northern Loop with a guide this February, but just found out that the company we wanted to go with doesn’t offer guided tours at this time because they will be celebrating Tet. They are still able to rent us motorbikes, but have warned that food and petrol maybe be difficult to come by on the daily. We are also inexperienced riders.
Do you recommend holding off until Tet is finished? We’re also nervous the weather will be quite bad.
Any advice will help.
P.S. AWESOME BLOG!
If you can postpone your trip until after the Tet holiday then I would strongly recommend you do that. From March onwards the weather should get a bit better, and you shouldn’t have any problem finding accommodation and gas on the route (except it can still get busy on weekends).
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the response, Tom. Really appreciate your advice.
The latest we can start is the 19th of February to give us 5 full days, unfortunately. Definitely don’t want to miss out on this experience though, so we’re leaning towards just going without a guide, packing a lot of snacks and extra petrol, and doing Homestays. Hoping there will be less traffic in the mountains as well.
Ah, OK. Well, that will still be the middle of the Tet holiday so I would expect accommodation etc to be quite busy, try to book ahead if you can.
My partner and I have travelled throughout SE Asia riding 150cc scooters (with me on the back and him driving). We really want to do the Ha Giang Loop with your suggested detours, but have never ridden motorcycles. Do you think it would be possible to do the loop sharing one large 150cc scooter?
Any advice would be great!
Yes, that should certainly be possible, as long as the bike is in good condition. Try contacting QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang for rental – they are a good, reliable company. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.
I hope this helps,
Great article thanks Tom. Is there much traffic ? As in trucks coming around the blind corners. We are experienced off road riders but may be without insurance due to the licencing laws so just want to check the dangers ?? Also, how wet and hot could it be in May ? Which of the markets would you try to time your stay for ?
Traffic is still quite light on this loop, but it is increasing every year, and you do have to be very careful because some of the roads are narrow and full of blind corners where vehicles coming in the opposite direction may not bother to slow down or even stay on the right side of the road. Just take care and you’ll be fine.
The weather should be pretty good in May, although perhaps some of the higher pass might still be pretty chilly.
On Sundays, any of the markets in the main towns are great to visit.
I hope this helps,
Thank you for this amazing resource! I am planning on riding from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh this February and wanted to start with the Ha Giang loop and then join up to the Classic route South. What would you say is the best route form Hanoi to Ha Giang by bike?
QL2 is the most direct route from Hanoi to Ha Giang. Then if you like you can loop back to Hanoi from Bao Lac (at the end of the Ha Giang Loop) via QL34 to Tin Tuc then DT212 and QL279 to Na Phac, and then QL3 to Hanoi.
I hope this helps,
Thanks so much for all the info about this loop. Super helpful!!
This might be a weird question, but how fast would you say one should drive through these mountains? Just trying to get an idea of how many hours/day we’ll be on the road!
Because the roads are so windy and mountainous you can expect an average speed of just 30-40km per hour. Also, because the scenery is so good you will probably be stopping regularly to take photos.
I hope this helps,
Hey Tom! You’re the man! I want to extend a big thanks to you and your informative blog. Love your content, it’s been so helpful planning my first trip to Vietnam this upcoming April. Question- I recall seeing a post talking about us followers being able to book hotels through your website so you can receive a little kickback? Can you please send that over? I’m about to book Peppercorn in Phu Quoc, looks amazing as does that part of the Island.
Regarding Ha Giang. This is the part of the trip my wife and I are most excited about. You’re not going to like this, but we only have 3 days there. I’m bummed about it too and it will probably be too rushed, but 3 is better than nothing.
We’re taking the night bus from Hanoi that gets us into Ha Giang at 5am on Monday April, 9 and we take the night bus back to Hanoi on Wed April, 11. Since there’s a few ways you can do the loop, I’d love your opinion. If you were a first timer and only had 3 days, how would you do the loop? Do any of the below routes make sense in 3 days? Are there advantages to one or the other? Keep in mind we will be getting an early start every day so we can do it as leisurely as possible.
Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for all you do!
Day 1: Ha Giang to Yen Minh
Day 2: Yen Minh to Meo Vac
Day 3: Meo Vac to Ha Giang (via DT 182)
Day 1: Ha Giang to Du Gia (via DT 181)
Day 2: Du Gia to Dong Van
Day 3: Dong Van to Ha Giang
Great to hear that my site is helping you plan your trip.
Thanks for trying to book through my site. You can click this link and it will take you to the Agoda Peppercorn Resort page then I will get a small commission if you make a booking. I appreciate it.
With only three days I would definitely recommend doing the first itinerary – that’s the classic Ha Giang Loop and with early starts you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it. April should be a pretty good time to ride there too.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the quick reply, Tom. We’ll do the clockwise “classic” loop route. One more question, hope you dont mind- if we pull over and hike, or walk around a town/village, do we need to lock up our bike or worry about it be stolen? Thanks!
In towns and villages and general places of interest there will usually be some kind of parking lot for motorbikes where you get a ticket and security look after your bike. In places where there isn’t one, you can lock the front wheel of your bike, but it’s still not a good idea to leave it out of sight for a long period of time.
This is an incredibly helpful blog post! I’m a solo female thinking of travelling to Ha Giang instead of Sapa as, from what I’ve heard, it’s become extremely touristy and I’d like to avoid that. I’ll be visiting in March, do you think 2 nights (arriving and leaving on a sleeper bus) is enough to do the route, or would I need at least 3? I have a motorbike licence and would count myself as experienced, I need to find the balance between giving this area the time it deserves and seeing the rest of the country.
Thanks again for the post, it’s great! 🙂
Yes, I would definitely spend 3 nights here if you have the time, especially on a motorbike. Most independent travellers much prefer Ha Giang to Sapa, which as you rightly say is now very busy indeed.
However, Ha Giang is not so ‘off the beaten path’ as it used to be either. It’s growing in popularity all the time, and more and more travellers are choosing to ride this loop. It’s still a great trip.
I hope this helps,
It does thank you! I’ll try and squeeze an extra night in somehow 🙂
Awesome website! It has been tremendously helpful in helping me plan my trip to Vietnam!
I am looking to ride around North Vietnam for 10 days in late December. I would really love to do this route here but am also considering the North Eastern loop you describe “Pastoral Pathways”.
Should I do one over the other (considering the time of year and weather – I am worried that the far north will be foggy)?
Do you think I could do an abridged version of both in 10 days?
Yes, you could do an abridged version of both in 10 days, as long as you’re familiar with riding a motorbike already.
The weather conditions in the northeast might be marginally better than the extreme north at that time of year, but it’s difficult to say for sure, and it can be quite cold on the high passes in both regions.
Please note that I am currently updating both the Extreme North Loop (which is very nearly finished) and the Pastoral Pathways Loop. With the latter, make sure you don’t take the road leading beyond Ban Gioc waterfall and along the Chinese border, because the road conditions are pretty bad.
A good loop would be to ride up to Ban Gioc falls via Bac Son (as described in the northeast loop) and then head straight back to Cao Bang and across to Bao Lac to start the Extreme North Loop (you can either go to Bao Lac via Ba Be Lake or via Nguyen Binh).
I hope this helps,
I really appreciate the advice,
Hi Tom, I will be in Ha Giang from 12-18 Nov. Planning for a solo motorbike tour to explore the place. Still thinking whether to have a tour guide for my trip, what do you suggest?
It’s not necessary to have a guide for the Ha Giang loop in order to find your way around, but having one can give you a better understanding of the region’s culture. But with only for days I wouldn’t say you need a guide.
I hope you enjoy Ha Giang.
Thanks for your advise.
I’ve been thinking of a motorbike trip (5-6 days) in the north of Vietnam at the very end of November. I’ve been lucky enough to come across your great blog posts … thank you for them (it’s a huge help and inspiration)!
Do you think, the Ha Giang motorbike loop is feasible (and hopefully enjoyable) even in this cold season, or would you rather recommend to take another route (perhaps one of those you cover in your posts) instead?
From the pictures it seems you ride scooter. Is it sufficient for the Ha Giang loop (as you’ve mentioned steep hills etc.), or would you suggest to rent a “dirt bike” instead?
Thanks a lot for your thoughts
Yes, I think the Ha Giang loop is still enjoyable in November. It can get cold at that time and perhaps you won’t have excellent weather, but the region is still so scenic that it’s worth going. Many people continue to ride the Ha Giang loop through the winter months and still enjoy it.
Yes, I do use a scooter which is fine for this route. Most of the roads are decent and paved now, but some patches are still a bit rough. A dirt bike is fine too, or something in between like a semi-auto. The bike rental shops in Ha Giang have plenty of different models to choose from.
I hope this helps,
How’s Ha Giang looks like during winter?
It still looks good in the winter, but not as green of course.
My dad and I will be doing a motorbike tour on 10 Dec – 13 Dec 17. Although I have made a booking with QT Motorbike Tour as pillion riders, my dad is having second thoughts due to the price since we have to pay for the drivers and their lodging etc. I am just wondering if it will be possible for us to rent motorbikes and do it free and easy using a map as I believe it will significantly reduce our costs. Do we have to present any driving license to do so?
Yes, it’s possible to do it solo: just rent a bike from QT Motorbikes and use their map with my map and Google Maps on your phone – it’s not too difficult to follow, and there are quite a lot of other riders doing similar routes so you will always bump into other people.
I agree that it would be cheaper and you’d have more liberty by riding yourselves instead of riding pillion, but remember that the roads are very steep and twisty and there are some patches which can be muddy – so if you’re familiar with riding bikes you’ll be fine, but if not then perhaps it’s best to ride pillion.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the advice, we don’t have experience with motorbike so I think riding ourselves will not be possible. I chose QT because their reviews have been very positive but the price is quite expensive. Given your experience, do you think it is recommended to get the complete all-inclusive package (motorbike + driver/guide + food + accommodation + entrance fees + fuel) or just the basic (motorbike + driver/guide)? The difference in price between the 2 package is about 850,000 VND per person per day. I estimated that getting the basic and paying the rest ala carte will probably cost much less but I am not sure if my estimates are accurate.
Yes, QT are very good.
It’s difficult to say which package to go for: it would certainly be less hassle to go all inclusive, but you would have a bit more freedom with the basic package. I think it depends on how much you want to do yourselves. 850,000 per person is fairly reasonable and QT know the area well. You could do it cheaper alone, but you would have to spend your own time finding places to stay and working out food prices etc.
Thanks for the advice. Yes, 850,000 is the difference in price which is for the accommodation, bike fuel, entrance fees, food, drivers’ subsistence and other misc stuffs. I think I will stick with the all-inclusive tour.
For the most part, we are doing pretty much the entire North Loop (Hanoi, Dien Bien, Xin Man, Ha Giang, Cao Bang, Ban Gioc, etc). I know you’ve been asked this a million times, so we apologize in advance. We are asking only because Cold weather gear / clothing is very subjective depending on where home is (We live in Canada). For this ride, it seems that weather will vary quite drastically (From Cold to very warm) and that the coldest area will be around Sa Pa. We want to be warm, but we don’t want to over-pack with too much warm clothes if they are not needed. For cold riding, we are thinking of bringing:
– A light Goretex Shell (Wind / waterproof)
– A “Puffy” down filled jacket (600 fill duck fill)
– A Merino wool sweater
– Rain pants used for hiking (For additional warmth and wind protection if needed)
– Warm leather/thermal gloves
– A head buff for neck / ears
– We’ll also have the famous VN rain poncho from Tigit.
We figure if we layer up with the above, we should be warm enough. What do you think? Is this too much? Too little?
PS – We really owe you a great thank you for your site. It truly is a big help. We will contribute and have used many of your links. If you live somewhere in the North, and your interested in us buying you some dinner feel free to reach out via email. We will eventually head south as well, we are in Vietnam for 2 months.
Thanks in advance
Forgot to mention – We’ll be arriving Nov 1 and riding the entire month of November through the north / NW / NE.
