Renting a motorbike in Ha Giang and completing a 500-mile loop through the province is one of the best experiences of my life. Leaving behind the delicious food and comforts of Hanoi to head for the mountains was difficult, but once I was soaking in endless views of surreal mountains I forgot all about Hanoi. You can watch a short video I made of the Ha Giang motorbike loop here.
Here is a map showing the cities we stopped in along the way. We went clockwise spending nights in Ha Giang, Dong Van, Bao Lac, Ba Be Lake, and Cho Ra.
Our entire trip took five days to go 500 miles (800 kilometers), including one mishap adding an extra 100 miles. Considering the winding mountain passes only allowed 15-25 mph on average, we probably logged 30+ hours of driving all together. It was about $25/day for our adventure. $125 for an unforgettable experience is hard to beat.
The entire journey has remained virtually untouched by tourism on a major level. Most of the places we stayed, we saw 2-4 other travelers, if any. We actually only seemed to pass a few other travelers on the roads each day as well.
Renting Motorbikes from Johnny Nam Tran
We got off of our night bus from hell (shouting bus staff who stopped our commute to watch the Euro cup from 2-4 AM, screaming and chugging beer, to then continue our drive watching porn on a laptop at full-blast volume, all while we tried to sleep . . . but that’s another story) at 6 am and stayed a night in the Sao Mai Hotel. It had great service, was clean, had good air-conditioning, but the beds were rock-hard.
We rented motorbikes from Johnny Nam Tran, a well-known tour-guide in the area. We each paid $8/bike/day for two 110cc automatic bikes. Johnny said getting semi-automatic or manual bikes was not necessary, and he was helpful in explaining the loop and the different stops we could make. I would definitely recommend speaking with him even if you don’t plan on going on one of his tours.
The address for his shop in Ha Giang is:
Phòng Giáo dục Thành phố, 181, Lâm Đồng, Trần Phú, tp. Hà Giang, Hà Giang, Vietnam
He has a few phone numbers listed online, but the one I used to contact him is: 091 779 7269
Note: I completed another motorbike loop, the Thakhek Motorbike Loop in Laos, and we did get semi-automatic bikes. They have more shock absorption and can stay in gear going downhill, so I would actually recommended getting them instead of automatic. It takes 3 minutes to learn how to drive.
The Road Quality on the Ha Giang Loop
The majority of the roads along this loop are decent. There are some stretches of dirt road, gravel, and even roads they are currently building. Maybe three times we had to go through 20-30 meters of loose, fist-size rocks, dodging steam rollers and excavators through the bumpy terrain (they don’t stop or tell you when to go or anything) but that’s what makes it an adventure! Most of the tough roads were after Bao Lac on the route.
In the picture above, you can see a section of road under construction near Ba Be Lake. You can imagine sections even longer than this with only rocks to drive on. That is about has rough as it got.
In addition, mostly everything up to Ba Be Lake is a small, winding road where you will be dodging everything from potholes, rocks, trucks, chickens, water buffalo, cows, cow pies, goats, and more. It is definitely a challenge to try and look at the some of the most scenic views you have ever seen, while being vigilant of the road and traffic around sharp curves. We did the loop June 24th-28th and it didn’t rain once while we were driving.
Day One: Ha Giang to Dong Van
The first day to Dong Van is 87 miles (140 kilometers) and takes 4-5 hours of driving. Most of the drive takes you through winding mountains and huge karst formations. Just a few minutes outside of Ha Giang the drive is beautiful. We stopped for lunch in Tam Son, which was nothing special, but a good way to break up the drive.
We booked a private twin room in the Xuan Thu Backpacker Guesthouse for the night in Dong Van, which seemed to be where most of the travelers ended up. The town didn’t have much to offer, but it is a beautiful descent down into Dong Van from the mountains. There is also a market in the mornings that was cool to walk through before we took off in the morning.
