Before I even begin, if you're visiting this page wondering whether or not you should give motorbiking through the Ha Giang Loop during your trip to Vietnam a go - the answer is a resounding YES from me!
Motorbiking through the Ha Giang Loop was by far my most memorable experience in Vietnam, and arguably my entire time in all of Southeast Asia.
Whether you feel comfortable renting and riding a motorbike yourself, hopping on the back of the motorbike of a trusted friend, or even hiring a seasoned local tour guide to take you around the Ha Giang Loop (I don't know exact details on this but I have heard it can be arranged), those who take the plunge of exploring Vietnam's extreme north will be greatly rewarded with some of the most breathtaking mountainous views imaginable.
For my Ha Giang Loop experience, I was not driving the motorbike myself, but allowing my travel companion to tote me around through the twists and turns. So for those of you who are considering riding two people on one motorbike - it is totally possible. While it's not necessarily the safest, if you're gonna do two-on-one though, get a 125cc motorbike because the twists and turns can get intense. I suppose there's also the potential added bonus of splitting the cost of the motorbike rental, so if you aren't comfortable driving but have a trusty partner who's willing to let you ride on the back of their motorbike, it's certainly doable.
So, need more convincing - and some knowledge - before heading along the Ha Giang Loop? Keep on reading for helpful tips on how to do the Ha Giang Loop, including how to get to Ha Giang, how to rent a motorbike, and where to stop and stay along your way!
What is the Ha Giang Loop?
The Ha Giang Loop is - you guessed it - a motorbike loop around Ha Giang, Vietnam's northernmost province bordering China. The time to complete the loop is anywhere from 2-4 days - I recommend at least four days as to not rush the experience and be able to soak in all the sights. I can't even imagine doing the loop in anything less than 4 days, but I have heard it rushed in 2 days (such a shame, in my opinion).
If you dare to navigate a motorbike through steep, winding cliffs and rocky roads, you will be greatly rewarded with some of the most breathtaking, awe-inspiring mountain views in Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia, including my personal favorite, the Ma Pi Leng Pass!
The Ha Giang Province is occupied primarily by ethnic minority groups, giving travelers the opportunity to witness the everyday working lives of diverse northern Vietnamese people as they go about their daily lives, often in ethnic garb as you pass through their villages. You will see women in colorful garments carrying bundles of sticks in baskets, children playing (and yes, sometimes working) the streets and men hard at work building new structures. As a westerner, it is incredibly humbling to see how hard these people work every single day as a community.
After a long day of riding, at each stop you will find cozy homestays and hostels to rest your head at night, and often have the opportunity to enjoy an authentic and always quite generous family-style meal.
Although the Ha Giang Loop has gained some mild popularity with backpackers, it is still virtually untouched by the rampant tourism found elsewhere in Southeast Asia. As such, it makes an excellent, far-less-touristy alternative to Sapa, the region of Vietnam famous for its rice terraces and gorgeous mountain views.
Note: I have heard some warnings against purchasing goods or paying children in exchange for photographs, as this encourages exploitation. Use your discretion. I noticed many children conveniently standing along popular vantage points or roads, likely instructed to be there to receive money in exchange for photographs. For more information on what to avoid doing while in Ha Giang, check out this article from north-vietnam.com.
Getting to Ha Giang
Arranging to do the Ha Giang Loop is a fairly simple process from Hanoi, with the bus journey taking between 5-6 hours.
PRO-TIP: Unless you're really pressed for time, avoid the sleeper buses and opt for the far more comfy VIP van instead.
We booked a "sleeper" night bus to Ha Giang through our hostel, although we do suspect we got a bit ripped off - over $20USD on the way there for a large bus with seats that did not recline all the way back and left my partner incredibly uncomfortable due to his larger stature. That's hardly a sleeper bus in my eyes!
They did arrange for us to stay on the bus for a few hours longer to sleep after arrival since we arrived around 3:30-4am, which I did appreciate. However, I still recommend the smaller VIP van. That is what we did on the way back and it was a much more comfortable experience for a slightly cheaper price!
Renting a Motorbike
Once you've arrived in Ha Giang, it is very easy to find motorbikes for rent. However, the number of places you can rent from may be a bit overwhelming. My partner and I rented from Anh Anh Motel / Mr Bay Motorbike Rental after reading a number of positive reviews online and we were incredibly satisfied with the rental experience. We also ended up staying there overnight after we completed the loop, and the rooms were satisfactory!