Yes, that should more than cover you for the trip. I’m in the northern mountains now and the weather is grim and cold but wind proofs over normal clothes are generally good enough. However, I know for previous experience that it can get bitterly cold with the wind chill factor on the high passes during the deeper winter months. But, being from Canada, I doubt that you’ll have too much trouble with the temperatures. For riding in particular, don’t forget to cover your hands.
As an example, if I was riding the northern mountains in November/December, on a cold day I’d wear a thermal vest and sweater with a good rain/wind jacket on top, and good socks, sneakers, jeans, and waterproof pants on the bottom, plus some kind of gloves.
Great to hear that you’ve found my site useful. I appreciate you using the links and thanks for the offer of a drink, but I’ll be moving around quite a lot for the next couple of months so I don’t really know where I’ll be.
Please note that I’m currently updating all my northern guides, and I’ll be rolling them out over the next couple months, so bear that in mind when following them.
I hope this helps,
Hi! Thank you for providing nice information.
I will visit Vietnam OCT 15-29 , plan to visit Sapa to climb Pan si Pan Mountain ,look around, and to do loop in Ha Giang which you tell me in this site. In these days , I think it is a harvesting period in the North. so I have a questions related to period. And I have a enough time to look around , I would like to know how I should plan my trip around Ha Giang with a motorbike
1. Which route do you recommend more, 1) Hanoi(train) – SaPa(bus) -Ha Giang(bus) – Hanoi
or 2) Hanoi(bus) – Ha Giang(bus)- Sapa(train)- Hanoi?
2.How shoud I make a Ha Giang Motorbike Loop?
1day- Ha Giang-Tam Son (Quan Ba)-Yen Minh (stay Yen Minh)
2day-Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac (stay Dong Van or Meo Vac)
3,4,5day Meo vac- Bao Lac- Cao Bang????
How can I get Cao Bang from Bao Lac?
3.Can You tell me nice place to visit between Cao Bang and Bao LAc, around Can bang?
(In your Northeast Loop, there are too many place to visit, but I can’t follow the all of the loop because of time)
4. When I come back to Ha Giang from Cao Bang , should I take the same road? Or do you suggest any alternative road?
I’m sorry for my late reply.
I don’t think it matters which of the options you choose – Hanoi to Sapa first or vice-versa. However, in my opinion, Ha Giang and the surrounding area is more interesting and attractive that Sapa so I would go to Ha Giang first and spend as much time there as possible before going to Sapa.
For the Ha Giang Loop all of those options are good – it is such a scenic area (and accommodation can be found in all of those places) that it’s best if you just take it as it comes: start in the morning, ride along the loop and stop whenever you want. However, in my opinion, Meo Vac is the most interesting town to stay on the loop. Also, consider extending the loop with a side trip down to Du Gia on road DT176 due south from Yen Minh, because the scenery is spectacular and Du Gia has a couple of good homestays. For more information, I recommend you stop by the QT Motorbike shop in Ha Giang city and get a copy of their map to the area. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.
Take road QL4C between Meo Vac and Bao Lac. From Bao Lac you can take QL34 to Cao Bang which is very scenic. From Cao Bang take a day/night trip out to Ban Gioc Waterfall. Then to get back to Ha Giang you can either follow QL34 (note the last section before Ha Giang is in bad condition) or turn up to Meo Van again and take the lower road (DT176) back to Yen Minh and Ha Giang.
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom, love love your site. I have read many of your posts since motoring through Vietnam.
I am about to decide which road to take from cao bang to ha giang. I would like to take the northern road, however I have a new 50cc Honda SuperCub. What’s your opinion?
I have successfully driven the hcmc road from kontum up. Of course slow on the up mountain parts but Cubby was happy to do it.
Good to know that Cubby has managed it so far.
I’m actually in Ha Giang now and most of the roads are in good condition but some parts are under quite serious reparations – especially a few kilometres of QL4C from Ly Bon (near Bao Lac) to Meo Vac. It’s only a short section and fine if it’s dry, but quite difficult on a cub if it’s been raining.
The roads are extremely steep in Ha Giang; I would imagine your Cub could do it but it would be a grain strain on its engine. However, the views and the ride in general is well worth the effort.
Please note that I’m currently in the process of updating this guide but it won’t be finished before you get to Ha Giang, so please forgive any inaccuracies.
I hope this helps,
I have done few of your recommendation in south region of Vietnam and now we are ready for the big one.
My wife and I are going to do the Ha Giang loop on the 6th of October. We hope to get your update before our trip :). One more thing, what is the expectation of the weather in October?
Great. I’m currently extensively updating my Ha Giang route, but it won’t be finished before you travel there 🙁 However, before you start the loop, drop in to QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang city and ask for their fantastic route map of the region – that will be very helpful. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me. Definitely extend the normal loop by dropping south a bit to Du Gia – incredible roads and scenery there.
I hope this helps,
….also, the weather should be pretty good in October – it’s one of the best months to visit. But expect a fair amount of other bikers on the loop, because October is one of the busiest months, and Ha Giang is much more popular these days.
We’re leaving for Ha Giang tomorrow to do the loop. Has anybody got any news on the roads condition and the weather these days?
Thanks for your precious tips
The weather should be OK this time of year – you’ll get rain but it’ll be hot and sunny too, unless you get very unlucky. I will be in Ha Giang in a couple of weeks too.
People have written me over the last few months to say that road upgrading between Yen Minh and Dong Van and Meo Vac and Bao Lac means that conditions are occasionally not great.
If you do the loop this week, please do report back with updated road conditions – that would be a great help to me and to other readers.
I hope you enjoy the ride,
Thanks a lot!
I will keep you posted
Additionally do you know if Qt or other rentals in Ha Giang hire protective and rain gear?
I don’t know if they do, but you can always buy rain gear in any Vietnamese town – just ask for áo mưa 🙂
finished the loop 6 days ago, back to work today in Rome and it’s still in my head. Thanks for all the precious tips. Overall it has been amazing. It rained a lot especially the first and the last day but we still managed. The road between Yenn Minn and Dong Van is being upgraded but it’s not too bad. From Meo Vac we went to Du Gia and while the place itself was nothing special I found that the road to get there was very fascinating even though not in great condition. Thanks again
Got to hear that you enjoyed the trip. It’s a shame about the rain.
Thanks for the update about the road conditions – I will be there next week.
Thank you for all the essential info. I have a question regarding renting a semi-automatic motorbike in Dong Van. Do you think it is possible to do it there? I am not a very experienced driver, so I’m thinking about getting to Dong Van by (mini)buses from Hanoi and then rent a motorbike there to do Ma Pi Leng Pass to Meo Vac and back to Dong Van in one day. It has been my dream! Is that doable? I will be on my own.
Yes, I think that’s doable. I don’t know a specific place to rent motorbikes in Dong Van, but I’m sure most hotels can arrange one for you for the day.
Do be careful of the roads, though, because they are very windy and mountainous. And make sure you leave Dong Van around breakfast time so that you have enough time to ride to Meo Vac and back in one day.
I hope this helps,
Maybe it’s too late for you, but in case it’s not (or someone else was reading this comment) – there’s a place in Dong Van near the main square where you can rent a motorbike – and I think it’s not that bad idea as this way you will avoid the hardest parts of the loupe – although as Tom said, be careful anyhow ;).
Thanks for the update. Good to know that bikes can be rented in Dong Van. I’m sure others readers will benefit for this information too.
Thanks for sharing your experiences! We decided to do this route to! We have one question, do you know where you can find out when the buses from Hanoi to Ha Giang are leaving? We don’t want to take the night bus and the times in the internet are different. I think we need to go my dinh bus station and there take the bus right?
Yes, I think you’re right: My Dinh bus station is where you’ll find that information.
Firstly thanks for all detailed info and nice pics. I have a few queries:
1. Is section 3 (the return back to Ha Giang) feasible in one day, or would it best be done over 2 days similar to the journey out?
2. I’ll possibly be on my own. Would there be any problems with this?
3. Will there be lots of rainfall mid-August? Are the roads all tarmac or are there any mud road sections?
Thanks for your help!
Yes, you can ride section 3 back to Ha Giang in one day.
There shouldn’t be any problem riding this loop alone.
August is the rainy season so yes there will most likely be at least some rain. If you get really unlucky it can rain quite solidly, however more often than not the rains come in heavy downpours after midday.
In general, road conditions on this loop are pretty good – the roads are paved and wide enough for two large vehicles to pass each other. However, other readers have written to me recently (over the past few months) about ongoing road works to upgrade the current roads on this loop – so hopefully they will be finished by August. But if they’re not, some of the sections may be under construction and a little bumpy and muddy. However, all the roads should still be passable (unless of course there’s lots of heavy rain which may cause a landslide).
After you ride this loop, if you could comment here about current road conditions that would be very useful to me and to other readers.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the speedy reply. I’ll be sure to inform you of the road conditions/anything else worth mentioning once I’ve finished.
I’ve managed to rope a friend into coming which will make life better.
One last thing: I noticed in your pictures that the bike used wasn’t a motorbike as such but rather a semi-automatic type gig (which I would prefer to use tbh). Are those types of bikes fine for the loop?
Good to hear you have a friend coming with you.
Yes, all the routes on my website can be done on a semi-auto bike like mine – I’ve used the same bike on all the routes I’ve written about. However, if road conditions are very bad – muddy and bumpy – it is much better to have a ‘real’ motorbike.
Thanks for all the information shared it’s been really helpful for us. As you asked for news about the roads today we drive from Dong Van to Bao Lac, about last 25 kms on QL4C road till the junction with QL34 were very bad with upgrading, mud, holes… having said that, it was an amazing day.
Thanks for the road update. I hope the road works and upgrading will finish soon – I’m going again in September.
Hi Tom, thanks for your detailed report and information. It really makes our Vietnam trip full of surprise and awesome for the first time.
Now I would like to share this trip with more people. Would you mind if I use some of your photos in my university club (NTU Traveler)? Thanks!
I’m glad you have found my blog useful. You can use some of my photos as long as you credit them to Vietnam Coracle, please.
First, I want to echo the comments of the other posters – your site is an outstanding resource. I’ve used it a lot – thank you. I will support it via bookings for my travels in Vietnam whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
I’m returning to Vietnam in October to explore more areas in the north by motorbike (then later heading south for island time). I read your guides for all the areas of the north, and you cover many – or all – of the rides I am planning to do during my time up there.
I was wondering if you might help me with some advice to help solve my final puzzle for this trip: Right now my itinerary stands at 11 days but I need to eliminate one day, as I only have 10 days for this portion of the trip.
Following is the itinerary I have so far. I’ll be doing this portion of the trip Oct. 21-30.
1. Ha Noi – Nghia Lo
2. Nghia Lo – Mu Cang Chai
3. Mu Cang Chai – Sapa
4. Sapa – Xin Man
5. Xin Man – Ha Giang
6. Ha Giang – Dong Van
7. Dong Van (a day of riding other roads/exploring in the area around DV)
8. Dong Van – Bao Lac
9. Bao Lac – Bon Gioc waterfall
10. Bon Gioc – Ba Be
11. Ba Be – Ha Noi
I just got back from Vietnam a couple of weeks ago, on a different trip, and during my time in the NW this last time, I did: Hanoi-Phu Yen, Phu Yen-Son La, Son La-Muong Lay, Muong Lay-Lai Chau, Lai Chau-Sapa, Sapa/Ta Van, Sapa-Lao Cai-train back to Hanoi.
So I’m trying to avoid, where possible, rides I’ve already done.
Here’s my question. To eliminate one day, should I:
1. Skip the full day around Dong Van, or
2. Take out the leg to visit Bon Giac altogether
3. Or, as a possible (?) third option: I don’t need to go back to Sapa on this trip as I think the harvest will be over, but I don’t know if there’s a possible way to not stop between Mu Cong Chai and Xin Man (and without sacrificing a scenic ride/more enjoyable ride in exchange for a less scenic/more trafficky roads, in favor of time)
4. (Or am I missing any other good options to eliminate a day?)
Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide,
Yes, I think you’re right: you should cut off the Hanoi-Nghia Lo-Mu Cang Chai-Sapa portion of your itinerary – the harvest will be over, or at the very least in progress by the time you arrive in late October (unless of course this year’s weather changes harvest times – the climate this year has been very unpredictable).
