Ha Giang Loop : Our Stunning Car Tour Through North Vietnam

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 28 June 2024 |

I saw a photo of the Dong Van Plateau.  It seemed like such an other-worldly destination that I knew we would have to visit.   

The Ha Giang loop runs through part of the Dong Van Plateau, but we almost didn’t take the tour as we thought it was too adventurous for us; it wasn’t!  Exploring the region was one of the highlights of our two-month adventure in Vietnam and once you’ve finished reading this post you should be asking yourself when to go and not if.

If you’re considering the Ha Giang Loop then read on because I :

  • Talk about our experiences on the Loop
  • Explain the different options available for touring the Ha Hiang Loop
  • Compare the costs of different tour options
  • Provide key tips on how to make the very most of your visit and what to avoid

I will hold my hand up now and stress that this is a long post; I think I’ve covered just about everything.  So grab a cup of coffee and sit back and enjoy, or use the Table of Contents below to jump around.

view of ethnic houses and distant mountains from our homestay on the Ha Giang Loop

Table of Contents

What Is The Ha Giang Loop?

The Ha Giang Loop is a scenic driving route that snakes its way through the northernmost province of Vietnam.  It’s famous for dramatic landscapes, rice terraces built on impossibly steep slopes and ancient villages with a rich ethnic heritage.  It’s no surprise that this been called the most beautiful region in Asia. 

Until the mid-1900s Ha Giang was isolated from the world due to its rugged terrain but in 1959 work began on the Happiness Road; a 185-kilometre-long road which opened the region up to the rest of Vietnam.   In 2010 the Dong Van Plateau was listed as a UNESCO Global Geopark for its unique karst formations, which further added to the appeal of the region.

Adventurous travellers began exploring and as word spread, local infrastructure improved, and the 350-kilometre loop was born.

Where Is The Ha Giang Loop?

The Ha Giang Loop and Ha Giang Province are in the far north of Vietnam, along the border with China.  The loop begins and ends in Ha Giang city and winds its way through remote areas offering glimpses into the lives of the local ethnic communities that live in the mountains.  

The proximity to China adds an additional layer of cultural richness and the region has had more than a few border tensions.  Our guide explained that many families and ethnic communities were cut in two by the border and during festivals such as Tet (Vietnamese New Year) they will gather on either side of the border fence to celebrate together.

Ha Giang Loop Length

The standard loop is around 350 kilometres long and typically takes between three to five days. There are many variations that you can choose, for example, we opted to deviate off the main route to explore some of the more remote ethnic villages and to hike.

Your tour-guide will explain possible extensions but if you have time and opportunity, we would recommend a day or two extra.   

map showing the Ha Giang Loop and the Ha Giang Province in Vietnam

Why Choose To Tour The Ha Giang Loop?

The very north of Vietnam offers a glimpse into a world still untouched by mass tourism. Touring the Loop takes you to another time and a culture that sets it apart from other destinations in Vietnam.   It is a journey through some of the most stunning landscapes that we have visited and whilst it does remain largely unspoilt, it is becoming increasingly popular. 

Top Tip : One of the advantages of travelling by car means that you can visit during shoulder season when it’s less busy with motorbikes.

Cultural Richness and Ethnic Diversity

Ha Giang region is home to 43 recognised ethnic minority groups; each with their own language and traditions. During our tour we were fortunate to visit a few villages and were inspired by their kindness, sense of community and the love of their land.

Homestay Experiences

Accommodation along the Ha Giang Loop varies and we were surprised at how comfortable we were.  We stayed in homestays and small hotels but we enjoyed the homestays more.

A Homestay offers a more unique experience and traditional Vietnamese hospitality.  We ate a feast for dinner, enjoyed a history lesson on their culture and way of life, and a musical interlude which even had Gerry performing.  And we loved that we were contributing to isolated communities by opting to stay there.

Top Tip : As with everywhere in Vietnam, expect the beds to be hard.  In the Tey village our host explained that they sleep on the floor and find western beds too soft.

Explore On Foot Too

We love to explore new destinations on foot and one of our additional requests was to include a few hiking opportunities; I think we surprised our guide by how far a pair of 60 year olds could hike. 

Not only did we get to walk through breath-taking landscapes, we also visited more remote communities. We had one guided walk with a 12-year-old who spoke zero English but nonetheless entertained us for a good hour as we explored his village.

