The Best Routes – The Ha Giang Region
The Ha Giang region is the most beautiful area of Vietnam with unbelievable mountains views which is always people’s favourite part of the trip.
While Ha Giang was not as famous as other parts of Vietnam it is slowly becoming so, especially among backpackers and travellers that are visiting Vietnam on motorbike. This reputation of a must see area with bikers is only going to increase as Ha Giang’s road system is improved and tourist buses direct from Hanoi allow backpackers without a motorbike to travel direct to the area and then rent a bike and explore the region.
One of the things that we always try and make sure our customers do and see when they are renting a motorbike or scooter throughout all of Vietnam is Ha Giang. Normally this means doing a 7 – 14 day loop north of Hanoi with 7 days being the most common, but in this article we are going to focus on the area of Ha Giang, Dong Van and Du Gia.
As you can see this the maps below the Ha Giang region is in the far north of Vietnam bordering China and is the most mountainous region of Vietnam which is what gives it the stunning view. Ha Giang is the largest city in the area and it is where we will are a starting point in this article although you can easily ride a bike other way and finish here.
In all of the northern area of Vietnam, we personally find that there is a lot less to do in the actual cities but the joy in this area is the ride through the countryside and mountains. The freedom a motorbikes gives you in this respect is unmatched.
HA GIANG to DONG VAN
Ha Giang is the largest city here and hence is a good place to start. If you have rented or brought a motorbike or scooter in Hanoi or elsewhere, I would recommend this a first stop while if you are without a bike, you can stop in Ha Giang to rent one although generally the selection here is much smaller than you will find in Hanoi. If you are new to riding motorbikes, a semi auto might be a good choice or you can learn to ride a Detech Win (Honda Win). If you are a more experienced rider, a Honda XR 150cc dirt bike is definitely worth it here. For accommodation in Ha Giang, there is a few backpackers although these are smaller than you will find in the largest cities and of course there is homestays and Nha Nghi’s.
Once you have your motorbike or scooter and are ready to leave Ha Giang, you want to aim for Dong Van and this is a simple ride to navigate as you just follow the QL4C which is just under 150km although this will take a full day as there are many places to stop on the way. It is worth getting up as early as you can. A full tank from Ha Giang should be enough to get you to Dong Van but there is fuel stations on the way as well.
The road through this section is all good quality and paved so all abilities will be fine doing this ride and has some brilliant curves and cutbacks all offering great mountain views as you climb higher to reach Dong Van. Roughly a third of the way to Dong Van, there is a stop called Heavens Gate which is a good cafe to stop, enjoy the view, and take some pictures, but by this point I am sure you would have already stopped for plenty of photos.
Shortly after the Heavens Gate the road follows a river for a section which is a nice change of scenery. Instead of climbing in the mountains with a long view back down behind you, you now have the mountains more closed in and a shorter view but a nice river beside you. After the road turns away from the river, you enter the Yen Minh pine forest which offers yet another view to enjoy. In this section, it is important to take part around the turns since there are many blind corners as a result of thick layers of trees. This just means that you can take your time and enjoy the road and scenery.
This brings you to the town of Yen Minh and about two thirds of the way to Dong Van. This is another good point to stop. There will be plenty of restaurants for you to recharge and take a break although there isn’t much to see in the town. There is also a petrol station here if you do need a fill up before the rest of the trip to Dong Van which might be the case of an automatic or semi automatic scooter.
After Yen Minh there is a nice section called Dôc Thâm Mã which is a section with a few hairpin turns going up the mountain in quick succession with a brilliant view back down at the end. At the top, there is also a small dirt track which continues from the lookout and the view only gets better down here.
Before you reach the town of Dong Van you will get to the Dong Van Plateau. Around October is when the flowers are in full bloom which paints a beautiful picture with striking colours that really stand out against the green mountains and grey rocks. This will then bring you to Dong Van.
