10 Common Planning Mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop

QT – YOUR GATEAWAY TO HA GIANG & CAO BANG
Jörgen Holmström

Are you an over-planner of every detail of your travel? Or are you maybe a carefree I-take-it-as-it-comes traveler? No matter which, this blog will try to take out 10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop. I hope it helps you to take ready and make your experience in Ha Giang more rewarding.

1. You think you can predict weather in Ha Giang

Weather. Probably the most frequent of our 10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop list. If not, this is definitely the most asked about issue by QT customers. How will the weather be in Ha Giang in x days? I see that it’ll rain next week, what do you think? Is it dangerous to drive if it rains?

I can understand that one wish to experience an outdoor adventure in fairly good weather. It’s reasonable to hope to make the Ha Giang Loop in picture-perfect weather. However, with all your concerns about the weather the answer is simply: it’s not very foreseeable.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: weather
The secret for undoubtedly enjoying the Ha Giang Loop: embrace unpredictable weather!

Northern Vietnam offers seasons, so some things are given. December through February it’ll be cool, but with good clothing the loop’s still very doable. June through August is the time when it is hottest, most humid and rain falls most heavily. It’s a tropical “rain season”, so rain falls as thunderstorms in late afternoon and at night. Good news is it’s not too common to have heavy rain in the middle of the day, and you might enjoy entire weeks without any rain at all.

The other months, “spring” and “autumn”, offer the most pleasant weather in terms of temperature and humidity, but even if the amount of rain is less, it’s a common occurrence. Vietnam lays in a tropical region, which means it can rain on any day, keeping the landscape green and lush.

But, while weather sites are not famous for accurate long-term predictions, that is even more true for mountainous areas. Here, weather is specially unpredictable and may change from hour to hour. My own experience is that weather sites may give an indication of weather 24 hours ahead, but often still not giving you much clue to what you’ll experience.

The unpredictability of weather should, with a positive mind-set, give you extra spice to discover the Ha Giang loop. A bit of rain will hardly spoil the adventure. Rightly clothed and with adjusted speed, you’re bound to have the best quest for stunning mountain beauty exploration.

You can find more info on Ha Giang’s weather in this article: What’s the weather like in Ha Giang.

2. You believe you need to be an expert biker

It’s a healthy reflection to consider how much experience you need to drive a motorcycle on the Ha Giang Loop. The more motorbike familiarity the better, without doubt. Having accomplished the Hai Van pass or having some scooter experience on Cat Ba Islands may not make you fully prepared for the narrow twisting mountain roads of Ha Giang.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: expertise
Road in Ha Giang aren’t necessarily crazy, but they do have ups, downs and turns, besides beautiful landscapes all around. So you definitely do not want to rush on its roads!

However, a careful beginner who give themself sufficient time to take it slowly can manage. That said, for the less experienced the Ha Giang loop might be most enjoyed riding pillion behind an experienced driver. Paying for an “easy-rider” service is more expensive than just renting your own bike, of course. But for your safety and for the delight to freely view the nature rather than just the road, it could be a price well worth it.

If you’re still wondering Am I skilled enough to ride the Ha Giang loop?, you can read more about this topic here.

3. You hope to have the loop to yourself

Ha Giang and even more so its neighboring Cao Bang province has in the very last few years become the new hot spots for those looking for adventure and less explored paths. And both provinces offer, in fact, some of the most astonishing mountain roads to travel. No way better than on a motorbike, of course.

But hoping to be a Robinson Crusoe explorer and putting it under your belt? Sorry, not so. Ha Giang has long been a place that the more adventurous travelers have known about and gone to find tranquility and harmony with nature and people. Taking some back or side roads and you’ll likely not see much of any other tourist around, so they’re still very less traveled roads.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: amount of people
You won’t be alone in Ha Giang… but sometimes it can feel like it! Definitely not the tourist hub you’ll find at Hoi An or Halong Bay.