Top Tip : This is where a local guide is essential.  Our guide knew the people and we were welcomed into tiny homes and offered tea and cakes and walking tours, like the one with our 12-year-old friend. 

mountain trail on a hike in the Ha Giang province in Vietnam

Planning Your Trip : How To Get To Ha Giang City

Whilst Ha Giang is remote it was surprisingly easy for us to make our way to the start of our tour.  Getting to Ha Giang City from Hanoi or (as we did) from Sapa was straightforward but did require planning and booking ahead of time.

As with a lot of our travel in Vietnam, we found the easiest and most efficient way to travel was by bus.   Which is fortunate as the only way in and out of Ha Giang is by road.

The road is often good but is in places narrow and winding; if you get travel sickness you may wish to consider this.  Our bus did not have an on-board toilet but it did stop twice, once for a short break and a second stop for lunch. 

Top Tip : Use 12Go to find and book your bus.  We used the 12Go app across Asia and whilst some buses cancelled and changed schedules, we were always refunded or found alternatives; the customer service was excellent.

Hanoi To Ha Giang City

The distance between Hanoi and Ha Giang is around 300 km, and the journey usually takes around 6 to 7 hours. Several reputable bus companies operate daily from Hanoi, offering both day and night buses.   We took the bus back to Hanoi Airport; there are buses both to the city centre and the airport.

We opted for the luxury lie-flat sleeper bus.  We did this when travelling in Vietnam, even when travelling during the day as we found it super-comfortable for longer journeys.

Sapa To Ha Giang City

We travelled from Sapa.  We had a few buses cancel on us and change the schedule, but ultimately, we had no issues travelling direct from Sapa and Ha Giang.  I had read a few posts suggesting a need for two buses and for a change but we didn’t find this. We travelled direct from Sapa bus station to the centre of Ha Giang city without issue.

Top Tip : 12Go has a huge choice of buses.  Many are the same bus journey being sold by different agents.  Choose the company with lots of positive reviews.  Also opt for the most expensive bus (a difference of a few euros).  The standard of comfort between a VIP lay-flat sleeper bus and a traditional limousine bus was huge but the price difference is negligible.

Private Transfers

If the thought of such a long journey on a bus is not your thing then there are options for more comfortable and direct journeys.  Many companies offer private transfers from Hanoi or Sapa to Ha Giang City.

This allows you to travel at your own pace and at a time that suits you. You can stop when you want and travel door to door; ideal if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage.  

Take a look at Private Transfers on 12Go or Viator; prices start from around £110 but you must book in advance to secure your journey (and always book through a reputable source).

young boys riding water buffalo, using them as transport on the Ha Giang loop in Vietnam

Staying In Ha Giang City

We were surprised when we arrived in Ha Giang at the size of the city.  Far from being the remote backwater we had expected it was a large, busy vibrant town. With hindsight we wish we’d allowed an extra day to explore and recover from the long journey.  If you have time, we recommend you spend two nights here before starting your tour.

What To See

Whilst it is a provincial city, and for most folks it’s seen as a starting point of the loop, it does have a few attractions and charms.

  • The Ha Giang Provincial Museum offers a look into the history, culture and traditions of the various ethnic groups of the region. Exhibits include traditional clothing, tools, and artifacts that showcase the diverse heritage of Ha Giang Province.
  • The Lo River flows through Ha Giang City, and it’s possible to walk along its banks; the foot path was being upgraded when we visited.  The riverside area is a great place to walk and is dotted with several small cafes.
  • Ha Giang’s local market is a bustling market with local flavour. It sells everything from fresh produce and local delicacies to handmade goods and traditional clothing.   This is definitely a local market and not a tourist attraction (I’m thinking of the fresh meat market in particular) but nonetheless it is worth exploring if you like to see the authentic side of a town.

Our bus dropped us in the centre of town, beside the Central Square; it was busy with a local festival with lots of music and dancing.  There are plenty of shops around and huge Ho Chi Minh statue and seating along the river.  Our accommodation told us that very often at weekends the area becomes a social hub with street food vendors and live music.

Where To Stay

Ha Giang City offers a range of accommodation, some more distant from the centre than others.  You can find a private room with bathroom for less that 20€ so it’s worth shopping around as paying more doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

I would recommend that you read the reviews carefully and make sure that they are appropriate for you.  We stayed in a nice homestay, but it was aimed at a much younger clientele (looking for bunk-beds, motorbikes and budget accommodation).  Despite the high reviews, it wasn’t a good fit for us.

However, we met a few folks who had chosen Ha Giang Hostel and raved about it.  Don’t be put off that it’s not a hotel.  It does offer bunk beds but also has very comfortable private en-suite rooms and offers excellent value for money.

I checked across a few different booking platforms and it has 1000’s of excellent reviews.  Ha Giang Hostel is our top pick for accommodation in Ha Giang.