Anyway, cut that out and then you have plenty of time to play with for the rest of your itinerary – which is a good thing because there are some long and spectacular rides in it that are worth lingering over.
If you really want to go to Mu Cang Chai, you can stop at Yen Bai, or Pho Rang or Bac Ha on the way to Xin Man.
As always, remember that these northern routes are very unpredictable because inclement weather can cause landslides or floods which can block roads for hours or sometimes days, and also scar the road surface so that sometimes they can be in bad condition. So the more time you have the better.
I hope this helps,
Thanks so much, Tom. This does help – great advice. I’ll save that leg for a future trip.
And I appreciate the reminder on allowing the flexibility/time for unexpected delays. Learned that the less convenient way on my first trip to Vietnam but it’s easy to forget when planning from elsewhere (and sometimes those derailments can be the best unexpected adventures). I’ll give myself more time on the N/NE routes.
Looking forward to it, and thanks again for your site and the advice!
As is evident from the amount of comments on this section, this is the best trip to take in Vietnam on bikes. The road after dong van is literally something else, but people be aware as they are resurfacing it all. We haven’t seen so many western people on the roads as here so Ha Giang will soon become a buzzing city as tourism only increases.
There are alot of guesthouses in Ha Giang who offer motorbike rental and even hostels opening.
Glad you enjoyed it.
Yes, Ha Giang is on the cusp of becoming a major attraction for travellers – let’s hope it stays beautiful.
Thanks for the road update – another rider recently mentioned the resurfacing too: I hope it won’t be too long before it’s finished.
We were considering doing this in early-mid June; however, I’m not sure if the weather would be great then. Would you advise waiting until Fall? Also, coming from Saigon, would it be best to fly to Hanoi and rent bikes there? Or should we take a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rent bikes?
Your site has been incredibly helpful for me so far.
It will be the rainy season in June, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad time to ride this loop: conditions will be hot and humid with tropical downpours but they usually come in the afternoons. Of course, it’s quite difficult to predict the weather in such a mountainous region.
It’s probably best to get the bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rent a bike there, however, Hanoi does have more reliable rental companies than Ha Giang, like Rent a Bike Vietnam, Tigit Motorbikes, and Style Motorbikes – you can find a link to all these companies in the right sidebar and bottom of this page.
I hope this helps,
I appreciate the advice as always. We may save this for Fall and ride through Hue, Danang, Hoi An and the mountains in June.
On another note, I was wondering if there are any good single day trips out of Saigon? I know getting in and out of the city can be a hassle so these may be limited.
Is the DT761 through Cat Tien any fun?
Let me know when you’ve got a chance.
DT761 begins nicely but turns to a muddy dirt track, but for a day trip it’s not a bad ride – at least until the road deteriorates.
There are all the ‘classic’ Saigon day trips, like Can Gio, Nui Ba Den (Tay Ninh), Vung Tau, My Tho and Ben Tre, but personally I don’t rate them particularly highly. However, it’s always nice to get out of the city for a day. With a day and a night, I’d recommend Ho Tram/Ho Coc.
It is pleasure to read your guides with tons of useful hints.
Actually we’re planning to visit North Vietnam in December as part of our honeymoon. We would like to avoid the rush therefore we booked 3 days for the motorbike trip.We will rent one motorbike in Ha Giang which can cope with the weight of two of us+bags,I’m experienced rider. We want to follow your advises regarding the routes, except we would like to make a counter-clock wise tour, Ha Giang – Meo Vac – Dong Van – Ha Giang.
My questions are:
#1: Does it make sense to do it CCW?
#2:What is the temperature during begin of December? I’m concerned about the neccessary warm clothes+protective gears.
Thank you for your help,
Laszlo from Hungary
Yes, it should be fine to ride the Ha Giang Loop counter-clockwise.
December in Ha Giang might be quite cool – I would expect mild temperatures during the day (maybe 15-20 degrees Celsius), but in the evening it may get colder.
Most rental bikes should be able to support a driver, passenger and baggage.
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom, first of all , thanks for the awesome website full of informations!
We are planing to do the Ha Giang ride for 6-8 days during the first 2 weeks of April and rent 2 motorbikes. We will be my husband, our 10 years old daughter and myself.
I am not an expert in riding a motorbike but hope it will be fine.
– is there any special advice for us regarding our daughter?
– is it necessary to book the guesthouse/home stay as I don’t know if it is a peak season.
– is it easy to find someone who speaks English in case of problem?
– Any places we could stay longer as we are staying 6-8 days?
– How is the weather in April?
– Can we rent jacket or other equipment at the motorbike rental shop?
Thanks a lot!
It shouldn’t be necessary to book your accommodation in advance, but weekends can get busy and you should check that you’re not travelling on a Vietnamese public holiday, because hotels can get booked up during those times. Otherwise you will be fine just turning up on the day.
I wouldn’t say it’s easy to find someone who can speak fluent English, but there’s usually someone who can at least get by in English, and local people are generally very helpful to foreign travellers anyway.
You could spend two nights in each of the main stops instead of just one night: Ha Giang, Dong Van, and Meo Vac.
April is generally considered to be one of the best times to visit this area – temperatures should be mild and skies should be clear at least some of the time.
You probably won’t be able to rent a jacket from the motorbike shop.
It’s difficult to know what advice to give about your daughter, although obviously you will all need to be very careful while riding with her. It’s a good idea to remind her to be careful not to touch the exhaust pipe when getting off the bike, so as not to get burned.
I hope this helps,
Thanks so much for your post. I have so far followed your posts around Cam Lap and Ho Tram and this is the next one on my list. I am thinking of getting an overnight bus to Ha Giang Wednesday night, doing section 1 on Thursday, 2 on Friday and 3 on Saturday then getting an overnight bus back from Ha Giang to Hanoi on Sunday night. Despite the obvious tiredness, do you think that would be ok?
Great to hear you’ve followed some of my guides before.
Yes, that itinerary should be OK, assuming you’re used to riding a motorbike and are obviously already aware that it will be a little bit tiring (but very rewarding) trip 🙂
P.S> I really would like to visit some beautiful beaches
It’s usually best to head further south for the beaches – take a look through my Beaches Archive for some suggestions.
Thank you very much for youre suggestions, it certainly helps!
I wll look into the Beaches archives tomorrow, thank you very much!
I am going to visit my daughter who is travlling Azie for a year. We plan to discover a piece of Northern Vietnam on bike. This is the first time for me to leave Europe so i’m not an experienced traveller ;-).
I have about 12 days to travell starting and ending in Hanoi.
All youre tours seems amazing so can you please advice me with one te take?
The trip is in the first 2 weeks of April..
And because i would like te spend quality time with my daughter i do not like to be on the bike the hole time ( we love to talk 🙂 )
Thanks you very much in advance,
Perhaps you could try the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop – it’s very scenic but also relatively short. The roads are generally in good condition and the loop starts and ends in Sapa which is easy to get to from Hanoi. You could take the night train there and back from Hanoi and spend 3-4 days on the motorbike loop plus 2-3 days in Sapa.
I hope this helps,
Good Morning Tom.
Nice to meet u
Im Pati from Barcelona, Spain.
Such an amazing blog!!! I can’t stop reading it, thanks for your dedicated work.
I’m currently in Hanoi studying in Foreign Trade University, exchange program for 6 months.
My boyfriend is coming this following week and I have decided to show him the best of Vietnam. I think that Ha Giang will be so impressive and fit with us as we love the nature.
My question is,
We will arrive to Ha Giang thursday16 at noon and leave saturday18 in the sleeping bus, so it will be 2’5 days…too short, right? I know but no more time..
Do you have any suggestion about it? Or recommendation?
Eventhough I am pretty sure that we have to go!!!
A lot of thanks for your attention
Nice to hear you enjoy my blog.
Yes, 2.5 days is not that long to visit Ha Giang, but you can still enjoy it in that short time. On your first day just stay in Ha Giang: find a motorbike, or a car and driver and sort out your visitor permit, and enjoy Ha Giang City – it’s a pretty interesting place. Then leave early in the morning the next day so you can travel all the way to Meo Vac via Dong Van – it’s a spectacular drive so you will want to make lots of stops along the way. Then make your way back to Ha Giang the next day to catch your night bus back to Hanoi.
I hope this helps,
Excellent post, Tom!
We are planning to visit Ha Giang in about a month and follow your motorbike loop.
Does anyone have an experience getting the permit in Ha Giang using the new Vietnam e-visa? I read on one forum that travelers were denied the permit because the officer was not familiar with e-visas.
That’s interesting. I could imagine that happening but this is the first I’ve heard of it so I can’t give any advice on it.
I hope it works out for you,
Hey Tom !
I’ve spent the last few hours going through your guides and really appreciate what you’ve put up here !
I’m arriving in Hanoi in April and really interested in the Ha Giang loop. I’m renting a motorbike from Tigit and am a complete novice driver FYI.
I also plan to head to Sapa and thought I head to Ha Giang from there to start the loop.
I have a few questions for you
1. Can I fast track from Sapa/Lau Cai to Ha Giang instead of the northern borders guide you have and how long would this take?
2. My plan now is: Hanoi – Sapa – Can cau – Lai Chau – Ha Giang loop – Hanoi, does this sound like a good route ? And how many days would you recommend for a novice rider ?
3. I’m hoping to do this in 10-12 days, if you have any better recommendations or areas to avoid it would be appreciated !
Yes, you can take a shorter route between Sapa and Ha Giang by going on AH14 to Pho Rang and then turning on Road 279 to Viet Quang where it hits Highway 2 to Ha Giang. This is fine, but the second half of Road 279 is often in bad condition.
Your route should be Hanoi-Sapa-Can Cau-Ha Giang (there’s no need to go back to Lao Cai after Can Cau) because that would be slowly continuing northeast from Sapa.
10-12 days fine to complete that route, but take it very slowly and carefully as you as a first time rider – the mountains roads are very windy and sometimes suffer from potholes and landslides.
I hope this helps,
I’ve been reading your blog since I started my bike trip from Ho Chi Minh City 2 months ago, and I can only thank you for all this precious information. It was sometimes difficult to decide which road to take and your blog helped me a lot with my decisions.
I wish to share a travel tip with you concerning the Ha Giang northern loop. After passing through Meo Vac and taking the west road TL182, a beautiful option instead of going all the way back to Yen Minh and taking the same route between Yen Minh and Ha Giang, is to head south on the road TL176 in the town of Mau Due (around 25 km before Yen Minh). This road offers beautiful scenery and meets the QL4C.
There are a couple of villages along the TL176 but only one town offers sleeping facilities, Du Gia. In this town there is a new hostel with a 7bed-dorm, Du Gia Backpackers Hostel and also a homestay with a Tay family. I enjoyed myself so much in this town that I stayed four nights and had the chance to experience the Saturday market which was full of Hmong, Zao and Tay people, such an authentic and unforgettable experience!
So if you have the chance to come back in this area, don’t hesitate to finish or start your loop with this interesting alternative.
I wish you best of luck,
Good to hear you’ve enjoyed riding around Vietnam so far.
Thanks for the tip. It sounds like a great route. I look forward to trying it out next time I’m in the area. I’m sure many other readers will benefit from that advice too.
Hi Jeremy and Hi Tom,
I am actually doing the same route as you Jeremy did but we will be starting returning back to Ha Giang from Meo Vac and same route TL182 and TL176 and we have booked at Du Gia Backpackers Hostel for the night. As I am driving and we will be two people on the Motorbike because my girl does not drive, do you know approximately how long does it take to get Du Gia Backpackers Hostel from Meo Vac and what is the road condition?
The journey will probably take 3-4 hours including stops, but I’m not sure about the road conditions at the moment – you could ask people about that when you are in Meo Vac.
I hope you enjoy your trip,
This is FANTASTIC information. It really inspired us to be sure we made this area a part of our Vietnam itinerary. We’re heading out from Ha Giang tomorrow, hoping for good weather and really excited about the road ahead! Thank you so much for the time and effort to put this together and keep it up to date.
