Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop

Last updated December 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northern-most province. The mysterious landscape along the Chinese border – a mythical combination of conical limestone peaks and deep, craterous valleys – is probably the most striking in the country. Considered by many as the last frontier for adventurous travel in Vietnam, Ha Giang already has an almost legendary status among independent travellers. In the last few years, road conditions between Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac have improved, making access to this remote part of the country relatively easy. With mountain passes hanging onto cliff-faces high above roaring rivers, and back-roads threading through forests of limestone pinnacles, it’s ideal territory for a motorbike road trip. Food, accommodation and ATMs can now be found throughout the region. This is the perfect time to ride the Extreme North Loop: before traveller numbers rise, but after the completion of necessary infrastructure.

Ha Giang, Dong Van limestone geopark, VietnamThe Ha Giang Extreme North Loop is considered the last frontier for adventurous travel in Vietnam

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MOTORBIKE GUIDE:


ROAD TRIP DETAILS:

  • Route: Ha Giang, Tam Son (Quan Ba), Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Bao Lac [MAP]
  • Total Distance: 320km
  • Terrain & Scenery: limestone karsts, valleys, rivers, borderlands, minority villages
  • Road Conditions: paved rural back-roads, paved mountain roads, highways

ROAD TRIP CONTENTS:

  • Section 1Ha Giang-Tam Son (Quan Ba)-Yen Minh: 100km
  • Section 2Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac: 70km
  • Section 3Meo Vac-Ha Giang: 150km OR Meo Vac-Bao Lac (Cao Bang): 75km

ABOUT THIS ROUTE:

I’ve written this motorbike guide in 3 Sections, but each section doesn’t necessarily correspond to one day on the road. The total distance of the loop is 320km. If you really want to, you can complete the ride in 2 days, but the outstanding scenery on this route is such that I recommend from 2-4 days. Motorbikes are available for rent in Ha Giang City for around $7-10 per day. Officially, foreign travellers still require a permit (300,000vnđ [$14]) to visit this area. However, on my last visit I wasn’t asked to show mine on any occasion. It’s best to check with hotel staff in Ha Giang on the current requirements before you set out on the loop. If you should require a permit, they are available through most hotels in Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac.

Switchback roads, Ha Giang North Loop, VietnamSwitchback roads make progress slow, but lead to outstanding views

The best time to ride this loop is spring and autumn, when the weather is warm, colours are bright, and rainfall is light (it can get bitterly cold during winter months). Although all the roads are now in good to reasonable condition, progress is slow due to countless switchbacks and mountain passes. Expect an average speed of 30km an hour. In my guide below I’ve included directions, recommendations of places to stay and eat, and several sights and excursions along the way. From Meo Vac you can forgo the loop by continuing southeast to Bao Lac in Cao Bang Province, and onto the Northeast Loop (see Section 3 for details).


ROUTE MAP:

The Ha Giang Extreme North Loop: Vietnam’s North Pole


View  in a LARGER MAP

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SECTION 1:

Route: Ha Giang-Tam Son (Quan Ba)-Yen Minh | Distance: 100km [MAP]

Ha Giang, the provincial capital, is a likable city on the banks of the Lo (Blue) River which, despite its name, usually runs muddy and brown. It’s a comfortable place to prepare for the loop and, after the ride, to relax and rejuvenate. There are lots of accommodation options on both sides of the river: Nguyen Trai Street on the west bank and Nguyen Thai Hoc Street on the east bank, which are connected by two bridges, one at either end. I prefer staying on the east bank because it’s close to cheap food options and there are a few good guest houses (nhà nghỉ) right on the riverfront (for more about nhà nghỉ read this). Nha Nghi Thuy Tien (19 Nguyen Thai Hoc; Tel: 0913 271 248) has good but aging rooms with balconies overlooking the river for 200-400,000vnđ ($10-20) a night.

Lo River, Ha Giang, VietnamView from the Thuy Tien Guesthouse: despite its frontier reputation, I warm to Ha Giang City

On Nguyen Thai Hoc Street there are several rice eateries (quán cơm) where you point and order. These offer decent food for around 40,000vnđ ($2) per person (for more about quán cơm read this). If you’re looking for a feast – especially when returning from the loop after a few days of ‘mountain food’ – try the big restaurants on Nguyen Trai Street; on the right hand side just north of the second (northern) bridge. Here you’ll find local specialities, such as salmon hotpot (lẩu cá hồi), for which the region is famous. For breakfast, I have a soft spot for this local place.

Banh cuon for breakfast in Ha Giang, VietnamHa Giang has plenty of very cheap, nice little local places to grab a bite any time of day

Take Road QL4C north out of Ha Giang. It’s only a few kilometres before forested limestone mountains tower over you and irresistibly-blue rivers run alongside the road. After 30km of winding through beautiful valleys, a cheap-looking gate announces your arrival at the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo-Park. In case you didn’t get it the first time, there’s a sign on the hillside in giant Hollywood-style lettering with the park’s name in Vietnamese and English. The area was designated a UNESCO Global Geo-Park – only the second in Southeast Asia – in 2011. There are information boards by the roadside throughout the geo-park with (infuriatingly esoteric) details about the land formations in this region.

Road from Ha Giang to Quan Ba, VietnamJust a few minutes out of Ha Giang on Road QL4C and the scenery is already marvellous

The road begins a long, snaking ascent up Heaven’s Gate Pass (one of several so-named mountain passes in Vietnam). The views back down over the meandering road are terrific. After crossing a treeless plateau, Heaven’s Gate Pass drops down into Quan Ba District and the town of Tam Son, nestled in a valley between dozens of limestone ‘molehills’. Near the top of the pass there’s an information centre with a coffee shop, where various maps of the area are available. Climb the steps behind the cafe up to a small gazebo for unobscured views of the entire district.

Tam Son seen from Quan Ba PassTam Son (Quan Ba) District: there are terrific views from the gazebo at the top of Heaven’s Gate Pass

The town of Tam Son has a few nhà nghỉ (guest houses) on the main street, should you feel like stopping for the night. However, most people choose to take lunch at one of the many quán cơm (rice eateries), before continuing on Road QL4C east down to the Mien River valley. Before reaching the valley, the road passes a pair of distinctively round hillocks, which someone imaginatively named ‘fairy bosom’. At the end of a series of severe switchbacks, the road crosses the Mien River, following its course north through a steep canyon. There’s something beguiling about this bamboo-lined river valley. Hamlets of wooden houses line its banks and naked children fish, play and jump from boulders into the sluggish waters. Before the road veers east, it passes the ruined fortifications of Cán Tỷ which, I’m told, are from French colonial times, although they look much older.

Fun on the Mien RiverOn hot days, children jump from boulders into the muddy waters of the Mien River

Another long pass climbs up through a pretty, cultivated landscape close to the Chinese border, before cresting at a cool pine forest. Descending the other side into Yen Minh District, you’ll see the limestone forests of Dong Van Plateau in the distance, looking like the crenulated ramparts of a giant castle. The main street in Yen Minh town has a few hotels to choose from. Try Thao Nguyen Hotel (Tel: 0915 486 624) with clean rooms for 300-500,000vnđ ($15-25). Food is also available on the high-street.

Dong Van Karst Plateau by motorbike, VietnamAs you drop down into Yen Minh, a forest of limestone hills comes into view in the distance

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SECTION 2:

Route: Yen Minh-Dong Van-Meo Vac | Distance: 70km [MAP]

The 70km drive from Yen Minh to Meo Vac (via Dong Van) is perhaps the most remarkable stretch of road in the country. Road QL4C ploughs through a striking landscape of dramatic peaks and troughs, formed over millions of years by tectonic activity and the erosion of the limestone that defines this area. Limestone pinnacles rise and fall at regular intervals, creating the sense that one is in a stone forest. The shapes are so live and animated it’s as if the landscape were in fluid motion until it was suddenly petrified, like a frozen sea. The impression is of a mythical landscape equal to any Tolkienian novel or Chinese ink and wash painting.

Limestone karst landscape, Dong VanDong Van Karst Plateau: a Tolkienian landscape of peaks and troughs, creating deep, shadowy valleys

Just as impressive as the topography are the ambitious roads that ride over and around this complex terrain. In the last few years, dozens of small paved lanes have been completed, criss-crossing the entire area. These offer tempting diversions, leading to isolated villages hidden deep in this strange landscape.

Road through the Dong Van Karst Plateau, VietnamNew roads wind around the often vertical slopes of the limestone karsts

The people who inhabit this region are predominantly ethnic minorities, particularly H’mong. For them, this rocky, treeless land offers little protection from the elements, and crops are limited because of the lack of fertile soil. Travellers who’ve come from Sapa, may find minority people in this region less forthcoming when compared to the business savvy minorities in the northwest. However, children all along this route will skip and jump down the road screaming “‘ello” and occasionally putting their hands out for money. It’s a good idea to keep some candy or other snacks on you to offer these children as an alternative to money.

Minority woman harvesting soy beansA minority woman harvesting soy beans on the slopes of the Dong Van Karst Plateau

A couple of kilometres after leaving Yen Minh, Road QL4C forks. Take the road heading northeast, signposted to Dong Van. A steep pass takes you immediately into the limestone karsts. Trees are noticeably absent from the rocky slopes, and there are no more terraced rice fields and fertile valleys. Instead, you’ll see acres of soy bean plantations, punctuated occasionally by clumps of sweet corn and stands of bamboo. Because there are no trees, the majority of structures are made of mud bricks or blocks cut from the limestone. Walled hamlets shelter in the tight clasp of conical hills, their shadows offering the only protection from sun and rain.

Minority village home, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Ha Giang, VietnamThe porch of a minority home near Meo Vac: pumpkins are one of the few crops that grow here

After about 30km there’s another fork in the road. For an interesting detour, bear left (due north) and continue on Road QL4C to Lũng Cú, Vietnam’s North Pole. A scenic 45km loop (ending back in Dong Van) this is a popular new pilgrimage for young Vietnamese groups, who make the trip on motorbikes from Hanoi, wearing T-shirts with the Vietnamese flag and ‘I love Vietnam’ printed on them. The ‘pole’ itself (entrance fee; 20,000vnđ [$1]) is a tower atop a small hill with excellent views across China from the top. I’ve marked this loop in red on my map.

The tower at Lung Cu, Vietnam's North PoleWelcome to Lũng Cú, Vietnam’s ‘North Pole’, a popular pilgrimage for young Vietnamese travellers

Alternatively, take the right fork (due south, then east) to continue on the direct road to Dong Van. In a dramatic valley just after the fork, there’s a small settlement clustered around a large stone building. This is the former palace of the H’mong king. Well worth a visit, this attractive stone and timber structure was built by the colonial French to keep the H’mong king happy (although I’ve been told several different stories about the construction of this palace). The H’mong king had a fearsome reputation and considerable wealth, gained from growing opium poppies in the area. The palace’s three stone courtyards and tiled rooftops look like a set from the Ang Lee martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The palace is signposted to the right, down a steep road leading into the valley.

Courtyard, H'mong King's palaceThe H’mong King’s Palace: a beautiful structure of stone courtyards, wooden doors and tiled roofs

The last 15km to Dong Van is an extraordinary ride through limestone pylons, each one casting a sinister shadow over the deep valley. The road is chiseled out of the mountains, gripping to the side of rocky cliffs. Sometimes there are no barriers; it feels like flying. But drive carefully, especially in the rain, because it’d only take a slight skid on a corner for you and your bike to plunge hundreds of feet into the valley. All along this road there are women and girls – from as young as 10 to as old as 80 – carrying heavy loads of wood, hay, and crops over their backs. The bodies of the older women have been permanently distorted, so that their backs are almost at right angles to their legs, even when walking unburdened.

Woman walks under heavy load, Dong Van, VietnamYoung girls and old ladies carry heavy loads for miles, eventually leading to permanent disfigurement

Dong Van is a fairly dusty town that’s enjoying a mini boom thanks to growing interest in travel to this region. There are now plenty of good places to stay and eat here, and the town boasts two markets: a big market held on weekends (known as the ‘new market’) and a smaller night market held every evening (known as the ‘old quarter market’). The Lam Tung Hotel (Tel: 0965 062 062) has excellent rooms for 300-500,000vnđ ($15-25) and is perfectly located between the ‘new market’ and the ‘old market’. Other nhà nghỉ (guest houses) can be found on the main street. The phố cổ (old quarter) was originally a handful of picturesque old stone houses with tiled roofs. But local authorities have obviously recognized its tourist potential, because now a row of brand new ‘old quarter’ buildings are being constructed here. It’s still quite tasteful, and the night market held in the square here is a good place for some inexpensive food and drink.

Old Quarter buildings, Dong Van, VietnamOld Quarter buildings in Dong Van Town, which is experiencing a mini-boom at the moment

Saving the best until last, the final stretch from Dong Van to Meo Vac is a 22km ride along the Ma Pi Leng Pass, a staggering road clinging to the edge of a wall of limestone mountains, towering hundreds of feet above the craterous Nho Que River valley. If any mountain pass in Vietnam deserves the title ‘epic’ it’s this one. After a short climb southeast out of Dong Van on Road QL4C, the ground seems to fall away, and you’re left gasping at the enormous chasm below. For 15km the road carves a terrifying path out of the mountainside. Incredibly, farming continues on the near-vertical slopes below and above the pass. This deep, treeless valley has the acoustics of an amphitheater: you can here the voices of children and bleats of goats from way down on the banks of the river, echoing around the mountains. There’s a viewing platform about halfway to Meo Vac where you can find refreshments. In good weather, this short stretch of road can take a couple of hours because the views are so superb.