Where To Eat

Breakfast was provided in our accommodation but we did go in search of coffee, lunch and dinner and Ha Giang didn’t disappoint. 

  • Blue Sky Restaurant was a tiny restaurant a few minutes walk from the centre of town but was so worth the effort.  Everything was freshly cooked, gluten free and vegetarian.  It was delicious and we’d 100% recommend a visit.
  • Joie kafé was a wonderful little cafe. We stopped here when walking along the river; it was a great choice.  If you plan to explore the waterfront area then put this café on your map.
  • Pizza Here was an odd choice but Gerry fancied something different and they offered gluten free choices.  He recommends the pizza and I recommend the GF Pasta. 
Ha Giang city along the waterfront with views of the distant mountains

Ha Giang Loop Tour : Bike Car Or Jeep?

First off – this tour is not just for motorbikes. We almost didn’t visit Ha Giang because we’d never ridden a motorbike and the very idea terrified us.  We even took an easy-rider tour in Phong Nha to test our skills, fears and ability; needless to say it confirmed our suspicions that we are not natural bikers. 

Whist the Ha Giang Loop has traditionally been popular for motorbike enthusiasts, it is now accessible to travellers of all ages and abilities.

Top Tip : Easy Rider means the bike is driven by a local experienced driver and you ride on the back as passenger.

I have no doubt that exploring by motorbiking would be incredibly exhilarating and an amazing experience, but it wasn’t for us.  Thankfully private car and jeep tours are now an option and allow you to fully appreciate the beauty of this landscape without the physical challenge of a motorbike.

Ha Giang Loop By Motorbike

Probably the most popular option, particularly amongst younger visitors.  The loop is perfect for experienced riders who crave the thrill of the open road, or for less experienced visitors who prefer the easy-rider option, with a local driver.

Pros

  • Perfect for an experienced motorbike rider looking to explore one of Asia’s most scenic driving routes
  • Ideal for less experiences riders; where the easy-rider option is a popular choice
  • Very cost effective

Cons

  • Very often easy-riders travel in large groups
  • If you’re travelling with someone, you can’t chat together as you travel
  • You usually have less control over the schedule unless you opt for a private tour (which becomes more expensive)
  • You are out in the elements for several hours a day; come rain or shine.  Sun exposure is a serious concern
  • Police checks are common and if you are self-driving you will need to have all the correct permits and insurance

Costs

Prices range depending on the size of the group and length of your tour and if transfer to and from Hanoi in included.  Expect to pay around 200-250€ for a good quality easy-rider tour.

Top Tip : Do ensure that your travel insurance covers you for this tour.  Accidents do happen and Easy-Rider activities may be excluded.

Ha Giang Loop By Car

Discovering the option of travelling by car was a game changer for us.  This was the perfect solution as it meant a) we could visit Ha Giang and b) we could set the agenda.

Pros

  • Suitable for families, children, and older or less able visitors
  • tours are usually private and you can customise to suit your own preferences; we wanted to hike and get off the beaten track
  • You don’t need to follow the traditional route and you can go off-piste and explore beyond the loop
  • You are not as affected by the weather; come rain or shine you are more protected.  This is useful if travelling in shoulder season when it maybe cooler or damper but quieter on the road
  • Overall, a car offers a safer experience
  • You don’t travel as part of a group (ideal if you prefer independent travel)

Cons

  • It is without doubt more expensive
  • You don’t have the same exhilaration that you may have on a bike
  • Cars can’t stop as easily as a bike, nor fit through some of the smaller lanes
  • You don’t travel as part of a group (not ideal for those who prefer a group experience)

Costs

The first thing that we would stress is that you need a trusted quality tour; many drivers offer their services without proper credentials.  Always book through a trusted agent or booking site.

A private driver will cost at around 400€ per person for a 3 day tour and expect to pay around 550€ per person for a fully inclusive 4 day tour.

Ha Giang Loop By Jeep

We did not know that you could do the loop in a jeep when we booked; we would have chosen this option had we known. 

I love that the jeeps are 4 x 4, offer off-road potential and the option to go with or without a roof.  This offers the 360 degree views of a motorbike with the safety and reassurance of a car.

Pros

  • Great for groups as the jeeps can usually take more passengers than a car
  • The jeep has the option of removing the roof; allowing the open air feeling of a motorbike but with the option of cover when needed
  • Perfect for those looking for something a little different and who prefer private tours
  • Offers the potential for some off-road driving; ideal for those wanting a more adventurous experience
  • Private tour which allows for some customisation of the route

Cons

  • More expensive than easy-riders and a little more than a car
  • Potentially less comfort than a car
  • Usually only suitable for private groups; less ideal if you prefer to be part of a group tour

Costs

Prices are similar to car tours, perhaps a little higher.  Do expect to pay around 300-400€ for a 3 day tour and 400-600€ for a 4 day tour.

