After finishing all the exams and assignment, I and my group of friends decided to let our hair down by an adventure motorbike trip to discover Ha Giang Loop. Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northern-most province. Once considered the last frontier for adventurous travel in Vietnam, Ha Giang gained an almost legendary status among independent travellers.
With 300 kilometers away from Hanoi, Ha Giang is the furthermost province in the North of Vietnam. No dust, no smoke, and no noise, this tranquil land is only comprised of magnificent scenery, challenging mountain passes, and hearty local food. When you come here during buckwheat season which normally occurs from the middle of November to December, the exquisite view will leave you speechless. Since the province is huge, an itinerary is necessary. Besides, Ha Giang Loop is a 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.
Coming to Ha Giang, nothing beats sitting on a motorbike and riding along mountainous roads – over passes, through valleys, passing rice fields and minority villages. The landscape will make most visitors wanting to stop every 5 minutes to take in the sights. In the following words, this is a detailed Ha Giang itinerary to see the fascinating place in 3 – 6 magical days.
Firstly, we travelled from Hanoi at 9.00 AM to Ha Giang at 4.00 PM by a sleeper bus for about 200,000 VND (~$9). After that, we came to our hotel namely Truong Xuan Resort. In this hotel, I and my friends took some rest and then organised our motorbike rental and get a map with valuable information before setting off on the most epic experience we will ever have in the exciting Ha Giang Loop trip.
Because of the shortage of time, we splitted the Ha Giang Loop trip into 3 section for 3 days.
Section 1: Ha Giang – Heaven Gate (Quan Ba) – Yen Minh (km)
Before hitting the road, we had an early breakfast in Ha Giang city. As we head north on the QL4C, the landscape quickly transforms into a limestone mountain range, covered with lush jungle. The highlight of this section of the trip is Heaven’s Gate Pass, where you’ll get your first taste of exhilarating views along with challenging, tight curves.
Heaven’s Gate Pass nestled in a valley between dozens of limestone ‘molehills’ drops down into Quan Ba District and the town of Tam Son. Interestingly enough, there’s a viewing point and information center with a coffee shop namely Heaven Gate Coffee, where various maps of the area are available. We climbed the steps behind the cafe up to a small gazebo for unobscured views of the entire district. (Be very careful when riding Heaven’s Gate Pass: some of the twists and turns are tight and narrow, and locals driving can be extraordinary dangerous and careless. Take care!).
Shortly before Yen Minh road leads down the last descend. There were quite a few serpentine. But on that stretch we got some nice view over Yen Minh, a little town surrounded by hills and rice fields, which was probably the best view we can get of the town and the surrounding area. We found plenty of guesthouses and food places along the main road. The town actually invited for a little stroll, and a nice change to stretch our legs after a day on the bike.
Section 2: Yen Minh – Dong Van – Meo Vac (70km)
In the second day, we packed our stuff and continued to the famous Meo Vac and Dong Van area. To reach Meo Vac, we had to go through Dong Van and Ma Pi Leng Pass, it took hours to reach there. However, the panoramic views along the road is worth it. On the way there, we stopped at an eatery on roadside to have breakfast with steaming bowl of Pho.
Referring to the old town, people often know only the 36 ancient streets of Hoi An or Hanoi however, Dong Van Ancient Street is one of the old town in Vietnam. For us, Dong Van Ancient Town amid the stone plateau is the ideal place to see the daily life of the locals in Ha Giang.
Dong Van town lies in the middle of the valley with four rocky mountains. The old town has only 40 roofs, arranged together under a rocky mountain. In the early morning, the old town painting is a mix of two-tone ingenuity: bright yellow of sunshine and gray of old houses.
Our journey is continued with Lung Cu Flagpole. Lung Cu Flagpole is on Lung Cu Peak, also known as Dragon Mountain which is considered Indochina Roof, overlooking the surrounding with majestic views of valleys and mountains. From the top of the Lung Cu Flagpole looking down to the ground with 02 ponds, the two sides of the mountain all year round never run out are called Dragon eyes. Lung Cu with 1,600 – 1,800 meters above sea level is the living place of ethnic groups h’Mong, Lo Lo, Tay and Pu Péo.
The road to Meo Vac was unlike anything we’ve seen before, especially the sunrise in the early morning. The road rose steeply, twisted and contorted up the hill. Once we arrived at the top, the view was spectacular. We could observe the meandering hills all around us and the minority people working on the hills. This was just the beginning of the exhibition nature prepared for us. After enjoying the breath-taking view, we went down to have lunch and talk to the locals here.