View from the Ma Pi Leng PassThe Ma Pi Leng Pass: probably the most astonishing mountain road in all of Vietnam

Dropping down to Meo Vac, another dusty town surrounded by peaks, you’ll find a few nhà nghỉ (guest houses) around the bleak, Soviet-looking central market. Although it’s a 5 minute walk (or 30 second drive) from the ‘action’, I like Nha Nghi Linh Anh (63A To 2; tel: 0948 174 669) for its large spotless rooms and very reasonable prices (200-400,000vnđ [$10-20] a night). I find food in Meo Vac less than adequate, but there are street-side barbecues opposite the market and several OK quán cơm (rice eateries), including Com Binh Dan Long Hong on the west side of the market. For breakfast, there are cheap fried egg baguettes in front of the market.

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SECTION 3:

Route: Meo Vac-Ha Giang, 150km [MAP] OR Meo Vac-Bao Lac (Cao Bang), 75km [MAP]

From Meo Vac, there are several ways to complete the loop back to Ha Giang. Or, you can forgo the loop altogether, by continuing southeast to Cao Bang Province and continuing on the Northeast Loop. Either way, it’s another spectacular ride through karst scenery. The simplest route back to Ha Giang is to leave Meo Vac on Road TL182 heading west. This ‘lower road’ passes through a stark, rock-strewn limestone valley, and loops back around to Yen Minh, from where you retrace your outward route on Road QL4C back to Ha Giang. At 150km, this is the shortest option back to Ha Giang.

Roads through dramatic scenery, Dong VanTime permitting, you could spend days exploring the small roads and extraordinary scenery in this area

Other alternative routes offer much wider loops back to Ha Giang. These should be apparent to you when looking at the map. For those with lots of time, you could spend days exploring the small paved lanes within the ‘loop’ created by Road QL4C to the north and Road TL182 to the south. A good place to start is the alternative route between Dong Van and Meo Vac, which I’ve marked on my map with a red line. This road sees hardly any traffic or foreign travellers. Passing through a dry, tree-starved landscape dominated by conical peaks and dotted with tiny settlements, the route offers an insight into how farming works in such a harsh region, and how difficult it must be to sustain a living on this land.

The Gam RiverTake the road to Bao Lac on the Gam River, and continue to the lusher landscapes of Cao Bang Province

If you don’t want or need to head back to Ha Giang, Road QL4B heads south from Meo Vac all the way down to the Gam River valley. It’s significantly warmer and lusher in this valley. After crossing the Gam, turn left (due east) on Road QL34. This is a gorgeous route along a rich, fertile valley to the town of Bao Lac, where several rivers converge. There are a couple of decent places to stay on the riverfront here. Try the slightly shabby Song Gam Hotel (Tel: 0978 430 555; 200-300,000vnđ [$10-15] a night) just before entering the town. Bao Lac has some street food vendors around the market and a few quán cơm (rice eateries). From here it’s a straight shot on Road QL34 all the way to Cao Bang City, or south from Nguyen Binh on Road TL212 to Ba Be National Park. To find out more about continuing east to Cao Bang Province, take a look at my guide to the Northeast Loop.

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RELATED CONTENT:


THE SAPA-SIN HO SCENIC LOOP:
Stunning scenery on this mountainous ride over the Tokinese Alps……read more

Mountains near Sapa, Sin Ho, Vietnam


THE NORTHEAST MOTORBIKE LOOP:
Ride peaceful roads through a bucolic, rural corner of Vietnam……read more

The Northeast Loop, Cao Bang, Vietnam


SAPA TO HA GIANG ON BACK-ROADS:
Take the high, empty border roads between these two mountain retreats……read more

Sapa to Ha Giang, Vietnam

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217 Responses to Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop

  1. Jeannie says:

    Hi Tom,

    First, I want to echo the comments of the other posters – your site is an outstanding resource. I’ve used it a lot – thank you. I will support it via bookings for my travels in Vietnam whenever there is an opportunity to do so.

    I’m returning to Vietnam in October to explore more areas in the north by motorbike (then later heading south for island time). I read your guides for all the areas of the north, and you cover many – or all – of the rides I am planning to do during my time up there.

    I was wondering if you might help me with some advice to help solve my final puzzle for this trip: Right now my itinerary stands at 11 days but I need to eliminate one day, as I only have 10 days for this portion of the trip.

    Following is the itinerary I have so far. I’ll be doing this portion of the trip Oct. 21-30.

    1. Ha Noi – Nghia Lo
    2. Nghia Lo – Mu Cang Chai
    3. Mu Cang Chai – Sapa
    4. Sapa – Xin Man
    5. Xin Man – Ha Giang
    6. Ha Giang – Dong Van
    7. Dong Van (a day of riding other roads/exploring in the area around DV)
    8. Dong Van – Bao Lac
    9. Bao Lac – Bon Gioc waterfall
    10. Bon Gioc – Ba Be
    11. Ba Be – Ha Noi
    I just got back from Vietnam a couple of weeks ago, on a different trip, and during my time in the NW this last time, I did: Hanoi-Phu Yen, Phu Yen-Son La, Son La-Muong Lay, Muong Lay-Lai Chau, Lai Chau-Sapa, Sapa/Ta Van, Sapa-Lao Cai-train back to Hanoi.

    So I’m trying to avoid, where possible, rides I’ve already done.

    Here’s my question. To eliminate one day, should I:
    1. Skip the full day around Dong Van, or
    2. Take out the leg to visit Bon Giac altogether
    3. Or, as a possible (?) third option: I don’t need to go back to Sapa on this trip as I think the harvest will be over, but I don’t know if there’s a possible way to not stop between Mu Cong Chai and Xin Man (and without sacrificing a scenic ride/more enjoyable ride in exchange for a less scenic/more trafficky roads, in favor of time)
    4. (Or am I missing any other good options to eliminate a day?)

    Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide,

    • Hi Jeannie,

      Yes, I think you’re right: you should cut off the Hanoi-Nghia Lo-Mu Cang Chai-Sapa portion of your itinerary – the harvest will be over, or at the very least in progress by the time you arrive in late October (unless of course this year’s weather changes harvest times – the climate this year has been very unpredictable).

      Anyway, cut that out and then you have plenty of time to play with for the rest of your itinerary – which is a good thing because there are some long and spectacular rides in it that are worth lingering over.

      If you really want to go to Mu Cang Chai, you can stop at Yen Bai, or Pho Rang or Bac Ha on the way to Xin Man.

      As always, remember that these northern routes are very unpredictable because inclement weather can cause landslides or floods which can block roads for hours or sometimes days, and also scar the road surface so that sometimes they can be in bad condition. So the more time you have the better.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Jeannie says:

        Thanks so much, Tom. This does help – great advice. I’ll save that leg for a future trip.

        And I appreciate the reminder on allowing the flexibility/time for unexpected delays. Learned that the less convenient way on my first trip to Vietnam but it’s easy to forget when planning from elsewhere (and sometimes those derailments can be the best unexpected adventures). I’ll give myself more time on the N/NE routes.

        Looking forward to it, and thanks again for your site and the advice!

  2. Alex Foster says:

    Hi Tom.

    As is evident from the amount of comments on this section, this is the best trip to take in Vietnam on bikes. The road after dong van is literally something else, but people be aware as they are resurfacing it all. We haven’t seen so many western people on the roads as here so Ha Giang will soon become a buzzing city as tourism only increases.

    There are alot of guesthouses in Ha Giang who offer motorbike rental and even hostels opening.

    • Hi Alex,

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes, Ha Giang is on the cusp of becoming a major attraction for travellers – let’s hope it stays beautiful.

      Thanks for the road update – another rider recently mentioned the resurfacing too: I hope it won’t be too long before it’s finished.

      Tom

  3. Sam says:

    Hi Tom,

    We were considering doing this in early-mid June; however, I’m not sure if the weather would be great then. Would you advise waiting until Fall? Also, coming from Saigon, would it be best to fly to Hanoi and rent bikes there? Or should we take a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rent bikes?

    Your site has been incredibly helpful for me so far.

    Thanks,
    Sam

    • Hi Sam,

      It will be the rainy season in June, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad time to ride this loop: conditions will be hot and humid with tropical downpours but they usually come in the afternoons. Of course, it’s quite difficult to predict the weather in such a mountainous region.

      It’s probably best to get the bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rent a bike there, however, Hanoi does have more reliable rental companies than Ha Giang, like Rent a Bike Vietnam, Tigit Motorbikes, and Style Motorbikes – you can find a link to all these companies in the right sidebar and bottom of this page.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Sam says:

        Thanks Tom,

        I appreciate the advice as always. We may save this for Fall and ride through Hue, Danang, Hoi An and the mountains in June.

        On another note, I was wondering if there are any good single day trips out of Saigon? I know getting in and out of the city can be a hassle so these may be limited.

        Is the DT761 through Cat Tien any fun?

        Let me know when you’ve got a chance.

        Thanks again,
        Sam

        • Hi Sam,

          DT761 begins nicely but turns to a muddy dirt track, but for a day trip it’s not a bad ride – at least until the road deteriorates.

          There are all the ‘classic’ Saigon day trips, like Can Gio, Nui Ba Den (Tay Ninh), Vung Tau, My Tho and Ben Tre, but personally I don’t rate them particularly highly. However, it’s always nice to get out of the city for a day. With a day and a night, I’d recommend Ho Tram/Ho Coc.

          Tom

  4. Laszlo says:

    Dear Tom,

    It is pleasure to read your guides with tons of useful hints.

    Actually we’re planning to visit North Vietnam in December as part of our honeymoon. We would like to avoid the rush therefore we booked 3 days for the motorbike trip.We will rent one motorbike in Ha Giang which can cope with the weight of two of us+bags,I’m experienced rider. We want to follow your advises regarding the routes, except we would like to make a counter-clock wise tour, Ha Giang – Meo Vac – Dong Van – Ha Giang.
    My questions are:
    #1: Does it make sense to do it CCW?
    #2:What is the temperature during begin of December? I’m concerned about the neccessary warm clothes+protective gears.

    Thank you for your help,

    Best wishes

    Laszlo from Hungary

    • Hi Laszlo,

      Yes, it should be fine to ride the Ha Giang Loop counter-clockwise.

      December in Ha Giang might be quite cool – I would expect mild temperatures during the day (maybe 15-20 degrees Celsius), but in the evening it may get colder.

      Most rental bikes should be able to support a driver, passenger and baggage.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  5. Hi Tom, first of all , thanks for the awesome website full of informations!
    We are planing to do the Ha Giang ride for 6-8 days during the first 2 weeks of April and rent 2 motorbikes. We will be my husband, our 10 years old daughter and myself.
    I am not an expert in riding a motorbike but hope it will be fine.
    – is there any special advice for us regarding our daughter?
    – is it necessary to book the guesthouse/home stay as I don’t know if it is a peak season.
    – is it easy to find someone who speaks English in case of problem?
    – Any places we could stay longer as we are staying 6-8 days?
    – How is the weather in April?
    – Can we rent jacket or other equipment at the motorbike rental shop?
    Thanks a lot!

    Lydie

    • Hi Lydie,

      It shouldn’t be necessary to book your accommodation in advance, but weekends can get busy and you should check that you’re not travelling on a Vietnamese public holiday, because hotels can get booked up during those times. Otherwise you will be fine just turning up on the day.

      I wouldn’t say it’s easy to find someone who can speak fluent English, but there’s usually someone who can at least get by in English, and local people are generally very helpful to foreign travellers anyway.

      You could spend two nights in each of the main stops instead of just one night: Ha Giang, Dong Van, and Meo Vac.

      April is generally considered to be one of the best times to visit this area – temperatures should be mild and skies should be clear at least some of the time.

      You probably won’t be able to rent a jacket from the motorbike shop.

      It’s difficult to know what advice to give about your daughter, although obviously you will all need to be very careful while riding with her. It’s a good idea to remind her to be careful not to touch the exhaust pipe when getting off the bike, so as not to get burned.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  6. Sophie says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for your post. I have so far followed your posts around Cam Lap and Ho Tram and this is the next one on my list. I am thinking of getting an overnight bus to Ha Giang Wednesday night, doing section 1 on Thursday, 2 on Friday and 3 on Saturday then getting an overnight bus back from Ha Giang to Hanoi on Sunday night. Despite the obvious tiredness, do you think that would be ok?

    Thanks! Sophie

    • Hi Sophie,

      Great to hear you’ve followed some of my guides before.

      Yes, that itinerary should be OK, assuming you’re used to riding a motorbike and are obviously already aware that it will be a little bit tiring (but very rewarding) trip :-)

      Enjoy,

      Tom

  7. Liset Derks says:

    P.S> I really would like to visit some beautiful beaches

  8. Liset Derks says:

    Hi Tom,

    I am going to visit my daughter who is travlling Azie for a year. We plan to discover a piece of Northern Vietnam on bike. This is the first time for me to leave Europe so i’m not an experienced traveller ;-).
    I have about 12 days to travell starting and ending in Hanoi.
    All youre tours seems amazing so can you please advice me with one te take?
    The trip is in the first 2 weeks of April..
    And because i would like te spend quality time with my daughter i do not like to be on the bike the hole time ( we love to talk :-) )
    Thanks you very much in advance,

    Grzz Liset

    • Hi Liset,

      Perhaps you could try the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop – it’s very scenic but also relatively short. The roads are generally in good condition and the loop starts and ends in Sapa which is easy to get to from Hanoi. You could take the night train there and back from Hanoi and spend 3-4 days on the motorbike loop plus 2-3 days in Sapa.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  9. Pati Serra says:

    Good Morning Tom.

