Ha Giang city is located in North Vietnam, close to the border with China. You might know it as the start to the Ha Giang Loop. It covers an area of 135.33 km² and has a population of around 70,000 inhabitants. 22 different ethnicities live here, the majority (~50%) being Kinh and Tày people. Contrary to most people’s idea of what Ha Giang is like, it’s a fairly big, spread out city, and it takes a long time to walk from one point to another. I’d therefore recommend renting a bicycle or motorbike if you are planning to do one or some of the nature hikes/walks. Otherwise, you can pick a few spots in the center and stay within the city. In any case, I definitely recommend giving Ha Giang a chance!
What to do in Ha Giang city, Vietnam
- Visit the central market. It’s open everyday, and it’s best to go in the morning or before dinner time. It’s a good example of a more traditional Vietnamese market. Likewise, the Weekend Market offers local products from farmers that come down from the mountains to sell their produce on weekend mornings. The earlier you go there, the better!
- Go to Cafe Núi Cấm. Walk or drive up the mountain for a full view of Ha Giang and a drink at this cute little cafe set inside an old bus. Once you’re there, if you climb the steps up the mountain you will pass a big electric tower and arrive to a small Buddhist temple. Pass this too and you will have arrived to the highest (and best) viewpoint of Ha Giang city. But beware: the climb up from the cafe is a steep climb and not for the faint hearted!
- Other points of interest in the city include the Ha Giang provincial museum and Chua Quan Am -a beautiful buddhist temple.
What to do around Ha Giang city, Vietnam
- There is a small waterfall area near Ha Giang, which is relatively easy to get to (not to be confused with Ban Gioc waterfalls). You can go there anytime of the year. However, it’ll be especially beautiful after the wet season, when the waterfall’s water level will be higher. It’s a nice and easy activity if you have a couple of hours. The short walk to the waterfall is beautiful and enjoyable, and you can swim if it’s hot enough! Before starting the walk, make sure you leave your motorbike at the lady’s house. She’ll charge a very cheap entrance/parking fee and show you how to get there.-
- Noong lake is an amazingly beautiful spot. Although the lake is dry part of the year, there’s a stunning field surrounded by mountains, with grazing cows and wild ducks all around. It’s an hour ride by motorbike -and it’s a tough one. So if you’re an experienced biker, it might be better to come here after doing the Ha Giang loop.
- There are several ethnic minority villages close to the city. Surrounded by rice terraces, they are the perfect option for an afternoon or morning stroll. You can observe the traditional architectural style of the area: building on stilts and using palm leaves for roofing.
Where to eat and drink in Ha Giang city, Vietnam
- Bánh cuốn Bà Làn. This is the place I recommend to try the typical dish of the region:
the bánh cuốn. It’s a traditional dish of the north of Vietnam. It’s a kind of steamed pancake (which looks nothing like a Western pancake), filled with pork. It comes with a soup, in which you have to dip the pancake in before eating it.
- Nhà Hàng Chay Thiên Phúc. Head there for vegetarian options. It’s a yummy traditional Vietnamese veggie restaurant near the center, with lots of options in their menu.
Where to get coffee, drinks & desserts in Ha Giang city, Vietnam
- Vu Gia Cafe 479. It’s serves coffee, smoothies, juices and teas. Their taste for coffee is as good as their taste for interior decor: minimal, indulging and classy.
- This little home-made Chè/sua chua shop. Chè is a traditional layered dessert throughout Vietnam. It comes in a glass and usually contains a mixture of tapioca, jelly, coconut, rice, corn and, sometimes, beans. I personally love it. Once you get past its gooey consistency, it’s a deliciously fulfilling, not-too-sweet treat. If you feel less adventurous (or healthier), try the Sua Chua (yoghurt), which is very similar to Western yoghurt desserts. You can find both versions at this place.
How to get to and around Ha Giang city, Vietnam
The easiest way to get to Ha Giang is by bus. The city’s bus services are well connected, and there are regular sleeper buses from Hanoi, Hai Phong/Cat Ba, Ninh Binh, Ha Long City, Sa Pa. There are also smaller buses connecting Ha Giang with the towns in the loop. The easiest way to book from these places to Ha Giang is at the bus station or at your guesthouse/hotel
Take into account that a lot of sleeping buses arrive at 3/4am. But don’t worry! Many guesthouses in Ha Giang will provide a free bed if you arrive then. If you will be renting with QT motorbikes and tours you can stay there for free, and also get a free motorbike rental after 2 pm to practice/ explore the city. Moreover, on your departure date, they can book your bus to any of the destinations mentioned above, and the bus will pick you up from the guesthouse at no extra fee
Note: there is no train service in this part of Vietnam. The road between Hanoi and Ha Giang is in good condition, and the sleeper buses are safe to travel with.