Planning for the Ha Giang Loop

Part 1 of 2: A Step By Step Guide to Motorbiking The Ha Giang Loop

Man looking down on a mountainous valley
By: Justin Del Boulter | Updated on 01/13/2020

Intro

Here is a complete guide to everything you’ll need to know for the Ha Giang Loop. Because of slow page loading speeds I had to break this guide into 2 parts. Part 1 (this part) breaks down planning, and everything you’ll need to know to make the trip as awesome as possible. In Part 1 I’ll do my best to answer commonly asked questions like road conditions, safety, police traps, luggage storage, food, accommodation etc. I also discuss the “required” border area permit to ride this area.  

Part 2 is the route guide where I breakdown the route step by step, location by location, and provide all the sweet details. In the route guide I provide links to each destination guide. In the destination guides I provide food, accommodation and activity recommendations. You can also find all the destination guides HERE

Hopefully with this guide you’ll have the confidence and ability to safely visit this magical piece of earth. Enjoy!

Table of Contents of Part 1:

When to do the Ha Giang Loop

Man looking down on a mountainous valley

Best riding conditions

Here is a great resource for getting an overview of the climate year round. Ha Giang Province Climate by: Climate-data.org

However, here are my quick overview and recommendations.

Mid November – Mid January is the driest time of the year in Ha Giang. The above photo was captured in mid December. Though this is the best chance at sunny skies, it is also cold. You will want plenty of layers, and a windbreaker/rain jacket for light precipitation. 

Best scenery

February – April to catch the spring wildflower blooms and vibrant vegetation. However, it’s still cold and may be cloudy some days.

Mid September – mid October for some golden rice fields, while also hopefully avoiding the heavy rains that may carry on until the end of September. You may possibly catch the beginning of buckwheat flower bloom late October. Make sure to carry a poncho, or some lightweight rain gear.

Visit Mid October – November for relatively dry weather and the pink buckwheat flower bloom. Dress for cold weather and the occasional sprinkling precipitation. A lightweight rain jacket that doubles as a windbreaker is a life saver. This is my favorite season to ride the area. 

AVOID the rainy season!

May – September landslides and flooding are common, and riding conditions are horrible. This is a dangerous time to ride in Ha Giang. It won’t be fun for normal people. But I know there are some freaks out there.

Length of Time

The reality is that most people do the Ha Giang Loop in 4 days and 4 nights. Many people arrive in Ha Giang City early in the morning on the night bus, then hit the road once they obtain a bike. Most people spend their nights in Du Gia (pronounced Zoo Za), Dong Van, Yen Minh, then return to Ha Giang City to finish up the trip. However, I highly encourage you to ditch the classic route, slow down a bit, and give yourself an extra day or two to enjoy some of the finer parts of the Ha Giang Loop!  

Along the loop there are many little stops and lovely gems to explore. A 4 hour ride can easily turn into a full day adventure. I suggest giving yourself an extra night to visit the small village of Nam Dam. With all of that being said, to get the most out of the Ha Giang loop plan for 6 days.

Finally, if you’re really taking your time, you could add an extra day to do a side trip to a small town that borders China. Please read What to do in Meo Vac before attempting to ride close to the Chinese border – you could get into some trouble.

If planned correctly, you could save time by not spending nights in Ha Giang City and catching the night bus in and out of the city. 

How much to budget

vietnamese dong bills

I go further into each of these topics below. But in the scope of finances here’s the breakdown. These price ranges are what the typical motorbike traveler would experience.

Food: $7- $15 per meal

Food throughout the loop can be very cheap. $5usd will cover a main and a drink at many restaurants. Factoring in beers, coffees, and extra dishes, a bill can quickly add up to $15usd (or more 🤤). Also, it is likely that you’ll want to eat at the well known restaurants throughout the loop. They typically charge premium prices. A safe budget would be between $7 -$15usd per meal. You’ll have to track your spending at $7usd per meal, but it is doable. On the flip side, $15usd per meal is plenty for a typical meal. 