    Nice to meet u
    Im Pati from Barcelona, Spain.

    Such an amazing blog!!! I can’t stop reading it, thanks for your dedicated work.

    I’m currently in Hanoi studying in Foreign Trade University, exchange program for 6 months.

    My boyfriend is coming this following week and I have decided to show him the best of Vietnam. I think that Ha Giang will be so impressive and fit with us as we love the nature.

    My question is,

    We will arrive to Ha Giang thursday16 at noon and leave saturday18 in the sleeping bus, so it will be 2’5 days…too short, right? I know but no more time..

    Do you have any suggestion about it? Or recommendation?

    Eventhough I am pretty sure that we have to go!!!

    A lot of thanks for your attention

    Pati

    • Hi Pati,

      Nice to hear you enjoy my blog.

      Yes, 2.5 days is not that long to visit Ha Giang, but you can still enjoy it in that short time. On your first day just stay in Ha Giang: find a motorbike, or a car and driver and sort out your visitor permit, and enjoy Ha Giang City – it’s a pretty interesting place. Then leave early in the morning the next day so you can travel all the way to Meo Vac via Dong Van – it’s a spectacular drive so you will want to make lots of stops along the way. Then make your way back to Ha Giang the next day to catch your night bus back to Hanoi.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  10. Kamil says:

    Excellent post, Tom!
    We are planning to visit Ha Giang in about a month and follow your motorbike loop.
    Does anyone have an experience getting the permit in Ha Giang using the new Vietnam e-visa? I read on one forum that travelers were denied the permit because the officer was not familiar with e-visas.

  11. Hey Tom !

    I’ve spent the last few hours going through your guides and really appreciate what you’ve put up here !

    I’m arriving in Hanoi in April and really interested in the Ha Giang loop. I’m renting a motorbike from Tigit and am a complete novice driver FYI.
    I also plan to head to Sapa and thought I head to Ha Giang from there to start the loop.
    I have a few questions for you
    1. Can I fast track from Sapa/Lau Cai to Ha Giang instead of the northern borders guide you have and how long would this take?
    2. My plan now is: Hanoi – Sapa – Can cau – Lai Chau – Ha Giang loop – Hanoi, does this sound like a good route ? And how many days would you recommend for a novice rider ?
    3. I’m hoping to do this in 10-12 days, if you have any better recommendations or areas to avoid it would be appreciated !

    • Hi Scott,

      Yes, you can take a shorter route between Sapa and Ha Giang by going on AH14 to Pho Rang and then turning on Road 279 to Viet Quang where it hits Highway 2 to Ha Giang. This is fine, but the second half of Road 279 is often in bad condition.

      Your route should be Hanoi-Sapa-Can Cau-Ha Giang (there’s no need to go back to Lao Cai after Can Cau) because that would be slowly continuing northeast from Sapa.

      10-12 days fine to complete that route, but take it very slowly and carefully as you as a first time rider – the mountains roads are very windy and sometimes suffer from potholes and landslides.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  12. Jeremy says:

    Hello Tom,
    I’ve been reading your blog since I started my bike trip from Ho Chi Minh City 2 months ago, and I can only thank you for all this precious information. It was sometimes difficult to decide which road to take and your blog helped me a lot with my decisions.
    I wish to share a travel tip with you concerning the Ha Giang northern loop. After passing through Meo Vac and taking the west road TL182, a beautiful option instead of going all the way back to Yen Minh and taking the same route between Yen Minh and Ha Giang, is to head south on the road TL176 in the town of Mau Due (around 25 km before Yen Minh). This road offers beautiful scenery and meets the QL4C.
    There are a couple of villages along the TL176 but only one town offers sleeping facilities, Du Gia. In this town there is a new hostel with a 7bed-dorm, Du Gia Backpackers Hostel and also a homestay with a Tay family. I enjoyed myself so much in this town that I stayed four nights and had the chance to experience the Saturday market which was full of Hmong, Zao and Tay people, such an authentic and unforgettable experience!
    So if you have the chance to come back in this area, don’t hesitate to finish or start your loop with this interesting alternative.
    I wish you best of luck,
    Jeremy

    • Hi Jeremy,

      Good to hear you’ve enjoyed riding around Vietnam so far.

      Thanks for the tip. It sounds like a great route. I look forward to trying it out next time I’m in the area. I’m sure many other readers will benefit from that advice too.

      Thanks again,

      Tom

      • Rocco says:

        Hi Jeremy and Hi Tom,

        I am actually doing the same route as you Jeremy did but we will be starting returning back to Ha Giang from Meo Vac and same route TL182 and TL176 and we have booked at Du Gia Backpackers Hostel for the night. As I am driving and we will be two people on the Motorbike because my girl does not drive, do you know approximately how long does it take to get Du Gia Backpackers Hostel from Meo Vac and what is the road condition?

        Thanks!

        • Hi Rocco,

          The journey will probably take 3-4 hours including stops, but I’m not sure about the road conditions at the moment – you could ask people about that when you are in Meo Vac.

          I hope you enjoy your trip,

          Tom

  13. Derek says:

    Tom,

    This is FANTASTIC information. It really inspired us to be sure we made this area a part of our Vietnam itinerary. We’re heading out from Ha Giang tomorrow, hoping for good weather and really excited about the road ahead! Thank you so much for the time and effort to put this together and keep it up to date.

    We’ll also be trying out your recommended breakfast place tomorrow!

    One quick thing – I would just like to advise that it’s usually very anti-productive for foreigners to give out candy to children. Yes, it’s not giving money to them, but it still encourages a culture of begging and obviously isn’t great in areas where dental care is poor or non-existent, but what’s worse for me, it creates this rift where they see foreigners as wealthy sources of gifts and money, instead of simply seeing them as a different looking person with whom they can interact. From your site, I can tell that you do interact with the people and build that lasting bond that truly sticks with them, but for you and others reading this, I wish you would reconsider giving out these sorts of “gifts.” From my travels and many books I’ve read about the subject, that’s my own personal opinion.

    But once again, thanks for the great information and pictures!

    • Hi Derek,

      Glad that you are looking forward to exploring Ha Giang.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I agree that one shouldn’t encourage children to stay out of school by giving handouts to them, but some form of quick food seems a much better alternative that giving money, partly because it is the children who consume it, not their parents, and thus the latter will not benefit from it, which is why they send them out in the first place, rather than sending them to school. If no one gave money to the kids, their parents would not send them out to ‘beg’. But you’re right that candy isn’t the best choice; perhaps fruit or some other small snack that is easy to carry and will not be bad for their teeth would be better.

      As for the attitude of seeing foreigners as wealthy piggy banks, I agree that does no one any good, but it is a way of thinking that has existed for many years, partly because it is true, of course, that all foreign travellers to Vietnam have much more disposable income than the ethnic minorities in this region, but also because the work of charities is often misinterpreted by local people, who then form the opinion that foreign visitors are here to, and willing to, ‘give out’ money.

      I hope you enjoy your trip and get the chance to interact with lots of local people along the way. And if you find a way to ‘give back’ to the area and the people, please do share it here, so that other travellers may do the same.

      Tom

      • Derek says:

        One day down, two to go – so far, it has been incredibly beautiful, and I can’t wait for the Ma Pi Leng pass tomorrow!!

        You’re right that we, as travelers, are obviously way better off than many of the people in these provinces, so there will always be that economic divide.

        For places like this, often one of the best ways to help the children of the community would be to bring donations of clothing and school supplies to give directly to the schools. Of course, that takes up room in a traveler’s backpack, so that doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a good idea if anyone is looking for ways to give. (You could also just purchase some of this in Hanoi and bring it up.) There are also a number of suggested charities in this post:
        https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293921-i8432-k7047800-Vietnam_charity_suggestions-Vietnam.html , but then there’s always the question of how much of that goes back to the local community.

        So, there’s never a perfect answer, but one of the best things is to spread the awareness of this area, the beauty and the warm people, which is exactly what you’re doing with this wonderful website. Riding along today, I kept wondering how many people were drawn here by your stories, pictures and suggestions. Digging further in your website, I keep finding more and more incredible information, so thanks again from so many of us that are benefiting from this site!!!

        • Hi Derek,

          Good to hear you’re enjoying the route so far. I hope the weather stays good for the Ma Pi leng pass.

          Thanks for the suggestions. Yes, clothes would definitely be a good idea, but, as you say, space might be a problem. I know a couple of people who may begin offering foreign visitors to the area different ways to give back to local people, so it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.

          Either way, I hope you continue to have a fantastic time,

          Tom

  14. Mike Tagg says:

    Hi Tom. I am so pleased to have found your article- you are a gold mine of information. I will be spending 5 days at the end of Feb tourng Ha Giang province on a motor bike. Some days the rental shop has suggested doung up to 140 km in a day. Eg Tam Son to Dong Van via Meo Vac. Is this not excessive? Also been suggested that I visit Du Gia especially for the Saturday market. This adds to the trip and also means two long sections-I am a 75 year old wreck!! Best wishes. Mike

    • Hi Mike,

      No, it’s not necessary to ride all the way from Ha Giang to Meo Vac in one day. You can do the ride as slow or fast as you like: Ha Giang to Tam Son in one day, then to Dong Van the next day, and to Meo Vac the next – it’s up to you. There are hotels in all those towns and the road conditions between them are usually good. There’s no need to ride it all in one go if you don’t want to. It’s worth going to Du Gia if you have the time, but if you don’t then it’s no big deal: the rest of the ride is so spectacular anyway :-)

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  15. Lester says:

    Hi Tom,

    You are like the holy grail! :-)

    Have been looking online about doing that loop as we are going to Vietnam mid Feb… And bingo, all you need is … love… I mean, you need to know is here! You’ll my saviour and guide it seems, great site, photos and resources.

    Couple of questions coming to mind:
    1. From experience, how could the weather be around mid Feb to do the loop?
    2. A bit more practical question, I don’t seem to have read about it… Where can you get petrol along the road durin the loop trip? Seems quite foundamental in order to estimated your daily stops/itinerary :-)

    Thanks in advance for your advices

    • Hi Lester,

      Glad you like my guides.

      Weather can be pretty cold at that time of year. There can be a bit of fog and rain too. So make sure you bring appropriate clothing with you.

      There are gas stations at regular intervals on this loop, including in all the towns and villages, so petrol shouldn’t be a problem. Just don’t let your tank get too low before you start looking out for a pump.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  16. Olga kim says:

    Hi! Thank you for your advice! I do have a few questions if you could possibly answer them. My boyfriend and I will be traveling to ha giang in February, and we want to rent a motor bike and do the tour in about three days. We will have all our luggage with us. What did you do with yours? It seems like a little too much for us to rent a room for 3 days just to leave our stuff in, while renting other rooms on our trip. Also, is it possible to go straight from Hanoi to ha giang? I thought I read you could, but it seems like people go to sapa first and then travel from the up further north. Thank you!

    • Hi Olga,

      Yes, you can take a night bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang.

      I take my luggage with me because I have GIVI boxes that attach to my bike. However, most other riders either strap their bags to the backs of their bikes with bungees, or rent saddle bags with their bikes. But I think it is also reasonable to ask the hotel or guesthouse that you stay in in Ha Giang to keep your bags until you return three days later.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

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  18. Ruby says:

    Hi Tom!
    Your blog is fantastic, and my boyfriend and I are planning on doing the Ha Giang Extreme North loop this week.
    I just have a few questions I was hoping you could answer… (sorry they’re all transport related!)
    We’ve been recommended to get the bus from Hanoi to Sapa – are there any well known bus companies that would be better to travel with?
    Also, how do we get to Ha Giang from Sapa?
    Finally, how would we go about getting from Ha Giang to Ninh Binh? Would we have to go via Hanoi? Again, what would be the best modes of transport for this?

    Any help you could give us would be greatly received!
    Thanks so much!

    Ruby :)

    • Hi Ruby,

      Glad to hear that’ll you’ll be riding the Ha Giang loop – I hope you have decent weather.

      Personally, I think it’s more fun to take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa). But the new highway from Hanoi to Sapa has been open for a couple of years now so the bus journey should be pretty smooth and quick now. Lots of bus companies do it – check your guidebook for advice on good lines to take.

      From Sapa to Ha Giang is a long, fairly rough but utterly beautiful trip by motorbike if you follow my Borders & Back-Roads route by motorbike.

      If you want to go by public transportation it takes about a day but it is possible – check the comment from Aurelia a few comments below this one.

      Ha Giang to Ninh Binh is another long journey. You would need to take the highway down towards Tuyen Quang and further southeast to Hoa Lac which is the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh Road, just west of Hanoi. Then take the Ho Chi Minh Road south and turn east just before Cuc Phuong National Park for Ninh Binh. (Take a look at Section 8 of my Ho Chi Minh Road guide for more about that leg of the journey.)

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

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  20. Kevin Williamson says:

    Hi Tom.
    I have just returned from a 2 week ride along the China Border from Sa Pa to Cao Bang. Once again your information was priceless. We also found some great back roads and only really got lost a couple of times as the roads disappeared into tracks that we followed till no longer able to do so. This is one area I will be back to do with more of the way tracks loaded into the GPS.
    Till back next year cheers Kev.

