How to Tackle the Ha Giang Loop (Without a Guide)

When we first arrived in Ha Giang, the ‘Ha Giang Loop’ was completely unknown to us. As soon as we started exploring the city however, we realised that it was all people talked about; easily the main attraction of the province. We then took it upon ourselves to do a bit of research…

Everything we saw on the internet outlined an ‘extreme motorbike tour’ (honestly the word extreme is on every single blog) Ryan had only driven a scooter for two weeks in Bali so initially, we thought the Ha Giang loop was probably out of the question. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to join up with a tour, or sensibly avoid the whole thing.

Sure enough, within the week we were geared up and ready to go. Politely ignoring all advice and the rainy weather forecast, for some reason, we figured it’d probably be fine. I can fully disclose now that we neither fell off OR got arrested for not having the correct license! This seems to be a rarity for the loop, so we felt pretty smug after it all. However, at times the roads did get pretty rough and it’s always good to know what you’re getting yourself into. So, here’s a guide for the utterly clueless about how to tackle the Ha Giang Loop in four days.

Renting a motorbike in Ha Giang

Renting a Motorbike

As soon as you arrive in Ha Giang you will notice that the city is overrun with motorbike rentals. It’s easy to get all the equipment you could possibly need (make sure you have good gloves and layers because it gets pretty chilly right up north) but this bike is going to go through a lot with you so choose your rental wisely.

We rented a bike from Mr Bẩy Motor Bike Rental, a small shop right at the entrance of the city. The service was excellent: we were able to store all of our larger bags securely there while we were away, we were provided with a map and advice on how to break up our journey, we also stayed there for one night when we got back- a good shower and a comfy bed was very much needed!

Although we were initially dubious about going for an automatic bike, we decided that now was probably not the time to learn to ride manual. The bike we got was a 135cc Automatic Honda Nuovo, and it was such a trusty steed! It got us up even the steepest, most winding roads and fared well over the rough rocky bits. The Loop is definitely doable without needed to drive a manual. There was also two of us on one bike: completely fine.

We hopped on the bike naively and a bit nervously, and headed for the hills… 

Day one of Ha Giang Loop

Day One

The first day takes you through Ha Giang city then straight into the hills. We followed the river which somehow turns from a muddy grey to a bright turquoise as soon as you get away from the bustling town. Instantly thrust into nature, it is obvious instantly that there is some beautiful scenery in store.

The roads weren’t too bad on day one. Mostly fine other than a few building sites as you drive out of Ha Giang. For small stretches, the road is replaced with rocky patches. As long as you approach them slowly they won’t be a problem.

The scenic highlight of day one was the Quan Ba Pass; an amazing view of rice terraces and rolling hills as far as the eye can see.

We stopped in a town called Tam Son (about an hour and a half into our journey) for lunch which was a perfect place to pause and refuel (both us and the bike). The town is full of little eateries, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. After Tam Son, it took another hour and a half to get to Yen Minh which is where we spent our first night.

There is no need to book ahead at all for this journey. Each town is full of hostels and Homestays, so it’s very easy to just show up somewhere and get a bed for the night and a tasty dinner. In Yen Minh, we stayed at 2A Homestay and Coffee. This place was welcoming and comfortable and the evening meal was delicious. We enjoyed it with the family who lived there as well as fellow travellers conquering the Loop.

Ha Giang Loop Day Two

Day Two

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we were on the road again. We had heard that day two is notoriously difficult; the day which you’re most likely to crash. I’m not sure if this is as much down to the roads as unfounded post-day-one-over-confidence. Either way, we approached day two with a ‘slow and steady’ mentality.

As soon as you get out of Yen Minh the twists and turns begin. Climbing straight up to the mountains, expect steep hairpin bends. The steepest incline degree I saw any sign for was 10%, so as long as your bike can handle that you should be fine.

On day two our aim was to reach Dong Van to spend the night. If you head straight there it can be quite a short and undemanding day. Most people however, choose to make a slight detour up to Lung Cu, a town in the very North where you can walk up to an unorthodox Chinese border crossing and see the iconic Lung Cu flag pole.

It was incredible to be able to look over at the Chinese mountains, however, this part of the journey was where it all got a bit ridiculous. There is only one road in and out of Lung Cu and if it so happens that the road is closed because of roadworks my best advice would be to turn around… We didn’t have this advice of course so (naturally) ended up following a local around a ‘shortcut’ to get to the town. This was easily the most insane road we tackled (‘road’ is a stretch). Full of rocks, we were pretty much just driving straight through a forest which also, wonderfully, happened to be on the edge of a steep drop. The worst part? Once we got to Lung Cu we realised there was only one way out again…

Although it was a stressful moment at the time, we can look back and laugh at how crazy the road was. On our return journey we also somehow got in the middle of a stranded biker crew so at least we had some company for the madness (even if we were completely out of place on our little scooter).

Drama over, we finally arrived at Dong Van where we checked into a little homestay (one of many in the centre of town).

 Ma Pi Leng Pass

Day Three

Day three of the Han Giang Loop is particularly breath-taking. Soon after leaving Dong Van we drove through the Ma Pi Leng Pass which was simply incredible. The views over the valley feature the turquoise Nho Que river: an essential stop for an obligatory photo shoot.

After the pass, we stopped at Meo Vac for lunch and coffee, then got back on the road heading for Du Gia. The roads on this stretch of the journey were full of potholes, especially when approaching a small town, but the journey went pretty smoothly otherwise.

After getting settled in our Du Gia homestay (BB homestay) we headed out on a walk to see the Du Gia waterfall. The walk took us around one hour, but the view of the waterfall made it all worth it.

Du Gia was my favourite stop overall. The village was tiny and made you feel like you’d truly reached the middle of nowhere. The people at the homestay were so welcoming and the overall atmosphere of the place was so friendly. As an added bonus, we were also there for a Saturday market, so the streets were lively and bustling.

 Roads on the Ha Giang Loop

Day Four

Up to this point in the journey, we had been so lucky with the weather. Of course, our luck had to run out at some point. We left Du Gia in the rain and as soon as we climbed higher into the mountains we were fully engulfed by clouds. As if the loop hadn’t been enough of a challenge we now couldn’t see much more than a metre in front of the bike. I was very thankful that we’d seen such amazing views during the other days, or else day four would have been disappointing!

The extra challenge kept us well entertained though and, thankfully, didn’t throw us off. We took the road back up north back towards Tam Son. This part of the road was probably in the worst condition. Whole patches between Du Gia and Tam Son just turned completely into rocky trails which were quite a challenge.

Between rain, fog and poor road conditions, the last day really tested us. But when we reached Tam Son, all we had to do was to get back to Ha Giang, a road which we’d already tackled on day one.

We arrived back at Mr. Bẩy’s soaking and cold but exhilarated and SO happy we’d decided to take on The Loop. The journey definitely had its difficult moments, but the views easily made it all worth it. I am also glad we decided to do it solo, as the roads in the North were so quiet; the moments when it was just the two of us, looking out over the colossal mountains felt surreal and the landscape was honestly breath-taking.

So, the takeaway message: It is doable! Even for those who don’t have loads of motorbike experience. As long as you drive slowly, stop regularly, take in the views and be careful, it is possible to complete the loop without a tour. It was probably the most amazing experience we’ve had in Vietnam so far so if you are debating whether or not to take it on, I say give it a go! 

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