This blogpost contains the route for a 4 day self-riding trip around the Ha Giang loop including the map and costs. Furthermore I included vegetarian food spots, gas stations and the best cafes along the route. My aim is to pass along useful advice to plan your own Ha Giang do it yourself trip. If you have any questions or want to share your own experience please reach out on Instagram or in the comments below!
*Food spot disclaimer: The restaurants & dishes mentioned might be suitable for vegans. I don’t really know what sauces they use to cook the dishes, but other than that my meals were all plant-based.
I’ve done the loop with my partner in March 2023 and absolutely loved it (you might remember him from the Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand which he completed on a scooter). We shared a 110 cc Honda blade semi-automatic and I had the pleasure to sit on the back and enjoy the views. First, I was a bit doubtful if a motorbike loop is really my thing. Then I was scared about reviews of people being checked by the police and all those horror stories you hear before. But now that I’ve done it, I can only recommend it to experience it yourself!
How to get to Ha Giang
To start the loop, you first have to go to Ha Giang. We took a 7 hour day bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang on the day before. What I loved about the journey was that you can see the scenery changing and slowly but surely getting excited about the stunning green mountains.
The other option is to take a night bus to Ha Giang. Most hostels in Ha Giang offer free beds between 2 and 8 am for those arriving with the night bus. The only requirement: You book a tour or rent a bike through them. Starting the tour a few hours after arriving with the night bus can be quite tiring though. We therefore spoilt ourselves to a full night in a hostel before starting our adventure.
Where to stay & rent a bike in Ha Giang
We loved Ha Giang Safari Hostel & Motorbikes! It’s located right in the heart of Ha Giang. The best about this hostel is the friendly and helpful staff. They answered all our questions and were really supporting when renting a motorbike. If you have questions regarding the license and other worries, they are very experienced and can help you with that. We visited a few other places before but had the best feeling with Ha Giang Safari.
To do the Ha Giang loop we decided to rent a 110 cc semi-automatic Honda Blade. The reviews online scared us a bit to do it on a normal scooter, therefore we went for the semi-automatic version. The bike came with a luggage holder, two rain coats and a huge plastic bag for our luggage. We paid 180k VND (7 Euros) for the bike plus 60k VND (2.35 Euros) insurance per day. The good thing is that you can just keep the bike as long as you need it and pay after you come back. This gives you more flexibility when doing the trip. The 110 cc was perfect with two of us sitting on the bike.
The insurance covers every damage except for flat tyres. I don’t know how good it really is as we luckily didn’t need it in the end (only had a flat tyre) – but for the comparatively low cost it doesn’t hurt to purchase it. If something really happens you’re on the safer side and the hostel can support you. The hostel also provides helmets and protective gear for your knees and hands.
Guided tour vs. self-driving
There are lots of hostels offering guided tours to do the Ha Giang loop. The tours are an amazing option for solo travellers, unexperienced motorbike riders and those looking for company. If you know how to ride a motorbike, feel confident doing the loop on your own, don’t mind planning the different stops and are traveling on a low-budget, you should definitely do a do-it-yourself trip. We saved over 70 Euros each by doing it ourselves instead of going with a tour!
If you talk to some tour operators they might try to scare you by telling stories about police check points and other things that might come up. But we found that this is rather a selling point for their tours than the common reality. Yes, there are police checkpoints. However we didn’t meet anyone who has been checked, neither were we. And even when going with a tour you might get checked.
The pros of doing the self-driving tour around the Ha Giang loop are definitely more freedom, individuality and flexibility. We were always passed by the big groups and almost shocked of their pace. We preferred to take it slowly, enjoy the views and stop whenever we want to. Something that wouldn’t be possible with a guided tour (unless it’s a private one). Also we spontaneously decided to stay one more night in Du Gia as we needed some rest.
Ha Giang loop itinerary
The following itinerary starts and ends in Ha Giang. The trip takes four days which gives plenty of time to stop at view points and attractions. You can download the map below to save the itinerary to your phone. What makes the map unique? I included nice cafes, gas stations and vegetarian food spots!
We did the loop clockwise with Du Gia as the last stop. When doing the loop this way, the roads get more challenging day by day. Therefore the first two days are very easy and you have some time to get more confident. Even though many groups are doing the loop this way it didn’t feel to crowded. We always arrived at busy spots when the groups left (they are fast and not staying very long). As we were a bit nervous in the beginning it was nice to have fellow bikers going the same way as we were, it was reassuring if you know what I mean.
I recommend to book your accommodation for the loop 1-2 days before. When we were in Dong Van we wanted to change the hotel but everything was fully booked already. Some hotels might have some spots left which can not be booked online but for me this is too stressful. I like knowing where I am going to sleep after a long day on the road.