  21. Stephen says:

    wow, tom, thankyou so much for providing us all with this priceless info! I have a question and I wonder if you could help…
    I will be in hanoi from the 16th of december and I am heading up to lao Cia fundamentally to do a motorycle loop. I have been advised to “definatley visit sapa” for the incredible secenery and vietnamese culture, but I’m concerned it may be too touristy, and really I am most concerned with having a great motorbike trip and visiting some off the beaten track places and the best possible alpine scenery and viet culture

    I have one week to spend in this area, do you think I will get more out of heading to Ha Giang and doing the extreme north loop, or heading to sapa and doing the Sapa to Ho sin route? or maybe there’s enough time to do both if i rent a bike from lao cia?

    considering the time of year I will be visiting in mid december, Do you think I will need thermal gloves and a big jacket, or could I get away with lighter clothing like i did in north thailand? if you think it will be challengingly cold, which route would you suggest for the best weather and conditions for my time there? I am open to any advice and help with planning my trip.

    I really hope you can find the time to answer my questions because I am concerned about the possibility of me doing a motorbike loop in mid december. I have already recommended your website to all of my travelling friends!

    Many thanks, Ste

    • Hi Stephen,

      Yes, it will be cold at that time of year in both Sapa and Ha Giang. But it will probably be colder in Sapa because it is higher up in the mountains. So if I were you I would take some good cold weather clothing.

      Sapa is very touristy. In my opinion, the town is not very nice these days. However, the landscape around the town is fantastic, especially on the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop. Once you are out of Sapa town you are off the beaten path.

      Ha Giang is less touristy, although people are saying that weekends can be quite busy now. The landscape is very scenic and strange but the mountains are not as high as they are in Sapa.

      They are both very beautiful places and great rides. They will both be cold at that time of year. And they are both quite easy to navigate, although it’s much easier to get to Sapa than to Ha Giang. The Sapa-Sin Ho Loop only takes 2-3 days, and so does the Ha Giang Loop, but you will also need to spend at least one day getting from Sapa to Ha Giang.

      I hope this helps you make your decision,

      Tom

      • Stephen says:

        Once again Tom, thanks so much for this priceless info, the internet is a brilliant thing! maybe I will take the “standard” option of Sapa, seeing as it’s my first time in Vietnam. Keep up the good work with the website pal :)

  22. Kayla says:

    Hi Tom,

    First of all – thank you for your reports! Amazing website. We have just started our Vietnam biking trip and I am so happy I discovered you!!

    We are in the process of the Ha Giang loop… In Yin Minh tonight. We rode our bike from Hanoi up so I am wondering if it is worth it to do the loop back to ha giang or if we should go down south via Bao Lak route? Which road do you prefer with landscapes and cultural experience?

    I really appreciate the advise! Cheers

  23. Candy says:

    Hi thanks for sharing with us! You have have an awesome and inspiring blog. I have plan to go to Ha Giang and Sapa on early November. By chance, do you know if there is any bus that connecting those 2 cities? And how’s the weather in November? I hope it won’t be raining.

    Cheers!

    • Hi Candy,

      Another reader recently told me that there is a bus between Sapa and Ha Giang, but it takes all day because of the connections. Check the comment by Aurelia below for more details.

      The weather will be getting colder at that time of year. I would expect at least some rain and mist, but also some good weather too :-)

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  24. Antek M. says:

    There’s a recently opened cave near Quan Ba, pretty nice – after Quan Ba look for sign for it, it takes 5 km ride (very nice) and then maybe 20-30 minutes of steep walk (yes, on legs, like in times before you discovered a motorbike :)) to reach. The cave is not very big, but quite pretty – definitely worth the visit, especially if you don’t visit Phong Nha. Entrance is 50k, and you need to pay 5k for motorbike parking (I left my things there, just took the backpack with valuables, nothing went missing). Count around 2h for the whole detour.

    Word of warning – the whole region is extremely busy during weekends (Friday to Sunday) – I arrived in Yen Minh after 5pm and I couldn’t find a single room anywhere, ended up sleeping on a partially covered rooftop of one of the hotels, but conditions were pretty poor (especially when it started to rain). Roads were also very, very busy, with almost constant traffic (loads of big trucks, buses, minibuses, cars and motorbikes), it seemed like half of Hanoi went on tour here – and as far as I know there’s no public holiday right now to explain.

    Best idea would be avoid travelling on weekends, and if it’s not possible to try to book some hotel in advance. If you fail to do it at least plan to arrive as early as possible – I’ve met some people in Yen Minh who arrived earlier than me and managed to find something more reasonable (although they also had to ask in many places, as most of the hotels were fully booked)

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the cave info – sounds interesting.

      I’m not surprised that it gets busy on weekends – Ha Giang is increasingly popular among domestic (and foreign) tourists. And, now that access is easier than ever, I expect visitor numbers to increase dramatically. Good tip to book accommodation in advance during busy times.

      Thanks for the updates,

      Tom

      • Antek M. says:

        Some more updates ;)
        1). There’s a motorbike rental place in Dong Van, near the market. It’s not signed in English, you need to look for blue poster saying “Cho Thue Xe May”. I didn’t have time though to check what bikes they have and for how much, I just saw that this place really exists (it’s on google maps also). Anyhow I think it can be interesting option for people who need to rent a bike (compared with getting it from Ha Giang) – especially for beginners (I think the road from Ha Giang to Yen Minh is pretty difficult and dangerous – very steep, narrow, often in bad shape and with heavy traffic), while the small loop is relatively easy ride (much less traffic, better road conditions). Also renting it from Dong Van allows to see the most interesting parts of the region in form of day trips, without the necessity of carrying all the luggage etc.
        Not sure how to get to Dong Van by bus, but I passed many busses on the way so for sure it’s easy ;)

        2). The weekend situation was not one time thing. On Wednesday in Meo Vac I tried asking around if any hotel is available on Friday but didn’t find such (I asked both in bigger hotels and in nha nghi)

        3). Road to Bao Lac – it starts really great. Smooth ride along the amazing valley, great views, almost no traffic. After maybe 15-20km it starts to deteriorate, with some potholes and damaged sections, although never getting to “scary” level. They are building a huge dam near the place where QL4C joins with QL34, so near the junction it’s quite terrible – lots of trucks and really destroyed road. Fortunately it gets better soon and afterward ride to Bao Lac is reasonably smooth. Overall it’s quite nice drive

        4). In Bao Lac nice place to stay is Duc Tai hotel near the market. Worthy side trip is going to Na Van village in the mountains above the town. Follow the main road (direction of Cao Bang) until you see the junction (still in town). It’s very steep but good road leading around 10 km into the mountains. The views on the way are stunning (it’s hard to see from the bottom, but Bao Lac is actually surrounded by pretty impressive mountains that appear in the distance from all the sides when you reach the top) and the village looks interesting, lots of traditional wooden houses nested on the steep slope. In my opinion worthy finisher of otherwise short riding day. Be prepared that road back will be very steep :)

  25. Mathias Malfait says:

    Hi again,

    Forgot to tell you that i have about 5 to 10 days for the trip ;)

  26. Mathias Malfait says:

    Hello Tom,

    First off all thank you for the inspiring Blog.

    I am living in Ho Chi Minh. A few Months ago i had great pleasure following your coastal route.

    At the end of this month i want to discover the boarder of Vietnam with China. i would like to include your Ha Giang, Sapa , Mai Pi Leng Pass and Ban Gioc Waterfall.
    I wil depart from hanoi with the bike.

    I would appreciate any tips , suggestions on how to approach this journey.

    thanks in advance,

    Mathias

    • Hi Mathias,

      You could put your bike on the train from Hanoi to Sapa (Lao Cai) and start from there.

      Then you can follow my guides from west to east along the Chinese border. So that would be in this order: Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop, Borders & Back-Roads, Ha Giang Extreme North Loop, Pastoral Pathways Northeast Loop.

      However, 10 days is not enough time to complete all these rides, so you will have to choose which ones you want to do most. For example, you could leave out the Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop at the beginning, and leave out the Northeast Loop at the end. This would mean that you follow the Borders & Back-Roads from Sapa to Ha Giang, and then the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop. And then ride back to Hanoi. 10 days should be enough to do this.

      Note that some sections of road on the Borders & Back-Roads trip can be a little bit rough, and the road behind Ban Gioc Falls back to Quang Uyen is currently in bad shape.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  27. Max says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for the detailed Tourguides! Me and a friend are currently in Hanoi and planning on doing the Ha Giang Loop after Sapa. But apparently there’s no bus connection between sapa and Ha Giang. Because we have only limited time we have to choose now between the Ha Giang tour and the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop. If you just consider the landscape, scenery and the places you see on the tour, which one would you say is nicer or more beautiful ? Both look amazing just not sure which one to pick at this time of the year.
    Thanks for your help!
    Best, max

    • Hi Max,

      That’s a very difficult choice!

      Both are spectacular. The Sapa-Sin Ho Loop is grander, higher, more mountainous and easier to follow and easier to ride (as long as you don’t encounter any landslides). But Ha Giang is weirder, wilder, and (probably) more of an adventure, but it is also more complicated to get to and to follow.

      Weather conditions at this time of year should be OK in both areas.

      Personally, I think you’ll like either of them, so the defining factor is convenience: if you’re going to be in Sapa anyway, you can easily do the Sin Ho Loop; but if you want to do the Ha Giang Loop you’ll need to travel a bit more and put more effort into it. So it looks like you’re faced with a hard decision.

      I hope this helps you,

      Tom

    • Aurelia says:

      Hi Max, we just arrived to Ha Giang from Sapa yesterday. We were like you, we really wanted to do both loops!! Its difficult to find the info but its possible to go from one to the other in approximately 9hours. You need to take a local bus in Sapa for Lao Cai (take it by the Church, there is one every 20/30minutes, 1h journey, 30000d). When in Lao Cai, go to the bus station and ask for bus to Ha Giang, they will show you where to take it (its 50m on the left when facing the bus station), be aware that there is only 2 mini buses per day:around 6am, and around 12.30pm. Arrive early or book the day before while in Lao Cai as they are mini bus and ours was full. The journey lasts 7hours as there is a lot of upgrading works on the road. We paid 150000d (one guy, a bit aggressive, tried to sell tickets for 200000d, just ignore him and go inside to speak to the person responsible of that bus) Hope it helps! Enjoy, we done the Sin ho-Sapa loop and it was one of the best drive we ever done, today we are starting the Exreme loop, so excited!

      • Hi Aurelia,

        Thanks for the information, I’m sure that will be very useful to other readers too.

        Glad to hear you enjoyed the Sin Ho Loop. I hope you like the Extreme Loop too.

        Tom

        • Aurelia says:

          Tom, we absolutely loved every minute of it! We done the loop in 3days taking our time, we were lucky to have really hot and sunny days with clear views, didn’t know the north of Vietnam was as beautiful…everywhere you look is stunning!
          Well done for your amazing website, and a massive thank you for sharing it with us all! It really helped us organising our trip and its really inspiring!
          Just wanted to add 3 littles things:
          – I only learnt how to ride a motorbike 2weeks ago in Cat ba, so only drove around 100kms before I started the Sin ho-Sapa loop, so beginners don’t worry its totally feasible, just have a day or 2 around the city before you go to have a feel of the bike and then go for it slowly.
          – From Meo Vac, we took the road that passes Du gia to finish the loop and get back to Ha giang, its another stunning road, you feel on top of the world, strongly recommend it even though the last 8kms were pretty bad. (also there is a lovely hostel in Du gia perfect for lunch)
          – Finally I followed the advice given by Isaac on this thread regarding Anh Anh motel, and I totally agree with him its a really good place to rent good motorbikes, get advice re the loop and also the hotel itself is very good (clean, affordable, great location near the bus station, tell you everything you need to know re the loop…).
          Now we are looking forward to the Central loop next week!

          • Hi Aurelia,

            That’s great! I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the loop. And thank you for sharing your experiences and for the updates. I’ll make sure to check out the Anh Anh Hotel next time I’m in Ha Giang.

            Tom

  28. Jenny says:

    Hi Tom! Thanks for the awesome guide! I have never been on a motorbike but I really want to attempt this loop! I am considering taking a motorcycle safety course to do this loop when I go to Vietnam this March. I will be in Northern Vietnam mid-March. Would you recommend this loop for such a novice?

    • Hi Jenny,

      That’s a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, this loop is relatively traffic-free so you won’t have to deal with riding in Vietnam’s infamous urban traffic-jams. On the other hand, this loop is extremely mountainous so the roads are very windy and also very narrow.

      Ultimately, you’ll best be able to make the decision once you are in Vietnam for a few days – you’ll see the traffic in the cities and in the countryside, and you’ll start to get a feel for whether or not you want/can ride a motorbike here.

      Of course, you should be very careful (as we all should) if you do decide to ride.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Jenny says:

        Hi Tom,

        Thank you so much for your opinion! it helps! Is there another loop you would recommend in the north that might be easier to do for a beginner?

        • Hi Jenny,

          You might try the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop instead. It’s also very mountains with lots of twisting roads (and very scenic), but it is fairly simple to navigate, and you can rent a motorbike from Sapa. The traffic is pretty light too (as long as you don’t go on the weekend or public holiday). However, you still need to be extremely careful if you haven’t had much riding experience. Even if you only do a small part of the Sin Ho Loop it will still be a rewarding experience.

          Take care and I hope you enjoy it.

          Tom

          • Jenny says:

            Thank you for all of your advice! Last question.. can both loops be done on an automatic motorbike?

          • Hi Jenny,

            Yes, certainly, an automatic is fine for both loops. I use an automatic for all my road trips – but some people prefer a manual: it’s really about whatever you feel most comfortable with. However, there’s always the chance of landslides in these mountainous regions, which can sometimes block the roads and, after they are cleared, can be very muddy and slippery. So just ride carefully in wet or muddy conditions.