Day Two: Dong Van to Lung Cu and Bao Lac
We woke up relatively early and got going by 10 AM . We went 15 miles (24 kilometers) to Lung Cu in the very north and then backtracked to Dong Van for lunch. Then we went to Meo Vac through the best part of the ride. Try to check the weather and make sure it will be nice when you do this part of loop, as it is the most epic part. You will pass huge valleys full of giant mountains and terraced rice paddies that descends into corn farms before Meo Vac. We decided to make a pit stop in Meo Vac and then continued to Bao Lac for total of 89 miles (143 kilometers) for the day.
In Bao Lac, we stayed in the Thuy Duong Hotel, which happened to be the first place that we wandered upon as the sun was setting. It wasn’t a bad spot! All the activities of the day market seemed to melt away by the time we were on the hunt for dinner and nobody wanted to serve us food. After 15 minutes of walking around, we finally found a guy beckoning us into his restaurant. We couldn’t understand anything or make out the menu, but he brought us out some mystery meat and rice to eat. Thinking back on it, Stu and I are pretty sure it was a meat we have never had before, probably dog.
Day Three: Bao Lac to Ba Be Lake
The third day we drove 91 miles (146 kilometers) from Bao Lac, through Cho Ra, to the Ba Be Lake area. This area had the toughest roads, but it had amazing rice farms and villages along the way. The poverty along this loop is a little intense but also just another culture and way of life. We passed little 6-7 year-old girls and 50-60+ year-old women carrying huge baskets at nearly 90 degree angles on their backs up the mountains. We passed little kids begging for food and money on the street and men walking aimlessly at a snail’s pace on the mountains, seemingly with no end-goal. It is eye-opening to see the lifestyles people have in these tiny mountain communities.
When we arrived at Ba Be Lake, we realized that none of the homestays on the lake had comfy beds or A/C, so we decided to drive back outside of the national park and get a nicer hotel room. We found the Thai Binh Hotel and almost didn’t end up staying until the lady at reception woke up her drunk husband to turn on the wifi and get us settled in. He was passed out, face-down on a pad on the floor when she grabbed him – too much afternoon rice wine he said. It ended up being a good place to stay.
Day Four: Ba Be Lake to Cho Ra
We took a little break from riding on day four and stayed at the lake all day. We slept in, drove around the two lake towns, and settled on doing an afternoon boat tour. We did find kayaks for rent in Ba Lu, but it would have been way too far for us to go to see the cave, waterfall, and the lake. The boat tour cost $11/person and it was just the two of us on the tour. The cave up the river was gigantic and definitely worth a visit. The waterfall was less impressive and could probably be skipped.
After the tour, we drove 10 miles (16 kilometers) to Cho Ra to eat and sleep for the night. It is a much bigger town than the Ba Be area and had a lot of options. It also had some good draft beer places that were open pretty late. I think skipping Ba Be as a sleeping place and staying in Cho Ra two nights would have been better.
Day Five: Ba Be Lake to Ha Giang
Oh, day five. This was already supposed to be our longest day of the trip, around 120 miles (193 kilometers). This area of the loop had a more jungle-like feel with tropical trees and bushes cascading down the mountainsides in a lush green collage. It also has the largest and most smoothly paved roads. This was both good and bad. It was bad because we missed a right-hand turn and were having so much fun smashing down the mountains that we went for an hour in the wrong direction.
We went southwest for an extra hour instead of up cutting up towards Ha Giang. This ended up not being a big deal because the way back to Ha Gian is on a highway that you can go 50 mph on. We made up the lost time and covered 220 miles total for the day (354 kilometers) and still go back to Ha Giang around 4 PM.
Overall Definitely Recommend The Ha Giang Loop
If you are traveling in Northern Vietnam, in the next few years, you need to do this bike loop. It is the most authentic experience (more authentic than Sapa) I had in Vietnam. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or updates from your own experiences!
Here is the video I made. It includes the Ha Giang loop, along with some other highlights of Northern Vietnam.
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