The Ha Giang loop is one of those experiences that you need to do at least once in your life. Its landscapes, towns, food, costumes and lovely people come together in an experience that is likely to leave you speechless at more than one point in your loop. But is the typical 3 day Ha Giang loop tour long enough to enjoy all of it?
My boyfriend Alex and I did the loop twice. The first time we did the 3 day Ha Giang loop tour with QT Motorbikes & Tours. And we fell in love with it. The second time, we did it for 5 days, and loved it even more. In this article, we have put together this list of factors to consider when choosing how many days to spend doing the Ha Giang loop.
1. Going with a tour or riding alone?
If you’re going with a tour, you are more likely to get more out of your experience. It means you won’t have to worry about where you’re heading next, the time to stop for lunch, checking the maps at every crossroad, timing… You can just relax, take photos, enjoy the views and follow your guide(s). Therefore, if going with a tour, 3 days might feel enough. Because you’ll be making the most of your time. Of course, the longer you stay, the more you’ll get out of the experience. But since you’ll be traveling with guys who know the region and the roads so well, and for whom safety is always first, you could manage to enjoy a nice, safe and quite complete experience in 3 days. You could even enjoy a 2 day tour if you’re rushing!
Here you can read Natalia’s 7 reasons to do the Ha Giang loop with a local guide.
If you are driving by yourself, 2 days is definitely not enough, as your safety on the road is likely to be compromised. Besides, you’ll need time to organize where you’re going, and where you’ll be staying and eating. You’ll also need to leave enough time to explore, eat, take photos… So in this case, 3 days is definitely the minimum I suggest. What is more, I recommend you to take 4-7 days (or more!).
In any case, bear in mind you can do the loop in 3-5 days, but if you stay 2 more days you can visit other amazing spots. My favorite: the stunning Ban Gioc waterfalls in Cao Bang!
2. Your driving skills
If you choose to drive behind an experienced rider, of course you’ll be able to do it at a more constant speed. However, if you’re riding by yourself and are a novice driver, you do not want to rush along the Ha Giang loop. Trust me! There are countless of hairpin curves, some curves with loose gravel, and other drivers to take into consideration. You want to give yourself enough time. Therefore, you can be present, safe and enjoy the loop, not pressured to rush.
If this is an issue that concerns you, you can read Natalia’s article: Am I skilled enough to ride the Ha Giang loop?
3. The weather
The weather along the Ha Giang loop is extremely changeable. One day it’s 30ºC and sunny, and the next it’s foggy and cold. It even changes from mountain to mountain! In our trip, at one point we had to slow down to 10 mph because the visibility was too low due to fog. At other times, the whole day would be overcast with clouds and rain. But some days it was sunny and we had to keep putting on sunscreen. And this was all in the same month! My point is, if you take more days to do the loop, you’ll have more flexibility to be able to relax on rainy days. My suggestion then: consider an extra day if it’s too foggy or it rains a lot!
4. Your interests and how many spots you want to visit
Aside from all the breathtaking view points you’ll stop to admire, there are also plenty of activities along the Ha Giang loop.
Just to name a few, there’s the stunning Ma Pi Leng trek, the Lung Khuy caves, the Lung Cu flag post, the ‘North Pole’ trek, the H’mong’s King palace. These are probably the most famous. But then you also have the Nam Dam village herbal baths, the Du Gia waterfalls, the Lung Tam village linen cooperative… You might not want to miss the Thang Hen lake, the Nguom Ngao Cave nor the Yen Minh pine forest either.
At Dong Vang, you can visit the amazing Sunday market and walk to the French fort during the day, and show your singing skills at a karaoke after dinner. You can also wander around other markets, such as the ones in Ha Giang city or Meo Vac. And if you take enough time to ride off the beaten track, you can also visit the Ban Gioc waterfalls. I also have to mention all the chances you’ll have to socialize, eat in local eateries and drink the local ‘corn wine’.
In 3 days you’ll manage to do a handful of these things, but don’t count on doing them all! So consider what you’re interested in doing along the Ha Giang loop tour in order to take the best decision on how many days you want to spend there. You’ll have to choose just a few activities, or stay a few more days.
Some events take place weekly, monthly or annually. For example, if you’re doing the loop around the weekend, it’d be a shame to miss one of the Sunday markets at Dong Van or Meo Vac. Likewise, there is the Khau Vai Love Market on the last Saturday of March every year. You should definitely consider going if you’re around that time. Even if that implied one or two extra days on the loop! In any case, if you really want to attend any of these events, you should plan your days and route around them.
6. The level of engagement you want to have with culture / surroundings
Sometimes it’s easy to get tempted to fast track and get to your destination. But if you slow down and pay attention, you can experience the generosity and warmth of the many people that live along the loop.
If you go for a walk in any of the villages, you’ll encounter groups of children happy and curious to see you. Even though you might not speak their language, a few basic Vietnamese words like Xin Chao (“Hello”; pronounced Shin Chao) or Cam On (“Thank you”) can go a long way! Additionally, if you stay in traditional homestays, you can also experience this hospitality and learn from their traditions. And of course: the longer you stay, the more contact you’ll be able to have!
Please remember to be respectful of the areas you visit. Don’t litter, don’t be noisy at night and don’t be disrespectful towards the people living in these areas. Always ask before taking photos of anyone and show them once you’re done taking them. Please don’t encourage begging by giving money to children nor adults, even if they ask.
To conclude, the answer to Is the 3 day Ha Giang loop tour long enough? depends only on you. However, I’d 3 days is definitely the minimum amount of time you should spend doing it. You’ll get to see the landscapes and visit some of the main landmarks. However, you will not have as much flexibility to visit some other very impressive spots, do nature treks or stop in one place in case of bad weather. That is why I strongly suggest you to consider at least 4 or 5 days in the loop, if you do have time. It’s totally worth it! However, whether you have 3 or 7 days, the Ha Giang loop is an impressive, life changing trip. No matter how long you’re there, it won’t disappoint!