            Tom

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  30. Isaac says:

    Hi, fantastic post, very helpful, thanks.

    In case it helps, regarding the permits and such, I took a sleeps bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rented a motorbike (starts at 200k per day, or 150k per day for each day after the third) from Anh Anh Motel, just to the right outside the bus station. He scanned my passport, I signed a rental agreement and he gave me a copy. He gave me back the passport but required me to leave behind one piece of picture ID as collateral. I gave him my Vietnamese drivers license, but if I had brought a Canadian piece of picture ID, that would’ve been fine. Anyway, then he gave me some maps of the loop and a list of phone numbers of various mechanics and such in all the towns along the way.

    He also directed me to the Immigration Office in Ha Giang city, where I got that special permit for 210,000VND. It took allo of 10 minutes, all I did was hand the officer my passport, he knew exactly why I was there. Anyway, he gave me the permit (and of course my passport) and I went on my merry way.

    When I arrived at the hotel you recommended in Yen Minh, they did indeed ask me for the permit. They are keeping it over night (and they gave me back my passport right away).

    I think it’s worth getting the permit, it’s just a matter of going when the Immigration office is open. I went at about 7:40am on a Saturday. It could be that this hotel in Yen Minh was more diligent in asking for my permit because it’s a weekend, who knows. I’ve had friends who like you tried to get the permit and couldn’t, but were.never actually asked for it anywhere.

    Lonely Planet Vietnam (the 2012 one anyway) seems to think that if you don’t have the permit, “the officious police in Dong Van will fine you heavily and send you back to Ha Giang city.”

    Hope this is helpful. Mainly I wanted to recommend Anh Anh Motel for motorbike rental in Ha Giang city, they are very helpful.

    • Hi Issac,

      Thanks for sharing this information, it’s very helpful indeed.

      Great to hear that it has all worked out for you and all the officialdom has gone smoothly.

      Thanks for suggesting Anh Anh Hotel – I’ll check it out next time I’m in Ha Giang.

      Enjoy the rest of the ride,

      Tom

  31. Yoav says:

    Hay tom. Me and my girlfriend are in cat ba. And want to do some riding. We looking for the must pleasant and smooth drive because of her back hearts.( She also in pregnancy but doing everything in cool way) We are driving all over cat ba and that was OK in short distances. We want to stay at the north or middle Vietnam ( flying from Hanoi). What rides will you recommend for us? We have time for 10 days.
    Also from your knowledge haw many people fall and get injured? I think I drive OK but the other traffic is out of my control. What do you think?
    Your site is worth a medal. I read all of it.
    Thanks
    Yoav& Michael

    • Hi Yoav and Michael,

      Obviously you should be extremely careful riding a motorbike with a pregnant passenger on the back. There are hundreds of motorbike accidents every day on Vietnam’s roads. Ride carefully and stick to quieter roads.

      You could try the Golden Loop in Central Vietnam. It takes between 2 or 3 days, is very beautiful and mostly very quiet.

      In the north, you could try the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop which is spectacular and most of the roads are in good condition.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  32. Pingback: Pastoral Pathways: The Northeast Motorbike Loop » Vietnam Coracle

  33. Elliot says:

    Thanks very much for the great post: very helpful. One question: we’re aiming to take the route in early November, and don’t know whether it’s really necessary to get Japanese Encephalitis and rabies jabs. The official health websites kind of hedge their bets on this, but what do you think?

    • Hi Elliot,

      I’m afraid I’m not really the person to ask about that. I’m pretty sure I had the Encephalitis jab years ago as a precaution, but I don’t remember any mention that Ha Giang was particularly dangerous for it. You’re probably better off posting this question in a travel or medical forum.

      However, I would definitely suggest getting the rabies jab – animals, rusty nails etc, it’s best to be covered.

      I hope you find an answer.

      Tom

  34. Pingback: Breakfast in Ha Giang » Vietnam Coracle

  35. Chris says:

    I’m in Ha Giang at the Thuy Tien. I’m wondering about the permit. Have you gotten one from this guest house? I haven’t asked yet but I foresee a communication issue. How do you ask for the permit in Vietnamese? Also if they don’t have it, where else do you suggest asking? Or should I just not worry about the permit?

    • Hi Chris,

      It shouldn’t be hard to communicate because most travellers on motorbikes in Ha Giang are asking about getting the permit. If that doesn’t work you can ask at other hotels or the local government offices. However, last two times I visited Ha Giang I wasn’t asked for my permit. And another time I simply bought it at a hotel in Dong Van. But as you will visiting on the weekend it could be different.

      In Vietnamese it’s probably something like: giấy phép đi đường bộ Đồng Văn-Yên Minh-Mèo Vạc.

      Good luck,

      Tom

  36. Andrés Daniels says:

    Hi tom!

    I am currently In tam coc, about to head off to Hanoi. After reading Your blog i have decided to do the ha giang loop, given that it seems like an amazing oportunity to get to know the scenery, the people and the real vietnam.

    Nevertheless there are some things holding me back, such as the weather conditions during july ( how are they during this time of the year?) And the problems that the motorbike may have after driving long distances. I would like to know Your advices regarding this topics.

    On the other hand, i still have 2 weeks left on my vietnam trip, and i would like to do whatever is possible and worthy In the north. What places/activities would you recommend me to fill my trip with.

    By the way, and last but not least, Your web page is amazing, maybe the best combination of passion, adventure and brain i have seen on the Internet.

    Cheers!

    • Hi Andrés,

      Thank you for your kind words about my site – I’m glad you’ve found inspiration from it.

      Yes, I think it’s definitely worth riding the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop. It is one of the most spectacular areas in Vietnam, and people will be talking about it for a long time to come.

      I don’t think you need to worry about the motorbike – just try to make sure the bike is in good working order when you rent it and that you have the contact details of the rental agency so you can call them if anything goes wrong with the bike. If you do have a problem on the road you need to look for a sửa xe máy which mean ‘bike mechanic’ in Vietnamese.

      As for the weather, it’s true that July is the rainy season, but that doesn’t mean it rains all the time: usually it’ll rain in the afternoons but the mornings will be dry and bright. Of course, you may get unlucky and have a few days of bad weather (I had that in July a few years ago), but it’s just a risk that I think is worth taking. There’s not much you can do about it really – just check the forecast before you go – if there’s a typhoon then maybe change your plans! :-)

      The northwest and northeast and also fantastic areas to explore. The Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop is a great little ride, or you could even ride from Sapa over to Ha Giang on my Borders & Back-Roads Loop. You could also ride to the rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai from Sapa too.

      Another great place to explore and spend some time is Ba Be Lakes – but try to avoid weekends if you can.

      I hope this helps you plan the last 2 weeks of your Vietnam adventure.

      Tom

      • Andrés Daniels says:

        Man you are amazing, thank you very much!!

        Would you recommend me to do the loop on the weekend or during the week?

        • If you have the choice then definitely do it during the week – in general, wherever you go in Vietnam if you want to avoid the crowds don’t travel on weekends or public holidays.

          Enjoy!

          Tom

  37. Rob Winfield-Chislett says:

    a) and b) – twice!
    Hi Tom,
    Inspired as we are by your fabulous website, my wife and I are planning on heading up north in October to motorbike the Ha Giang loop, over 3-4 days.
    After chatting to a friend I’m undecided whether we should either a) from Hanoi, take a bus to Ha Giang and rent a bike there or b) rent a bike in Hanoi and take it on the train to Cao Lai and head east from there.
    I think the former, but was wondering if it was easy a) to turn up and get a Ha Giang bus without booking (I don’t think I can book in advance from HCMC) and b) how easy it is to rent a decent, preferably automatic, scooter in Ha Giang?
    Thanks very much,
    Best wishes,
    Rob

    • Hi Rob,

      I don’t think it should be a problem to turn up at the bus station in Hanoi (or book through your hotel) to get a ticket to Ha Giang. If you can, take a night sleeper bus (it’s a long journey) because then you’ll have the whole of the next day to start the Ha Giang Loop. Finding a bike in Ha Giang shouldn’t really be a problem either: although I can’t point you in the direction of any specific rental agencies, just ask at your hotel and I’m sure you’ll find one. You could also try contacting Mr Dong Ha Giang Motorbike Rental (he has a Facebook page) – he tends to spam my articles which is irritating, but I’m fairly sure he runs a competent rental agency there.

      The other option of renting the bikes in Hanoi, training it to Lao Cai and riding east to Ha Giang is a solid option in terms of logistics, but that ride east would seriously eat into your (limited) time.

      I hope this helps you make a decision.

      Tom

  38. Oliver says:

    I’ve loved reading the Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop report, and it’s inspired me to do a similar trip on a moped or motorbike at the end 23-27 June.

    All descriptions I have read of this trip are travelling east, from Ha Giang to Meo Vac. I’d rather do it the other way, travelling west, so if I have spare time I can visit Bac Ha and maybe Sapa. Is there any reason why travelling east is more desirable?

    I’ll be on a motorbike and June is the wet season. Does this mean it rains heavily for a couple of hours each day and then it’s dry, or does it mean endless rain throughout the day?

    I have four and a half days to do this round trip from Hanoi. I’m a little worried that will be too rushed. I’d rather avoid busy roads to and from Hanoi and take my time, but time constraints may mean I have to do these legs quickly.

    • Hi Oliver,

      Yes, you can easily do the Ha Giang Loop from west to east too.

      4-5 days is just about enough time to ride from Hanoi to the Ha Giang Loop and back, but it is very unlikely you will have time to go to Bac Ha as well. Because of your time constraints you will need to take the most direct route to get to Ha Giang from Hanoi, which is QL3 and the TL279 and then QL34. Most of this is very scenic, but from Hanoi to Thai Nguyen it can be quite horrible.

      On the way back from Ha Giang to Hanoi, you’ll probably want to take QL2.

      You can roughly work out your time like this: One full day from Hanoi to Bao Lac (a long day), 2 full days on the Ha Giang Loop, and one full day from Ha Giang back to Hanoi.

      The weather will most probably be a mixture of heavy rain showers and bright sunny spells, unless you get very unlucky.

      I hope you have a great trip.

      Tom

  39. Gertjan & Leonie says:

    Hi! Thanks for the information!! We did the Ha Giang Motorbike Loop in 2 long days :-) , it was amazing!! Thanks!!

  40. pascal says:

    hi,
    from Hanoi, with one or 2 stops on motorcycle…whats the best/nice road for going to Ha Giang ?
    thanks

    • Hi Pascal,

      Well, the most direct route is Highway 2. This is relatively scenic. Or you could go via Ba Be Lakes, either via Bac Kan on Highway 3, or bearing west on TL254. Both these routes are longer but also more scenic than Highway 2.

      I hope this helps

      Tom

  41. Pooja says:

    Hi Tom. Thanks so much for your motorbike guides. My friends and I would like to motorbike Sapa and Ha Giang Provinces (a loop or one-way) but we only have 5-6 days to do it. We want to see Hoang Su Phi, Dong Van/Meo Vac, and ethnic villages along the way. We are currently in Cat Ba. I already have a bike while the others are planning on renting bikes in the north. Is there a suggested route you would recommend for our trip? How would you recommend I get my bike up north, is it safe and doable to drive up north alone in 1 day or should I put it on a train or bus to Sapa or Ha Giang?

    • Hi Pooja,

      5-6 days is just about enough time to ride from Sapa to Ha Giang via Hoang Su Phi and then continue to Ha Giang and ride the Meo Vac loop. However, the roads are very mountainous and sometimes (especially from Xin Man to Hoang Su Phi) the road surface is a bit bumpy, so progress can be slow.

      For route suggestions take a look at my Sapa to Ha Giang Back-Roads guide, and my Extreme North Loop guide on this page. You can put these together to create the ride you want to do.

      The ride from Hanoi to Sapa on AH14 is fine but it is long – you can do it in one day if you start early in the morning. There are more scenic routes to from Hanoi to Sapa but they are much longer. Putting your bike on a night train from Hanoi to Sapa is quite a good idea.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  42. Meghan says:

    Hi Tom,
    I absolutely loved reading the post and look forward to exploring more of your writing. I have read the comments and they have been so helpful as well. My remaining question is, do you need some motorbike experience to do this loop? I imagine it would be wise to spend a little bit of time riding around casually to simply get the feel of it. I will be alone and am anxious about anything going wrong on the road, even with the motorbike itself. But I’m mostly very excited! Thanks.
    Meghan

    • Hi Meghan,

      Yes, you’re right: if you have no motorbiking experience at all then it would certainly be wise the rent your bike and spend the first day or two slowly getting to know it and feel comfortable with it. Obviously, you should always be extremely careful on any roads in Vietnam – just take your time and I’m sure you’ll be fine :-)

      I hope you enjoy this loop.

      Tom

  43. Arnaud says:

    Hi Tom,

    I completed the Ha Giang loop 3 weeks ago, combined with part of the Sapa to Ha Giang loop. What an amazing loop!!! spectacular landscapes, crazy swinging roads, amazing people and a true personnal experience. The highlight of my vietnam trip by far!

    I did the following trip on 6 days including one day in Dong Vac region to explore the area: Lao Cai / Xi Men / Ha Giang / Dong Van / Meo Vac / Ha Giang / Bac Ha / Lao Cai). I slightly adapted your loops to fit my schedule. I did longer distances than you per day, but I won’t necessarely recommend to other to do the same, the roads are quite challenging. I was exausted at the end of each day. I am used to ride in North Thailand, I can say that Thai roads are highways compared to Ha Giang roads.