Gerry with a local driver in one of the ethnic villages on the Ha Giang Loop

Bike, Car or Jeep : Which Tour is Best?

There is no right answer here, which may sound like a cop-out on my part, but the best choice is the one that ticks your boxes.

  • The easy rider option is clearly exhilarating.  It offers an experience like no other but it’s not for everyone. 
  • For mature travellers who prioritise comfort over exhilaration, a private car might be better and allows you to customise your journey
  • Jeeps offer similar comfort to a car but with a bit more off-road capability and the 360-degree views it could be the perfect compromise.

There is no one-size fits all tour; which is lucky as there are many different ways to explore the loop.

Is It Worth Doing The Loop In A Car?

Absolutely!  You still drive through breath-taking scenery and you still get to live the cultural experiences. Touring the Ha Giang Loop by car combines comfort with the freedom to explore at your pace.

The beauty of the car means :

  • More comfort, especially on long journeys.
  • Greater safety, particularly on the winding and sometimes challenging roads of the Ha Giang Loop.
  • Protection from weather.
  • More space for luggage and souvenirs you might purchase along the way; you are very limited with luggage when travelling on a bike.

We don’t feel for one minute that we missed out; indeed I think our trip was enhanced.  We are eternally grateful that tours exist for folks like us who know that a motorbike tour is out of the question.

sunset on the Ha Giang Pass, Colleen and Gerry watching the sun dip from the top of the pass

Accommodation On The Ha Giang Loop

We’d read that we should expect very simple accommodation with shared bathrooms.  We’ve travelled to remote locations before so we had an idea of what to expect.  However, we stayed in fabulous accommodation, with private bathrooms and extremely comfortable beds.  As we travelled around the loop we saw plenty of local community projects, creating new accommodation which looked excellent.

It is possible to stay in traditional ethnic homestays, if you are looking for this kind of authentic experience. If you opt to stay in a Tey House you might even spend the night in a stilt house.

We stayed in a hotel in Meo Vac and honestly it was our least favourite evening.  It was very clean and comfortable, but it had no personality, and we were glad to return to the homestay the following day.

We loved the community homestays; don’t feel you need to shy away from them.  Ask your tour guide in advance about the accommodation, but to give you an idea here are some examples :

  • Khói Panorama is one of the more expensive hotel options on the route but its stunning and the views from the balcony are unparalleled.
  • Mam Da Homstay offers both shared rooms and western style private en-suite accommodation with shared communal spaces.  This is a really popular stop and breakfast is also said to be amazing.
  • Nhà Cổ Lao Xa Homestay with the Hmong was fabulous; we stayed here and loved our evening.  We had a shared dinner with groups of other travellers, live music and a super comfortable bed.

It’s important to remember that whilst accommodations may not provide luxury, it will offer clean, comfortable rooms and more importantly, genuinely warm hospitality.

Gerry leaving out homestay, walking down the stairs in the morning

How Many Days For the Ha Giang Loop?

The Ha Giang Loop can be completed in three days and this allows time to cover the main highlights of the loop but we felt that a four day tour allowed for a more relaxed pace and the chance for additional exploration.

We were initially unsure about 4 days; mainly because we’d read that accommodation would be very simple.  In the end I’m glad we opted for longer and if I have the chance to go again I’d be tempted to stay even longer.

We loved hiking in the mountains and I’d love to return and spend longer in the more remote hills and villages. 

If you love to explore lesser known destinations, and you have the time and budget, then consider extending your stay and travelling beyond the standard loop. But if time is short you will see a lot in three days and still have an unforgettable experience.

Colleen at the border with between Vietnam and China in Ha Giang Province

Highlights of the Ha Giang Loop

It’s fair to say that the entire Ha Giang Loop offers breath-taking views at every corner.  It is also fair to say that some of our most treasured memories are from the interactions with the villagers who live in these mountains.  There are so many WOW moments but some of the landscape highlights include :  

Dong Van Plateau

It was a photograph of the Dong Van Karst Plateau that led me to discover the Ha Giang Loop.  This UNESCO-recognised geopark is a marvel with stunning limestone formations, deep valleys, breathtaking mountain scenery, and a rich tapestry of ethnic minority villages and communities.

