The Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary at the end of my SE Asia trip was one of the best things I have ever done on my travels. It was a challenging, fun, and life-lasting experience.
The Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop is Vietnam’s off the beaten path thing to do and those who have done it, would tell you the same as I do, it’s without any doubts, one of the best and most amazing things to experience in the country.
|Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness in December 2020.|
Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northern-most province, lining the Chinese border. The North of Vietnam is filled with towering mountains, deep valleys, winding rivers, and overall breathtaking views. Ha Giang is interesting with its gorgeous scenery, diversity, ethical villages and curvy roads surrounded all over by high karst plateaus.
Unlike the famous Sapa, which everyone has heard of, Ha Giang is a lesser-known and much less explored region often described as the most beautiful place in the North of the country.
Originally, Vietnam was not part of my first SE Asia trip plan. However, when I decided that I’m going to stay longer in that part of the world and chose to visit two other countries – Cambodia & Vietnam, I knew that I want to go to the mountains. It’s funny because I found out about this loop very randomly. I was looking at Vietnam’s map, and I saw this place named Ha Giang. I Googled it and when I saw the photos I told myself that I’m going there. Later on, I found out about the loop and I straight away knew I had to do it.
I can easily say that The Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary has been one of the best parts of my trip not just in Vietnam, but in SE Asia in general. I highly recommend everyone visiting Vietnam, who wants to go off the beaten path, as well as looking for a memorable experience to do the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop.
Most of the travelers coming to visit Vietnam are all doing the same – travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi or vice versa, while visiting all the places of interest in between, such as Mui Ne, Dalat, Hoi An, and Hue. I arrived in Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh City, by bus from Phnom Phen, Cambodia. Then I flew directly to Hanoi, skipping all those places, known as Vietnam backpacker’s route.
I’m sure that all those places are cool and worth visiting and there are many other places to see in the Middle of Vietnam but knowing that I have just 17 days in the country, I needed to choose wisely where I want to go.
Visiting the world-famous Ha Long Bay is another must-visit destination in Vietnam along with taking one of the Ha Long Bay cruises. I wrote it off from my Vietnam itinerary for its less crowded and much cheaper substitute, Cat ba Island – but that’s a different story.
So, without any further ado, let’s begin with Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop ride!
Short Introduction to Ha Giang Province
Ha Giang is a province in the Northeast region of Vietnam and contains its northernmost point. The Ha Giang shares a 270 km border with Yunnan province in Southern China – that makes it Vietnam’s final frontier.
Ha Giang population is 700 000 people and growing. 90% of the population are ethnic minorities that have their own culture. Unfortunately, that’s also the most undeveloped part of the country. Tourism, however, is slowly increasing. Many Vietnamese from other parts of the country are visiting the area and doing the loop, as well as foreign travelers start to come here more often as its popularity is also starting to grow slowly but surely.
The main reason why Ha Giang didn’t experience any development as other Vietnamese provinces in the past 20 years or so, has been the political situation with China. Luckily, the times of Chinese invasion are now in the past and with the help of the Vietnamese Government new roads have been constructed and the infrastructure, in general, has been improved, making it easier for both locals and travelers to get there and travel around.
I must say that while I was doing the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop, there have been repairs in many places on the roads.
About the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop
The Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop is a motorbike trip in Ha Giang Province and one of the most adventurous things to do in Vietnam. It’s quite popular among the Vietnamese people and its popularity is rising among travelers, too. Although I would love more people to know about it because it’s fantastic, I’m afraid that if it gets too popular the impact of mass tourism will ruin this place. So, please, when you decide to visit Ha Giang province and to do the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop have the above in mind.
The Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop can be completed in 2 days if you don’t make many stops on the way, but that would mean that you’ll rush through it, so I would not recommend this. If you have time, you can do it in 5 days or even a week – there are many places where to stop on the road. I did the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop in a 3 days itinerary and that worked great for me. If I had more time I would have done it in 5 days perhaps – including Cao Bang and a day trip to the fascinating Ban Gioc Waterfall, which is situated at the border with China too.
Food, accommodation, and ATMs could be found along the way. Ha Giang is a basic destination, so don’t expect anything fancy. There are, however, comfortable, clean, and even equipped with hot water, TV and Wi-Fi means of accommodation.
The road that I took on my Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary was 400+ km in total and the time I spent driving has been around 20 hours.