    All the information you provided on your blog are really very usefull and accurate, great website! Thanks a tone for your tremendous job. If we follow your instructions, it’s almost too easy ;-)

    Thanks a lot again. I will keep following your blog for my next trips in VN, coz I will come back;-)

    Cheers
    Arnaud

    • Hi Arnaud,

      Great to hear that you enjoyed the northern rides – I agree, they are fabulous! Good to know that my guides were helpful too :-)

      I hope you’ll be back in Vietnam again soon for some more motorbiking adventures!

      Tom

  44. Caroline Labonte says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks A LOT for all those details and clear informations! Thats really helpfull!
    I was wondering if its safe to do this drive as a girl alone? Im 26 years old and Im traveling since 1 year and half.
    Please let me know as soon as you can cause I plan to do this trip in a couple of days. Im in Hanoi at the moment.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Caroline,

      Yes, certainly I think it’s safe to travel this route as a solo female. Obviously, you should take all the normal safety precautions that you would when travelling anywhere else in the world. But, in general, Vietnam is still a very safe place to travel, and the majority of Vietnamese people are hospitable and kind to foreign travellers.

      Enjoy!

      Tom

  45. Pingback: Ha Giang -Day 80 | Vive Amor Fati

  46. Annelies says:

    Hello Tom,

    Great website, thank you.

    Have you also been to the ban gioc waterfall? Is it possible to get there by motorbike? And do you know how long it would take?

    Thanks

  47. Yannick says:

    Hi Tom,

    Is it possible to hire a motorcycle in Ha Giang and drop it somewhere in Cao Bang, so we can take a bus from there back to Hanoi?

    Many thanks!

    Yannick

    • Hi Yannick,

      That’s a good question and I think, for now, the answer is no. It surely won’t be long before someone sets up such a service, but as far as I know if you rent a bike in either Ha Giang or Cao Bang then you’ll need to return it from the city you rented it from.

      Let me know if you do find a company which allows one-way rental.

      Thanks,

      Tom

      • Yannick says:

        Hi Tom,

        Thank you for your reply!

        If I find a company that allows one-way rental, you’ll be the first to know ;)

        Best regards,

        Yannick

  48. Max says:

    first of all: great website! Has been of great help.
    I’ve driven the whole way from Saigon to Cat ba and tackling the north now. I was just wondering if the distance between Cao Bang and Meo vac is correct? You mention 75 km, my calculations say 178-202km … How fast is the drive?

    Also, where would you sleep between Cao Bang and Ha Giang. I want to include “the North Pole” but do it in a minimum numbers of days without pushing it to hard. I’m a bit on a time limit…

    Thanks !

    • Hi Max,

      Yes, in Section 3 of the guide above 75km is the distance between Meo Vac and Bao Lac, which is the first town in Cao Bang Province, not Cao Bang City. So, as you say, the distance between Cao Bang City and Ha Giang is longer: just over 200km.

      Bao Lac, Meo Vac and Dong Van are all good places to stay the night between Cao Bang and Ha Giang. If travelling west from Cao Bang City, Road QL34 between Cao Bang City and Ha Giang Province is very good to begin with but expect it to slow down from around Tinh Tuc. However, you can definitely make it from Cao Bang City to Meo Vac in a day.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  49. Rebecca says:

    My husband and I are thinking of exploring Ha Giang in July. Is this a good time for doing a motor bike tour? Also, do you know if they rent out bikes for two people, with enough room for our travel backpacks? He has a motorbike license, but I do not.

    Thanks for this amazing article!

    Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,

      July is both the height of summer and the height of the rainy season – so that means you’ll get a fair amount of hot, humid, sunny weather, but also some tropical downpours. All in all it’s not a bad time to ride this loop.

      Two people on one motorbike is fine. You just have to take some time to work out a system of tying your backpack to the back of the bike. If you are renting bikes from Hanoi then your bike will probably already have some kind of rack attached to it for you to strap your bags to. Try Rent a Bike Vietnam (you’ll find a link to them just before this comment section and in the right-hand sidebar of this page). Or you can find bikes to rent in Ha Giang City, usually through your hotel or guesthouse.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

    • Mr Đồng says:

      Hi Rebecca!
      It’s possible for 2 people and travel backpack. Because you can put big backpacks in my shop. I’ll give them back to you when you return the shop.
      July is mid summer, but weather in Dong Van Karst Plateau is cool. So, it’s perfect to discover Dong Van at this time.
      Regard!
      Ha Giang Motorbike Rental.

  50. Aaron says:

    Hi my hero,

    We’ve been following your guide for 5000km now and we are on our last loop. Thank you so much for such a well put together guide. It’s been a blast.

    We are currently in Yin Minh and we are headed off to Meo Vac tomorrow.
    After the North Pole detour, your map shows the blue line with the amazing finish, and a red line which you label as an alternative route (due south and then east).

    I am wondering if we should take this red line or follow your stand blue line to get to Meo Voc. Are they 2 parallel roads following the same valley just on different sides, or is the red line the better of the two routes?

    Thanks so much,
    Hope to hear back soon:)

    Aaron and fanny
    (Canada and France)

    • Hi Aaron,

      Great to hear you’ve had an awesome adventure and that my guides have been helping you along your way.

      If you only take one of those roads to Meo Vac then definitely take the blue line via the Ma Pi Leng Pass – it’s amazing!

      I hope you enjoy this final section of your epic road trip.

      Tom

      • Aaron says:

        Thanks so much! Just in time:) we ended up staying in Van Dong tonight so we head out tomorrow morning! (Ps accommodation is expensive here!)

        I still can’t thank you enough for how easy you’ve made this trip for us.
        We have a 2004 113cc nouvo with 40kg of bags and camping gear.

        Cheers

  51. Xin says:

    Hi, I extended my hagiang road trip into a 5 day adventure n took your suggestions of exploring the mountain roads inside the ‘loop’. Just wanna update on my experiences for future travelers since this site helped me alot in my planning : )

    I rented a motorbike from my hotel, hotel huong tra (250k vnd) , on the outskirts of hagiang. Started late that day due to rain in the morning and some delays. Reached yen Minh town in fog, rain and darkness >. < Checked in at Thao Nguyen hotel (300k vnd) , which is dislocated in gaps currently. It's actually located near the 'coffee 388' in yen Minh town in Google maps.

    Set out early on 2nd day and visited the hmong king palace and lung Cu tower before reaching Dong van town before dusk. There is a stretch of road enroute to lung Cu tower which is being paved with broken stones but not yet compressed, making it a hell of a ride. The tyres of my Yamaha semi-auto bike bounced around and threatened to skid out ever so often. Take the narrow dirt track at the side whenever you can but above all, go slow! I stayed at lam Tung hotel at Dong van (300k vnd). It is actually on top of a mini mart and you gotta go up the stairs to reach the hotel lobby.

    I set off to meovac the next day and returned to dong van via the back roads and TL182. Like the article suggested, I was the only foreigner throughout the whole journey back but unlike the article suggested, the smaller roads is seeing much more traffic than expected. I stood in the awesome silence of the valleys and hardly 10min would go by without a bike or even truck whizzing past. The roads, even the smaller ones, are mostly paved though, so riding them all is pretty smooth.

    I set off early this morning and took the back roads and TL176 back to yen Minh town, staying at the previous hotel. By the time I reached town, the day was considerably warmer than it had been since I started out of hagiang 4 days ago.

    Tomorrow, I will follow TL176 all the way down to QL34 then make a right turn to hagiang then further onwards to my hotel. This journey will take almost 130km, whereas the guy who rented me my bike said it'll do 80km of mountain roads on a full tank. Asking around, I couldn't confirm if there will be anyone selling gas on the 2nd part of my intended route, but from experience, there are small shops selling gas sporadically all along the roads these 2 days.. so I'm taking a chance this time.

    Anyway, to sum everything up, wake up, start early and ride slow. My bike skidded on a corner and threw me sprawling in front of an oncoming truck on the first day, and I wasn't even going fast. I skidded a couple more times in the rain and darkness that night, all the while taking care to keep my speed below 20kmh. So yea, as a guide, my average speed for the rest of my adventure was 10 to 30kmh. I also stopped like, once every 10min, for a plethora of reasons ranging from picture taking to gifting kids sweets to just standing rooted at the side of the road observing the carefree lives of the villagers here.

    Okay, guess that's about it. Whew, long post.. Sorry XD

    • Hi Xin,

      Good to hear that you’re enjoying the Extreme North Loop.

      Thanks for sharing your experience on this route. Good luck with the return trip to Ha Giang tomorrow.

      Tom

      • Xin says:

        Thank you for this guide, Tom. I think your write up + pictures + gmap routes really helped many people plan their trip to hagiang : D

        My previous comment needs an edit: Thao Nguyen Hotel at Yen Minh cost 350k vnd per night instead.. Not really worth the price imo. Among other inconveniences, the corridor on my floor was pitch black last night. Nothing was done even after I informed the staff about it.

        An update on TL176. There is a long stretch of road which is currently under construction, beginning from the direction of Yen Minh. This makes for a pretty ‘exciting’ ride, especially after the rain turned all the soil into caked mud this morning. While I was focusing on keeping my front wheel straight, my back wheel skidded like nobody’s business. Ever so often, there’s all these giant construction vehicles to avoid as well. However, looking at the pace of construction, I’m guessing shiny new paved roads will replace this stretch of mudslide in a couple of months. The last 7 km of TL176 before the road joins into QL34 is in disrepair and not easy to traverse too. This potholed road doesn’t improve even after it turns into the QL34. There are no construction efforts in evidence here, so this road might remain as it is for awhile.

        On a brighter note, I came across a weekend market situated directly along the road itself, fully in the way of anyone who is rushing to get someplace fast XD I am not that person today, so I parked my bike and explored the market by foot. It was a totally local affair and though my presence invited some curious stares, I was, for the most part, blissfully ignored to my own devices, which include snapping lotsa pics and trying the many street food there. I never caught a name for the market but it’s located around a place called UB xã Du Già in Google maps. My cell didn’t manage to get a reception there so be sure to star it before you roll out!

  52. Claire says:

    This page has been like my Bible! Thank you so much for writing it! I’m currently in Meo Vac after driving through some of the most insane scenery I’ve ever seen! There seem to be a lot more hotels dotted around Dong Van now, and there’s one in Meo Vac called Hoa Cuong, for people who are looking for where to stay :)
    I’ve been lucky with the weather too, some rain when left Ha Giang, some fog, but blue skies and sunshine today!

  53. Guy says:

    Hi Tom,
    An wonderful post in an amazing blog! Enjoyed reading every word of it.
    I’m planning to visit north Vietnam for two weeks with my 7 years old daughter. This is not our first time in Vietnam (third actually) but first in the north.
    Do you think that Ha Giang in mid January is possible? How much time is it from Hanoi? Should we take a guide?

    Cheers and keep up the great work :)
    Guy

    • Hi Guy,

      It’s certainly possible to travel this loop in January. But it will be cold. It might be dry and clear some days, but it may also be misty and damp other days. However, several readers have emailed to say they’ve had pretty good conditions in the far north at this time of year.

      From Hanoi to Ha Giang is either a full day or night in a sleeper bus (about 8 hours), or by motorbike. But it’s worth it. Once you’re in Ha Giang you don’t need a guide to follow the route that I’ve written up in the guide above, unless of course you want one.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  54. Terry says:

    Hi Tom,

    Do you have any thoughts on doing this during the Tet holiday? I want to delay starting to let the weather warm up, but that pushes me into February. Would hotels and restaurants still be open in off the beaten path places like this?

    Thanks,

    Terry

    • Hi Terry,

      That’s a good question!

      I would imagine that on the actual eve and day of Tet (which I think is the 7/8 of Feb this year) that many of the hotels etc might be closed. However, the day after Tet is when the whole country goes travelling, so I would expect businesses in Ha Giang to reopen for that, as many Vietnamese people might consider travelling to Ha Giang after Tet.

      But this is only a guess. As for weather, I expect it’ll still be pretty cold, but perhaps you’ll get lucky with the rain. Some readers write to me saying they had good (if cold) weather in the far north during the winter months.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  55. Mr Đồng says:

    Nice words.
    I think It is very helpful for people, who want to discover Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark.
    Welcome to Hà Giang and enjoid!

  56. Richard says:

    Hi Tom,

    Really enjoying your site and updates! Say, earlier up this page Alan and you were talking about a new hotel in Dong Van that was being built. Do you happen to know what the name of it will be and if it’s finished now? Much thanks in advance.

    Richard

  57. Jim Ellis says:

    Tom, there are 5 of us that are seriously considering returning and from your experience what would be the best time to visit? Vung Ro Bay would be our main area to visit. Thank you for any assistance.

    Jim Ellis

    • Hi Jim,

      Well, Vietnam has a very complex climate. Take a look at my Weather Guide.

      Vung Ro Bay should be nice most of the year. During the winter months (Dec-Feb) it’s on the cusp of the changing winds so it can get a little wet and cold, so perhaps it’s best to avoid that time of year. Spring and summer would be ideal.

      Tom

  58. Nick Leunissen says:

    Hey Tom!
    Great blog, very informative and well-written. Me and my friend are in Ha Giang at the moment and we’re going to start the Extreme North Loop tomorrow. I have a question though. We wanted to do the loop finishing in Bao Loc (so not back to Ha Giang) and then continue to Cao Bang city. We wanted to do that in 3 days. We’re quite experienced drivers, willing to get up early and start driving from the break of dawn. My question is, when we do the North Loop, but don’t stay overnight in the places you recommended (because we want to make a bit more kilometers every day), is it still doable to find guesthouses (Nha nghi) or hotels? For example in very small towns or besides the road?
    Cheers mate! Best regards

    • Hi Nick,

      Well, yes you might have a bit of trouble finding nhà nghỉ in the extreme north unless you stay at Tam Son, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Bao Lam or Bao Lac. However, you’re never far from people and houses/huts on this route, so in theory if you just want to keep driving until dusk then you can knock on someone’s door and see if they’ll put you up for the night. But I wouldn’t rely on this, it’s much better to use this option as a last resort, and aim to end your day at one of the small towns I mentioned above.