Quan Ba Pass (Heaven’s Gate)

Found near the start of the Ha Giang Loop, Quan Ba offers amazing panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains and serves as a reminder that you are about to enter a place like no other.   

At the top of the pass is a small shop where passers-by stop for a quick refreshment break, dance to the music that had everyone moving, and take an obligatory photograph of that incredible view.

Twin Mountains (Fairy Bosom)

Our driver dropped us in a car park, not far from Quan Ba.  There are toilets and small shop where you can purchase water and stacks. There is also a staircase to a viewpoint.

It is worth climbing to the top to get great views of the Twin Mountains; affectionately named the Fairy Bosom. These uniquely shaped hills are a natural wonder (and reminded us of a similar natural phenomenon called Los Tetas in Northern Spain). 

Lung Tam Village

Most tours stop here to allow a visit to the Hmong woman and their linen weaving co-operative.  You can see how the linen is woven, you even get a chance to try some of the processes yourself; I impressed Gerry by managing to balance on a giant roller which pressed the newly made fabric. 

You can also purchase locally made items in the co-operative shop.

Tham Ma Pass

Another of the loops iconic mountain passes.  Our driver parked and we had the chance to go wandering around the hills. This very picturesque pass is often visited by local ethnic children from nearby communities carrying huge flower baskets.

Dong Van Old Quarter and Market

The old quarter of Dong Van town is charming, with traditional houses, a bustling market, and a rich cultural atmosphere. It’s a great place to wander and soak up local life.  It’s true that some of the shops have grown up to serve tourist visitors but there is still a traditional atmosphere, particularly at the Dong Van Market.

Ma Pi Leng Pass

Yet another stunning pass offering jaw-dropping views of the Nho Que River and the surrounding karst landscape. It is considered one of the most scenic roads, snaking through the limestone mountains with steep cliffs plunging down to the river below.

Meo Vac Market

If you travel through town on a Sunday (do try to do this), then visit the Meo Vac Market. Here, ethnic minority groups come to trade goods, livestock, and to socialise.  We found Meo Vac to be a utilitarian looking town, but it’s nestled in a valley, surrounded by glorious mountains, and it’s a good stop to explore a working town and it’s market.

Lung Cu Flag Tower

Located on the Chinese border, the Lung Cu Flag Tower marks the northernmost point of Vietnam. You can climb the tower for views of the surrounding area and this this is clearly an attraction for the Vietnamese and a source of national pride.

We enjoyed a visit to another border outpost too, where you could walk up to the razor wire fence which separates Vietnam from China. I can’t remember the name but for us it also holds the record for possibly the worst toilet that we’ve ever had the misfortune to use (you have been warned).

Sung La Valley

Sung La Valley took my breath away.  We drove through here on our last day and I knew then that I didn’t want our journey to end.  It felt like Eden. 

Thon Tha Village (Tay)

Just a few kilometres from Ha Giang city is Thon Tha village.  What struck us most was how the village had managed to find a way of supporting their own and living as a community, even with the pressures of modern Vietnam.  Most tours stop here and it’s a great introduction to a way of life that is holding back the tide of change.

This list could go on.  There are villages that we explored and I don’t remember their names, landmarks that we visited that have merged into the journey. It is no exaggeration when we say that the entire journey is a highlight. You cannot fail to be impressed by the sights that unfold as you journey along the loop.

stunning valley on the Ha Giang Loop

Best Time To Tour the Ha Giang Loop?

It’s best to tour during the dry season, which runs from October to April. During these months, the weather is generally mild and clear. 

Wet And Dry Seasons

Vietnam has 2 seasons; wet and dry.   If you plan on touring the Ha Giang loop it would be best to avoid the wet season when the roads can become impassable.

  • Dry Season (October to April)  is the most popular time to visit. The weather is cooler, with minimal rainfall, allowing for better visibility and safer travel conditions. The rice terraces are particularly beautiful in October when they are golden and ready for harvest.
  • Wet Season (May to September) is the wet season which brings heavy rains and occasional landslides.  While the scenery is lush and green, the frequent downpours can disrupt travel plans and make the roads difficult to navigate safely.
Daily Averages
Temp (°C)Rainy DaysRain mms
January15231
February19241
March23466
April258123
May2616206
June2619266
July2622288
August2524292
September2416234
October219130
November19354
December15228

Foggy Conditions

Fog is most common in the early morning and late evening, particularly in winter months (December to February). We had one day where visibility was restricted but it made for some atmospheric photos.  The fog often lifts by late morning or in the afternoon.