The motorbike we ended up with was a 125cc motorbike for 150k VND per day, including two helmets and a paper map outlining the Ha Giang Loop route and where we should stop along the way. They also allow you to store your luggage at the motel, including a locker you can store any important valuables in.
While the number of stops you will make depend on the amount of time in which you wish to accomplish the loop. I highly recommend taking at least four full days to complete the journey as to be able to soak in the beauty and not rush (not to mention, rushing too quickly through these roads can be dangerous).
Here is a brief outline of the stops we made along our journey.
Day One: Ha Giang to Yen Minh
Ha Giang, the capitol city of the province, is where one begins and ends the journey along the Ha Giang Loop. After picking up a motorbike (see above for advice on renting a bike!), set off towards Yenh Min. After a day of getting acclimated to our motorbike and enjoying a nice ride, we stopped for the evening in Yen Minh, a small town that offers a number of homestay options.
That night, we ended up staying at Ha Anh Homestay, where we enjoyed a family-style dinner (a northern Vietnamese homestay dinner typically consists of some type of meat, fried spring rolls, veggies and white rice), cold beer and a decent place to rest our head for the evening.
The only downside was we were the only two staying there aside from another couple, and we were hoping to make some travel companions to head out with the next day! We had originally meant to stay at Tom Homestay next door but it was difficult to get to at the time due to road construction. We heard from other travelers along the route that Tom Homestay is where they stayed and it was similarly nice to Ha Anh Homestay, so I recommend either.
Day Two: Yen Minh to Dong Van
On this next leg of the adventure, we had the opportunity not only to encounter more gorgeous views, but to head all the way north to the Vietnam-China border (via a small detour) before making our way to the city of Dong Van for the night.
If you're feeling gutsy, you can quickly cross over (illegally, shh!) into China for a brief photo op. It may sound wild or even a bit reckless, but to the left of the poorly-kempt barbed wire fence is a well-defined footpath to cross the border, so you're far from the only tourist taking the leap. The border in and of itself is nothing to write home about, but it's not every day you get to say you had one fit in Vietnam and another in China.
Before nightfall, after a full day of riding through small villages, the neon lights of a city emerged below us in the distance. This city was Dong Van, and it is the closest thing to a metropolis one will find along the Ha Giang Loop.
In Dong Van, we stayed at Xuan Thu Guesthouse (about $10USD for a private double room) and while it was nothing to write home for, the room perfectly fine for the two of us. Throughout the town, there are a number of cafes and restaurants to enjoy that night or the following morning before making my personal favorite leg of the journey - through the Ma Pi Leng Pass!
Day Three: Dong Van to Du Gia (via Ma Pi Leng Pass)
As I said, get ready for the best part of the journey and undeniably some of the most incredible views in Vietnam (and perhaps all of Southeast Asia!) on the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
At an elevation of 1500 meters, The Ma Pi Leng Pass is a high mountain pass offering views of a deep valley and turquoise waters below.
In all honesty, I'm struggling to put the beauty of the Ma Pi Leng Pass into words.
I was already impressed by the beautiful scenery I saw along the Ha Giang Loop already, but as we looped around this mountain pass I was absolutely mindblown at how jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly perfect scenery offered to us as we zipped through the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
It made every heart-stopping sharp curve on the motorbike 100% worth it.
After a day of having your breath taken away, head to the cozy village of Du Gia and make friends at Du Gia Backpackers Hostel. The family dinner, complete with plenty of "happy water" (aka rice wine - be careful, this stuff is lethal) makes it a great last night before making it full circle back to Ha Giang.
Day Four: Back to Ha Giang
I have to be honest here and say that heading back to Ha Giang from Du Gia was a bit fuzzy. My travel partner and I imbibed a bit too much "happy water" and woke up feeling dizzy and less than ready to roll. However, after a couple of bottles of water, a big hostel breakfast and a few cups of strong Vietnamese coffee, we managed to hit the road.
What I do remember is that the roads on the way back to Ha Giang suck. Not that they're any less scenic than the rest of Ha Giang (although perhaps we were a bit jaded after already having seen the most scenic road ever, Ma Pi Leng Pass) - it's just that much of the road was barely passable as a road and consisted more of dirt and jagged rocks with the occasional pavement sprinkled in. Not all of the way back was like this, but be prepared as you leave Du Gia for some rough terrain ahead.
We managed to make it back to Ha Giang right as the sun was setting, and we were exhausted, retiring back to Anh Anh Motel for the night before heading to Hanoi the following morning.