      If you continue from Bao Lac to Cao Bang, can you please let me know the current condition of the Road 24 from Bao Lac to Nguyen Binh, as it looked like they were about to start work on it last time I was there.

      Thanks, and I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Nick Leunissen says:

        Dear Tom,
        Due to some mechanical problems, we ended up staying in Dong Van and Bao Lac. So we didn’t have to knock on anyone’s door after all.
        The road from from Bao Lac to Cao Bang was amazing scenery wise. I misread your comment and thought you referred to the quality of this entire road between Bao Lac and Cao Bang, but you only meant the road between Bao Lac and Nguyen Binh. The road between Nguyen Binh and Coa Bang was absolutely magnificent, so smooth, just pure enjoyment driving that. The road between Bao Lac and Nguyen Binh was between average and good. There were some rocky parts, some potholes here and there, altered with some really smooth bits. Definitely not as many bad parts as the road from Ha Giang to Dong Van. But after that last drive, the thing that stuck with me the most was the perfect state of the road between Nguyen Binh and Cao Bang.
        Thanks for your quick response and your more than useful blogpost. We enjoyed the Extreme North Loop very much, it’s absolutely stunning and we can do nothing but recommend it! If you have the time, just carry on and make your way to Cao Bang. Scenery wise a bit different from the preceding 250k (some vast valleys), but mainly just more magical scenery and captivating landscapes. You can’t go wrong ;)
        Cheers, Nick

        • Hi Nick,

          Thanks for sharing your experience on this route.

          Yes, the road between Nguyen Binh and Cao Bang is marvellously smooth and new! :-)

          Last I rode it, the pass from Tin Tuc to Nguyen Binh was deteriorating on one side and under reconstruction on the other side, but still passable.

          I’m glad you enjoyed the ride.

          Tom

  59. Austin says:

    Hi Tom,
    My brother and I started our loop in Hanoi, slowly made our way into Sapa from the west side and are now in Ha Giang. We would like to complete the loop, through Bao Lac and Ba Be Park then make our way back to Hanoi.

    What roads do you recommend to take to get back to Hanoi? Are there any towns we should stay in along the way?

    • Hi Austin,

      Follow the route on this page and then head along QL34 from Bao Lac and turn off onto TL212 for Ba Be (check the last paragraph on this page). From Ba Be there’s a new road from the southeastern tip of the lake that eventually ends up in Bac Kan, which is very scenic. Then you can take Highway 3 back to Hanoi. Or from Ba Be you could take 279 or 258 towards Na Phac or Phu Thong and then cut across to Lang Son on backroads, before joining Highway 1 back to Hanoi. For more about that trip take a look at the map and relevant sections of this guide.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Austin says:

        Tom,
        that helps a lot. Thank you for putting together all of these guides for riding Vietnam. Because of you we have had an amazing adventure through Northern Vietnam that I feel, had we not had your blog to go by, we would not have struck out on in the first place.

  60. Hai says:

    Hi Tom.

    Do you still have the beloved Yamaha Nouvo?
    Does it handle Ma Pi Leng pass very well?
    I am thinking of getting one to travel all over Vietnam. I am wandering how does the fully automatic bike like the Nouvo behave on the 10% up hill turns of the Ma Pi Leng Pass.

    Thanks and have a wonderful day.
    Hai.

    • Hi Hai,

      Yes, I still have my Yamaha Nouvo, and yes it can easily handle the Ma Pi Leng Pass. If you are staying on paved roads – no matter how steep they are – then a Nouvo is everything you need. Some people prefer semi-automatics, such as Honda Waves, because they like the freedom to switch between gears. But, I’ve been everywhere on my Nouvo and it’s fine.

      Tom

  61. James says:

    Hi Tom,

    What a fantastic blog!
    I have a question: If you were planning on doing the loop in 2 days, where would you suggest staying?
    We hope to do it in 3 but we are a little pushed for time.
    Many Thanks

    James

    • Hi James,

      If two days, you could stay in Dong Van town the first night and then continue to Meo Vac and complete the loop back to Ha Giang on that day (make sure you get an early start on both days). However, you might be better just playing it by ear: see what time it is by the time you get to Dong Van, and see what the weather’s like too – if it’s 4pm and the sun is out, then definitely push on to Meo Vac, because it’s a spectacular ride and you don’t want to pass up the chance of seeing it in good weather :-)

      I hope you enjoy the loop.

      Tom

  62. Pete says:

    Hi tom, thanks for a great article! Really makes me want to get up onto that road now! Earlier in your comments you were saying that September and October are the best times to go, I’ve been teaching in ha Giang for a week and it’s been very heavy rain, but it usually clears up during the day. Would you suggest doing the extreme loop in this weather? I haven’t much experience riding a motorbike, 4days, I feel confident enough but do you think this is enough experience for this road?

    Thanks again, this article has been really useful.
    Pete

    • Hi Pete,

      That’s interesting to know about the weather: of course weather in Vietnam, especially the northern mountains, is notoriously unpredictable. I was there last September/October and it was good weather most of the time. Another great time to do the loop in spring – around March/April.

      I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to ride the Ha Giang Loop with the experience you have. Obviously you should be extremely careful on all the hairpin roads, especially if the surface is wet. You never really know how the weather is going to turn out – perhaps wait for a clear morning at least :-)

      What are you teaching in Ha Giang? If you have the time or inclination perhaps you’d want to try this breakfast kitchen in Ha Giang – old style place run by a nice family.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Pete says:

        Hi tom,

        Thanks for the quick reply! We’ll go and check out the breakfast kitchen, that sounds good! I’m here teaching English with my girlfriend, mostly grammar and pronunciation in schools around the area for v4d.

        The only thing that would concern me is the hairpins. I think we’ll give at least part of the route a go anyway, we’ve been told there are some nice weaving villages near Tam Son.

        Pete

  63. Hai says:

    Hello Tom.
    I would like to make a larger loop by after leaving Meo Vac I will take the route along Nho Que river
    via Bao Lam, Coc Lung back to Ha Giang. Is there any interesting places on the that southern route that you have known of or just go to TL 182 back to Yen Minh and to Ha Giang.
    Please advise.
    Thanks.
    Hai.

    • Hi Hai,

      Yes, the southern route along the Gam River (I think the Gam and Nho rivers converge at Bao Lam) is also very scenic. The river is beautiful. In my opinion it depends what landscape you prefer: the lower Gam River road (34) is prettier, but the upper road (182) is more dramatic.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Hai says:

        Thanks Tom.
        I will make the choice this Wednesday . I like both rivers and mountains even better when they get along together.
        I just have heard that there were landslides at several places between Dong Van and Meo Vac. I hope they will be clear when I arrived.
        Thanks again.
        Hai.

  64. Mr Dong says:

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    Mr Đồng – Motorbike for rent!
    Adress: 209A, Nguyễn Trãi Street, Hà Giang city.
    Mobile: 01298 615 999 – 0981 515 638
    https://www.facebook.com/ChoThueXeMay.MrDong.HaGiang
    Welcome to Hà Giang!

  65. Richard says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for your previous reply to my question. I have another question. There are primarily three routes from Dong Van to Meo Vac. While the route via Ma Pi Leng pass is dramatic, I am wondering if either of routes TL 182 and TL217 or just TL 182 might be less ‘dramatic’. I suffer from a bit of acrophobia :-) This trip is being done via 7-passenger Innova van. Thanks.

    Richard

    • Hi Richard,

      Well, 182 is also scenic, but if you take that road from Dong Van to Meo Vac you would have to double back on yourself to go back to the Yen Minh crossroads from Dong Van and get on the lower 182 to Meo Vac. Also, if you’ve already made it to Dong Van in your Innova with your acrophobia you will have been on plenty of high winding roads already – the Ma Pi Leng Pass is just another 15km or so to Meo Vac.

      The alternative routes are fine, but they all involve a certain amount of high roads, so you may as well take the Ma Pi Leng Pass from Dong Van to Meo Vac.

      Tom

  66. George says:

    Hi Tom,
    I would like to ask if it is possible to do this loop with a scooter (50cc) or is it a very bad idea? My issue is I only have a licence for driving a car, so I am not allowed to ride anything bigger.
    Many thanks in advance!

    • Hi George,

      I suppose you could do it on a 50cc but it’s very mountainous and steep so it would be quite a strain on the engine. Most bikes here are around 115cc. But I really don’t think your license issues will be a problem in Vietnam. At worst, if you get stopped by the police, you’ll probably just have to pay a $10 fine and then they’ll let you carry on. Contact Flamingo Travel or Rent a Bike Vietnam for more information about licenses and renting a suitable bike. But in general, I think you’ll be fine riding a 115cc bike in Vietnam.

      Good luck,

      Tom

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  68. Richard says:

    Sorry if I missed it, but I am interested to know if there is now a good road completed from Bac Ha – Xin Man – Hoang Su Phi. I understood this road is now completed but not sure. If so, it saves quite a bit of travel time. Regards,

    Richard

    • Hi Richard,

      Please see the above comments. According to my readers the road from Bac Ha to Xin Man is now complete. The road from Xin Man to Hoang Su Phi was fine when I last rode it (about 9 months ago).

      If you find different conditions while you’re on the road, please leave a comment here so that other people can benefit from your experience.

      Enjoy your trip,

      Tom

  69. Yaniv says:

    Hey again, Tom,
    and thanks again for this great post.
    A few more questions if i may…
    1. from Bao Lac, you simply road the shortest way back to Ha Giang ?
    2. how about Cao Bang ? read some nice things about this place, but visiting it, means to ride further east.
    3. this one actually is kind of repeating the last message but it is more focused on 2 areas:
    I. The area around Lao Cai: any recommended routs around Lao Cai ? i read there are some nice villages
    besides Sapa, like Coc Pai, Bac Ha, Muong Khuong up in the very north…
    II. The area west to Hanoi: Mai Chau, Moc Chau, Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Son Ho, Lai Chua – how do you
    recommend to visit this area ? loop from Hanoi maybe ? I’m confused :(

    thanks again for your time and sharing :)
    Yaniv

    • Hi Yaniv,

      If you are looking for mountain villages, ethnic minorities and not too many tourists then the northern provinces are good.

      Ha Giang is full of this kind of thing. If you want to continue from Bao Lac to Cao Bang province you can do this easily by simply driving east on Road 34, as I mention at the end of this guide. Cao Bang is a very nice province, to find out more about it read my guide to the northeast here.

      Bac Ha market is famous for it’s colour, but it is very touristy – read more about it here. The same is true of Sapa – very nice but very touristy. Muong Khuong is not touristy and an interesting, remote place. Read more about that area in this guide.

      Going my motorbike is the easiest way to see this part of Vietnam.

      I suggest that you browse my guides to the north here, and then when you have more of an idea of where you want to go, email me for more detailed information.

      Tom

  70. Yaniv says:

    Wow, what a great piece of information, Tom.
    Very detailed and very helping, really great report.

    I’m a photographer and my thing :) is simple villages, authentic places, cultural life, tribes, colorful costumes, markets and fishermen villages :), anything that is not a touristic attraction, you know…:)
    I’m planning a trip to north Vietnam and wonder, can you recommend of places that i might like in Vietnam?
    Even better if i can rent a bike and do it on 2 wheels :)

    thanks

  71. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for all the helpful information. Your web site is awesome!
    I wondered if it is possible to do half a loop, starting from Bao Lac. We will come from Hanoi via Ba be lake and we will continue towards the Chinese border (Cao Lai) after that. So, it would be more practical not to do the whole loop.
    Do you think it is possible to rent a motorbike or even a car with driver in Bao Lac to ride/drive through Meo Vac, Dong Van, Yen Minh, Tam Son and then stop in Ha Giang? I read on the Internet that Bao Lac is not as developped as other cities in Vietnam and that it won’t be easy…
    Many thanks in advance for your help.
    Veronique

    • Hi Veronique,

      Yes, Bao Lac is a very small place indeed, and there’s hardly any tourist infrastructure there at all. However, there are a few hotels – especially around the market – that might be able to arrange a car and driver to take you to Ha Giang via Meo Vac and Dong Van. But you will probably have to arrange this when you are there.

      I hope you manage to do it,

      Tom

      • Many thanks, Tom!

        We will finally go to Ha Giang due to the time left before we must cross the Chinese border… (Oops…) and make the loop from there. Easier to organize and closer to the border. But, thanks again for having taken the time to answer and once again for the precious info you provide through your web site.

        Veronique

  72. joe says:

    Great info.I am interested in the loop but do you know what I would pay for a local to do the trip as driver and me as passenger..cost per day..

    • Hi Joe,
      I’m not sure. I would imagine something like $20 a day, but that’s just a guess. You could probably organize it through a hotel in Ha Giang, but I would contact a bike rental/tour agency in Hanoi: try Flamingo Travel and Rent a Bike Hanoi. They should be able to help you.
      Tom

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  74. louise hones says:

    Tom your blog is so well done I feel as though I have just traveled through some of the most splendid areas of Vietnem. I have now so many places I would like to travel to and see the next time I am Vietnam to visit Bill in Ho chi Minh City. I would love to plan a trip to Ha Giang.
    Thanks for this well done post!

