If you’re not an experienced rider, or you’re not a rider at all, probably the first question that comes up to your mind when you hear about the beauties of this area is Am I skilled enough to ride the Ha Giang loop?
So I’ll try to answer this question using my own experience as an example. I’m definitely not an experience biker. Actually, the 350 kilometers I did on the loop may constitute 80% of the total amount of kilometers I’ve ever done on a motorbike. What is more, when I arrived to Ha Giang I had ridden an automatic bike for the first time the previous month. I didn’t even know what kind of an upgrade a semi-automatic implied! AND I don’t drive. I never did. So when I arrived here, first thing I did was, indeed, asking everyone who had experienced the loop: “Am I skilled enough to ride the Ha Giang loop?”
And this crazy thing happened. From each one of these persons, I received pretty much the same frustrating, apparently contradictory answer. “It’s quite challenging all along, and some parts are really hard. But sure, you can totally do it!”. Wait, what?! I just told you I rode a motorbike for the first time a month ago!
Well… I ended up learning to use a semi-automatic and trying it for 20 minutes. And the following morning, I was hitting the road. And I’m really sorry to tell you this. But if your experience is similar to mine, and you’re considering riding because the idea doesn’t freak you out, my answer now is pretty much the same I received.
But before trying to be more specific on the difficulties of the road, I want to add a few more details. Let me tell you about my background, as a warning:
- I am an experienced cyclist. I use my bike to go everywhere in the (quite chaotic) city I live in. So I know transit laws and I’m also used to react to drivers, bikers or pedestrians behaving stupidly on the road.
- I tend to react pragmatically and fast to unexpected problems. My response capacity is usually good, and I’m hardly paralyzed by fear.
- I’m self-confident but also responsible. I know my limits and I accept them. If I’d had fear at any point, I would have come back. Or just stay where I was and call someone to pick me up! I decided to ride my own motorbike because I felt confident. But I also decided to ride it as part of a tour (You can read my 7 reasons to do the Ha Giang loop with a local guide). So an experienced biker was always leading the route. And that’s what I needed to feel safe. I wouldn’t have done the loop alone or with other inexperienced bikers only. But that’s just me!
To sum up this warning. Yes, you’ll probably be able to ride these roads with little or no previous experience as a biker. Basically because riding a bike is not complex science. But experience’s a good teacher you didn’t have. And there are risks. So please, don’t misunderstand me! You know yourself better than anyone. Consider your full background on the road and your personal characteristics when making this decision. And above all, consider how you feel about the idea of driving hundreds of kilometers in the mountains when trying the bike on flat ground.
In other words, if you have little or no experience as a biker, the answer to “Am I skilled enough to ride the Ha Giang loop?” could be either yes or not. You might be more than ready to ride all alone. Or it might be convenient for you to ride following a more experienced biker. Or maybe you shouldn’t ride at all… you and you only have the answer.
Finally, for you to make up your mind, let me describe the Ha Giang loop route for you. I hope this helps you understand the challenges you’ll find along the way:
- Most of the route is mountainous, full of ascents, descents and curves, some of them quite pronounced.
- The traffic is light.
- About 90% of the roads are in excellent condition. I would say less than 5% have some potholes, gravel or other obstacles that force you to drive more slowly and carefully.
- At the time I did the loop (Mar 2019), only a few hundred meters presented a non-asphalted, super bumpy, truly difficult road. By the direction I was going I had to do it uphill. It was 10 minutes of riding in first gear, very slowly, jumping on the bike more than I had liked to. No whining, a lot of cursing, no falls. If I had been driving with someone in the back, I’d have asked him/her to get off and walk that part of the route. But the two (local) experienced riders in my tour, who were actually riding (manual bikes) with people in their pillions, did totally fine.
If you want a more detailed description on the difficulties of the road, you can check my article How hard is riding the Ha Giang loop.
To sum up, if you don’t have an extensive experience with motorbikes, but you’re a descent rider and feel confident about riding these roads, you can totally do it. But be responsible and fair to yourself when making this decision. And take all the measures you need to feel safe. Do not forget riding a bike implies life risks. And the adventure is not worth your life.
Finally, let me remind you that not riding a bike does not mean everything is lost! You can opt for joining a tour with an assigned rider. And that means being relaxed all along and enjoying the landscape much more than riders… Far from the end of the world, right?
Whatever decision you make, have fun and enjoy the most stunning views in Vietnam!