Also make sure to start your journeys at around 9 am. There are plenty of things to see and to stop at. Google Maps is not very accurate when it comes to the duration of some routes, sometimes we needed double the time and underestimated the distance. I therefore included the actual duration without stops in the descriptions.
Day 1: Ha Giang to Yen Minh
- Distance: 102 km
- Duration (without stops): 3.5 hours
- Highlights: Quan Ba Heaven Gate, Dong Lung Khuy Cave
- Accommodation: Tom Homestay
On the first day it’s best to leave Ha Giang at around 10.30 am. This leaves enough time to have breakfast, store your luggage and get the bike ready, meaning: Fully refuelling the tank! For the first 12 kilometres we drove behind a guided group to avoid bumping into one of the police checks ‘alone’ and this way it also felt a bit safer in the beginning (you must know we were pretty nervous at the start). Most of the tours leave at around 10:30 – 11 am.
Quan Ba Heaven Gate
The first stop is Quan Ba Heaven Gate. There’s a café overlooking the stunning mountains with really good Vietnamese drip coffee. You can spend a lot of time there soaking in the views, it’s just beautiful.
Lung Khuy Cave
The journey then continues Lung Khuy Cave, located between the mountains and surrounded by a few ethnic villages. To get to the cave you will have to leave the main road and drive on a smaller road for around 20 minutes. From the parking lot it’s another 20 minute walk (it’s mostly stairs so a bit more challenging) to the cave. The entrance fee is 30k VND (1.20 Euros).
Lunch at Nha Hang Hien Vinh
When you drive back and reach the main road, have a look for a restaurant right opposite the junction. I had the best fried rice during the whole trip – no egg, just vegetables, lovely spices and turmeric infused rice.
You will then probably spend most of the afternoon on the bike. We arrived in Yen Minh at around 5.30 pm and didn’t do many stops on the way. For dinner you should go to Nha Hang Thuong Xe and have one of the vegetarian Ha Giang loop signature dishes: Tofu with tomato sauce. Tom Homestay is a simple, cozy and cheap accommodation in Yen Minh.
Have you been to Dalat in Vietnam? Here’s a beautiful hike.
Day 2: Yen Minh to Dong Van via Lung Cu Flag Point
- Distance: 85 km
- Duration (without stops): 3 hours
- Highlights: Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, Chuyen cua Pao house, Lung Cu Flag Point
- Accommodation: Nha Nghi Quan Trung
The second day starts with another refuel at the gas station in Yen Minh. I can’t really recommend any breakfast spots as we only had some fruit in the morning. You might not want to eat too much anyway as there will be nice snacks waiting at the next stops.
Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark
The first stop is Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. Another spectacular, but different to the others, mountain scenery. It’s so hard for me to describe these views! But maybe it’s better this way, because this guide should mostly help you to find the spots but see them with your own eyes. Dong Van Karst Plateau is a short stop to enjoy the views.
Chuyen Cua Pao house
The coffee spot on this day is the cute Chuyen Vung Cao café located very close to the Chuyen Cua Pao house. Most of the tours didn’t stop here but we really liked this spot. Chuyen Cua Pao is a famous house named after a movie. The house looks quite interesting and is perched in between mountains and blossoming trees in Lung Cam Tren Village. The entrance fee to the house is very low with 10k VND (0.40 Euros). It’s not a must-see but as it was the only village we visited during the loop I’m glad we did it.
When walking towards the house you will pass some stands selling herbs and small snacks. I’m still not quite sure what it was, but I think we had some kind of buckwheat pancakes. They were lovely and only cost 10k VND per piece!
Lunch at A Pho Restaurant
After around 1 hour of driving with scenic views you will arrive in Lung Cu. The drive up there is really exciting as you can see the fence bordering China. Even though the country is just a few metres away it feels so strange and unreachable.
We had the most amazing lunch at A Pho Restaurant. You will eat from a wooden table sitting on the floor, while overviewing the Lung Cu flag point (and blossoming trees). When you get to the place you probably won’t see the name of a restaurant but rather see a sign saying ‘homestay’. However, this is the right spot. When we went, they didn’t have a menu. We told them we would like to eat ‘chay’ and they surprised us with tomato tofu, sauteed leaves and rice for only 50k VND (2 Euros) per person. It was so much food that we had some take away as well.
Lung Cu Flag Point
Lung Cu Flag pole is the North Pole of Vietnam, built on a mountain. As it is lying very close to the Vietnam-China border you can technically see Chinese land from up there. If you love climbing stairs you should park your bike at the parking lot at the very bottom. Otherwise there is another parking spot a bit higher up. From there it’s only 400 steps to climb up to the flag pole. There’s a 40k VND (1.60 Euros) entrance fee. You don’t need a permit!