    Louise in Seattle, Wa

    • Thanks, Louise.
      I’m sure a trip to Ha Giang next time you’re here to see Bill can be quite easily organized. Just remember that spring or late summer is the best time for Ha Giang as it can be cold, misty, and raining during winter.
      You can email me whenever you start making travel plans.
      Tom

  75. Kate Miller says:

    Hi Tom,

    Flawless blog post! We just completed the loop in about three and a half days on a two-person motorbike. I was floored by how decent the roads were. Sure, there were a a few rough spots, but otherwise all went very well. In our opinion, the route between Dong Van and Meo Vac was the most impressive so be sure to leave enough time for photos/taking it all in. Thanks for everything. We’ll certainly be using your website for the remainder of our trip through Vietnam! P.s. during the trip be prepared to drink plenty of corn wine. The locals love to invite you to their dinner table. :)

    Kaitlyn

    • Hi Kaitlyn,

      Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the route – it is spectacular. And yes, beware of the local liquor :-)

      Feel free to contact me if you need any advice on the rest of your trip.

      Tom

  76. linh-mai says:

    Hello.
    My boyfriend and I would like to make this trip at the end of the month. Do you think it is ok if we take a motobike for 2?
    If we take a night bus to go fromage hanoi to ha giang, car we do the trip in 4 days?
    Thanks for your help

    • Hi Linh,

      Yes, a motorbike for two is OK. It might be rather slow getting up some of the steep passes and it could be a little bumpy at time, but it should be OK.

      Yes, you could do the trip in four days. You can ride the Ha Giang Loop in 2 days quite comfortably, but 3 or 4 days is best.

      I hope you enjoy it.

      Tom

  77. Carl Morgan says:

    Hey man, great site, its proved invaluable on time for my HCMC to Hanoi trip, I’m considering continuing my trip up Ha Giant, so a free questions if I may..
    Is there plenty of bike fixers/mechanics/rue xe’s en route here ? Just wondered has I understand its a bit more sparse this far north. Knowing there is plenty of them around is great peace of mind.
    And also, I’ll be starting the trip from Ninh Binh, and to get to Ha Giang in one day is a bit of a push so do you have any recommendations for over night stop on the way to Ha Giang
    Thanks in advance, keep up the good work!
    Carl

    • Hi Carl,

      Glad you’ve had a good trip so far. Yes, Ha Giang is a bit more remote, but there are still roadside fixers all over the place. Ha Giang is not as remote as the Western Ho Chi Minh Road that perhaps you rode on your way up north. So I don’t think you need to worry about that.

      Ninh Binh to Ha Giang is a long ride. If you’re going on Highway 2 you could stop at Thac Ba Lake near Tuyen Quang. Or if you go on Highway 3 you could stop at Ba Be Lake before joining Highway 34 to Ha Giang.

      Enjoy the extreme north,

      Tom

  78. Jim says:

    Just completed the loop with a stop in Bao Lac. Took 5 days and this blog was v helpful. We spent 2 days in Dong Van and could of spent longer as we were blessed with good weather and there is SO much to explore around the area on foot and on our rented bike that we picked up in Hai Giang. The last couple of days were misty and rainy so we were glad for all the layers, waterproofs, gloves, hand warmers and scarfs. Riding 100km in the rain is no fun if you are cold and it makes harder to concentrate on the twisty roads. We also took sachets of porridge, fruit, energy bars for those times when you dont fancy com or noodles of questionable quality. We stayed in guesthouses ($10-15) along the way and all were v good apart from Song Gam in Bao Lac which was terrible and dirty with bed bugs & grumpy staff – avoid. Should of stayed in Yen Dinh as that looked really nice and little like Ninh Binh without the tourists.

    People are nice and friendly but shy so smile and say hello first! Stay safe, wear decent helmets. We averaged 25km hour without photo and ca phe stops, paid $8 a day for bike but it was for brand new honda. Took photos of it before and after obviously to avoid being ripped for fake damage.

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  80. Matt Larkin says:

    Tom – Great blogsite, really nicely put together.
    I’m heading up to have my second go at the extreme north loop by bicycle in about 10 days. I did the full loop back to Ha Giang in two days last year (and that was going very hard). This time I’m thinking of taking two days to get from Ha Giang, over Dong Van to Meo Vac and then heading on from there to Bao Lac, and then onto Cao Bang and the Ban Gioc waterfalls. Is the surface on the road from Meo Vac to Cao Bang of a similar quality to the rest of the far north loop? Is it likely we’ll be ok getting food and accommodation in Bao Lac if we arrive mid afternoon? I’ll probably then opt for a transfer from Cao Bang back to Hanoi – there are 3 of us, so we’ll try and organise a 7 seat private car or minibus (the disadvantages of only having leg power not horsepower, and a deadline). Any tips or info much appreciated.

    • Hi Matt,
      Yes, the road from Meo Vac down to Bao Lac is a good condition – and it’s downhill most of the way so that’ll be fun on your bicycles :-)
      There’s food and accommodation in Bao Lac. You have to veer off the main road slightly to get into the ‘centre’ of town. There’s a lot of activity around the (rather bleak) central market there. There’s good riverside accommodation just behind the market, or there are also a couple of good places on the main road just before entering the town. But seeing as you’re on bicycles it’s probably best to stay nearer the ‘action’.
      The only problem you might have is if your trip is coincides with Tet celebrations – this is the time of year when everybody goes travelling. But I shouldn’t think that’ll be a problem until mid-February this year.
      Remember that this is mid-winter in that region – it will be COLD! Bear in mind that scenery may not look quite as spectacular is grey, misty conditions. But I’m sure it’ll still be a thrilling trip – just remember to pack appropriate clothing.
      Have a great ride,
      Tom

  81. karen says:

    All this info is just wonderful as we’ve just arrived in Ha Giang. However, much as we’d like to do the loop by motorbike our hope was to do your route as far as Meo Vac and then immediately head down to Cao Ban. Have you any idea if this is possible by public transport (bus/minibus)? I noticed someone commented that they had seen quite a few minivans on the journey but we do not have the funds to hire one ourselves, so were hoping there’d be a series of buses we could use. Possible or not?

    • Hi Karen,
      The road between Meo Vac and Cao Bang Province is certainly open and in good condition (I drove it just a couple months ago). However, I’m not certain if there’s public transport on it yet, although I’m pretty sure there is. Bao Lam or Bao Lac is probably where the minibuses will run to. Ask around the guesthouses (nha nghi) in Meo Vac and Dong Van about it. Failing that you should be able to hire a driver for the 2 hour journey.
      Tom

      • karen says:

        Thanks Tom, but your description of the loop has now proved too alluring…you see so little form a bus. And so we’ve just arranged to hire motorbikes, take 4 days doing the circuit and then move on by public transport from Ha Giang to Cao Bang. Thanks again for your great advice.
        Karen

        • Hi Karen,
          That’s great news. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know how you find the weather, light and general experience of the loop at this time of year.
          Bon voyage,
          Tom

          • karen says:

            Just returned from the northern loop trip which despite poor weather initially, was magnificent. Probably the optimum time weather-wise has past. The first few days brought low cloud, mist and drizzle and only the memory of your tantalizing photos of what we knew we were missing. Today the clouds were higher so we did have great views all the way back from Dong Van. Your recommendation of the Lam Tung in Dong Van was great. I can also recommend Mr Hung who has just opened a simple eatery serving delicious Vietnamese food and also gives guided walks in the area. For anyone interested here’s his tel: 0968754846.
            Thanks again, your advice was invaluable.

          • Hi Karen,
            Thanks for the feedback. I’m sure my readers will benefit from your experience of the trip. I’m glad you enjoyed this loop, even if the weather wasn’t perfect! :-)
            Tom

  82. Raquel says:

    Hi Tom

    Thanks for the useful information! My partner and I will be riding our mountain bikes up there and was wondering how the elevation climb are like so we can gauge our per day distance to cover. Hope you can help on this, thank you!

    • Hi Raquel,
      The roads are in pretty good condition but there are some challenging climbs. I used to cycle myself but I’ve been driving a motorbike for so long now that it’s difficult to gauge time/distances on a bicycle. I would think 100km a day at an average speed on 20km an hour would be doable. Bear in mind that the scenery is so good you’ll be stopping quite regularly. Time of year will make a difference too – there are four seasons up in this region.
      Tom

  83. Chris says:

    hi Tom!
    extremely useful webiste of yours! I am just writing a Polish guidebook about SE Asia region, used it as a resource a couple of times and also put the blog directory to it :-) just next days I am heading off for the extreme north loop to check it out by myself. a little bit worried about the weather, I guess should be dry this time of year but that’s not what the forecasts say, probably a bit chilly too. was also worried about wouldn’t make it with auto motorbike but then saw on the pic, you were using exactly the same :-)

    take care with amazing job!

  84. Annabel says:

    Hello Tom

    This is exactly what my partner and I were looking for – but we’re concerned about the level of skill required to navigate these roads. What would you advise? Is there an easier route that might be more do-able?

    We are also visiting the north of Vietnam during January and fear that the fog may ruin the trip / make it more dangerous.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Annabel,
      The roads are all in pretty good condition now, and the whole area is nothing like as remote as it used to be. You should be able to find your way around pretty easily. Google Maps app for your smartphone is a good idea.
      Weather will be quite cold at that time of year, but some people tell me this is their favourite time to visit the area. Fog and mist is always an issue in Vietnam’s mountainous north, but there are plenty of clear days too.
      Tom

  85. Thanks for a great trip report on Vietnam motorbike tour. I would love to give update information about the permit to enter Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac…the whole area you will need one permit. You can ask your hotel in Ha Giang to do it, if not wherever you spend the night in the above area your receptionist will ask you about the permit. If you don’t have then they always can help you to get one for 10USD/person/permit.
    Notice: Before one group you need 1 permit for all members and it is 300VND/permit but now on it is 1 person must get 1 permit and it costs 10USD/permit.

    Cheers

    anhtuan

    • Thanks for the information, Anh Tuan.
      Tom

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Anh Tuan or Tom,
      Do you know how long it usually takes for the hotel to sort out a permit?
      I intend to arrive by bus in Ha Giang early morning, then find motorbikes and get the permit done at a hotel before heading straight out the same morning.
      Just wondering if they will fluff about and waste the whole day, or is it just a matter of a few minutes? And most importantly, I don’t want to be forced to take a government guide (which happened to me last time I went to Ha Giang about 8 years ago).

      Would another option be to simply rent bikes and head out, then get the permit with the hotel/ngà nghỉ wherever we stay on the first night?

      Thanks for the help!
      Finally, Tom this is an amazing resource, especially with the maps thrown in. Great work and thank you so much.

      • Hi Brendan,

        Yes, I know what you mean. You definitely shouldn’t be forced to take a local guide this time – Ha Giang is pretty popular now, especially on weekends. As I mentioned somewhere in the guide, I didn’t get a permit the last two times I was there and it was fine. I was asked at one hotel for the permit, when I said I didn’t have one, they said I could buy it at the hotel (this was in Dong Van), but they never bothered to follow through with it. Then in Meo Vac my hotel didn’t ask for it. The most recent time I visited without a permit, I was not asked once to provide one. However, a couple of readers have suggested that it is still necessary to get one. When I visited for the first time, about 8 years ago, I got the permit and I think I got it within a day.

        Perhaps you could rent your bike when you get to Ha Giang, inquire about the permit and then, if it looks like it’s going to take more than a day, just go.

        I hope this helps. Enjoy your trip,

        Tom

        • Brendan says:

          Thanks man, I appreciate the reply.
          Sounds like getting it at the first hotel is the way to do it! Now just gotta hope the weather defies the forecast for this weekend and isn’t rainy and foggy!

          • Derek says:

            Brendan,
            Not sure if you’ve already gone to Ha Giang yet or not, but we just arrived today and were able to sort out the permit ourselves very easily. The Immigration Office is at the North end of town, on the East side of the river (it’s on Google Maps). Our hotel was just a few minutes away, so we just walked up (on a Friday afternoon at 4:15 pm), waited for one person in line ahead of us and then gave our passports to the agent behind the desk. She spoke decent English and was able to process it within 10-15 minutes. I believe the cost was 210,000 dong per person. Who knows if we’ll get asked for it or not, but we felt like it would be a good idea to get it.

          • Hi Derek,

            Thanks for this information; it’s great to hear that the permit is easily and quickly attainable in Ha Giang.

            Tom

  86. Alberto says:

    Hi, Tom! My girlfriend and I just arrived today to Ha Giang and we find your post really helpful! There is very few information about this area!

    I think that this is asking too much but, do you know a good and cheap place to rent the motorbike here in Ha Giang?

    Thank you a lot!

    • Hi Alberto,
      You should be able to find motorbikes for rent through most hotels for between $5-10 a day. Ask around and you’ll find a place. Try to get a discount if renting for more than a few days.
      Good luck,
      Tom

  87. Sylvain Bui says:

    Another fantastic part of your trip !
    Did you easly find gas for Stravos in the north campaign like in this trip?
    greetings from Paris

  88. Alan Murray says:

    Thanks for another great report.
    Hopefully the area is remote enough to stay ‘undiscovered’ for a while yet although when we did a tour (by van from Hanoi) earlier in the year they were building a huge hotel in Dong Van behind the existing Rocky Plateau Hotel. The limiting factor will be road access as our Transit van was about the biggest thing I would want to drive over many of the roads. Looks like you had better weather than we did.
    Enjoy the rest of your trip.

    Alan Murray

  89. Another magnificent piece, Tom. Tremendous stuff.

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