There are countless ways to ride the Ha Giang Loop, from where to go, what motorbike to ride, and how many days to spend riding. In order to refer to this last subject, I’ll describe in this article my experience riding the Ha Giang Loop in 4 days. The common dilemma is between doing the loop in three days or four days. I’d strongly argue that the latter is ideal if you can fit the time.
I think the best way to explain why you should spend at least four days on the Ha Giang Loop is to describe my experience riding the loop. Hopefully it will convey why you don’t want to rush.
Prior to arriving in Ha Giang I had spent all of about 1 hour of my life on a motorbike. Not that this hour was a particularly helpful experience, because I managed to run into the person who taught me how to ride the bike and later on put my bike into a ditch. But why not go spend 4 days riding up and down mountains in a place where you’ve never been and can’t speak the language of those around you? Sounded like my cup of tea. So let’s see how it went.
The Ha Giang Loop in 4 Days – Day 1
I got the run-down of what I would be doing and where I would be going on the morning of my first day. It seems a bit last minute, but that is how things go in this area. It turned out that Quyet at QT’s drew up a perfect plan for my four days on the road. There are many different ways to ride the Ha Giang Loop, and his recommendations of where to stay, what shortcuts to take and which activities to wander off to were integral to the success of my trip.
The first day is magical. Arriving in the city of Ha Giang you get a glimpse of the beauty to come. But things really ramp up as you near Quản Bạ. On the mountain pass above the city, cone-like mountains roll like waves out in the distance. It’s almost as if someone took the special wavy scissors you use as a kid and cut out a jagged horizon. Dropping out below them is a sweeping valley covered in smaller kid-cut mountains extending all the way to the foot of the mountain pass. This area is called Heaven’s Gate. And I’d say that’s a pretty accurate name.
Later on that day, I found myself riding on roads that weren’t quite so popular, which turned out to be a treat. One of the beauties of getting off the beaten track is that riding starts to feel more like exploring. When the roads aren’t paved and you haven’t seen any other foreigners in hours, the sense of adventure tends to ramp up a bit.
I found that allowing myself the full day to travel from Ha Giang to Du Già was very important. There are so many different places that were calling my name to sit and take in the scenery that riding took up nearly the entire day.
Arriving in Du Già and making my way to QT Du Già Homestay, I quickly realized I was in for a treat. The dorm rooms are located in a building built right next to the glowing rice fields. On top of that, the family style dinner is out of this world. It was more delicious food than I could possible manage to consume. So add in a wonderful warm shower, and it made for the perfect way to cap off my day.
Want to learn more about Du Già? Check out our Short Guide to Du Già.
The Ha Giang Loop in 4 Days – Day 2
One of the beauties of staying in Du Già on a Friday night is that the next morning is Saturday morning. And in Du Già that means a market. Their Saturday market is a time where everyone dresses to impress and shows off their ethnic outfits. And this means colors everywhere. All the pinks, reds, blues, purples, and greens you could imagine. It’s stunning.
While I was enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the market, I couldn’t help but continuing to think about what the rest of the day had in store: Mã Pí Lèng Pass.
Mã Pí Lèng Pass is arguably the most scenic part of the Ha Giang Loop. A sweeping canyon with shimmering blue-green waters weaving a river at the valley floor below. Without Mã Pí Lèng Pass, the loop would be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. But this place is definitely the icing on the cake. So I stopped at the top for about an hour to eat some food and take in the views.
After that I made my way to Dong Van. The city isn’t much further from Mã Pí Lèng and makes for a wonderful place to spend the night. Shortly after my arrival, I found my way to a hostel with a roof top deck and relaxed under a charming sunset. Also, much to my surprise, I discovered some of the best Indian food of my life in Dong Van. Don’t ask me why that ended up in rural Vietnam!
Want to learn more about Dong Van? Check out our Short Guide to Dong Van.
The Ha Giang Loop in 4 Days – Day 3
So here’s where doing the Ha Giang Loop in 4 days becomes the best decision a person can make. I turned around and rode back to Mã Pí Lèng Pass. Because just riding up it isn’t quite enough to take in the beauty.
To clarify, there are two ways to further explore Mã Pí Lèng Pass. Firstly, you can go up the Skywalk, while the second option is taking a boat tour. From what I have heard, the boat tour is an incredible experience consisting of floating on sparkling clear green water between canyon walls rising high above. But I opted for the Skywalk, because it gave me the chance to walk around.
So the Skywalk is a set of narrow roads and paths that climb their way up Mã Pí Lèng Pass. They offer some distance from the main road and provide for stunning scenery. And they can be tackled on a bike or done on foot. I chose to ride up these roads because I would also be hiking under White Cliff.
Towering above Mã Pí Lèng Pass is a cliff band of massive white rock, and meandering its way underneath is a local path. This can only done by foot as there are series of steps on each side. And this was the highlight of my entire trip. Because it provided the opportunity to see the remarkable views of Mã Pí Lèng Pass at a variety of angles while under the shade of some beautiful rocks.
Hiking under White Cliff took around an hour and a half, while driving up and down the Skywalk added another sixty minutes to my journey. This made for an excellent morning activity before eating lunch back down in Dong Van.
Later that day, the drive from Dong Van to Yen Minh was probably the shortest distance of any of my drives. A reasonable afternoon drive made for the ideal day. In short, I believe that giving myself all the time I needed in the morning to enjoy Mã Pí Lèng Pass and having a short ride in the afternoon was crucial to my experience on the loop. It allowed me to slow down the amount of driving and take in some fantastic views.
The Ha Giang Loop in 4 Days – Day 4
Finally, I spent this last day enjoying a morning in Yen Minh. A nice cup of coffee and a late breakfast made for a relaxing way to start the day. Again, this was a really nice way to pause for a bit and enjoy my surroundings.
This was the only day that I experienced any rain. But it did little to dampen my spirits. Based on the excellent advice of Quyet, I took a shortcut on my way back to Ha Giang. It’s a smaller road and is actually more scenic than the main road everyone else takes.
While this last day continued to impress with mountains rising in waves and cones from valley floors, I spent much of the day collecting my thoughts and thinking of all that I had seen on my journey. On most of my previous adventures, I am always going from one thing to another and trying to fit in every sight possible. But I believe that the slightly slower and more relaxed approach I took with the Ha Giang Loop was the best way to do it.
To sum up, I’ve been fortunate to travel to some pretty incredible places in my life, and riding the Ha Giang Loop is up there at the very top -alongside backpacking through the highlands of Iceland (which happens to be rated as one of the top 10 backpacking trips in the entire world).
So do yourself a favor, do the loop some justice, and don’t do it in less than 4 days.
Haven’t made up your mind yet? Maybe you’d like to check a different view on the matter. Read Is The 3 Day Ha Giang Loop Long Enough? or 6 Reasons To Go Slowly When Discovering Ha Giang & Cao Bang.