Many people ask if the Ha Giang loop is really worth it. Cause yes, it’s a bit out of the way, actually close to the border with China. But that also means it’s in fairly untouched land, which makes it the trip any traveler’s dreams are made of. My boyfriend Alex and I did the 3 day Ha Giang loop tour with QT motorbikes and tours in March. And honestly, SPOILER ALERT, it’s unbelievable.
We were 7 people in total: our 2 Vietnamese guides, Kai and Thuong; Ben; Matt; Tomás; Alex and me, Paloma. Ben and Matt were from Texas (U.S.), Tomás was from Chile, Alex from the U.K. and me, from Spain. Certainly a very diverse group, but by the end we felt like we had known each other for years!
Day one: From Ha Giang to Dong Van
Backpacks, checked. Motorbike (Yamaha 125cc), checked. And rain-proof gear… checked. We left the QT garage with excitement in the air, past Ha Giang city and into the mountains. The first stop was Heaven’s Gate, and in our trip it really did feel like ‘Heaven’: all we could see was a big pane of white fog. Next to it was a big photo of how it was supposed to look like, as if saying ‘look at what you’re missing!’. We all laughed and made jokes, and the guides reassured us we would come back on the third day, so no problem! Instead we sat down for a nice cup of Vietnamese ‘Phin’ Coffee and some hot cocoa – perfect for our cold bones.
The first day was foggy and at some points we couldn’t see past the motorbike in front of us. My boyfriend Alex was driving, and I was on the back, and at that moment I was so thankful to be part of a group tour! Not that I don’t trust my boyfriend’s driving, but riding with 5 meters of visibility is enough to scare anyone. Our guides were the ones heading the group, so they knew exactly where every turn and bump was. They were also regulating the speed of the group, so we knew when to slow down ahead of a curve.
Having an experienced rider leading the group is one of the 7 reasons to do the Ha Giang loop with a local guide you can find in this article!
In the afternoon we drove past the village where our guide Kai’s grandparents are from. It was a tiny village, and we visited his grandparents’ house. His grandmother was wearing the traditional clothes of the H’mong ethnic minority of Vietnam. Their house was very simple but we felt very lucky to visit it!
Next up, we payed a visit to the H’mong King’s palace. It’s a wooden palace in the mountains, where you can see the typical housing arranging of the time.
A night in Dong Van
We arrived in Dong Van at around 5pm, in time for a ‘siesta’ before dinner. We stayed at the Green Karst Guesthouse & Hostel, which is in the heart of town. The rooms were cozy and comfortable
At 7pm we met downstairs in the lobby to head out for dinner. But before we left, we were invited to try the tobacco ‘pipes’ that we had seen the locals using. And by pipe I mean a massive bong worthy of Bob Marley’s personal arsenal. You see one in basically every local restaurant/guesthouse/coffee shop. They put some green tea at the bottom of the bucket (to make it taste better), and some local, unprocessed tobacco in the bowl. A few members of our group gave it a try, with good results.
For dinner, we headed out to the Green Karst restaurant, a venue 2-3 minutes walk away from the hostel/guesthouse. Before we ordered, we were invited to some ‘Happy Water’ aka Corn Wine, by our guides. It tasted delicious, and us thinking it wasn’t strong we did a few too many shots… By the time our meal arrived we were already quite ‘happy’. Absolutely no regrets though! We learnt how to cheer in Vietnamese and every other language represented on the table. An hour later, we had taken over the karaoke downstairs, and were singing Whitney Houston so badly everyone in the restaurant left… Oops!
If you want to know more about Dong Van, you can read my Short guide to Dong Van.
Day two: Lung Cu, Meo Vac, Du Gia
After recovering from the previous night, the guides took us to an eatery nearby for Pho. Honestly, I would’ve never found a place like that had I gone by myself. Not because it was hidden, but because sometimes it’s easier to go for the Western, comfortable option… And breakfast soup is not everyone’s first choice. But I had some very authentic, steaming bowl of delicious vegetarian Pho (everyone else had meat). The noodles were fresh, the broth was nourishing and the tofu was 100% delicious!
Finally, coffee time! We went to a traditional coffee house for some lovely Ca Phe Den (black coffee), mango smoothies and hot cocoa. Sipping on these delicious drinks, we shared and reconstructed our memories of the previous night.