Accomodation: $5 - $15 per night

I provide a price range for each accommodation that I recommend in the destination guides. You can give them a look to get a better idea. Some accommodations are very cheap ($5usd or lower), and a few can run about $40usd. In many towns you can find places for $5usd per night. But, $15usd per night really opens up your options it terms of availability and comfort. Personally, $10 – $15usd a night is a safe budget.

Activities: $20

Many stops along the route are free, or as cheap as 5k (~$0.21usd). Aside from hiring a guide, the equivalent of $20usd is plenty for parking and entrance fees throughout the loop.

Motorbike rental: $6.5 - $40usd per day

You can rent a basic semi automatic scooter in Ha Giang for about $6.5usd per day. But, if you really want to ride in comfort and style you can rent a dual-sport (on/off road) bike for about $30usd per day. Ssomeplaces, like QT motorbikes offer damage insurance at an extra charge, something like $5-$13usd. $25usd should be plenty for fuel throughout the ride for most bikes/individual riding styles.

Border Area Permit: ~$11usd

There is a special border area permit that is technically required to ride in this area. I go further it details below.

Ha Giang Food & Accomodation

a plate of grilled pork

A large portion of the accommodations on this route are traditional ethnic homestays, characterized with large dorms on the top floor, mattresses on the ground, and mosquito netting around the bed. Some homestays will offer a few private rooms. A lot of the traditional homestays offer family style traditional dinners (vegan upon request), often times complemented with endless homemade wine (sake) and karaoke. 

These homestays are in small farming villages that get to work very early in the morning. Because the homestays are typically constructed of thin wood slats that do little to offer noise insulation make sure to have some ear plugs handy! Crowing roosters and late evening karaoke are ubiquitous. Many of the traditional homestay hosts will speak very little to no english. Nevertheless, they are very friendly and helpful! Google translate will come in handy. 

In the small villages, where ethnic homestays are the only available option, you may have to eat at the accommodation. However, I suspect small restaurants will start springing up soon.

In the larger towns you’ll be able to find western and asian foods. You can find my recommendations in each destination guide

Aside from the traditional ethic homestays, you’ll find modern concrete viet style hotels and hostels in places like Ha Giang, Meo Vac, Yen Minh and Dong Van. In the destination guides I have provided options to keep it mixed up throughout the trip. 

Throughout Ha Giang you’ll be able to find wifi. Pretty much everywhere has wifi these days. However, the internet speeds in the area aren’t that great. Additionally, It is fairly normal to have power cuts in many small villages. Usually they only last for a few hours, or happen at night. A power bank will be handy for charging your navigation device (phone) during these rare instances. 

*Dog Meat or thịt chó in Vietnamese: I have to go to a sad place, but it’s my responsibility to inform. In the north, especially around this area dog meat is common. Thankfully it is losing popularity throughout the country… but it is pretty normal in this area. Lookout for Thit Cho when stopping anywhere in the north. 

One could argue that eating dog meat is like eating any other animal. I’m not going to get into that here. However, I will say that the dog meat market is very dirty, and it is possible that you’ll be eating someone’s kidnapped furry friend. Sadly, dog napping is a problem in the country. You can find videos of men scooping up dogs while they are being walked by their owners.. Very sad. By trying thit cho you will be supporting this evil behavior. Please avoid eating dog meat.

Luggage Storage

Packing a large pack throughout the loop is kind of a pain in the ass, and pretty much unnecessary. Stuffing a small backpack with extra clothes and items will likely be enough for the few days in takes to do the loop. Don’t forget a backup warm clothes – weather isn’t very predictable in this mountainous area.

You can Store your large luggage at many of the accommodations in Ha Giang City. Pretty much all of them do it. Check out my guide on Ha Giang City for accommodation recommendations.  

Money and ATMs

Most accommodations and restaurants only accept cash. There are ATMs in the larger cities, however make sure to have enough cash for the small towns and stopping points along the way.

