This is the first post on Vietnam that we are doing and I’m very excited about it. I went to Vietnam at a point where I really needed a break. While I feel like I’m constantly in need of a different kind of experience, this was almost dire. The country rewarded me with some of the most incredible views I’ve seen in my life, my trust in the Universe was rejuvenated, I experienced some of the rawest emotions ever, met incredible people, had amazing food… everyone should visit Vietnam at least once in their life.
That’s Vietnam. The Ha Giang loop is a miracle. If you are into motor bikes, you really need to go to northern Vietnam and complete the loop. If you still don’t have the confidence to ride a bike by yourself, you can also do it and have lots of fun while at it. Being on a motor bike is the best way to explore Vietnam. One may easily get an easy rider who safely gets you from one place to the other.
The Ha Giang loop remains relatively unexplored, as compared to other areas in Vietnam. If you’re a hidden-gem kind of person I promise you will like this one. A good friend recommended this and it remains one of the best decisions I’ve made on the road.
As a prerequisite, most nationalities can get the Vietnamese visa online, Kenyans included. There are different sites. I used https://www.vietnam-immigration.net/. Choose the kind of visa you want, pay, then wait for confirmation on your email. Print the forms out and present that at the airport. There is an additional $25 needed on the ground. That, and two passport photos. The process was pretty seamless, especially given I had just come from Hong Kong and Macau.
Getting to Ha Giang
Ha Giang is around 307 kms from Hanoi, equivalent to a 6-7 hour bus ride. There are a number of bus companies plying the route. Do not go with the sleeper bus unless it’s the only option you have. The shuttles are cheaper, faster, and more comfortable.
You could take as much time as you like on the loop, but most guys do it in 4 days. I did it the same way cuz: 1. Tet was approaching and everything was literally going to be shut down and 2. My time in the country was almost coming to an end. Given my traveling style, it would have been many more days but I’m thankful for the days I got.
Explore Ha Giang town as you acclimatize
Ha Giang is a lovely town. I stayed at a lovely Airbnb and the host took me hiking for a view of the town. It was breath-taking and would recommend that everyone does it before starting off on the loop. My amazing host also organized a bike for me. There are many shops where one could get functioning motor bikes. Be careful to get one with a powerful engine cuz the roads on the loop could get tricky. Have some cash on you even though there are ATMs along the loop.
What should you carry?
- Most accommodation places will allow you to leave your huge bag with them so just take the things you’ll need for the days you’ll be on the loop.
- Swimming costumes for the waterfall(s).
- A raincoat and a cover for your bag
- Nice hiking shoes
- Open shoes (sandals)
- An offline map cuz the internet connection is shaky
There are a number of tribes found in the Ha Giang province, most of them minorities. Their brightly colored garments, beaming smiles, and their short, yet calculated steps define the mountain people. They will often gaze, especially at the infrequent black visitor with weird hair. Other than that, they are generally friendly. We had dinner and happy water at all the homestays we stayed at. Every evening was a big party, especially since I was there during Tet season.
Anytime between April and October is a great time to do the Ha Giang loop as the roads are dry, hence safe for riding and driving.
Here follows an ideal route for the Ha Giang Loop. I’ll give two outlines: one to use if you have 5 days and the other one if you’re working with 4 like I was. There are different routes depending on how many days one has and your interests. Find the Ha Giang location here.
Here are some pictures to inspire you (they are from different parts of the loop, in no particular order)
For those with 4 days, here goes:
Day 1 on the Ha Giang Loop: Ha Giang to Yen Minh
Day 2 on the Ha Giang loop: Yen Minh to Dong Van
I’m sure you’ve heard from some gutsy travellers that one can access China (illegally) from North Vietnam? This route gives you that photo op. I didn’t do it for obvious reasons.
Day 3 on the Ha Giang loop: Dong Van to Du Gia
This was my best day. You get to ride through the scenic Ma Pi Leng pass. I don’t think I will ever be able to put what I saw in words. Everywhere you turn there’s some dramatic landscape or a waterscape. The ragged rocks were the most endearing I’ve ever seen, almost like they’re trying to send a message. I mean, they did cuz hey, regardless of how broken you are, you can choose to be beautiful.
Day 4 on the Ha Giang loop: Du Gia back to Ha Giang
Scenes on the way back to Ha Giang
Even beautiful things end.
If you’re blessed with 5 days, here we go:
Day 1 on the Ha Giang Loop: Ha Giang to Quan Ba – 65 kilometres
You’ll get to Quan Ba through the amazing BAC Sum pass, also known as Heaven’s Gate.
Day 2 on the Ha Giang Loop: Quan Ba to Yen Minh – 78 kilometres
Pro tip: Be on the lookout for the Yen Minh Pine forest.
Day 3 on the Ha Giang Loop: Yen Minh to Lung Cu to Dong Van – 115 kilometres
Attempt the treacherous ride across the Sung La Valleys. The views are incredibly rewarding. However, this should only be attempted by experienced riders.
Day 4 on the Ha Giang Loop: Dong Van to Du Gia – 130 kilometres
Day 5 on the Ha Giang Loop: Du Gia to Ha Giang – 81 kilometres
This would probably be the best day to go see the waterfall.
4 and 5 days on the Ha Giang loop are the most popular but you could take all the time you want exploring.
Now, the thing with some of these places is that you barely know what to expect. Nature is crazy, the kind of crazy I like. Give her a chance to awe you in her infinite splendour. If you have more days, definitely do it. Would I go back? Totally! This time I’d probably do a month there.
Cheers to splendour!