Burning Season

The burning season usually occurs in March and April when farmers burn fields to prepare for new crops. During this time, the air quality can be affected and the landscape may be less picturesque due to the smoke.

The burning season did impact a little when we travelled mid-March.  It was not on the same scale as India and the air quality was never terrible, but it did affect visibility and you could smell the smoke.

The most surprising thing that we noticed was that often the area being burned was small, but the smoke seemed to linger in the hills.

Busiest Time On The Roads

The Ha Giang Loop sees the highest number of visitors during the dry season.  The busiest time for tourism (and bikes) typically falls during spring and autumn.

Spring (April to May)

  • Spring brings pleasant weather with fields of flowers and a lush green landscapes.
  • The buckwheat flower season, usually in late April, attracts many visitors
  • Outdoor activities are most popular during this time

Autumn (September to October):

  • Autumn offers clear skies, cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage
  • Rice terraces are at their most picturesque in September and October
  • Motorbike tours are most popular at this time

During both  times roads are busy with easy-riders and we had read from others that it’s less enjoyable.  If I was planning to revisit Ha Giang,  I would choose the shoulder season when conditions are less ideal for motorbikes but still perfect for cars (and hiking).

Top Tip : Vietnamese New Year (Tet) usually falls between late January and February. We were in Vietnam during Tet.  It’s a huge national celebration.  We stayed in Danang as we knew that services would be disrupted.  I would not recommend travelling in remote areas during Tet as I suspect many services will be closed.

smoky skies in Ha Giang province in March during burning season

Practical Tips For A Better Experience

Before we visited Ha Giang we had a lot of questions; we found useful guides online, but a lot were aimed at folks who wanted to undertake the loop on a bike.  That wasn’t us.  Here are a few notes that we feel will enhance and help when planning your trip.

English Speaking Local Guide

An expert guide will absolutely add to your experience; a local guide also provides greater insight into the local culture and will know the roads well.  Our guide was excellent.  He was local but didn’t speak English.  We got by using Google Translate but it wasn’t ideal.

Our guide was also Tey.  He was from one of the ethnic minority villages and grew up in the mountains.  He had so much knowledge, but we couldn’t tap into that knowledge because of the language barrier.

When choosing your guide or driver do ensure that they are a) Local and b) that they speak English. 

What To Pack

If you are travelling on a motorbike you will have very limited luggage space; so you will have to be very minimalist.  Most companies have storage facilities but packing light will be imperative.

When you go by car you have a little more flexibility.  We travel light naturally with just a rucksack.  If you have suitcases, do bear in mind that you may have to climb some unconventional stairs and walk to reach your homestay.  Only take what you know you can comfortably carry.

  • Take comfortable clothing; hiking/outdoor clothing is perfect
  • Only take what you’ll need for the duration of your trip; leave the rest with your tour provider
  • You will not need a ‘nice evening outfit’
  • Take flat comfortable shoes.  Even if you are not trekking you will be walking and jumping in and out of the car or jeep
  • Take a lightweight jacket, preferable waterproof
  • Take a warm layer as the temperature can change during the day and layers work best
  • Dress modestly in the mountains.  There is no need to cover-up but vest t-shirts and short-shorts are probably not ideal
  • Bring toiletries and medication and don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellent

We also took water bottles that we could refill although you can purchase water easily as you travel.

Wifi And Phone Signal

I had an E-Sim from Airalo for the duration of our 6 months in Asia; it worked great across India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Japan.  I was very surprised by how much coverage we had on the loop. 

If your phone will accept them, I’d strongly recommend purchasing and E-sim in advance and activate it at the airport.  The signal in the mountains was surprisingly good and we have a strong signal for perhaps 70% of the trip. At our first Homestay my phone picked up a Chinese phone signal and my time-zone changed.  I was the only one with the problem and the locals thought it was very amusing.  Thankfully as we drove away the next day I reverted back to Vietnam time.

Hotels and restaurants often have Wifi and we used this whenever possible.

Language Issues

Do not expect English to be widely spoken.  It isn’t.  People use google translate a lot; or sign language.  I do recommend that you download a translation app in advance of your trip.  As I mentioned, our guide did not speak English and this was a disadvantage.

If there are things that you need to translate, such as medication or food allergies, get it translated before you arrive and have it handy on your phone.   For example, I carried a card with information on gluten.

Top Tip : Do bear in mind that for Ethnic Minorities, Vietnamese may not be their first language either. 

Fitness Levels

Whilst travelling by car is ideal for less abled travellers, to get the very best from the tour a certain level of fitness will help you. There are many times when we stopped and walked up lots of steps to viewpoints, or scrambled over rocks or trails for a better view.