We’ll also be trying out your recommended breakfast place tomorrow!
One quick thing – I would just like to advise that it’s usually very anti-productive for foreigners to give out candy to children. Yes, it’s not giving money to them, but it still encourages a culture of begging and obviously isn’t great in areas where dental care is poor or non-existent, but what’s worse for me, it creates this rift where they see foreigners as wealthy sources of gifts and money, instead of simply seeing them as a different looking person with whom they can interact. From your site, I can tell that you do interact with the people and build that lasting bond that truly sticks with them, but for you and others reading this, I wish you would reconsider giving out these sorts of “gifts.” From my travels and many books I’ve read about the subject, that’s my own personal opinion.
But once again, thanks for the great information and pictures!
Glad that you are looking forward to exploring Ha Giang.
Thanks for sharing your opinion. I agree that one shouldn’t encourage children to stay out of school by giving handouts to them, but some form of quick food seems a much better alternative that giving money, partly because it is the children who consume it, not their parents, and thus the latter will not benefit from it, which is why they send them out in the first place, rather than sending them to school. If no one gave money to the kids, their parents would not send them out to ‘beg’. But you’re right that candy isn’t the best choice; perhaps fruit or some other small snack that is easy to carry and will not be bad for their teeth would be better.
As for the attitude of seeing foreigners as wealthy piggy banks, I agree that does no one any good, but it is a way of thinking that has existed for many years, partly because it is true, of course, that all foreign travellers to Vietnam have much more disposable income than the ethnic minorities in this region, but also because the work of charities is often misinterpreted by local people, who then form the opinion that foreign visitors are here to, and willing to, ‘give out’ money.
I hope you enjoy your trip and get the chance to interact with lots of local people along the way. And if you find a way to ‘give back’ to the area and the people, please do share it here, so that other travellers may do the same.
One day down, two to go – so far, it has been incredibly beautiful, and I can’t wait for the Ma Pi Leng pass tomorrow!!
You’re right that we, as travelers, are obviously way better off than many of the people in these provinces, so there will always be that economic divide.
For places like this, often one of the best ways to help the children of the community would be to bring donations of clothing and school supplies to give directly to the schools. Of course, that takes up room in a traveler’s backpack, so that doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a good idea if anyone is looking for ways to give. (You could also just purchase some of this in Hanoi and bring it up.) There are also a number of suggested charities in this post:
https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293921-i8432-k7047800-Vietnam_charity_suggestions-Vietnam.html , but then there’s always the question of how much of that goes back to the local community.
So, there’s never a perfect answer, but one of the best things is to spread the awareness of this area, the beauty and the warm people, which is exactly what you’re doing with this wonderful website. Riding along today, I kept wondering how many people were drawn here by your stories, pictures and suggestions. Digging further in your website, I keep finding more and more incredible information, so thanks again from so many of us that are benefiting from this site!!!
Good to hear you’re enjoying the route so far. I hope the weather stays good for the Ma Pi leng pass.
Thanks for the suggestions. Yes, clothes would definitely be a good idea, but, as you say, space might be a problem. I know a couple of people who may begin offering foreign visitors to the area different ways to give back to local people, so it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.
Either way, I hope you continue to have a fantastic time,
Hi Tom. I am so pleased to have found your article- you are a gold mine of information. I will be spending 5 days at the end of Feb tourng Ha Giang province on a motor bike. Some days the rental shop has suggested doung up to 140 km in a day. Eg Tam Son to Dong Van via Meo Vac. Is this not excessive? Also been suggested that I visit Du Gia especially for the Saturday market. This adds to the trip and also means two long sections-I am a 75 year old wreck!! Best wishes. Mike
No, it’s not necessary to ride all the way from Ha Giang to Meo Vac in one day. You can do the ride as slow or fast as you like: Ha Giang to Tam Son in one day, then to Dong Van the next day, and to Meo Vac the next – it’s up to you. There are hotels in all those towns and the road conditions between them are usually good. There’s no need to ride it all in one go if you don’t want to. It’s worth going to Du Gia if you have the time, but if you don’t then it’s no big deal: the rest of the ride is so spectacular anyway 🙂
I hope this helps,
You are like the holy grail! 🙂
Have been looking online about doing that loop as we are going to Vietnam mid Feb… And bingo, all you need is … love… I mean, you need to know is here! You’ll my saviour and guide it seems, great site, photos and resources.
Couple of questions coming to mind:
1. From experience, how could the weather be around mid Feb to do the loop?
2. A bit more practical question, I don’t seem to have read about it… Where can you get petrol along the road durin the loop trip? Seems quite foundamental in order to estimated your daily stops/itinerary 🙂
Thanks in advance for your advices
Glad you like my guides.
Weather can be pretty cold at that time of year. There can be a bit of fog and rain too. So make sure you bring appropriate clothing with you.
There are gas stations at regular intervals on this loop, including in all the towns and villages, so petrol shouldn’t be a problem. Just don’t let your tank get too low before you start looking out for a pump.
I hope this helps,
Hi! Thank you for your advice! I do have a few questions if you could possibly answer them. My boyfriend and I will be traveling to ha giang in February, and we want to rent a motor bike and do the tour in about three days. We will have all our luggage with us. What did you do with yours? It seems like a little too much for us to rent a room for 3 days just to leave our stuff in, while renting other rooms on our trip. Also, is it possible to go straight from Hanoi to ha giang? I thought I read you could, but it seems like people go to sapa first and then travel from the up further north. Thank you!
Yes, you can take a night bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang.
I take my luggage with me because I have GIVI boxes that attach to my bike. However, most other riders either strap their bags to the backs of their bikes with bungees, or rent saddle bags with their bikes. But I think it is also reasonable to ask the hotel or guesthouse that you stay in in Ha Giang to keep your bags until you return three days later.
I hope this helps,
Your blog is fantastic, and my boyfriend and I are planning on doing the Ha Giang Extreme North loop this week.
I just have a few questions I was hoping you could answer… (sorry they’re all transport related!)
We’ve been recommended to get the bus from Hanoi to Sapa – are there any well known bus companies that would be better to travel with?
Also, how do we get to Ha Giang from Sapa?
Finally, how would we go about getting from Ha Giang to Ninh Binh? Would we have to go via Hanoi? Again, what would be the best modes of transport for this?
Any help you could give us would be greatly received!
Thanks so much!
Glad to hear that’ll you’ll be riding the Ha Giang loop – I hope you have decent weather.
Personally, I think it’s more fun to take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa). But the new highway from Hanoi to Sapa has been open for a couple of years now so the bus journey should be pretty smooth and quick now. Lots of bus companies do it – check your guidebook for advice on good lines to take.
From Sapa to Ha Giang is a long, fairly rough but utterly beautiful trip by motorbike if you follow my Borders & Back-Roads route by motorbike.
If you want to go by public transportation it takes about a day but it is possible – check the comment from Aurelia a few comments below this one.
Ha Giang to Ninh Binh is another long journey. You would need to take the highway down towards Tuyen Quang and further southeast to Hoa Lac which is the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh Road, just west of Hanoi. Then take the Ho Chi Minh Road south and turn east just before Cuc Phuong National Park for Ninh Binh. (Take a look at Section 8 of my Ho Chi Minh Road guide for more about that leg of the journey.)
I hope this helps,
I have just returned from a 2 week ride along the China Border from Sa Pa to Cao Bang. Once again your information was priceless. We also found some great back roads and only really got lost a couple of times as the roads disappeared into tracks that we followed till no longer able to do so. This is one area I will be back to do with more of the way tracks loaded into the GPS.
Till back next year cheers Kev.
Great to hear you enjoyed your road trip in the north. I hope you get a chance to come back soon. Those back-roads sound great.
wow, tom, thankyou so much for providing us all with this priceless info! I have a question and I wonder if you could help…
I will be in hanoi from the 16th of december and I am heading up to lao Cia fundamentally to do a motorycle loop. I have been advised to “definatley visit sapa” for the incredible secenery and vietnamese culture, but I’m concerned it may be too touristy, and really I am most concerned with having a great motorbike trip and visiting some off the beaten track places and the best possible alpine scenery and viet culture
I have one week to spend in this area, do you think I will get more out of heading to Ha Giang and doing the extreme north loop, or heading to sapa and doing the Sapa to Ho sin route? or maybe there’s enough time to do both if i rent a bike from lao cia?
considering the time of year I will be visiting in mid december, Do you think I will need thermal gloves and a big jacket, or could I get away with lighter clothing like i did in north thailand? if you think it will be challengingly cold, which route would you suggest for the best weather and conditions for my time there? I am open to any advice and help with planning my trip.
I really hope you can find the time to answer my questions because I am concerned about the possibility of me doing a motorbike loop in mid december. I have already recommended your website to all of my travelling friends!
Many thanks, Ste
Yes, it will be cold at that time of year in both Sapa and Ha Giang. But it will probably be colder in Sapa because it is higher up in the mountains. So if I were you I would take some good cold weather clothing.
Sapa is very touristy. In my opinion, the town is not very nice these days. However, the landscape around the town is fantastic, especially on the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop. Once you are out of Sapa town you are off the beaten path.
Ha Giang is less touristy, although people are saying that weekends can be quite busy now. The landscape is very scenic and strange but the mountains are not as high as they are in Sapa.
They are both very beautiful places and great rides. They will both be cold at that time of year. And they are both quite easy to navigate, although it’s much easier to get to Sapa than to Ha Giang. The Sapa-Sin Ho Loop only takes 2-3 days, and so does the Ha Giang Loop, but you will also need to spend at least one day getting from Sapa to Ha Giang.
I hope this helps you make your decision,
Once again Tom, thanks so much for this priceless info, the internet is a brilliant thing! maybe I will take the “standard” option of Sapa, seeing as it’s my first time in Vietnam. Keep up the good work with the website pal 🙂
First of all – thank you for your reports! Amazing website. We have just started our Vietnam biking trip and I am so happy I discovered you!!
We are in the process of the Ha Giang loop… In Yin Minh tonight. We rode our bike from Hanoi up so I am wondering if it is worth it to do the loop back to ha giang or if we should go down south via Bao Lak route? Which road do you prefer with landscapes and cultural experience?
I really appreciate the advise! Cheers
I would continue down to Bao Lac and then either go on to Cao Bang on turn off to Ba Be Lake. Both routes are very pretty.
I hope you enjoy it,
Hi thanks for sharing with us! You have have an awesome and inspiring blog. I have plan to go to Ha Giang and Sapa on early November. By chance, do you know if there is any bus that connecting those 2 cities? And how’s the weather in November? I hope it won’t be raining.
Another reader recently told me that there is a bus between Sapa and Ha Giang, but it takes all day because of the connections. Check the comment by Aurelia below for more details.
The weather will be getting colder at that time of year. I would expect at least some rain and mist, but also some good weather too 🙂
I hope this helps,
There’s a recently opened cave near Quan Ba, pretty nice – after Quan Ba look for sign for it, it takes 5 km ride (very nice) and then maybe 20-30 minutes of steep walk (yes, on legs, like in times before you discovered a motorbike :)) to reach. The cave is not very big, but quite pretty – definitely worth the visit, especially if you don’t visit Phong Nha. Entrance is 50k, and you need to pay 5k for motorbike parking (I left my things there, just took the backpack with valuables, nothing went missing). Count around 2h for the whole detour.
Word of warning – the whole region is extremely busy during weekends (Friday to Sunday) – I arrived in Yen Minh after 5pm and I couldn’t find a single room anywhere, ended up sleeping on a partially covered rooftop of one of the hotels, but conditions were pretty poor (especially when it started to rain). Roads were also very, very busy, with almost constant traffic (loads of big trucks, buses, minibuses, cars and motorbikes), it seemed like half of Hanoi went on tour here – and as far as I know there’s no public holiday right now to explain.
Best idea would be avoid travelling on weekends, and if it’s not possible to try to book some hotel in advance. If you fail to do it at least plan to arrive as early as possible – I’ve met some people in Yen Minh who arrived earlier than me and managed to find something more reasonable (although they also had to ask in many places, as most of the hotels were fully booked)
Thanks for the cave info – sounds interesting.