Nha Nghi Quan Trung
After spending some time at Lung Cu Flag Point we took the same road back to Dong Van. Nha Nghi Quan Trung is a nice homestay in this town. You can get amazing vegetarian dinner and breakfast dishes at Green Karst Restaurant.
Day 3: Dong Van to Du Gia
- Distance: 100 km
- Duration (without stops): 5 hours
- Highlights: Ma Pi Leng pass, Mountain Coffee viewpoint
- Accommodation: Du Gia homestay friendly
On Day 3 you will probably spend the longest time on the bike! But the views get even better. We passed one corner and drove straight into a totally different world. The views are never the same and becoming more and more impressive. First you tour through scenic valleys, then you find yourself on top of the mountains freezing and once before you know it you drive past water buffalos in lush green rice fields.
In Dong Van there was a morning market where lots of people from the surrounding villages come together and sell their products. This was on the one hand super interesting to see but on the other hand also quite painful, as they were selling living animals and killing them next door. But it’s a real cultural experience.
Ma Pi Leng pass & skywalk
The Ma Pi Leng mountain pass is a 25 kilometres long road featuring the most stunning views in Vietnam. When we drove along the mountain pass I always wondered how they were able to build a road here. It took 11 years!
On the map you can see the Ma Pi Leng skywalk which is a narrow, paved road. There’s a walking route of around 3 kilometres one way. We walked up the skywalk for around 20-30 minutes, had a take-away Banh Mi in the clouds and then continued our journey on the bike.
You could also go to the Nho Que river and go on a 1 hour boat cruise leading along the steep mountains. A very different perspective! It costs around 300k VND (12 Euros). We were happy with the views from the top and went to another coffee spot instead. From there we could perfectly watch the boats cruising along the river while having a Vietnamese drip coffee (Yes, we’re Vietnamese coffee addicts).
Lunch in Meo Vac
Meo Vac is the last stop in civilization before heading on a 4 hour drive towards Du Gia. At Thanh Phu’ong Restaurant you can get really good vegetarian and vegan food, like potatoes and the famous Tofu with tomato sauce.
Heading towards Mountain Coffee
The roads between Meo Vac and Du Gia were probably the worst during the whole journey. Lots of gravel, bumps and sand. There were also two construction sites on the road which delayed our journey by 1 hour in total. If you come into a construction site it’s best to observe the others drivers behaviour and wait it out.
Even though the road conditions on this leg are bad, the views are insanely beautiful. You will see lots of different mountains, the topography will change and also the temperature can vary quite a lot. Mountain Coffee is a lovely café and viewpoint which gives fantastic views over the valley with big, blue mountains in the background. It’s only 20 minutes from Du Gia, so a perfect last stop before arriving at the final destination of the day.
Du Gia homestay friendly
Du Gia homestay friendly was our favourite homestay during the whole loop. It’s a wooden style house, with very comfy beds and original interior. They host family dinners every night (100k VND per person) and have very good vegetarian food. It’s a great way to socialize with other travellers and share your experiences.
The room price includes banana pancakes for breakfast. In the end we decided to extend our stay at the homestay for another night, to have some time exploring the surrounding area and winding down after long days on the road.
Day 4: Du Gia to Ha Giang
- Distance: 75 km
- Duration (without stops): 2.5 hours
- Highlights: Tham Luong waterfall, A Boong waterfall
- Accommodation: Du Gia homestay friendly
In case you didn’t decide to extend your stay in Du Gia as well this marks the last day of the Ha Giang loop! It’s best to refuel your scooter at one of the small shops in town as there is no big gas station close by. This itinerary will lead back going north first to Cho Kem and then south back on a different road towards Ha Giang. The road that goes straight south from Du Gia is supposed to be in worse conditions.
Tham Luong waterfall
Before leaving Du Gia it’s worth going to Tham Luong waterfall which is a 15 minute drive away. We walked as the roads weren’t in the best condition and we felt like moving around a bit. The walk is quite nice, along traditional houses and rice fields. At the waterfall there is a small hut selling drinks and coffee. It’s a chill atmosphere. The waterfall is very cool and refreshing.
Lunch at Pho Trang Kim
We spent most of the morning on the bike and did another stop at Mountain coffee, just because we really liked the views and atmosphere. For lunch I recommend to go to the small village Cho Kem. Pho Trang Kim offers simple vegetarian noodles and drinks.
A Boong waterfall
A Boong waterfall is a cute little waterfall right next to the road. It’s good for a short stop to have some water.
You made it!
The road south towards Ha Giang is in good conditions and quite enjoyable. It takes around two hours driving from Cho Kem to Ha Giang. On this day I was so overwhelmed by what we’ve seen that my brain could barely take in any more. This is also why we didn’t do too many stops in the afternoon.
When we arrived back in Ha Giang I couldn’t believe what we’ve driven through and seen the last four days. It actually took me a few days to fully process this whole trip. I dreamt about the loop at least another three nights after we did it. It’s an experience you will never forget.