Before nightfall, after a full day of riding through small Dong Van villages, the neon lights of a city emerged below us in the distance. In Dong Van, we stayed at Xuan Thu Guesthouse and everything was fine for us. Throughout the town, there were a number of cafes and restaurants to enjoy that night or the following morning before making our personal favorite leg of the journey – through the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
The God was saving the best for last, the epic mountains of Ma Pi Leng Pass which is the final stretch from Meo Vac to Dong Van. At an elevation of 1500 meters, Ma Pi Leng Pass is a high mountain pass offering views of a deep valley and turquoise waters below. In all honesty, we were struggling to put the beauty of the Ma Pi Leng Pass into words.
We were already impressed by the beautiful scenery we saw along the Ha Giang Loop already, but as we looped around the mountain pass we were absolutely mindblown at how jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly perfect scenery offered to us as we zipped through the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
Section 3: Meo Vac – Du Gia – Ha Giang (150km)
The third day on our Ha Giang Loop itinerary, started with a cup of coffee and then left Meo Vac on DT182 heading west towards the Mau Due crossroad to back to Ha Giang. The day was lovely and sadly our last one. If we had time, we would have done the loop in 5 or 6 days, visiting Cao Bang Province and the Ban Gioc Waterfall. What a pity!
On the road returning to Ha Giang, we passed through a stark, rock-strewn limestone valley with some death-defying sections of mountain road. In addition, there were a very pretty river valley along the way.
Nevertheless, we extended our return route by adding an excursion to Du Gia. At the Mau Due crossroads, bear left onto Road DT176 (also known as DT182). The road is an extraordinary one leading up a seemingly endless pass over a chain of high, jagged limestone peaks, and then down the other side through pine forests and mysterious valleys, before the final breathtaking descent into an idyllic valley.
Not all the road but some section of the road to Du Gia was a bit adventurous with bits of road missing due to landslides. People filled these missing bits with big rocks to not drive on mud. However, the rocks were tricky as well. Nevertheless, finally, I and my friends arrived at Du Gia village and joined the local family dinner with good food and “happy water” – Aka Rice Wine in affordable price, which was making our Ha Giang Loop trip completed.
After the interesting lunch, we all felt a bit dizzy because of the Aka Rice Wine but a long nap, a couple of water, some fruits and a cup of strong coffee woke us up. I and my team managed to make it back to Ha Giang while the sun were going down, and we were exhausted, retiring back to Truong Xuan Resort before getting in the bus heading to Hanoi.
Ha Giang Loop is one of the most beautiful places for adventure in Vietnam. The best way to visit Ha Giang is by motorbike that visitors can experience beautiful and unique landscapes. Once you come there, what you just need to do is relax and enjoy the sceneries, experience and take the best pictures on the way.
In recent years, visitor numbers have increased dramatically, and road conditions between Ha Giang, Dong Van, Meo Vac and Bao Lac 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.
In additon, visitors coming to Ha Giang should know that food, accommodation and ATMs can now be found through here. I suppose that now is the time to ride the Ha Giang Loop motorbike adventure trip before mass tourism arrives (which it inevitably will, especially as more travellers choose Ha Giang as an alternative to Sapa, which has suffered terribly from over-development) but after the completion of necessary infrastructure.
Some special dishes you don’t want to miss while travelling in Ha Giang, where the stones come into bloom.
Five-color Sticky Rice
The Five-color Sticky Rice converges not only the traditional values but also the meaning concept of the universe, Ying and Yang philosophy and the lofty and beautiful meaning of human livelihood.
This dish is made from rice that has 5 different colors namely red, yellow, green, purple and white. It’s an absolutelperfect architectural masterpiece of sticky rice that you can hardly see in other lands.
You can see this dish at every market in Ha Giang.
Lean and fat pork are main ingredients of chinese sausage. These ingredients are cooked with pepper, honey, sugar and white wine to create a memorable flavor for every foodies from the first taste. To make a hand-to-mouth sausage, you need to focus on the time of soaking meat and the heating level of fire.
Pigs Carried Under Arm
Another amazing choice in the list of must-try food in Ha Giang is Pigs carried under arm. The name stems from the habit of the local carrying pigs under their arms home from the market. Local people use the pigs for different dishes such as fired pork, steamed pork, grilled pork, roasted pork and so on. The most special thing is that the food will be savored with its own suitable sauce so Pigs carried under arm surely deserve a try.
Au Tau Porridge
Au Tau Porridge is a traditional dish of ethnic communities in Ha Giang. The tuber root of Chinese aconite or also known as wolfsbane is the dish’s main ingredient. The dish has the “best-served-hot” feature, add a rousing touch to the dish by cracking a raw egg and let the heat do its job. After all that and maybe some more ground pepper and chili to taste, you might have an extraordinary food to remember.