I’m not surprised that it gets busy on weekends – Ha Giang is increasingly popular among domestic (and foreign) tourists. And, now that access is easier than ever, I expect visitor numbers to increase dramatically. Good tip to book accommodation in advance during busy times.
Thanks for the updates,
Some more updates 😉
1). There’s a motorbike rental place in Dong Van, near the market. It’s not signed in English, you need to look for blue poster saying “Cho Thue Xe May”. I didn’t have time though to check what bikes they have and for how much, I just saw that this place really exists (it’s on google maps also). Anyhow I think it can be interesting option for people who need to rent a bike (compared with getting it from Ha Giang) – especially for beginners (I think the road from Ha Giang to Yen Minh is pretty difficult and dangerous – very steep, narrow, often in bad shape and with heavy traffic), while the small loop is relatively easy ride (much less traffic, better road conditions). Also renting it from Dong Van allows to see the most interesting parts of the region in form of day trips, without the necessity of carrying all the luggage etc.
Not sure how to get to Dong Van by bus, but I passed many busses on the way so for sure it’s easy 😉
2). The weekend situation was not one time thing. On Wednesday in Meo Vac I tried asking around if any hotel is available on Friday but didn’t find such (I asked both in bigger hotels and in nha nghi)
3). Road to Bao Lac – it starts really great. Smooth ride along the amazing valley, great views, almost no traffic. After maybe 15-20km it starts to deteriorate, with some potholes and damaged sections, although never getting to “scary” level. They are building a huge dam near the place where QL4C joins with QL34, so near the junction it’s quite terrible – lots of trucks and really destroyed road. Fortunately it gets better soon and afterward ride to Bao Lac is reasonably smooth. Overall it’s quite nice drive
4). In Bao Lac nice place to stay is Duc Tai hotel near the market. Worthy side trip is going to Na Van village in the mountains above the town. Follow the main road (direction of Cao Bang) until you see the junction (still in town). It’s very steep but good road leading around 10 km into the mountains. The views on the way are stunning (it’s hard to see from the bottom, but Bao Lac is actually surrounded by pretty impressive mountains that appear in the distance from all the sides when you reach the top) and the village looks interesting, lots of traditional wooden houses nested on the steep slope. In my opinion worthy finisher of otherwise short riding day. Be prepared that road back will be very steep 🙂
Thanks for the updates.
Forgot to tell you that i have about 5 to 10 days for the trip 😉
First off all thank you for the inspiring Blog.
I am living in Ho Chi Minh. A few Months ago i had great pleasure following your coastal route.
At the end of this month i want to discover the boarder of Vietnam with China. i would like to include your Ha Giang, Sapa , Mai Pi Leng Pass and Ban Gioc Waterfall.
I wil depart from hanoi with the bike.
I would appreciate any tips , suggestions on how to approach this journey.
thanks in advance,
You could put your bike on the train from Hanoi to Sapa (Lao Cai) and start from there.
Then you can follow my guides from west to east along the Chinese border. So that would be in this order: Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop, Borders & Back-Roads, Ha Giang Extreme North Loop, Pastoral Pathways Northeast Loop.
However, 10 days is not enough time to complete all these rides, so you will have to choose which ones you want to do most. For example, you could leave out the Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop at the beginning, and leave out the Northeast Loop at the end. This would mean that you follow the Borders & Back-Roads from Sapa to Ha Giang, and then the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop. And then ride back to Hanoi. 10 days should be enough to do this.
Note that some sections of road on the Borders & Back-Roads trip can be a little bit rough, and the road behind Ban Gioc Falls back to Quang Uyen is currently in bad shape.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the detailed Tourguides! Me and a friend are currently in Hanoi and planning on doing the Ha Giang Loop after Sapa. But apparently there’s no bus connection between sapa and Ha Giang. Because we have only limited time we have to choose now between the Ha Giang tour and the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop. If you just consider the landscape, scenery and the places you see on the tour, which one would you say is nicer or more beautiful ? Both look amazing just not sure which one to pick at this time of the year.
Thanks for your help!
That’s a very difficult choice!
Both are spectacular. The Sapa-Sin Ho Loop is grander, higher, more mountainous and easier to follow and easier to ride (as long as you don’t encounter any landslides). But Ha Giang is weirder, wilder, and (probably) more of an adventure, but it is also more complicated to get to and to follow.
Weather conditions at this time of year should be OK in both areas.
Personally, I think you’ll like either of them, so the defining factor is convenience: if you’re going to be in Sapa anyway, you can easily do the Sin Ho Loop; but if you want to do the Ha Giang Loop you’ll need to travel a bit more and put more effort into it. So it looks like you’re faced with a hard decision.
I hope this helps you,
Hi Max, we just arrived to Ha Giang from Sapa yesterday. We were like you, we really wanted to do both loops!! Its difficult to find the info but its possible to go from one to the other in approximately 9hours. You need to take a local bus in Sapa for Lao Cai (take it by the Church, there is one every 20/30minutes, 1h journey, 30000d). When in Lao Cai, go to the bus station and ask for bus to Ha Giang, they will show you where to take it (its 50m on the left when facing the bus station), be aware that there is only 2 mini buses per day:around 6am, and around 12.30pm. Arrive early or book the day before while in Lao Cai as they are mini bus and ours was full. The journey lasts 7hours as there is a lot of upgrading works on the road. We paid 150000d (one guy, a bit aggressive, tried to sell tickets for 200000d, just ignore him and go inside to speak to the person responsible of that bus) Hope it helps! Enjoy, we done the Sin ho-Sapa loop and it was one of the best drive we ever done, today we are starting the Exreme loop, so excited!
Thanks for the information, I’m sure that will be very useful to other readers too.
Glad to hear you enjoyed the Sin Ho Loop. I hope you like the Extreme Loop too.
Tom, we absolutely loved every minute of it! We done the loop in 3days taking our time, we were lucky to have really hot and sunny days with clear views, didn’t know the north of Vietnam was as beautiful…everywhere you look is stunning!
Well done for your amazing website, and a massive thank you for sharing it with us all! It really helped us organising our trip and its really inspiring!
Just wanted to add 3 littles things:
– I only learnt how to ride a motorbike 2weeks ago in Cat ba, so only drove around 100kms before I started the Sin ho-Sapa loop, so beginners don’t worry its totally feasible, just have a day or 2 around the city before you go to have a feel of the bike and then go for it slowly.
– From Meo Vac, we took the road that passes Du gia to finish the loop and get back to Ha giang, its another stunning road, you feel on top of the world, strongly recommend it even though the last 8kms were pretty bad. (also there is a lovely hostel in Du gia perfect for lunch)
– Finally I followed the advice given by Isaac on this thread regarding Anh Anh motel, and I totally agree with him its a really good place to rent good motorbikes, get advice re the loop and also the hotel itself is very good (clean, affordable, great location near the bus station, tell you everything you need to know re the loop…).
Now we are looking forward to the Central loop next week!
That’s great! I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the loop. And thank you for sharing your experiences and for the updates. I’ll make sure to check out the Anh Anh Hotel next time I’m in Ha Giang.
Hi Tom! Thanks for the awesome guide! I have never been on a motorbike but I really want to attempt this loop! I am considering taking a motorcycle safety course to do this loop when I go to Vietnam this March. I will be in Northern Vietnam mid-March. Would you recommend this loop for such a novice?
That’s a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, this loop is relatively traffic-free so you won’t have to deal with riding in Vietnam’s infamous urban traffic-jams. On the other hand, this loop is extremely mountainous so the roads are very windy and also very narrow.
Ultimately, you’ll best be able to make the decision once you are in Vietnam for a few days – you’ll see the traffic in the cities and in the countryside, and you’ll start to get a feel for whether or not you want/can ride a motorbike here.
Of course, you should be very careful (as we all should) if you do decide to ride.
I hope this helps,
Thank you so much for your opinion! it helps! Is there another loop you would recommend in the north that might be easier to do for a beginner?
You might try the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop instead. It’s also very mountains with lots of twisting roads (and very scenic), but it is fairly simple to navigate, and you can rent a motorbike from Sapa. The traffic is pretty light too (as long as you don’t go on the weekend or public holiday). However, you still need to be extremely careful if you haven’t had much riding experience. Even if you only do a small part of the Sin Ho Loop it will still be a rewarding experience.
Take care and I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you for all of your advice! Last question.. can both loops be done on an automatic motorbike?
Yes, certainly, an automatic is fine for both loops. I use an automatic for all my road trips – but some people prefer a manual: it’s really about whatever you feel most comfortable with. However, there’s always the chance of landslides in these mountainous regions, which can sometimes block the roads and, after they are cleared, can be very muddy and slippery. So just ride carefully in wet or muddy conditions.
Hi, fantastic post, very helpful, thanks.
In case it helps, regarding the permits and such, I took a sleeps bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rented a motorbike (starts at 200k per day, or 150k per day for each day after the third) from Anh Anh Motel, just to the right outside the bus station. He scanned my passport, I signed a rental agreement and he gave me a copy. He gave me back the passport but required me to leave behind one piece of picture ID as collateral. I gave him my Vietnamese drivers license, but if I had brought a Canadian piece of picture ID, that would’ve been fine. Anyway, then he gave me some maps of the loop and a list of phone numbers of various mechanics and such in all the towns along the way.
He also directed me to the Immigration Office in Ha Giang city, where I got that special permit for 210,000VND. It took allo of 10 minutes, all I did was hand the officer my passport, he knew exactly why I was there. Anyway, he gave me the permit (and of course my passport) and I went on my merry way.
When I arrived at the hotel you recommended in Yen Minh, they did indeed ask me for the permit. They are keeping it over night (and they gave me back my passport right away).
I think it’s worth getting the permit, it’s just a matter of going when the Immigration office is open. I went at about 7:40am on a Saturday. It could be that this hotel in Yen Minh was more diligent in asking for my permit because it’s a weekend, who knows. I’ve had friends who like you tried to get the permit and couldn’t, but were.never actually asked for it anywhere.
Lonely Planet Vietnam (the 2012 one anyway) seems to think that if you don’t have the permit, “the officious police in Dong Van will fine you heavily and send you back to Ha Giang city.”
Hope this is helpful. Mainly I wanted to recommend Anh Anh Motel for motorbike rental in Ha Giang city, they are very helpful.
Thanks for sharing this information, it’s very helpful indeed.
Great to hear that it has all worked out for you and all the officialdom has gone smoothly.
Thanks for suggesting Anh Anh Hotel – I’ll check it out next time I’m in Ha Giang.
Enjoy the rest of the ride,
Hay tom. Me and my girlfriend are in cat ba. And want to do some riding. We looking for the must pleasant and smooth drive because of her back hearts.( She also in pregnancy but doing everything in cool way) We are driving all over cat ba and that was OK in short distances. We want to stay at the north or middle Vietnam ( flying from Hanoi). What rides will you recommend for us? We have time for 10 days.
Also from your knowledge haw many people fall and get injured? I think I drive OK but the other traffic is out of my control. What do you think?
Your site is worth a medal. I read all of it.
Hi Yoav and Michael,
Obviously you should be extremely careful riding a motorbike with a pregnant passenger on the back. There are hundreds of motorbike accidents every day on Vietnam’s roads. Ride carefully and stick to quieter roads.
You could try the Golden Loop in Central Vietnam. It takes between 2 or 3 days, is very beautiful and mostly very quiet.
In the north, you could try the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop which is spectacular and most of the roads are in good condition.
I hope this helps,
Thanks very much for the great post: very helpful. One question: we’re aiming to take the route in early November, and don’t know whether it’s really necessary to get Japanese Encephalitis and rabies jabs. The official health websites kind of hedge their bets on this, but what do you think?
I’m afraid I’m not really the person to ask about that. I’m pretty sure I had the Encephalitis jab years ago as a precaution, but I don’t remember any mention that Ha Giang was particularly dangerous for it. You’re probably better off posting this question in a travel or medical forum.