Ha Giang loop costs
In total we spent 1.934.500 VND (75 Euros) per person for the whole trip. This includes accommodation, three meals per day, daily coffee stops, fuel, the bike and insurance.
For private rooms in homestays we paid 113k VND (4 Euros) per person per night on average. We fuelled our bike once a day for 70k VND (2.80 Euros). A vegetarian meal in the restaurants cost around 50k VND (2 Euros) on average. In total, we saved more than 70 Euros per person compared to a guided trip.
The best time to do the Ha Giang loop
From our experience I’d say the weather in Ha Giang is quickly changing and unpredictable. Furthermore the weather forecast is unreliable and was never correct when we did the trip. Our forecast predicted rain and cloudy conditions. On each day we had the sun on our side, saw some blue sky and luckily didn’t get wet at all.
According my research the ‘best time’ to visit Ha Giang is from October to May as this is supposed to be the dry season (means less rainy days). June and July are in the monsoon season, hence more rainy days. Bring clothing for different conditions. I needed my shorts, tops but also my jumper and warm jacket. In March 2023 we had temperatures of 25 degrees during the day and 15 degrees at night. November, December and January can be a bit colder.
All in all my advice is to prepare yourself for different conditions and don’t get too sad if the forecast doesn’t look good. The weather can change quickly as you will drive many kilometres up and down the mountains. Also I found the weather forecast being very unreliable and would therefore not plan around it too much.
Can I do the Ha Giang Loop on an automatic scooter?
This is a question we asked ourselves beforehand many times. Brad did the Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand on a 125 cc automatic scooter despite many blogposts saying you shouldn’t. It was no problem! But with the Ha Giang loop we weren’t sure.
Now that we’ve done it, we would agree: Don’t rent an automatic scooter. The semi-automatic and manual bikes have gears which can be advantageous when going up and down hill. Due to engine brake and the foot brake, as opposed to relying on the handle bar brakes of a standard automatic scooter, you are less likely to have a brake failure going down hill.
The roads are completely doable on a 110 cc semi-automatic, but in some bits too challenging for a fully automatic scooter. Also the automatic ones don’t come with the luggage space on the back. I think the fact that we didn’t meet anyone on an automatic confirms our thoughts. The hostels can show you how to drive the semi-automatic beforehand.
Some information about police checks
The question ‘Did you see a police checkpoint?’ is probably one of the most asked questions when doing the Ha Giang loop. We were told that the police will fine you if you don’t have an international drivers license for motorbikes and if you drive faster than the allowed 40 km/h. When we did the loop we saw two checkpoints: One around 7-12 kilometres outside of Ha Giang and the other one right before Dong Van. We heard that they’re usually before and after the bigger towns like Ha Giang, Dong Van or Yenh Minh.
What to bring
While doing the loop you can store your luggage at the hostel. I therefore recommend to only bring the most important things. We put our main luggage in a big plastic bag provided by the hostel and then packed it on the back bit of the scooter. I also had another bag on my back for things we needed during the day as we didn’t want to move the big bag around too much and reattach the strings.
Overall I recommend to bring a good mix of short and long clothing. Obviously also bring your toiletries and things you really need. But especially:
- Sneakers (it’s best to wear them while driving)
- Sandals (I liked having my sandals to go on short strolls and walk around the area, nice getting the shoes off after a long day)
- Rain coat, just in case
- Jumper and warm jacket
- Gloves (provided by the hostel; they are super useful when it’s a bit cooler and it also made it easier to hold onto the scooter when sitting on the back)
How about doing the Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand? Read more!
All in all the Ha Giang loop is an amazing adventure you shouldn’t miss when visiting the North of Vietnam. Whether you like driving a motorbike or not, there are many different ways to explore this unique and diverse landscape. I’ve never seen anything like this before. The great thing about doing a self-guided tour is definitely that you have more freedom and flexibility. It also saves you quite a lot of money.
While doing the loop you will get an insight into a very different culture. You will see the original life of ethnic minorities. What made me feel a bit uncomfortable was seeing many children being put to work and begging tourists for money. For me being a vegetarian it was quite brutal at times, seeing dead roosters hanging from the scooter or a huge cow tied onto the back of a motorbike. But who am I to judge, coming into their world as a stranger.
I think it’s important to have an open mindset when doing the loop and show respect towards their way of living. This obviously also implies to leave nothing but footprints behind. We are just guests and shouldn’t contribute to trash lying around.
Other than that: Enjoy the loop! Do it in your own pace, use this blogpost as guidance but follow your gut feeling and enjoy the ride. This is what the Ha Giang loop is about – the journey and beautiful views. If you have any questions or would like to share your own Ha Giang loop experience please do so in the comments below!