On the road again: to China and (not) beyond
The second day we were blessed with a clear sky! After packing our stuff, we headed out of Dong Van towards Lung Cu, sometimes also jokingly called the ‘north-pole of Vietnam’. The ride there was breathtaking, for lack of better words. Between the mountains and the sun on our face, our spirits were lifted!
We arrived at the border between Vietnam and China. You can identify it by a massive Vietnamese flag post on the top of a mountain. Alex also bought some Shan Snow tea, one of the local teas which you can only find in this part of Vietnam!
Souvenir’s in hand, and 2000 steps later (or what felt like) – we came up crawling through the stairs.
So worth it! We took a few photos of the flag and China and headed back down past Dong Van, on our way to Meo Vac.
From then on the landscape became a series of ‘Oh my god…’ ‘Holy f***’. I have to confess, we even cried a bit. It was, hands down, the most beautiful landscape we had ever seen. Before we set out on this trip we had heard everyone talk about how beautiful the Ha Giang loop was, but we couldn’t imagine anything of this magnitude. Imagine driving for, literally, hours, and in every turn there comes a more stunning view. When we thought we had seen the most beautiful part, BOOM, there comes an even more vast and breathtaking landscape. As I said before, we cried. That’s how beautiful it was.
Lunch at Mèo Vac
On the second day of our 3 day Ha Giang loop tour, we stopped at Mèo Vac for lunch. The people running the eatery didn’t speak English, so Kai ordered for the group in Vietnamese. In Vietnam it’s common to order a few dishes for the whole table. Each person has their own bowl of rice and picks the food from the dishes they want – I call it “Vietnamese tapas”. I love this kind of eating! You get to try all the different delicious foods. The only downside is that you always end up really full because it’s hard to measure how much you’re eating… But this is hardly a downside at all.
Kai ordered for us an array of foods, including herb omelette, meat, green’s soup, sautéed veggies and tomato tofu. All Vietnamese style and cooked with local Vietnamese herbs. It was the perfect meal to recharge for the rest of our journey!
From Mèo Vac to Du Gia
Again, the landscape in this part was gorgeous. Dotted with rice fields and terraces, this part represents what most people imagine when they think of Vietnam: lush, green, vibrant rice fields.
Arrival in Du Gia (pronounced as ‘Zu-Za’)
We got to Du Gia around 5pm, and after riding all day, a relaxing evening was in order. The staff at QT Du Gia Homestay were really lovely and sweet, offering to make us coffee or tea on our arrival. For dinner, they cooked a super tasty shared meal for us!
Again, the ‘happy water’ was rolling but we decided to not go as hard as the night before. So we sat down to share stories of our travels over a few beers instead.
Day 3: From Du Gia to the Lung Tam linen cooperative
In the morning we woke up to eat some superb sweet banana pancakes with condensed milk. After eating, we took a few goodbye photos with the staff. Finally, we headed out to continue our (drumroll) last day of the 3 day Ha Giang loop tour!
Personally, the bit coming up was my favorite of the journey. We got into a very remote area of the loop, with barely any cars or motorbikes passing by. Then we passed through the villages and could see the local markets of the area. We were driving through all the mountains shaped as hills, one after another. After this, we faced a very tricky part of the road, which was more of a challenge. Thankfully, they were paving it at the time, so it won’t be tricky for long! Mind you, the challenge was absolutely worth it!
From this point, we headed to a village to visit the Lung Tam Linen Cooperative. There, they showed us the whole weaving process of the hemp and linen fibres, from stranding, to dyeing, to sewing, to ‘ironing’. They even let us have a go at their ‘ironing board’ – sort of like snowboard but on a big round rock.
Ending the loop – it was a 360 experience
After a lunch stop at Quan Ba, where we ate delicious home-cooked food, we finally stopped at Heaven’s Gate, to see what we had missed the first day. Then, we slowly started to make our way back to the QT garage to end our adventure. It was with a mix of emotions – sadness that it had come to an end but ecstatic about what we had just lived – that we exchanged our contact numbers and said our goodbyes.
Overall, our 3 day Ha Giang loop tour was an unforgettable experience, and one we undoubtedly recommend. However, next time we know we will take more than 3 days, as there still are so many things to explore and experience!