The Ha Giang region (pronounced Ah-Ziang) is considered by many to be the most beautiful place in all of Vietnam… but it’s only the off-the-beaten-path travelers that make it there. The Ha Giang Northern Loop is characterized by massive karst formations over 500 million years old, thereby deeming the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark – located along the route – a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its important geological and cultural heritage.
Most people, when visiting Northern Vietnam, opt to visit Sapa – a more easily accessible, commercialized area. And while Sapa is absolutely beautiful, it’s well worth the effort to reach Vietnam’s most remote region. The Ha Giang province shares a 270km border with Southern China and, in fact, much of the landscapes we witnessed on the Ha Giang Northern Loop Trail were technically in China.
When I first started researching the area, I wasn’t exactly sure just how to get to Ha Giang. While traveling through Vietnam, however, I learned of how incredible their sleeper busses were (throughout the whole country). Needless to say, it’s a heck of a lot easier to reach than I had originally thought – simply hop on a sleeper bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang.
For about $9, you can travel the 310km North in just 7-8 hours. The best way to book your seat is to have your accommodation make the reservation, as they will arrange for the bus to pick you up directly from their lobby. While there is a bus during the day, I highly recommend taking the overnight bus from Hanoi at 9pm that arrives in Ha Giang around 4am (we arrived at 3:30am) so that you don’t waste an entire day getting to the region.
If you’ve arranged a tour (be it via car or motorbike), the company will typically then let you crash at their homestay until it’s a more reasonable hour. Spend a day relaxing in Ha Giang before setting off to drive or ride the Ha Giang Northern Loop Trail. Be sure to pack…
- A rain jacket
- Waterproof cover for your pack
- Waterproof housing for your electronics
- Hiking boots
- Portable phone charger
- Spare, charged camera batteries (because you WILL be taking a ton of photos!)
The Ha Giang region is completely untouched by mass tourism and, thus, remains very traditional. In fact, 90% of the population remains ethnic Vietnamese minorities. Due to the mountainous landscape, Ha Giang remains one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam, as they cannot rely on agricultural development like its other regions. Because of this, you will find very modest homestays and local meals throughout your journey.
The typical route that one takes through the Ha Giang Northern Loop once hitting the road is the following…
Day 1: Ha Giang to Quan Ba Valley to Dong Van (Night in Dong Van)
Day 2: Dong Van to the Ma Pi Leng Pass to Meo Bac (Night in Meo Vac)
Day 3: Meo Vac to Ha Giang (Night in Ha Giang)
Of course, this can be extended as long as you’d like. One could easily spend a week simply exploring the region with no plan in sight, following wherever the road might lead. This is just an example of the fastest way that you can complete the Ha Giang Northern Loop Trail. Expect to hear more honking than ever before – with each twist and turn of the road, drivers will honk to ensure their safety as they complete each hairpin turn. While it is incredibly annoying, take solace in knowing that it’s a safety measure due to the poor visibility around each of the many bends in the road.
As it’s difficult to describe in detail each incredible mountain we saw (they were everywhere), plan to see these highlights:
The Fairy Mountains of Tam Son.
Don Cao Fortress.
Lung Cu Flag Tower.
Ma Pi Leng Pass.
There are numerous places where you’ll see loose rock from landslides, broken guardrails, and bumpy roads. Drive carefully as you soak in the absolutely beautiful scenery.
Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark.
A trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Ha Giang Region. Do yourself a favor and GO!