However, I would definitely suggest getting the rabies jab – animals, rusty nails etc, it’s best to be covered.
I hope you find an answer.
I’m in Ha Giang at the Thuy Tien. I’m wondering about the permit. Have you gotten one from this guest house? I haven’t asked yet but I foresee a communication issue. How do you ask for the permit in Vietnamese? Also if they don’t have it, where else do you suggest asking? Or should I just not worry about the permit?
It shouldn’t be hard to communicate because most travellers on motorbikes in Ha Giang are asking about getting the permit. If that doesn’t work you can ask at other hotels or the local government offices. However, last two times I visited Ha Giang I wasn’t asked for my permit. And another time I simply bought it at a hotel in Dong Van. But as you will visiting on the weekend it could be different.
In Vietnamese it’s probably something like: giấy phép đi đường bộ Đồng Văn-Yên Minh-Mèo Vạc.
I am currently In tam coc, about to head off to Hanoi. After reading Your blog i have decided to do the ha giang loop, given that it seems like an amazing oportunity to get to know the scenery, the people and the real vietnam.
Nevertheless there are some things holding me back, such as the weather conditions during july ( how are they during this time of the year?) And the problems that the motorbike may have after driving long distances. I would like to know Your advices regarding this topics.
On the other hand, i still have 2 weeks left on my vietnam trip, and i would like to do whatever is possible and worthy In the north. What places/activities would you recommend me to fill my trip with.
By the way, and last but not least, Your web page is amazing, maybe the best combination of passion, adventure and brain i have seen on the Internet.
Thank you for your kind words about my site – I’m glad you’ve found inspiration from it.
Yes, I think it’s definitely worth riding the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop. It is one of the most spectacular areas in Vietnam, and people will be talking about it for a long time to come.
I don’t think you need to worry about the motorbike – just try to make sure the bike is in good working order when you rent it and that you have the contact details of the rental agency so you can call them if anything goes wrong with the bike. If you do have a problem on the road you need to look for a sửa xe máy which mean ‘bike mechanic’ in Vietnamese.
As for the weather, it’s true that July is the rainy season, but that doesn’t mean it rains all the time: usually it’ll rain in the afternoons but the mornings will be dry and bright. Of course, you may get unlucky and have a few days of bad weather (I had that in July a few years ago), but it’s just a risk that I think is worth taking. There’s not much you can do about it really – just check the forecast before you go – if there’s a typhoon then maybe change your plans! 🙂
The northwest and northeast and also fantastic areas to explore. The Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop is a great little ride, or you could even ride from Sapa over to Ha Giang on my Borders & Back-Roads Loop. You could also ride to the rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai from Sapa too.
Another great place to explore and spend some time is Ba Be Lakes – but try to avoid weekends if you can.
I hope this helps you plan the last 2 weeks of your Vietnam adventure.
Man you are amazing, thank you very much!!
Would you recommend me to do the loop on the weekend or during the week?
If you have the choice then definitely do it during the week – in general, wherever you go in Vietnam if you want to avoid the crowds don’t travel on weekends or public holidays.
a) and b) – twice!
Inspired as we are by your fabulous website, my wife and I are planning on heading up north in October to motorbike the Ha Giang loop, over 3-4 days.
After chatting to a friend I’m undecided whether we should either a) from Hanoi, take a bus to Ha Giang and rent a bike there or b) rent a bike in Hanoi and take it on the train to Cao Lai and head east from there.
I think the former, but was wondering if it was easy a) to turn up and get a Ha Giang bus without booking (I don’t think I can book in advance from HCMC) and b) how easy it is to rent a decent, preferably automatic, scooter in Ha Giang?
Thanks very much,
I don’t think it should be a problem to turn up at the bus station in Hanoi (or book through your hotel) to get a ticket to Ha Giang. If you can, take a night sleeper bus (it’s a long journey) because then you’ll have the whole of the next day to start the Ha Giang Loop. Finding a bike in Ha Giang shouldn’t really be a problem either: although I can’t point you in the direction of any specific rental agencies, just ask at your hotel and I’m sure you’ll find one. You could also try contacting Mr Dong Ha Giang Motorbike Rental (he has a Facebook page) – he tends to spam my articles which is irritating, but I’m fairly sure he runs a competent rental agency there.
The other option of renting the bikes in Hanoi, training it to Lao Cai and riding east to Ha Giang is a solid option in terms of logistics, but that ride east would seriously eat into your (limited) time.
I hope this helps you make a decision.
Cheers Tom, that’s a great help.
Best wishes, Rob.
I’ve loved reading the Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop report, and it’s inspired me to do a similar trip on a moped or motorbike at the end 23-27 June.
All descriptions I have read of this trip are travelling east, from Ha Giang to Meo Vac. I’d rather do it the other way, travelling west, so if I have spare time I can visit Bac Ha and maybe Sapa. Is there any reason why travelling east is more desirable?
I’ll be on a motorbike and June is the wet season. Does this mean it rains heavily for a couple of hours each day and then it’s dry, or does it mean endless rain throughout the day?
I have four and a half days to do this round trip from Hanoi. I’m a little worried that will be too rushed. I’d rather avoid busy roads to and from Hanoi and take my time, but time constraints may mean I have to do these legs quickly.
Yes, you can easily do the Ha Giang Loop from west to east too.
4-5 days is just about enough time to ride from Hanoi to the Ha Giang Loop and back, but it is very unlikely you will have time to go to Bac Ha as well. Because of your time constraints you will need to take the most direct route to get to Ha Giang from Hanoi, which is QL3 and the TL279 and then QL34. Most of this is very scenic, but from Hanoi to Thai Nguyen it can be quite horrible.
On the way back from Ha Giang to Hanoi, you’ll probably want to take QL2.
You can roughly work out your time like this: One full day from Hanoi to Bao Lac (a long day), 2 full days on the Ha Giang Loop, and one full day from Ha Giang back to Hanoi.
The weather will most probably be a mixture of heavy rain showers and bright sunny spells, unless you get very unlucky.
I hope you have a great trip.
Hi! Thanks for the information!! We did the Ha Giang Motorbike Loop in 2 long days 🙂 , it was amazing!! Thanks!!
Hello Gertjan and Leonie,
Great to hear that you enjoyed the Ha Giang Loop! Thanks for letting me know 🙂
from Hanoi, with one or 2 stops on motorcycle…whats the best/nice road for going to Ha Giang ?
Well, the most direct route is Highway 2. This is relatively scenic. Or you could go via Ba Be Lakes, either via Bac Kan on Highway 3, or bearing west on TL254. Both these routes are longer but also more scenic than Highway 2.
I hope this helps
Hi Tom. Thanks so much for your motorbike guides. My friends and I would like to motorbike Sapa and Ha Giang Provinces (a loop or one-way) but we only have 5-6 days to do it. We want to see Hoang Su Phi, Dong Van/Meo Vac, and ethnic villages along the way. We are currently in Cat Ba. I already have a bike while the others are planning on renting bikes in the north. Is there a suggested route you would recommend for our trip? How would you recommend I get my bike up north, is it safe and doable to drive up north alone in 1 day or should I put it on a train or bus to Sapa or Ha Giang?
5-6 days is just about enough time to ride from Sapa to Ha Giang via Hoang Su Phi and then continue to Ha Giang and ride the Meo Vac loop. However, the roads are very mountainous and sometimes (especially from Xin Man to Hoang Su Phi) the road surface is a bit bumpy, so progress can be slow.
For route suggestions take a look at my Sapa to Ha Giang Back-Roads guide, and my Extreme North Loop guide on this page. You can put these together to create the ride you want to do.
The ride from Hanoi to Sapa on AH14 is fine but it is long – you can do it in one day if you start early in the morning. There are more scenic routes to from Hanoi to Sapa but they are much longer. Putting your bike on a night train from Hanoi to Sapa is quite a good idea.
I hope this helps,
I absolutely loved reading the post and look forward to exploring more of your writing. I have read the comments and they have been so helpful as well. My remaining question is, do you need some motorbike experience to do this loop? I imagine it would be wise to spend a little bit of time riding around casually to simply get the feel of it. I will be alone and am anxious about anything going wrong on the road, even with the motorbike itself. But I’m mostly very excited! Thanks.
Yes, you’re right: if you have no motorbiking experience at all then it would certainly be wise the rent your bike and spend the first day or two slowly getting to know it and feel comfortable with it. Obviously, you should always be extremely careful on any roads in Vietnam – just take your time and I’m sure you’ll be fine 🙂
I hope you enjoy this loop.
I completed the Ha Giang loop 3 weeks ago, combined with part of the Sapa to Ha Giang loop. What an amazing loop!!! spectacular landscapes, crazy swinging roads, amazing people and a true personnal experience. The highlight of my vietnam trip by far!
I did the following trip on 6 days including one day in Dong Vac region to explore the area: Lao Cai / Xi Men / Ha Giang / Dong Van / Meo Vac / Ha Giang / Bac Ha / Lao Cai). I slightly adapted your loops to fit my schedule. I did longer distances than you per day, but I won’t necessarely recommend to other to do the same, the roads are quite challenging. I was exausted at the end of each day. I am used to ride in North Thailand, I can say that Thai roads are highways compared to Ha Giang roads.
All the information you provided on your blog are really very usefull and accurate, great website! Thanks a tone for your tremendous job. If we follow your instructions, it’s almost too easy 😉
Thanks a lot again. I will keep following your blog for my next trips in VN, coz I will come back;-)
Great to hear that you enjoyed the northern rides – I agree, they are fabulous! Good to know that my guides were helpful too 🙂
I hope you’ll be back in Vietnam again soon for some more motorbiking adventures!
Thanks A LOT for all those details and clear informations! Thats really helpfull!
I was wondering if its safe to do this drive as a girl alone? Im 26 years old and Im traveling since 1 year and half.
Please let me know as soon as you can cause I plan to do this trip in a couple of days. Im in Hanoi at the moment.
Yes, certainly I think it’s safe to travel this route as a solo female. Obviously, you should take all the normal safety precautions that you would when travelling anywhere else in the world. But, in general, Vietnam is still a very safe place to travel, and the majority of Vietnamese people are hospitable and kind to foreign travellers.
Great website, thank you.
Have you also been to the ban gioc waterfall? Is it possible to get there by motorbike? And do you know how long it would take?
Yes, you can ride to Ban Gioc Waterfall by motorbike and it takes about 3 hours to get there. For more information see my guide to Ban Gioc Waterfall.
Is it possible to hire a motorcycle in Ha Giang and drop it somewhere in Cao Bang, so we can take a bus from there back to Hanoi?
That’s a good question and I think, for now, the answer is no. It surely won’t be long before someone sets up such a service, but as far as I know if you rent a bike in either Ha Giang or Cao Bang then you’ll need to return it from the city you rented it from.
Let me know if you do find a company which allows one-way rental.
Thank you for your reply!
If I find a company that allows one-way rental, you’ll be the first to know 😉
first of all: great website! Has been of great help.
I’ve driven the whole way from Saigon to Cat ba and tackling the north now. I was just wondering if the distance between Cao Bang and Meo vac is correct? You mention 75 km, my calculations say 178-202km … How fast is the drive?
Also, where would you sleep between Cao Bang and Ha Giang. I want to include “the North Pole” but do it in a minimum numbers of days without pushing it to hard. I’m a bit on a time limit…
Yes, in Section 3 of the guide above 75km is the distance between Meo Vac and Bao Lac, which is the first town in Cao Bang Province, not Cao Bang City. So, as you say, the distance between Cao Bang City and Ha Giang is longer: just over 200km.
Bao Lac, Meo Vac and Dong Van are all good places to stay the night between Cao Bang and Ha Giang. If travelling west from Cao Bang City, Road QL34 between Cao Bang City and Ha Giang Province is very good to begin with but expect it to slow down from around Tinh Tuc. However, you can definitely make it from Cao Bang City to Meo Vac in a day.
I hope this helps,
My husband and I are thinking of exploring Ha Giang in July. Is this a good time for doing a motor bike tour? Also, do you know if they rent out bikes for two people, with enough room for our travel backpacks? He has a motorbike license, but I do not.