**If you’re not up for a motorbike adventure, you can still tour Ha Giang without a motorbike.
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Day 1: Ha Giang to Dong Van, 155 km
It was 28th May 2018, the first day when I was supposed to start my Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary. I had only those 3 days to complete the loop before heading back to Hanoi to get my flight out of the country and make my long way back to Sofia.
I set my alarm for early morning, as I knew I would have to drive for about 6-7 hours on my first day and wanted to start early to have enough time to get to Dong Van, while stopping anywhere I want on the way.
Everything was going well. I woke up straight after the rang of my alarm. On the previous evening, I had prepared the things I would take with me on the way, so I only needed to go and get the motorbike and have breakfast before I go.
I got dressed and went to take the motorbike from another hostel, from where I rented it (more about this in the rent section below). I took the motorbike and headed back to the hostel where I was staying at to have a quick breakfast and take my things.
While I was having breakfast, unfortunately, it started raining. However, I didn’t get worried because, after all, it was just rain. And also, I bought a rain cover on the previous day – just in case.
It began raining more and more. I was talking with a Vietnamese guy who just came back from the loop on the previous day and he advised me to wait for the next day (the forecast for the next day was great, unlike the forecast for the day). As you can imagine, I didn’t want to wait to the next day and waste one of the only days I have to do the loop. So, I put the rain cover on and got on the motorbike. I drove for not more than 5 minutes when I realized that there’s no way to drive for 7 hours in such a heavy rain. I went back to the hostel.
An hour or two had passed when the rain started to calm down. It wasn’t pouring anymore but it was still raining. I decided that that’s my chance and got on the motorbike again. I didn’t look back this time.
On this first day, it was pretty much raining all the time – it was raining, then the rain was stopping and then it was raining again, it was foggy, it was cold, but it was also a good kind of an experience.
I did not stop as many times as I thought I will, but there were still a few places that I could not just drive by. Although it was raining and it was foggy, I still enjoyed those places and even made some decent shots.
On the way, I stopped to have lunch at Yen Minh, which is the place where most of the people spend their first night at. It took me maybe about 4 hours to get there, even if it’s less than 96km away from Ha Giang. I got some rice with vegetables and a ginger tea and then got back on the road.
It took me about 2 hours to get from Yen Minh to Dong Van.
The road from Ha Giang to Dong Van is pretty much in a good condition along the whole way. However, as it was raining on this particular day, the road was slippery. Add to this the endless curves and crazy driving Vietnamese people and watch out.
I arrived in Dong Van a little bit before sunset. I went looking for a place to stay as I did not book anything in advance. The guy that I meet before I go recommended me a place that was the same one that I liked when I was looking for accommodation options. The place was actually very nice – big dorm beds, hot water, and even a good Wi-Fi. Plus, I was the only one there, so I had the whole room just for myself.
I took a hot shower and went to find something for dinner. I ended up eating in some random family-owned restaurant, ordering just the same as what the other people were eating, simply because I couldn’t communicate with the people and the food also looked good. After dinner, I got back to the hostel to get some rest and get some sleep.
Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary – 1st-day total distance and time:
155 km / around 7 hours of driving
Day 2: Dong Van to Lung Cu & Lung Cu to Meo Vac, 38 km + 56 km
On the second day of my Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike loop itinerary, I woke up well-rested and excited for today’s journey.
The plan for the day was: driving from Dong Van to Lung Cu, to the flag tower, which is the northern-most part of Vietnam, just 3 km away from the border with China. Then, driving from Lung Cu back to Dong Van and continuing on the way to Meo Vac, where I’ll be spending my second night. The road from Dong Van to Meo Vac is also known as the most beautiful part of the loop, so I was looking forward to getting to the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
I had enough time on that day and there were no signs that it was going to rain, so I took my time. I spend the morning walking around Dong Van and checking the local people’s routine.
When I got ready, I got on the motorbike and headed to Lung Cu. Lung Cu is 38km away from Dong Van and it takes an hour and a half to two to get there. This part of the road was the worst – many rocks, holes along the way, a lot of mud. There were also many people working on the road, so maybe by the time you go there, it might not be that bad.
I’m actually wondering how I managed not to hurt myself falling or something.
When you get to the Lung Cu Flag Tower, you need to buy a ticket and climb up some stairs to get to the flagpole. The ticket costs 25 000 VND.
The view from there is wonderful – you can see the Chinese mountains in the distance, as well many fields and people working on them.