Address: 161 Tran Hung Dao, Ha Giang city ( Ngan Ha Au Tau Porridge Stall)
Opening hours: 6 PM to 10 PM
Meat hung up on the kitchen
The buffalo, pork meat are often made from long, vertical slices of meat, each piece of buffalo or meat skewered on big sticks and hung up on the kitchen corner. Before hunging up, the meat is soaked with spices such as chillies, ginger, and especially a special spice in the Northwest area.
The hunging up meat is delicious and having no preservative ingredients, which is a favorite dish of tourists whenever they come to Ha Giang.
Grilled Alga is considered a specialty of the one and only Tay – the second largest ethnic group here. The dish is the explosion of flavors mixed with ingredients from the Tay recipe. Lemongrass, chives, and some traditional authentic spices will fuse together and create a flavor twist of moist taste from the water in the plant and an earthy essence from inland ingredients (herbs used to season). Trying Grilled Alga may mark another worthwhile experience on your trip to Ha Giang. Grilled Alga is a traditional cuisine of Tay people so you can always ask locals and they will be happy to give you directions or even offer a homemade grilled alga dish on their house.
Steamed Egg Rolls
Ha Giang is a mountainous area in the Northwest of Vietnam that has extremely cold climate. This is why the local people prefer to eat hot food and Steamed Egg Rolls is one of them. As its name refers, this dish is made from egg which is well steamed and rolled up. Steamed egg roll is also eaten with the pork bone based sauce which suprisingly enhances the flavor of the dish.
You just have to pick up a piece of thin egg roll that looms the red of soft-boiled inside with chopsticks and dip it into the dipping sauce to enjoy.
Address: 116A Ly Tu Trong, Ha Giang City ( Stall of Ms.Lan)
Address: opposite the old Dong Van market ( Dong Van Steamed Egg Rolls Stall)
It is a great experience to enjoy a bowl of Thang Den in Ha Giang. Thang Den looks like the dish of floating cake in Hanoi or Cong cake in Lang Son. It is made of sticky rice flour with the filling peas. Flour will be kneaded into sphere shapes and boiled in a hot pot of water. When you see it float on the water surface that means it is well cooked. The dish is coated with a sprinkling of sugar with an extra sweet kick of coconut milk. Toppings combime with sesame and peanuts.
Sticky Rice Cooked in Bamboo Pipes in Bac Me
Bamboo sticky rice has a simple recipe with the ingredients of well soaked sticky rice, ground water, bamboo sections and banana leaves. They mix sticky rice with salt then put this mixture into bamboo section together with water. They cover the mouth of bamboo by dried banana leaves then grill these bamboo packs directly on charcoal for one hour. While grilling, you need to turn around the bamboo packs and make sure they are well-cooked. Today, the bamboo sticky rice becomes a famous delicacy and must try food in Ha Giang, especially well-liked by tourists.
Sour Pho or Cool Pho
Sour Pho is actually spread to Ha Giang from China, which is often called “Luong Pan” meaning “cool Pho”. This dish has a sour taste, strange mouth and very cool food so many people love it, especially in the summer.
The Rolls filled with Egg in Ha Giang
Egg roll is a special dish for every visitors in Ha Giang, espacially in the morning. The roll here when coated on the kitchen is added eggs and then use the same white rolls to package. When eating, it will be served with a bowl of hot broth filled with hot water, fish sauce, onions, 2 big pork sausages, etc.
The Thanh Van Corn Wine
Thanh Van corn wine is made by H’Mong ethnic people. Its ingredients are mainly corn, source water and the yeast made from 36 types of medicinal leaves. The weather in the highlands is cold, the people who are filled in the dew entering a stall and having some cup of corn wine to avoid the cold and what a warm place!
Buckwheat cake is made from Tam Giac Mach grains dried and ground into flour. The cake is shaped in round and grilled on the light fire. Its smell will attract anyone around. It is quiet cheap to savor one with about 10,000vnd when you are travelling to Ha Giang.
Bac Quang Orange
For years, thick-skined orange has become a most famous specialty of Bac Quang and the second famous specialty is tea. Thanks to the fertile land and climatic conditions that nowhere else has, orange here has a typical and sweet flavor that is a symbol of southern mountainous area of Ha Giang.
After finishing the Ha Giang Loop Trip, I think joining the maphieenthere is one of the interesting part of the journey.
Wish you have a nice journey!