AROUND DONG VAN
The town of Dong Van is quite small although it has a large enough selection of homestays, hotels, restaurants and cafes which is all you really need while you stop off here to refuel and recharge yourself and your motorbike. You will also find some mechanics here that will be able to do oil changes if you happen to need one when you are here.
The areas around Dong Van are the highlights of Ha Giang. To the far north on the border of China is Lung Cu flag tower which is a common trip and picture for those in Ha Giang. It marks the most northern point of Vietnam although it is a little way short of that the actual border. It is about 25km from Dong Van town and takes about 1 hour to ride. If you have time, it is worth going if nothing more for knowing that you reached the furthest north point.
Just north of Dong Van is a spectacular dirt track that goes in a big north heading north east out of the city. It is easy to spot on Google maps. The road itself is in a terrible condition so it is only recommended for those that are more experienced and not for any automatic scooters. Having Honda XR 150cc or at least a Detech Win is the most ideal. What the road condition lacks the views more than make up for. Once you get 1km from the town the views are unbelievable as you will be on the side of mountain will long views down and valleys in the distance. In total the ride is just over 12km but it will be slow going and you are going to make stops to take those all important pictures.
DONG VAN TO MEO VAC
The town of Meo Vac is 22km south of Dong Vac and has the most famous pass in Ha Giang, the Ma Pi Leng pass. Anyone renting a motorbike or scooter only for Ha Giang has more than likely done it because of the pictures from this pass. But in between Dong Van and Meo Vac there is still plenty of other great hairpin curves and mountain views to enjoy but they will not be comparable to Ma Pi Leng. There is a cafe at the pass so you can stop and enjoy the view here.
As this is a very famous section of Ha Giang, you will not only see motorcycles and scooters but also buses, which means that you need to be extra cautious around the blind corners which will be plenty due to the road being on the side of the mountain.
The town of Meo Vac is quite small and it is easy to bypass and go straight to Du Gia if you are shorter on time. If you have the time, you can plan to stay here giving you more time to enjoy, the area around Dong Van and the ride to Meo Vac all in one day. There is plenty of restaurants, hotels and most importantly, a petrol station here.
MEO VAC TO DU GIA
Du Gia is located in the middle of the map shown at the top of the page. The roads that lead to here from the north are all quiet with no through traffic or buses which for us makes it a much more enjoyable ride. It is easy to navigate as you just head west from Meo Vac and follow the DT182 then the DT176. As there is much less traffic here, it is certainly a bad place to run out of petrol or get a flat tyre so get a full tank before you go and hope you motorbike misses any of the bad spots.
Instead of the views looking down the mountains that you get the the sections above, here you will feel that you are already in the mountains, with less peaks extending much higher than where you are, less trees, buildings or people but more exposed rocks. It almost feels that you are in a completely different place than a few hours before.
In this section there isn’t really a standout place to stop for a picture. We personally really enjoyed the ride due to no traffic and the change in scenery, but this change only lasts until Du Gia.
If you have not been staying in homestays until Du Gia, that will be changing, Du Gia is only a very small village and the only option here is a homestay and they are very good. The scenery here will change again from the more baron ride from Meo Vac as there is plenty of rice fields and a small waterfall. If you get the right timing, the colourful rice fields will be ready to be cut and this is a great sight to see. You will also see more backpackers here that might have just rented motorbikes or scooters from Ha Giang so will get more company.
The road south of Du Gia is currently in a terrible condition as there is a lot of construction work happening around that area and all of the trucks are bringing in materials resulting in the road being a continuous pot hole. We wouldn’t head south from here. Instead, head back north to the DT181 then west back to Ha Giang or back to Meo Vac and then south aiming for Bao Lac if you are continuing east to Cao Bang.
The time it takes to see all of this area is as long as you can afford. You will not run out of things to see in Ha Giang as there are small back roads everywhere that offer a view or ride that is better than most of the rest of the country even if it isn’t on a map or written anywhere.
For anyone that has ridden Ha Giang they will know that it is a special place and they will recommend it to everyone else but the one thing that Ha Giang will not do even after you will see the pictures is disappoint you.