Thanks for this amazing article!
July is both the height of summer and the height of the rainy season – so that means you’ll get a fair amount of hot, humid, sunny weather, but also some tropical downpours. All in all it’s not a bad time to ride this loop.
Two people on one motorbike is fine. You just have to take some time to work out a system of tying your backpack to the back of the bike. If you are renting bikes from Hanoi then your bike will probably already have some kind of rack attached to it for you to strap your bags to. Try Rent a Bike Vietnam (you’ll find a link to them just before this comment section and in the right-hand sidebar of this page). Or you can find bikes to rent in Ha Giang City, usually through your hotel or guesthouse.
I hope this helps,
It’s possible for 2 people and travel backpack. Because you can put big backpacks in my shop. I’ll give them back to you when you return the shop.
July is mid summer, but weather in Dong Van Karst Plateau is cool. So, it’s perfect to discover Dong Van at this time.
Ha Giang Motorbike Rental.
Hi my hero,
We’ve been following your guide for 5000km now and we are on our last loop. Thank you so much for such a well put together guide. It’s been a blast.
We are currently in Yin Minh and we are headed off to Meo Vac tomorrow.
After the North Pole detour, your map shows the blue line with the amazing finish, and a red line which you label as an alternative route (due south and then east).
I am wondering if we should take this red line or follow your stand blue line to get to Meo Voc. Are they 2 parallel roads following the same valley just on different sides, or is the red line the better of the two routes?
Thanks so much,
Hope to hear back soon:)
Aaron and fanny
(Canada and France)
Great to hear you’ve had an awesome adventure and that my guides have been helping you along your way.
If you only take one of those roads to Meo Vac then definitely take the blue line via the Ma Pi Leng Pass – it’s amazing!
I hope you enjoy this final section of your epic road trip.
Thanks so much! Just in time:) we ended up staying in Van Dong tonight so we head out tomorrow morning! (Ps accommodation is expensive here!)
I still can’t thank you enough for how easy you’ve made this trip for us.
We have a 2004 113cc nouvo with 40kg of bags and camping gear.
Wow – 40kg is a lot to be carrying! It sounds like a great adventure – and you still have some excellent roads ahead of you 🙂
Hi, I extended my hagiang road trip into a 5 day adventure n took your suggestions of exploring the mountain roads inside the ‘loop’. Just wanna update on my experiences for future travelers since this site helped me alot in my planning : )
I rented a motorbike from my hotel, hotel huong tra (250k vnd) , on the outskirts of hagiang. Started late that day due to rain in the morning and some delays. Reached yen Minh town in fog, rain and darkness >. < Checked in at Thao Nguyen hotel (300k vnd) , which is dislocated in gaps currently. It's actually located near the 'coffee 388' in yen Minh town in Google maps.
Set out early on 2nd day and visited the hmong king palace and lung Cu tower before reaching Dong van town before dusk. There is a stretch of road enroute to lung Cu tower which is being paved with broken stones but not yet compressed, making it a hell of a ride. The tyres of my Yamaha semi-auto bike bounced around and threatened to skid out ever so often. Take the narrow dirt track at the side whenever you can but above all, go slow! I stayed at lam Tung hotel at Dong van (300k vnd). It is actually on top of a mini mart and you gotta go up the stairs to reach the hotel lobby.
I set off to meovac the next day and returned to dong van via the back roads and TL182. Like the article suggested, I was the only foreigner throughout the whole journey back but unlike the article suggested, the smaller roads is seeing much more traffic than expected. I stood in the awesome silence of the valleys and hardly 10min would go by without a bike or even truck whizzing past. The roads, even the smaller ones, are mostly paved though, so riding them all is pretty smooth.
I set off early this morning and took the back roads and TL176 back to yen Minh town, staying at the previous hotel. By the time I reached town, the day was considerably warmer than it had been since I started out of hagiang 4 days ago.
Tomorrow, I will follow TL176 all the way down to QL34 then make a right turn to hagiang then further onwards to my hotel. This journey will take almost 130km, whereas the guy who rented me my bike said it'll do 80km of mountain roads on a full tank. Asking around, I couldn't confirm if there will be anyone selling gas on the 2nd part of my intended route, but from experience, there are small shops selling gas sporadically all along the roads these 2 days.. so I'm taking a chance this time.
Anyway, to sum everything up, wake up, start early and ride slow. My bike skidded on a corner and threw me sprawling in front of an oncoming truck on the first day, and I wasn't even going fast. I skidded a couple more times in the rain and darkness that night, all the while taking care to keep my speed below 20kmh. So yea, as a guide, my average speed for the rest of my adventure was 10 to 30kmh. I also stopped like, once every 10min, for a plethora of reasons ranging from picture taking to gifting kids sweets to just standing rooted at the side of the road observing the carefree lives of the villagers here.
Okay, guess that's about it. Whew, long post.. Sorry XD
Good to hear that you’re enjoying the Extreme North Loop.
Thanks for sharing your experience on this route. Good luck with the return trip to Ha Giang tomorrow.
Thank you for this guide, Tom. I think your write up + pictures + gmap routes really helped many people plan their trip to hagiang : D
My previous comment needs an edit: Thao Nguyen Hotel at Yen Minh cost 350k vnd per night instead.. Not really worth the price imo. Among other inconveniences, the corridor on my floor was pitch black last night. Nothing was done even after I informed the staff about it.
An update on TL176. There is a long stretch of road which is currently under construction, beginning from the direction of Yen Minh. This makes for a pretty ‘exciting’ ride, especially after the rain turned all the soil into caked mud this morning. While I was focusing on keeping my front wheel straight, my back wheel skidded like nobody’s business. Ever so often, there’s all these giant construction vehicles to avoid as well. However, looking at the pace of construction, I’m guessing shiny new paved roads will replace this stretch of mudslide in a couple of months. The last 7 km of TL176 before the road joins into QL34 is in disrepair and not easy to traverse too. This potholed road doesn’t improve even after it turns into the QL34. There are no construction efforts in evidence here, so this road might remain as it is for awhile.
On a brighter note, I came across a weekend market situated directly along the road itself, fully in the way of anyone who is rushing to get someplace fast XD I am not that person today, so I parked my bike and explored the market by foot. It was a totally local affair and though my presence invited some curious stares, I was, for the most part, blissfully ignored to my own devices, which include snapping lotsa pics and trying the many street food there. I never caught a name for the market but it’s located around a place called UB xã Du Già in Google maps. My cell didn’t manage to get a reception there so be sure to star it before you roll out!
Thanks for the updates on the roads TL176 and QL34.
Enjoy the rest of your trip,
This page has been like my Bible! Thank you so much for writing it! I’m currently in Meo Vac after driving through some of the most insane scenery I’ve ever seen! There seem to be a lot more hotels dotted around Dong Van now, and there’s one in Meo Vac called Hoa Cuong, for people who are looking for where to stay 🙂
I’ve been lucky with the weather too, some rain when left Ha Giang, some fog, but blue skies and sunshine today!
That’s great. Good to know you’re enjoying your road trip, and thanks for the updates 🙂
An wonderful post in an amazing blog! Enjoyed reading every word of it.
I’m planning to visit north Vietnam for two weeks with my 7 years old daughter. This is not our first time in Vietnam (third actually) but first in the north.
Do you think that Ha Giang in mid January is possible? How much time is it from Hanoi? Should we take a guide?
Cheers and keep up the great work 🙂
It’s certainly possible to travel this loop in January. But it will be cold. It might be dry and clear some days, but it may also be misty and damp other days. However, several readers have emailed to say they’ve had pretty good conditions in the far north at this time of year.
From Hanoi to Ha Giang is either a full day or night in a sleeper bus (about 8 hours), or by motorbike. But it’s worth it. Once you’re in Ha Giang you don’t need a guide to follow the route that I’ve written up in the guide above, unless of course you want one.
I hope this helps,
Do you have any thoughts on doing this during the Tet holiday? I want to delay starting to let the weather warm up, but that pushes me into February. Would hotels and restaurants still be open in off the beaten path places like this?
That’s a good question!
I would imagine that on the actual eve and day of Tet (which I think is the 7/8 of Feb this year) that many of the hotels etc might be closed. However, the day after Tet is when the whole country goes travelling, so I would expect businesses in Ha Giang to reopen for that, as many Vietnamese people might consider travelling to Ha Giang after Tet.
But this is only a guess. As for weather, I expect it’ll still be pretty cold, but perhaps you’ll get lucky with the rain. Some readers write to me saying they had good (if cold) weather in the far north during the winter months.
I hope this helps,
I think It is very helpful for people, who want to discover Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark.
Welcome to Hà Giang and enjoid!
Yes. Thanks, Mr Dong.
Really enjoying your site and updates! Say, earlier up this page Alan and you were talking about a new hotel in Dong Van that was being built. Do you happen to know what the name of it will be and if it’s finished now? Much thanks in advance.
No, I don’t know the name of the new hotel. However, the Lam Tung Hotel in Dong Van, which I mention in Section 2 of this guide, is very good.
Tom, there are 5 of us that are seriously considering returning and from your experience what would be the best time to visit? Vung Ro Bay would be our main area to visit. Thank you for any assistance.
Well, Vietnam has a very complex climate. Take a look at my Weather Guide.
Vung Ro Bay should be nice most of the year. During the winter months (Dec-Feb) it’s on the cusp of the changing winds so it can get a little wet and cold, so perhaps it’s best to avoid that time of year. Spring and summer would be ideal.
Great blog, very informative and well-written. Me and my friend are in Ha Giang at the moment and we’re going to start the Extreme North Loop tomorrow. I have a question though. We wanted to do the loop finishing in Bao Loc (so not back to Ha Giang) and then continue to Cao Bang city. We wanted to do that in 3 days. We’re quite experienced drivers, willing to get up early and start driving from the break of dawn. My question is, when we do the North Loop, but don’t stay overnight in the places you recommended (because we want to make a bit more kilometers every day), is it still doable to find guesthouses (Nha nghi) or hotels? For example in very small towns or besides the road?
Cheers mate! Best regards
Well, yes you might have a bit of trouble finding nhà nghỉ in the extreme north unless you stay at Tam Son, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Bao Lam or Bao Lac. However, you’re never far from people and houses/huts on this route, so in theory if you just want to keep driving until dusk then you can knock on someone’s door and see if they’ll put you up for the night. But I wouldn’t rely on this, it’s much better to use this option as a last resort, and aim to end your day at one of the small towns I mentioned above.
If you continue from Bao Lac to Cao Bang, can you please let me know the current condition of the Road 24 from Bao Lac to Nguyen Binh, as it looked like they were about to start work on it last time I was there.
Thanks, and I hope this helps,
Due to some mechanical problems, we ended up staying in Dong Van and Bao Lac. So we didn’t have to knock on anyone’s door after all.
The road from from Bao Lac to Cao Bang was amazing scenery wise. I misread your comment and thought you referred to the quality of this entire road between Bao Lac and Cao Bang, but you only meant the road between Bao Lac and Nguyen Binh. The road between Nguyen Binh and Coa Bang was absolutely magnificent, so smooth, just pure enjoyment driving that. The road between Bao Lac and Nguyen Binh was between average and good. There were some rocky parts, some potholes here and there, altered with some really smooth bits. Definitely not as many bad parts as the road from Ha Giang to Dong Van. But after that last drive, the thing that stuck with me the most was the perfect state of the road between Nguyen Binh and Cao Bang.
Thanks for your quick response and your more than useful blogpost. We enjoyed the Extreme North Loop very much, it’s absolutely stunning and we can do nothing but recommend it! If you have the time, just carry on and make your way to Cao Bang. Scenery wise a bit different from the preceding 250k (some vast valleys), but mainly just more magical scenery and captivating landscapes. You can’t go wrong 😉
Thanks for sharing your experience on this route.
Yes, the road between Nguyen Binh and Cao Bang is marvellously smooth and new! 🙂
Last I rode it, the pass from Tin Tuc to Nguyen Binh was deteriorating on one side and under reconstruction on the other side, but still passable.