After enjoying the views it was time to get back on the road and continue to the most beautiful part of it – the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
The Ma Pi Leng Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 1 500m above the sea level. It’s known to be the most jaw-dropping mountain road in all of Vietnam, as well as the King of the Vietnamese mountain passes. The views on the way of the pass are, believe me, astonishing.
I was stopping every few meters to take pictures and enjoy the beauty. There is a viewing spot on the way from where you can enjoy one of the best views of the pass and the dam.
After spending quite a lot of time there, I continued to Meo Vac.
When I arrived in Meo Vac, I needed to find a place where to stay. A guy that I met earlier on my trip to Phnom Penh, who was just back from the loop, recommended me a place in Meo Vac, so I went straight to it.
I made a great deal with the owner and I got a big room with two king-size beds and a big bathroom with a shower. He said that if anyone else comes, he will give him the other bed, but again, I was the only person there.
I had the whole afternoon in Meo Vac, walked around the town, found the best coffee that I ever had and even enjoyed a nice sunset as the perfect end of the day.
Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary – 2nd-day total distance and time:
94km / 4, 4 and a half hours of driving
Day 3: Meo Vac to Ha Giang, 158 km
The third day on my Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 day itinerary, started with that same excellent coffee. The day was lovely and sadly it was my last one. As mentioned earlier in this post, if I had the time, I would have done the loop in 5 or 6 days, visiting Cao Bang Province and the Ban Gioc Waterfall.
I made some stops on the way to enjoy more of the beautiful road and take some photos and I was back in Ha Giang in the early afternoon.
I got lunch, I booked my bus ticket to Hanoi for the same evening and returned the motorbike. After that, I was just killing the rest of my time.
Once again, the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop was one of the best things I have done on my travels, one of my most memorable experiences and a highlights of my first trip to SE Asia. I highly recommend the loop to everyone that is visiting Vietnam!
Getting to Ha Giang
There are two main ways to get to Ha Giang, the starting point of the loop –by bus and by motorbike, if you already have one.
I didn’t have a motorbike, so I arrived in Ha Giang by bus from Cat Ba. Cat Ba is another off the beaten path destination to visit in Vietnam. From there, I took a bus to Ha Giang, which took a lot of hours – it was a sleeping bus, and I must say that the sleeping buses in Vietnam are just horrible. The ”beds” are too short, plus, you are surrounded by lots of other people snoring next to you, watching videos on YouTube without headphones, etc., etc. Add to this that I can’t fall asleep in a bus, so those were some of the longest hours in my life.
Assuming that you don’t have a motorbike, you would also need to take one of those unpleasant sleeping buses.
I arrived in Ha Giang from Cat Ba and then got back from Ha Giang to Hanoi – so you have a straight connection between those two places and Ha Giang.
I paid 500 000 VND for the bus from Cat Ba to Ha Giang – that includes the bus ride to the port, the ferry, a scooter ride to the bus station and then the actual sleeping bus to Ha Giang.
For the bus from Ha Giang to Hanoi, I paid 200 000 VND. It takes up to 9 hours.
Those prices, however, are not set prices. I booked my tickets both times from the hostels that I was staying at, after researching the prices at other places as well.
You should always compare the prices with the ones that other hotels/ hostels/ agencies are offering. Sometimes the differences are very big.
A friend that I was in touch with, who was about to go from Hanoi to Ha Giang asked me how much the bus ticket should cost. I told him how much I paid. He, then, told me that he’s been offered, in different places, different prices, such as 570k, 400k and finally found 330k as the best deal. – That’s why you should always compare and try to negotiate the price. Maybe even in Cat Ba, you can find a cheaper way to get to Ha Giang. I looked at in a few different places and it was pretty much all the same.
Before starting my Ha Ging Loop, I didn’t book any accommodation in advance. What I did is that I had a few recommendations and I was going straight to the places in question without any reservation.
Of course, it’s up to you if you’ll make a booking in advance or not.
Where I stayed and how much I paid:
In Ha Giang, I stayed at the 10 AM Hostel – Lovely staff, breakfast included. You can leave your luggage while you’re doing the loop. I was paying 68k per night.
In Dong Van, I stayed at Dong Van B&B, which surprisingly doesn’t offer a breakfast :D. Once you’re in Dong Van, you can find the place as Dong Van resort. The owner is a hilarious guy. The dormitory is great and it costs just 100k per night.
