Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop
Traveling in Southeast Asia has become almost commonplace among travel fans from the Western world. While Thailand and its beautiful islands have become more and more the standard for holiday packages, countries like Vietnam invite curious travelers to explore different aspects of Asian cultures. A real insider tip and highlight on a Vietnam trip is the so-called Ha Giang motorcycle Loop. It’s a 4-day motorcycle tour through the mountains of Vietnam.
Ha Giang Loop: Breathtaking vastness
The Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop is a 350 km long route in the north of Vietnam, at the border to China. It has become more and more popular since a few years. The route can be driven by travelers on a motorcycle. Ha Giang is a small town about six hours northeast of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. It is not only the name giver but also the starting and ending point of the tour. Here, motorcycles can be rented for the equivalent of 40 euros for four days, including insurance.
Those who do not feel experienced enough to ride such a tour on a motorcycle themselves have the option of booking a so-called „easy rider“. This means, you can either have a motorcycle tour guide or ride with someone else on the pillion seat. Most travelers plan between three and five days for riding the route, covering between 60 and 80 km per day. Since the route is breathtakingly beautiful but also not exactly without danger, you should leave yourself enough time to be able to enjoy the loop to the fullest.
The multi-day tour leads through beautiful mountain passes, green rice fields, Vietnamese mountain villages. It also passes by colorfully dressed children who walk to school or home as well as run after you waving and calling. Partly well paved roads, sections that are impassable due to landslides and mud, as well as tight turns make the ride a real adventure. It is important to not overestimate your own driving skills. Be aware that the locals are used to the terrain. Consequently, do not worry about being slower than the local drivers. It is better to be slower but safe! Recommended is a four-day tour with the following sections.
Day 1: Ha Giang – Yen Minh (100 km)
The first part of the four-day tour starts in the small town of Ha Giang. Numerous motorcycle rental companies offer their motorcycles here. It is advisable to arrive the day before the tour starts and look for a guesthouse or hostel in the town. This way, you are able to start the following morning well rested. We also recommend the motorcycle rental company „QT Motorbikes & Tours“. It not only rents high-quality and safe motorcycles but also provides useful tips for the route and accommodation during the next days.
Not too long ago, everyone was able to rent a motorcycle even without much driving experience and official driver’s license. However, the regulations have changed since December 1, 2018 due to fatal accidents of tourists. Consequently, the rules have become a lot stricter. In order to rent a motorcycle, an international driver’s license is required. Such an international driver’s license should be applied for in advance while you are still in your home country.
The first 100 km of the Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop
As already mentioned, it is also possible to join a guided tour or ride on the motorcycle of a skilled driver. Alternatively, if you do not want to rent a motorcycle, the tour can also be done by car. The first 100 km of the route leads from Ha Giang to the small town of Yen Minh. This part can take from four up to seven hours, depending on the speed and amount of breaks. Due to the length of the drive, it is important to set out early in the morning to arrive at your destination before nightfall.
The ride of the Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop starts out on quiet country roads, between green limestone mountains (so-called „limestones“), passing rice fields and villages. Just after a few kilometers, you will feel like you have to stop every few minutes to fully enjoy the view from the winding roads and beautiful nature. A highlight of the first day is the so-called “Heaven’s Gate”, a lookout point 1500 meters above sea level. From here, you have an endless view of green and yellow rice terraces between green limestone mountains and small mountain cottages. With the sun between the clouds, this sight is a breathtaking moment that quickly makes you forget the efforts of the first hours of driving.
After a stop for lunch and more kilometers, you arrive in Yen Minh. Here, a variety of homestays offer a hot shower, a well-balanced Vietnamese „family dinner,“ the famous „happy water“ (rice wine), and a clean bed for the equivalent of about four euros – an advance booking is not required.
Day 2: Yen Minh – Dong Van (46 km)
The next morning, you will be back on the bike for the second and the most beautiful day. This part of the route is characterized by green limestone mountains. Roads that wind around the mountains, zigzag into the valley, and back up the mountain, children running after you in their colorful traditional dresses waving and shouting, and small farmers harvesting the fields along the roadsides with their whole families. On the way to the town of Don Vang, there are a few highlights spread over the 46 km.
It is also possible to make a short detour to the Chinese border which is only marked by a sign and loosely wound barbed wire. The very daring have here the rare possibility to step on Chinese ground for a few minutes. On the way back from this short detour, depending on the season, one passes blossoming purple and white buckwheat fields. They are picturesquely set off in the background by green-covered hills, shrouded in clouds. Afterwards, one has finished the second day of the Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop tour.
Those who still have time and desire at the end of the day can make a short trip to the so-called North Pole of Vietnam. It is a 30-meter high tower that marks the northernmost point of Vietnam and from which you have a view of China. Upon subsequent arrival in Dong Van, one has a wide choice of hotels, homestays, and hostels. Also, there are many restaurants to choose from for a delicious and inexpensive North Vietnamese dinner.
Day 3: Dong Van – Du Gia (75 km)
The third day starts with a real highlight of the whole tour: Ma Pi Leng Pass. Ma Pi Leng Pass is a mountain pass 1500 m above sea level from which you have a breathtaking view over deep valleys with a (seasonal) turquoise river. The view alone makes up for the exertions as well as long hours on the motorcycle. After another 50 km of endless views, you arrive in the small town of Du Gia. You can end the evening with cool drinks, fully loaded tables, and friendly conversations with other travelers.
Day 4: Du Gia – Ha Giang (80 km)
On the last day of the tour, you can continue towards Ha Giang in the early morning. The recommended route of the rental company should be paid special attention to on this day because the shorter alternative route has many dangerous places. You should avoid these even as an experienced driver. However, even the preferred route is marked by quite a few obstacles. The roads are destroyed at several points due to falling rocks or even floodings. At these hurdles one should only proceed at walking speed and with great caution.
On rainy days, puddles and soggy ground turn the dirt roads into a pure mud hole which can make the uphill ride a very slippery affair. For this reason, one should never lose concentration and take a break at any sign of fatigue. After a really eventful and varied ride, you will arrive in Ha Giang in the early afternoon. Once in Ha Giang, you can look for a hostel or guesthouse after dropping off your motorcycle.
Regardless of the mode of transportation, the Ha Giang Motorcycle Loop is an incomparable experience.