Ask any backpacker who’s spent time in Northern Vietnam, and they’ll more than likely have made the multi-day scooter trip through the majestic and mountainous Vietnamese countryside.
This excursion has become so synonymous with the region that you’ll probably receive puzzled responses if you answer “no” when asked if you’ve completed the famous Ha Giang Loop or have any plans to! During my first ever backpacking trip, I embarked on the journey myself, and it’s still among my top travel experiences to date.
The Ha Giang Loop kicks off from the small town of Ha Giang, and you’ll have a choice between completing the 350km drive in your own time or as part of a group over a number of days. I opted to go for the group trip, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
However, I’ve met a few travellers who’ve made the trip without joining a tour and have only good things to say about that experience, too, so it all depends on what you’re hoping to get out of the trip.
Below, I’ve broken down the entire process from start to finish, ensuring you have all the information you need before setting off on your own adventure.
In this post, we'll cover:
Getting to Ha Giang
The majority of travellers begin their journey in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, as did I.
Every day, there are a bunch of buses running between Hanoi and Ha Giang, and the drive typically takes around 7 hours when you factor in a handful of stops along the way.
Unlike many others, I decided to take the bus during the day and booked a night in the hostel rather than go for the famous night bus that tends to be the most popular option.
With the overnight bus, you’ll arrive in Ha Giang in the early hours and usually start your adventure that morning. Sleeping on buses was never my strong suit, so I made the decision to travel during the day to ensure I got a full night’s sleep before setting off the following day!
Having received endless recommendations from others, I booked my tour through Jasmine Hostel, which luckily turned out to be just a short walk away from the Ha Giang bus station. As Jasmine Hostel is often the most popular tour operator, the groups are generally quite big, but there are plenty of other hostels and tours in the town if you’d prefer a more intimate group.
Preparing for the Journey
Before hopping on the bus to Ha Giang, I had been in contact with Jasmine Hostel online to reserve my place on the tour. That being said, you’ll quickly learn that showing up the night (or just a few hours) before and booking on arrival is perfectly fine, too.
Things will kick off around 8 a.m. the following day. The morning was pretty chaotic as the staff made sure everyone had signed the relevant documentation, attended the safety briefing, and got assigned to the correct group.
You’ll have the option of spending either 2 or 3 nights on the trip, and you’ll also have to decide whether you’ll drive yourself or hire a local driver, often known as an “easy rider”. I chose the 4 days/3 nights tour and drove myself, and this combination cost me around 4,248,000 VND ($173).
This fee also includes your breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the duration of the tour. An extra fee is required if you choose to travel with an easy rider, but I certainly recommend this unless you’re competent and confident riding a semi-automatic or manual bike.
Before departing from the hostel, you’ll pack your essentials into a small bag, which the staff will cover and attach to the back of the bike, pick up your helmet and protective pads, and get ready for an unforgettable experience.
It won’t take long for you to be greeted by some of the incredible vistas this excursion is so renowned for. Being in a group of 15 bikes driving in convoy past rolling green hills is an experience that will really take your breath away.
After around an hour of riding, you’ll pull up to a little hillside cafe to rest up after the first leg of the trip. Teas and smoothies are available to buy, but I had to go for a personal favourite of mine, a creamy Vietnamese egg coffee. If you haven’t tried one yet, this is the place to do it!
You’ll hit the road once again and cruise past endless winding roads, with the highlight being the Bac Sum Pass Heaven Gate. There are regular stops throughout the journey, including a lunch break in a local town, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take in the views and capture some fantastic photos.
As the sun starts to go down, you’ll pull up to your guesthouse for the night, where three other groups will join you. Typically, the sleeping arrangements consist of a bunch of mattresses on the floor, so it’s almost akin to a childhood sleepover.
After a tasty local dinner and a few rounds of karaoke, things wrapped up before midnight.
The second day of the Ha Giang Loop was one of my favourites from the entire trip. I fueled up on eggs, toast, and a coffee at the guesthouse, and we got going around 9 a.m.
Tham Ma Pass will be your first stop. One of the quintessential photo spots of the journey, this is where you’ll see the majestic winding road amongst the towering green mountains. At this point, you’ll be so close to the border with China, and your phone will start connecting to a Chinese mobile network!
We got even closer to the border with a visit to Lung Cu Flag Tower, a 33-meter monument overlooking the mountainous and rice paddies-filled landscapes, before heading to the deadly skywalk. Not for the faint-hearted, this incredibly narrow road clings to the edge of a mountain and was the most hair-raising moment of the whole drive.
After such an adrenaline-fueled day, you’ll be relieved to pull up to your next guesthouse and enjoy a few beers and some rice wine (known as “happy water”) for the evening. Though your meals are included, drinks and snacks are not, so be sure to bring some extra cash with you.
Day 3 will bring more out-of-this-world views but a long and tiring drive.
The day will begin with a boat trip through the Tu San Canyon, which happens to be the deepest canyon in Southeast Asia. I can think of worse ways to start the day than sailing through emerald waters while gazing up at mesmerizing limestone cliffs.
A large portion of the road you’ll take afterwards will be under construction, which means a few hours of driving through gravel (this may have changed). This was a cumbersome and taxing experience, to say the least. Thankfully, breaks at the likes of Mậu Duệ made the adventure totally worth it.
For your final night, you’ll land in the Du Gia Village. You’ll drop off your bags and make another challenging (but much shorter) drive to the nearby Du Gia waterfall, where you’ll spend an hour encouraging one another to take the plunge into the rather chilly waters.
Another night of homecooked Vietnamese fare and local beers will follow before you get some sleep ahead of the final leg of the loop.
The last day of the Ha Giang Loop was probably the least exciting for me. While the scenery was just as dazzling, I was exhausted at this point.
You’ll have just over 100km ahead of you to make it back to Ha Giang. The journey is broken up with a lunch break and a stop at a gorgeous little stream. Although I’m so glad I chose to drive myself, I couldn’t help but think that I mightn’t be quite this tired had I opted for an easy rider for the final stretch of the trip!
At around 4 p.m., you’ll land back at Jasmine Hostel, marking the end of an amazing few days. I was lucky enough to have undertaken the journey with a brilliant group of fellow travellers and Vietnamese guides, which was a big part of why this became such a memorable experience for me.
Over the next few hours, you’ll begin saying your goodbyes while people gradually start to catch overnight buses to their next destination, with most travelling to the likes of Sapa or Ha Long Bay.
Returning to Hanoi
I had planned to return to Hanoi for two nights before travelling further to Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not the biggest fan of night buses, so I spent the night in the hostel again before catching an early bus back to Hanoi the next morning.
Jasmine Hostel will take care of everyone’s transport leaving from Ha Giang, so arranging a bus for the following morning will be super straightforward. Many people simply book onto a bus for that night after they arrive back at the hostel, so you can keep your plans as loose as you please until you touch down in Ha Giang.
When the next day rolls around, you’ll notice most people will have decided to take a bus the previous night, so the hostel will be practically empty in the morning.
My bus pulled up at around 11 a.m., and I began the 7-hour trip back to Hanoi. For this ride, I upgraded to the VIP bus, which was much more comfortable and exactly what I needed after a crazy few days.