We love to hike and also undertook a couple of walks; nothing that most folks who like a stroll would have problems with though. You can do as much or as little as you want, but a reasonable level of fitness and a comfortable pair of shoes will go a long way when exploring the loop.

Responsible Tourism

Ha Giang Province in one of the poorest regions in Vietnam.  Tourism is in its infancy and not all the tourism profits go to the area.  When booking your tour, eating out or buying gifts do try to buy local.

When we stopped at viewpoints, you’d often find a little shop or stall selling goods.  We’re not big on souvenirs but we always bought some water or a snack or coffee; every little helps.

Also, as I mentioned before, don’t shy away from the community homestays.  We found them to be excellent and we loved our stays.  We would recommend this kind of accommodation over the town hotels and if you have a choice then specify this with your tour guide.

We had the opportunity to visit a few local houses and were offered tea and refreshments.  We were unsure what the protocol was for payment so do ask your guide in advance if payment is needed.  Sometimes the guides had already made a payment but clarify in advance to avoid confusion.

We like to visit community projects or charities and if you’re like us then mention this to your guide.  There are many local initiatives in Ha Giang such as the Linen Co-operative in Lumg Tam Village.

Local Cuisine

I was concerned that food would be an issue for me but it was surprisingly easy to find good food.  Gerry will eat pretty much anything but I prefer to stick with vegetarian options and of course gluten free; there were plentiful choices for non-meat eaters. 

Top Tip : A guide will come into their own if you have food allergies or intolerances; I never once had a problem with gluten during this tour.

Vietnamese food is wonderful, and the Ha Giang province is no exception.  The region has a rich culinary tradition using locally sourced produce from the mountains.  I found that a local omelette dish was always available, along with a bowl of steamed green leaves, rice and tofu too.  But if you’re looking for a few more traditional dishes, you may be served :

  • Five Coloured Sticky Rice is a vibrant dish is made from fragrant sticky rice dyed in different colors (usually red, yellow, blue, purple, and white).   The rice is dyed using natural leaves and is said to represent the five elements of life; earth, plant, fire, metal and water.  This is often a celebratory dish and not an everyday meal.
  • Cornmeal Dumplings are vegetarian dumplings which resemble bread on the outside but are made of cornmeal. They have a light and sweet taste and should naturally be gluten free but check to ensure that they’ve not used ‘white flour’ or ‘american flour’ which is wheat.
  • Thang Co is a traditional Hmong dish. It’s a hearty stew which can sometimes be made with horse meat or beef; and in true Vietnamese fashion bones and organs are also used.  It is flavoured with herbs and spices and cooked into a rich and warming dish.  Obviously not a meal for the vegetarians among us but a very traditional dish in the mountains.  
  • Men Men is a staple of the Mong people, made from steamed ground corn. It’s similar to polenta and is usually served with a side of vegetable soup or meat.
  • Banh Cuon are steamed rice rolls and often served at breakfast.  We had these in other areas in Vietnam too and you’ll often see them being made in tiny restaurants on the side of the street.  They are made from a thin, steamed rice flour batter, filled with minced pork and mushrooms, and topped with crispy fried shallots.   I had them without the Pork.
  • Thit Trau Gac Bep is smoked buffalo meat, a speciality of the Tay people. The meat is marinated with a mixture of spices, before being smoked over a wood fire. The smoking process gives the meat a distinct, rich flavour and a chewy texture. This is a staple of the Tey diet and you’ll see it being sold often.
  • Lon Cap Nach refers to small, free-range pigs that you will often see roaming and forage freely. The meat is known for its tenderness and is typically roasted or grilled. This dish is a favourite of the region and is often found on the menu.
  • Buckwheat is also used in the mountains and the fields are awash with the flowers in April.  Buckwheat is naturally gluten free and a local staple is a buckwheat cake.  However, do be aware that sometimes (as with Cornmeal) ‘white’ or ‘american’ flour is added (it’s sometimes cheaper) and people don’t always associate these flours with being wheat. 
group dinner at our Dong Van homestay.  There was a selection of food, lots of vegetarian options and all gluten free

Photo Opportunities

Let’s just agree that you will want to take a lot of photos.  I carry a phone and a Canon Camera and I made sure that I had the ability to charge my phone and I carried a spare battery. This area is stunning so, if like me you love taking photos, do make sure you’re fully charged. 

Travelling Solo And Self Driving

It is possible to ride the loop solo and hire a car and self drive.  We did neither and I don’t feel I am able to comment on the potential for this kind of journey.