Maybe you are the opposite and fear not meeting other travelers or not finding the most necessary amenities? Fear not! You might not easily find your Western comfort food, like pizza and hamburgers, or the abundance of items in the malls of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. However, most services and convenience items will be around. And, while not as crowded with foreign tourists as many other places in Vietnam, you’ll meet them on the road, in restaurants or the homestays at night.

4. You want to stick to your backpacker-party lifestyle

Travelers come in all constellations, nationalities, numbers, ages, shapes, and sizes to Ha Giang. With the right planning, preparations and use of the more reliable and experienced motorbike and tour agencies it’s possible to ride the loop from the age of 6 months to 100+ years.

Nonetheless, the backpackers, as diverse this category is, are a huge number traveling Vietnam. Part of the backpacker group tend to cling on to each other and travel in a party going mood. Nothing wrong with that in the right place and for the activities you’re doing.

Ha Giang is still pristine, its diverse ethnic people wake up at 5 am to tend to their land and animals, and its view and nature is best and safest explored without a big hangover.

If your normal traveling style is the party train, Ha Giang might be the station where you jump off for a few days and try another way of traveling. As respect to the host environment, fellow travelers, and your safety of traveling long days on a motorbike, you should respect and act responsible to this environment.

That being said, you’ll meet other backpackers on the road, and you can always enjoy a karaoke night both with locals and travelers. Because acting responsively does not mean boredom!

5. You fear bugs and wildlife

Boxing in another category of travelers are those who seek and can afford luxury and ultimate comfort. Ha Giang might be a place where you should step out of that comfort zone.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: accommodation
You’ll encounter clean, comfy, cozy homestays you won’t find on booking sites, and which you might not consider luxurious…

Yes, after a long day on a bike a soft mattress, satin sheets in the bed and your own private room with all its niceties might be what you long for. Some of the small towns around Ha Giang have a bit more luxurious hotels, but not of the standard you can find in big resorts or big cities. Accommodation is, for good or better, still quite rudimentary.

What is more, spending your night in a genuine ethnic minority homestay is the right way to getting to know and appreciating the life of the people in the area. It might be basic but expect to find hot/cold showers, flush toilets, high-speed WiFi, clean beds. More importantly, expect exceptional home-cooked food, enormous hospitality, and yes, maybe a bit of a hard mattress. Here, the only wildlife to be afraid of is the rooster crowing you up from sleep at 5 am.

6. You believe you can arrive to Ha Giang by train

Here you sit at home with your map of Vietnam trying to piece together your itinerary for Vietnam. A narrow and stretched country indeed. But this vision might lead you to the 6th of our 10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop

Here is the short key of traveling in Vietnam. Anything between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi offers plenty of options from train, bus, motorbike and airplanes. North of Hanoi, not too many options. You cannot really fly anywhere north of Hanoi. Trains are limited. You might have read about a train to the Northern town of Lao Cai. On the map, not too far from Ha Giang, or…? Six hours or more on a local small bus is the answer.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: bus
By bus. That’s basically the only way to get to Ha Giang… good news? Sleeper buses are bigger and more comfortable than this one above 😉

Distances between places in the very north of Vietnam might not look too far apart. However, they’re mostly very narrow roads that serpentine you up and down the mountain valleys. What is more, these roads are often not the best maintained.

If going to Ha Giang and/or Cao Bang is part of the itinerary (and it should!), your options are really two. You have the slightly more comfortable VIP mini-vans or the sleeper buses. You could hire your private vehicle (driver included,) but it’ll be fairly expensive if you’re not part of a large group. From Hanoi to either Ha Giang or Cao Bang you need to estimate around 6 to 7 hours whichever means of transport you take.

By the way, “night sleeper bus” does not mean you’ll sleep in total comfort. However, if your days of holiday are limited, this is the most efficient way to utilize your days by traveling to or from Ha Giang and Cao Bang.

Is your bus arriving to Ha Giang 4am and you have no idea what to do? Check out this article about what to do if you arrive to Ha Giang in the middle of the night!