I’m glad you enjoyed the ride.
My brother and I started our loop in Hanoi, slowly made our way into Sapa from the west side and are now in Ha Giang. We would like to complete the loop, through Bao Lac and Ba Be Park then make our way back to Hanoi.
What roads do you recommend to take to get back to Hanoi? Are there any towns we should stay in along the way?
Follow the route on this page and then head along QL34 from Bao Lac and turn off onto TL212 for Ba Be (check the last paragraph on this page). From Ba Be there’s a new road from the southeastern tip of the lake that eventually ends up in Bac Kan, which is very scenic. Then you can take Highway 3 back to Hanoi. Or from Ba Be you could take 279 or 258 towards Na Phac or Phu Thong and then cut across to Lang Son on backroads, before joining Highway 1 back to Hanoi. For more about that trip take a look at the map and relevant sections of this guide.
I hope this helps,
that helps a lot. Thank you for putting together all of these guides for riding Vietnam. Because of you we have had an amazing adventure through Northern Vietnam that I feel, had we not had your blog to go by, we would not have struck out on in the first place.
That’s great to hear. That’s why I set out to write this blog 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your time in Vietnam.
Do you still have the beloved Yamaha Nouvo?
Does it handle Ma Pi Leng pass very well?
I am thinking of getting one to travel all over Vietnam. I am wandering how does the fully automatic bike like the Nouvo behave on the 10% up hill turns of the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
Thanks and have a wonderful day.
Yes, I still have my Yamaha Nouvo, and yes it can easily handle the Ma Pi Leng Pass. If you are staying on paved roads – no matter how steep they are – then a Nouvo is everything you need. Some people prefer semi-automatics, such as Honda Waves, because they like the freedom to switch between gears. But, I’ve been everywhere on my Nouvo and it’s fine.
What a fantastic blog!
I have a question: If you were planning on doing the loop in 2 days, where would you suggest staying?
We hope to do it in 3 but we are a little pushed for time.
If two days, you could stay in Dong Van town the first night and then continue to Meo Vac and complete the loop back to Ha Giang on that day (make sure you get an early start on both days). However, you might be better just playing it by ear: see what time it is by the time you get to Dong Van, and see what the weather’s like too – if it’s 4pm and the sun is out, then definitely push on to Meo Vac, because it’s a spectacular ride and you don’t want to pass up the chance of seeing it in good weather 🙂
I hope you enjoy the loop.
Hi tom, thanks for a great article! Really makes me want to get up onto that road now! Earlier in your comments you were saying that September and October are the best times to go, I’ve been teaching in ha Giang for a week and it’s been very heavy rain, but it usually clears up during the day. Would you suggest doing the extreme loop in this weather? I haven’t much experience riding a motorbike, 4days, I feel confident enough but do you think this is enough experience for this road?
Thanks again, this article has been really useful.
That’s interesting to know about the weather: of course weather in Vietnam, especially the northern mountains, is notoriously unpredictable. I was there last September/October and it was good weather most of the time. Another great time to do the loop in spring – around March/April.
I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to ride the Ha Giang Loop with the experience you have. Obviously you should be extremely careful on all the hairpin roads, especially if the surface is wet. You never really know how the weather is going to turn out – perhaps wait for a clear morning at least 🙂
What are you teaching in Ha Giang? If you have the time or inclination perhaps you’d want to try this breakfast kitchen in Ha Giang – old style place run by a nice family.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the quick reply! We’ll go and check out the breakfast kitchen, that sounds good! I’m here teaching English with my girlfriend, mostly grammar and pronunciation in schools around the area for v4d.
The only thing that would concern me is the hairpins. I think we’ll give at least part of the route a go anyway, we’ve been told there are some nice weaving villages near Tam Son.
Also not strictly on topic but this is another project we’re working on here. http://Www.thecountrythatshook.com
Thanks. That looks like an interesting and good cause/project.
Yes, Tam Son’s easy to reach and very scenic and interesting. But you’ll find it hard to avoid hairpin bends in that part of Vietnam 🙂 Don’t worry, there’s very little traffic on those roads.
I hope you enjoy it,
I would like to make a larger loop by after leaving Meo Vac I will take the route along Nho Que river
via Bao Lam, Coc Lung back to Ha Giang. Is there any interesting places on the that southern route that you have known of or just go to TL 182 back to Yen Minh and to Ha Giang.
Yes, the southern route along the Gam River (I think the Gam and Nho rivers converge at Bao Lam) is also very scenic. The river is beautiful. In my opinion it depends what landscape you prefer: the lower Gam River road (34) is prettier, but the upper road (182) is more dramatic.
I hope this helps,
I will make the choice this Wednesday . I like both rivers and mountains even better when they get along together.
I just have heard that there were landslides at several places between Dong Van and Meo Vac. I hope they will be clear when I arrived.
Thanks for your great article, Tom.
@ Hai: Could you please share with me the route you chose? I also want to see both rivers and mountains getting along together 🙂
Thanks, Vy. I hope you enjoy the ride 🙂
Hà Giang Motorbike Rental
Mr Đồng – Motorbike for rent!
Adress: 209A, Nguyễn Trãi Street, Hà Giang city.
Mobile: 01298 615 999 – 0981 515 638
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Hi Mr Dong,
Thanks, I’m sure my readers will find that information useful.
I will very happy when see you and your readers in Ha Giang.
Have a nice day!
Thanks for your previous reply to my question. I have another question. There are primarily three routes from Dong Van to Meo Vac. While the route via Ma Pi Leng pass is dramatic, I am wondering if either of routes TL 182 and TL217 or just TL 182 might be less ‘dramatic’. I suffer from a bit of acrophobia 🙂 This trip is being done via 7-passenger Innova van. Thanks.
Well, 182 is also scenic, but if you take that road from Dong Van to Meo Vac you would have to double back on yourself to go back to the Yen Minh crossroads from Dong Van and get on the lower 182 to Meo Vac. Also, if you’ve already made it to Dong Van in your Innova with your acrophobia you will have been on plenty of high winding roads already – the Ma Pi Leng Pass is just another 15km or so to Meo Vac.
The alternative routes are fine, but they all involve a certain amount of high roads, so you may as well take the Ma Pi Leng Pass from Dong Van to Meo Vac.
I would like to ask if it is possible to do this loop with a scooter (50cc) or is it a very bad idea? My issue is I only have a licence for driving a car, so I am not allowed to ride anything bigger.
Many thanks in advance!
I suppose you could do it on a 50cc but it’s very mountainous and steep so it would be quite a strain on the engine. Most bikes here are around 115cc. But I really don’t think your license issues will be a problem in Vietnam. At worst, if you get stopped by the police, you’ll probably just have to pay a $10 fine and then they’ll let you carry on. Contact Flamingo Travel or Rent a Bike Vietnam for more information about licenses and renting a suitable bike. But in general, I think you’ll be fine riding a 115cc bike in Vietnam.
Sorry if I missed it, but I am interested to know if there is now a good road completed from Bac Ha – Xin Man – Hoang Su Phi. I understood this road is now completed but not sure. If so, it saves quite a bit of travel time. Regards,
Please see the above comments. According to my readers the road from Bac Ha to Xin Man is now complete. The road from Xin Man to Hoang Su Phi was fine when I last rode it (about 9 months ago).
If you find different conditions while you’re on the road, please leave a comment here so that other people can benefit from your experience.
Enjoy your trip,
Hey again, Tom,
and thanks again for this great post.
A few more questions if i may…
1. from Bao Lac, you simply road the shortest way back to Ha Giang ?
2. how about Cao Bang ? read some nice things about this place, but visiting it, means to ride further east.
3. this one actually is kind of repeating the last message but it is more focused on 2 areas:
I. The area around Lao Cai: any recommended routs around Lao Cai ? i read there are some nice villages
besides Sapa, like Coc Pai, Bac Ha, Muong Khuong up in the very north…
II. The area west to Hanoi: Mai Chau, Moc Chau, Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Son Ho, Lai Chua – how do you
recommend to visit this area ? loop from Hanoi maybe ? I’m confused 🙁
thanks again for your time and sharing 🙂
If you are looking for mountain villages, ethnic minorities and not too many tourists then the northern provinces are good.
Ha Giang is full of this kind of thing. If you want to continue from Bao Lac to Cao Bang province you can do this easily by simply driving east on Road 34, as I mention at the end of this guide. Cao Bang is a very nice province, to find out more about it read my guide to the northeast here.
Bac Ha market is famous for it’s colour, but it is very touristy – read more about it here. The same is true of Sapa – very nice but very touristy. Muong Khuong is not touristy and an interesting, remote place. Read more about that area in this guide.
Going my motorbike is the easiest way to see this part of Vietnam.
I suggest that you browse my guides to the north here, and then when you have more of an idea of where you want to go, email me for more detailed information.
Wow, what a great piece of information, Tom.
Very detailed and very helping, really great report.
I’m a photographer and my thing 🙂 is simple villages, authentic places, cultural life, tribes, colorful costumes, markets and fishermen villages :), anything that is not a touristic attraction, you know…:)
I’m planning a trip to north Vietnam and wonder, can you recommend of places that i might like in Vietnam?
Even better if i can rent a bike and do it on 2 wheels 🙂
Thanks for all the helpful information. Your web site is awesome!
I wondered if it is possible to do half a loop, starting from Bao Lac. We will come from Hanoi via Ba be lake and we will continue towards the Chinese border (Cao Lai) after that. So, it would be more practical not to do the whole loop.
Do you think it is possible to rent a motorbike or even a car with driver in Bao Lac to ride/drive through Meo Vac, Dong Van, Yen Minh, Tam Son and then stop in Ha Giang? I read on the Internet that Bao Lac is not as developped as other cities in Vietnam and that it won’t be easy…
Many thanks in advance for your help.
Yes, Bao Lac is a very small place indeed, and there’s hardly any tourist infrastructure there at all. However, there are a few hotels – especially around the market – that might be able to arrange a car and driver to take you to Ha Giang via Meo Vac and Dong Van. But you will probably have to arrange this when you are there.
I hope you manage to do it,
Many thanks, Tom!
We will finally go to Ha Giang due to the time left before we must cross the Chinese border… (Oops…) and make the loop from there. Easier to organize and closer to the border. But, thanks again for having taken the time to answer and once again for the precious info you provide through your web site.
Great info.I am interested in the loop but do you know what I would pay for a local to do the trip as driver and me as passenger..cost per day..
I’m not sure. I would imagine something like $20 a day, but that’s just a guess. You could probably organize it through a hotel in Ha Giang, but I would contact a bike rental/tour agency in Hanoi: try Flamingo Travel and Rent a Bike Hanoi. They should be able to help you.
Tom your blog is so well done I feel as though I have just traveled through some of the most splendid areas of Vietnem. I have now so many places I would like to travel to and see the next time I am Vietnam to visit Bill in Ho chi Minh City. I would love to plan a trip to Ha Giang.
Thanks for this well done post!
Louise in Seattle, Wa
I’m sure a trip to Ha Giang next time you’re here to see Bill can be quite easily organized. Just remember that spring or late summer is the best time for Ha Giang as it can be cold, misty, and raining during winter.
You can email me whenever you start making travel plans.
Flawless blog post! We just completed the loop in about three and a half days on a two-person motorbike. I was floored by how decent the roads were. Sure, there were a a few rough spots, but otherwise all went very well. In our opinion, the route between Dong Van and Meo Vac was the most impressive so be sure to leave enough time for photos/taking it all in. Thanks for everything. We’ll certainly be using your website for the remainder of our trip through Vietnam! P.s. during the trip be prepared to drink plenty of corn wine. The locals love to invite you to their dinner table. 🙂
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the route – it is spectacular. And yes, beware of the local liquor 🙂
Feel free to contact me if you need any advice on the rest of your trip.
My boyfriend and I would like to make this trip at the end of the month. Do you think it is ok if we take a motobike for 2?
If we take a night bus to go fromage hanoi to ha giang, car we do the trip in 4 days?
Thanks for your help