I do know that it is possible to rent a motorbike but you will need all the relevant paperwork, insurance and permits in place.  You should also speak to a reputable and specialist tour company before planning this kind of adventure.

Cash And ATMs

Our tour, and indeed most tours are fully inclusive of accommodation and meals.  The only extras we paid for were souvenirs, drinks and snacks.  I don’t recall an opportunity to get cash along the route.  Certainly in larger towns (Ha Giang and Meo Vac) there would have been an ATM but you don’t spend long in town.

We recommend that you take enough cash for personal spending and if you feel you are running short then give your driver advanced notice if you need to find a bank.

And A Few Extra Tips

  • Avoid large hotels and go with the homestays.  We loved our experiences with the local communities and the rooms were excellent, ensuite and western style beds.  They don’t offer luxury but they offer clean comfort with excellent hospitality.
  • Unless you love travelling in large groups then book a small group tour or a private tour.  Some of the easy-rider motorbike groups are large and I’m pretty sure this leads to a lesser experience. Size matters so check in advance.
  • Expect pot-holes, gravel roads, unpaved roads and a lot of bends and high passes.  If you suffer from travel sickness then make sure you take appropriate precautions.
girls dressed in traditional ethnic costumes with flower baskets full of yellow and white blooms

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Ha Giang loop suitable for older travellers?

Yes.  We’re in our 60s and it presented no problems at all.  You do need to be able to climb stairs and be a little nimble but this shouldn’t present problems for most older travellers.

What are the road conditions like?

Generally better than you’d expect but do expect lots of bends and lots of high passes.  This is a remote region, roads can be unpaved and narrow and a bit bumpy at times.  However, in our car we never once felt unsafe or in danger.

Do you need a guide?

While it’s possible to do the Ha Giang Loop independently, hiring a guide will enhance your experience.  Choose local or someone with expert knowledge of the region and choose an English speaking guide too.

How to choose a tour company

First and foremost check the reviews and check them across more than one platform.  I like to check Google, Trip Advisor and a booking site such a Viator or Get Your Guide. Some companies may not have 100s of reviews but you can generally tell if they are genuine.   I avoid companies with no prior history.

  • Choose an expert guide with local knowledge and one that speaks your language; we really missed not having an English speaking guide.
  • Make sure the tour is age appropriate.  You do not want to be part of a tour that is aimed at the under 30’s if you’re in your 60’s.
  • Make sure the tour covers what you want to see and do; it may not be 100% of your wishlist but it should be close.  There are a number of different tours so you will find the one that fits you.

I found a lot of ‘tour guides’ and ‘drivers’ on Social Media websites.  Often they had no references, no website and no way of checking their credentials.  They may offer a good price and they might sound genuine but for me, I want assurances.  Do make sure you dig deeper before handing over your money.

Is the Ha Giang loop dangerous?

I googled this question several times when researching the loop.   I guess the answer is that yes, it can be.  BUT if you choose a reputable tour driver with a quality vehicle then then route is generally safe.  We never once felt unsafe or even uncomfortable.

Managing Logistics like meals and accommodation whilst touring

Most tours are fully inclusive.  We didn’t have to pay or choose meals; it was all done for us by the guide.   If you have preferences then discuss these in advance but most guides seem to have their favourite places to stop.

young children playing in one of the remote ethnic villages on the Ha Giang Loop

Exploring The Ha Giang Loop : Add It To Your Vietnam Itinerary

Touring the Ha Giang loop was one of the best things that we’ve done on our travels.  It’s impossible to rank our experiences but seeing Orangutans in the wild in Borneo or our overland trip in Africa are in equal first place with Ha Giang. Very little else tops this experience! 

I did so much research beforehand.  I read so many reviews and honestly, whilst they all agreed on the stunning beauty of this landscape they all made it feel like an adventure that was perhaps beyond us.  It isn’t.

Ha Giang is like no place on earth.  It’s stunning.  I’m not usually one to use flowery language but I wrote in my diary “This trip is so much more, I’m overwhelmed by the majesty of this landscape”.   There were times when I felt my eyes sting with tears, sometimes it was just so beautiful that this was my only response.

Ha Giang feels like a place that lives in another time.  We watched young children climbing hills with baskets of flowers, boys riding water buffalo home through the narrow lanes, we ate with travellers from around the world and villagers who’d never travelled beyond their communities.  We drank the local firewater and danced and sang and walked through landscapes that I never dreamed I’d see.

If you are visiting Vietnam then plan to visit Ha Giang and take a loop tour.  Go by car, go by bike or go by jeep.   It doesn’t matter how you do it – just do it.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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