Ha Giang Border Area Permit

There is a permit that is required to ride in this area. However, there is very little enforcement. As of now, accommodations and the police trap are the predominant enforcers of the permit. The occasional accommodation will ask to see your permit during check in. Without it, they won’t let you stay. However, me, nor anyone I know has been asked to show the permit. In fact, I’ve asked many accommodations about it, and they said that it’s not necessary. However, if you are stopped by the police it is very likely that they will ask for your permit. If this happens, and you don’t have it, you may get fined, and/or your bike confiscated. I know of 2 gents that attempted to ride to the Chinese border and had their bikes confiscated for 10 days. They couldn’t understand the officer, but they assume it was their lack of license and border area permit. Not fun. It’s probably best to get the permit. It’s super simple, and costs about $11usd.

You can get the permit at some accommodations, but they will likely charge you a premium. The cheapest way to get the permit is to head to the immigration office in Ha Giang City, or the Police station in Meo Vac. I have marked them on their respective Destination maps.

At either of these offices, you will need to show them your passport, and your motorbikes registration number (Blue Card). If you don’t have your passport because you used it as a deposit for renting your bike, you can use photocopies of your information. You’ll need to give them a copy of your identification page, and a copy of your visa. After a few minutes they will hand over the permit and let you go your merry way. 

Ha Giang Immigration Office

Address: 292 Trần Phú, P. Trần Phú, Hà Giang, Vietnam

Hours: 8:00am -12:00pm, 1:00 – 8:00pm. Make sure to arrive early. If you arrive close to lunch you’ll have to wait until they come back. Also, punctuality isn’t much of a priority for a lot of Vietnam. 

Meo Vac Police Station

Address: TT. Mèo Vạc, Mèo Vạc District, Ha Giang, Vietnam

I couldn’t find any information of the hours. However, it is likely similar to the Ha Giang Immigration office. Show up early and you’ll be good to go.

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Where to rent/hire a motorbike

picture of a fake honda win motorbike parked

There are a lot of places to rent a motorbike in Ha Giang City. Almost every accommodation offers bikes. However, the big player is QT motorbikes. They have a lot of bikes, and a variety of options available. They also have a history of excellent customer service. 

Another company worth checking out is Ha Giang 1 Hostel. They have a nice selection of bikes and good prices. 

Ha Giang Loop Easy Riders and Guides

One popular option for those who aren’t confident in their riding ability is to hire an easy rider, AKA motorbike taxi or Xe Om. There are tons of options available online. You could also source a guide through any of the accommodations in Ha Giang City. Usually a 3 day guided tour with a driver costs about 200usd.

Ha Giang Loop road conditions

A road tracing the edges of a mountain as it stretches into the distance

The Ha Giang province has super windy roads, with a few steep mountain passes. Many sections of the road are very narrow, and not quite wide enough for large vehicles to pass without leaving the shoulder. Some sections of the route do get a decent amount of truck traffic. Always be on the lookout for large trucks flying around blind turns. Hugging the edge of your side of the road while going around blind corners is usually a good idea. Always give yourself escape routes for unexpected traffic or obstacles. Never stay on the side of large vehicles, or in between them. Avoid blind spots. If you can’t see the driver, the driver can’t see you. Use your horn often! 

During the rainy season the Ha Giang Loop experiences many rockfalls and landslides. Because of this, always be prepared for debris on the road, especially when going around blind curves. I have seen riders take turns too fast, hit a patch of rock and lowside (slide) off the road. In fact, a man died a few years back this way while riding too fast through Ma Pi Leng Pass. Always pay attention. 

To sum it up, always take it nice and easy and avoid large vehicles…the biggest vehicle rules the road. 

Police and Police Traps

Vietnamese Police standing on the side of the road

Because of the recent unfortunate deaths of backpackers, Ha Giang has been putting in an increased effort to catch motorbike tourists driving illegally. On random days police have been setting up stops along the popular routes, usually just north of Ha Giang City. Aside from obeying the law and having a proper license, the only way to avoid the police is to take a very rough and uncomfortable back route to Du Gia. 

Unfortunately, if you are riding without a proper license, the only thing you can do is leave super early in the morning, sneak among a tour group through the checkpoint, or get lucky. Because this is a new situation, I’m not exactly sure how the police are handling it. Though, it does appear that the only police traps are just north of Ha Giang City on the QL4C. I suspect that the police trap will be present most days of the busy seasons, spring and fall.

Considering getting a motorbike license? Click here.

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