7. You wish to earn points on the booking accommodation sites

Have you got caught up in using booking sites for your accommodation? Getting thrilled by all the points you’ll earn and those free nights?

Let me kill the myth. Commissions of these booking sites can be up to 25% and their subjective ranking of establishments can be detrimental for small business. So these sites might be useful for big establishments, resort towns or in certain peak seasons. But not really a hit in Ha Giang.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: booking
By booking accommodation directly through the owners, you’ll avoid them high commissions. Consider it a chance for your trip to make a better impact on local communities.

While still evolving into a tourist destination, Ha Giang and Cao Bang offer plenty of options for accommodation, most not listed on any booking site. Besides, except for one or two exceptional festival seasons, accommodation is readily and easily available at any time.

So if doing the Ha Giang loop, I would really not recommend making prior accommodation bookings, very specially through booking sites. Besides what said above, it also takes away your flexibility, the adventure, and your illusion of falling for glossy pictures and overstated service levels before seeing a place first hand.

8. You have the idea that everything in Vietnam should cost nothing

So many YouTube videos and travel information sites state you can have a meal for less the US$ 2 and the cheapest hotels in the world. Probably true. I am not disputing that Vietnam is comparatively cheap to travel and the service, even better than its reputation.

That does not mean that every leg of your travel and everything you try to do must be unashamedly cheap. Like anywhere else in the world, you pay for what you get. Hopefully, the staff of the business you engage to have secure monthly salaries, paid leave, paid parental leave, insurance. Hopefully, you’ll go to homestays that do not have to pay kickbacks to the owner of a rental agency. And hopefully, you’ll rent a bike to which mechanical services are done regularly by professionals.

By being a responsible traveler, be suspicious of too cheap rates, and ask yourself if a daily difference of a couple of bucks should blind you to your own safety and well-being.

If you want to have a better idea on how much money you need to do the Ha Giang Loop, read our article on the subject!

9. You think you’re giving yourself too much time

Time constraints. So many things to see and do, so little time. If not having the luxury of traveling for months in Vietnam, you can’t do and experience everything you see and read about when planning your trip. You need to make a tough selection of choices to the smorgasbord of great things on offer in this country.

10 common planning mistakes for the Ha Giang Loop: time
With landscapes like this, you can imagine time is never enough!

If settling for a visit and doing the Ha Giang loop, issues like your driving skills, weather conditions, your interests and curiosity are just some of the factors that can define how many days you need to allocate. The more experienced drivers can do a Ha Giang Loop in three days, but the average QT customers are out for an average closer to five days.

However, it’s not all about rushing or not on the road. I’ve never met or heard of any traveler that felt they had given themselves too many days in the Ha Giang area. My suggestion is to keep this leg of your discovery of Vietnam a bit flexible. The QT team offer this option. You can rent and pay for x days, and just pay the extra time on return if you decide to stay out longer. If arriving earlier than contracted, they also offer full refund for the days that we not used.

If you want to read some more about this issue, you can read our article Is The 3 Day Ha Giang Loop Tour Long Enough?

10. You aim to carry all your luggage on the loop

Most travelers probably pack for more than they need or will use. Some are filling up further with souvenirs and gifts along the way. Kindly take my advice. On a motorbike trip, never carry more than what you really need. An overloaded motorcycle can easily become unstable. And that’s a problem amazingly easy to solve: at QT, you can freely store anything you won’t need.

A trick and tip when traveling on a motorbike: you don’t need to be in your cleanest and finest clothes when you’re out on the bike. No one will really judge your clothing nor smell if you’re in the same dirty clothes as the day before. Certainly, keep your hygiene and get showered and into clean cloth at the end of the day trip, but a bit of cloth recycling is never forbidden or wrong.

Do you need a more accurate idea on what to pack for a ride along the Ha Giang loop? Check out this article!

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Our Writer

Jörgen Holmström / Consultant
Sweden

Long time friend of QT and his family, Jorgen is since many years a frequent flyer on Vietnam. Has spent most of his life in the humanitarian non-governmental sector, mainly in Kenya and Afghanistan.

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