In Meo Vac, I stayed at Mr. Hung’s guest house, hotel, or whatever it is. I paid 125k for one night – the room was great.
Since there are not that many travelers doing the loop, I believe it’s easy to just go and show up somewhere without a reservation. If you feel more comfortable having one in advance, go for it and book your stay before heading on the road.
Lila Inn – This hostel in Ha Giang provides dormitory rooms for guests with comfortable beds and shared bathrooms. Each room has either a street view or a mountain view. Lila Inn also features a restaurant, bar, a shared lounge, and a garden. You have everything you need for your stay in Ha Giang in one place. Oh, and did I mention that among the facilities at the property are room service and ATM?!
There is also a luggage room that you can use for free and not worry about your belongings while enjoying the loop.
From here, you can also rent your motorbike, but more about this in the next section.
You’ll find plenty of places to rent your motorbike from. They all offer pretty much the same prices too. The question is if you’re going to rent an automatic motorbike or a semi-automatic.
The semi-automatic ones are cheaper and cost around 150-170k per day.
Because I don’t know how to drive a semi-automatic motorbike, I needed to rent an automatic. Everywhere the price for an automatic motorbike one was 200k.
I found a better deal and rented the motorbike from Ha Giang 1 Hostel. There, I got it for the price of 160k per day. The difference almost covered the fuel for the three days.
If you’ll be renting a semi-automatic for which the price is pretty much the same everywhere, I would advise you to just book it from the place you’re staying at.
As mentioned in the previous section, you can also rent motorbikes from Lila Inn. The prices for 2020 are the following:
Semi-automatic: 110cc 150k/day
Manual: 125cc 450k/day
Automatic: 125cc 200k/day
When you’re getting the motorbike no one will ask you for a driver’s license – you’re taking it on your own responsibility.
You’ll be also going to pay a deposit and if anything happens, you’ll need to pay for the damage.
UPDATE: Please note that from 31 October 2018, to embark on this journey, it is now mandatory for all foreign riders in Ha Giang to have a Vietnamese license or International Driving Permit (IDP).
In order to travel in the Ha Giang Province, you also need to get a permit to enter the border area – this one is different than the IDP.
How does this work?
The process of getting your permit is very easy. You walk into the immigration office and everyone already knows why you are there for. To get the permit, you need to hand over your original passport, they will fill out the permit card for you. Then, you need to pay the permit price, which is 230 000 VND and there you have your permit and you’re already set for the loop.
Many hotels, hostels, etc, can help you with the process, but they will also charge a fee for that. You see how easy and stress-free the process is, so just go and do it yourself.
Where to get your permit from?
You can get your permit from the Ha Giang immigration Office. The address is 296 Tran Phu St, Ha Giang.
Go there in the morning or the early afternoon – the office has a break from 11:30 am until 1:30 pm.
Do you really need a permit?
Chances are that you’ll never get asked for your permit – I was not asked even once. However, some accommodations might ask you for it in order to let you stay. You can also get pulled over by the police and in this scenario, if you’re being asked to show your permit and you don’t have one, well, you might get into a big trouble.
Costs of doing the Ha Giang Loop
Last but not least – how much does it cost to do the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop?
I’ve already mentioned some of the prices, but here’s the full cost breakdown:
160k per day = 11.73 Lev / €6 / $7 / £5.27
480k for 3 days = 35 Lev / €18 / $21 / £15.81
Gas: My total gas spent was 160k (for 3 days) = 11.73 Lev / €6 / $7 / £5.27
2 nights, one in Dong Van and one night in Meo Vac = 100k + 125k = 225k
16.50 Lev / €8.43 / $9.87 / £7.41
Permit: 210k = 15.39 Lev / €7.87 / $9.21 / £6.91
Lung Cu Flag Tower: 25k = 1.83 Lev / €0.93 / $1.09 / £0.82
Food + Water – my total spend on food was around 300k (for 3 days)
22 Lev / €11.25 / $13.16 / £9.88
I’d say that that’s pretty cheap for such an unforgettable adventure and wonderful experience.
Please note that those were my expenses – you can, of course, budget more or less, depending on your own budget, where you’re staying and what you’re eating.
Please also have in mind that those prices were valid in March 2018 and they might change in the future. / although I have updated some of them for 2020 /
So, I hope that this almost 4 000 words post will help you plan your Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop 3 days itinerary and if you have any additional questions, or if you need any more tips and information, always feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help!
Enjoy the ride!
Thanks for reading,
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