While exploring Southeast Asia, we spent 4 days motorbiking our way through the mountains of northern Vietnam on the Ha Giang Loop. Over the four days, we traveled over 350 kilometers between each stop and the incredible views. We made new friends, visited the most beautiful places, and shared a rice wine shot (or two) with the sweetest souls.
The Ha Giang Loop is a popular and adventurous experience for travelers in Northern Vietnam. Most often completed by motorbike, the route is filled with friendly homestays, rustic villages, and breathtaking views. After a year of traveling Asia, this adventure is tied to our favorite experience with Khao Sok National Park. Vietnam’s countryside is truly stunning and we couldn’t believe how the views got better and better each day.
We ended our trip with tired eyes, sore bums, happy hearts, and grateful souls. The Ha Giang Loop is an incredible experience that we highly recommend to all adventurous travelers heading to Vietnam. If you’re interested in doing the loop yourself, check out our guide to completing the Ha Giang Loop (COMING SOON).
Here’s a summary of how each day on the loop went for us:
Day 1 Ha Giang to Yen Minh: 90 KM / 56 Miles
To reach Ha Giang, we took an 8-hour sleeper bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang. The bus was a lot better than the horror stories we’d heard. Although it was packed, we lucked out! Once we arrived in Ha Giang, we checked into our hostel and rested up. That night, we met a couple and decided to start the loop together in the morning. They were so sweet and we ended up traveling most of the route together.
Early in the morning, we headed out on the road to see just what we were getting ourselves into. We stored most of our belongings in a locker at the hostel and packed our smaller backpacks with the necessities. The larger bag was then strapped to the back of the bike with bungee cords (see yellow bag cover above). Luckily for us, the weather was beautiful and sunny, but cool enough to need longer layers (which felt so nice after being in tropical temps for so long).
First Stop: Coffee
We headed out of Ha Giang and towards our first major destination: a coffee shop. Okay, really it was for a famous viewpoint but it just so happens that there’s a cafe serving delicious Vietnamese coffee next door. This view is called “Heaven’s Gate” and the views from the cafe overlooking the hills are stunning. Plus, the coconut coffee is delicious (is it ever not?)! Shockingly, this wasn’t even our favorite coffee shop view from the trip but we’ll get to that.
As we continued the ride that day, we passed through small, rural villages. Sometimes, kids would line up on the side of the road with smiles on their faces watching us pass by. Unexpectedly, some of them even flipped us off (almost every day of the trip actually). We’re not sure where and why they learned that but it was kind of funny, although shocking at first! Besides kids, we often passed people, carrying large baskets on their backs full of sticks and other items they collected. It was wild to see them farming, gathering, and working on such steep slopes!
We reached our accommodation around 4 pm only to be turned away because they couldn’t find our booking listed online. Luckily, the couple we met at our first hostel and who we had been driving with all day asked their homestay if there was room and we snagged a bed there.
We ended up meeting a bunch of other travelers at this homestay, enjoying a stunning view of the mountains, having a delicious dinner, and although the bed was HARD, it may have been the best night’s sleep on the loop.
Day 2 Yen Minh to Dong Van: 85 KM /53 Miles
The next morning we had breakfast at the homestay, refueled in town, and headed toward Dong Van. Although the distance of this day’s drive was slightly shorter than the first, we stopped a lot more.
One of our first stops was in a little village for coffee and snacks. The village had a market, seemingly for tourists on the loop, with different snacks and treats that we were so happy to try. We are not confident in what they really were, but the triangle-shaped cookies in the first photo below were our favorite. There was also a coffee shop in this village so we of course grabbed some of that as well.
To the Chinese Border
Besides stopping at some amazing pull-offs along the road, our next major stop was the Lung Cu Flag Point. Climbing to the top of the viewpoint gives you the opportunity to look over into China! How cool is that? We couldn’t see an official border line but using an infographic at the viewpoint, we could make out where Vietnam ended and China started. Sam is pointing to where China is in the first photo below.
It is rumored that people go spend some time in China from the loop since the border is so close. However, this is not something we risked doing since we knew getting caught would be dangerous.
Can you see Ty at the top of the Lung Cu Flag Point?
After the viewpoint, we stopped for lunch and mapped out the rest of our ride. We still had a decent drive to go and the day was more than halfway over.
Online, Dong Van was booked up so we had to stop and call places to find accommodation for the night. Our new friends were so kind and helped us call what seemed to be every homestay in our next destination. Almost all of them were full and we were beginning to worry that we’d be “camping” tonight or squeezing into bed with our friends. Thankfully we found one and made our way to the Dong Van Hmong Homestay.
We continued our drive and saw some amazing views as the sun began to set over the mountains. It was hard not to keep stopping but we wanted to make it to our accommodation before dark.
Karaoke in Dong Van
When we arrived that evening, there was just us and one other couple so we expected a quiet night in. Little did we know that assumption was wrong…
We were shown to our private room and the bed was one of the comfiest we’ve slept on in Vietnam. We relaxed until dinner and planned to head to bed early afterward.
For dinner, we tried our first Hot Pot. Since we’re vegetarian we had one to ourselves and didn’t have to share like the other guests. The woman who ran the homestay sat with us during dinner, taught us how to cook the different items, and shared about the vegetables, which almost all come from her garden. There were even these interesting rice sticks that are special to the Hmong ethnic group. She told us how her family makes them and about the celebration that comes with the rice harvest. It was such a cool experience!
After dinner, we were talking with other guests who came from China, Vietnam, and the Netherlands, when someone broke out the microphones for karaoke. Remember our karaoke night in Cambodia? Trying to find an English song for us to sing the large tour group of Chinese and Vietnamese tourists turned on “Never Say Never” by Justin Bieber and handed us the microphones. We couldn’t think of how the beat went at the time so we switched to ‘Baby” by JB and everyone sang along with us. It was hilarious,
That was the most upbeat song of the night, The rest were slow, sad or love songs like ‘My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (and most others weren’t in English). Ty was even roped into singing “You Raise Me Up” with a very enthusiastic young guy from China! It was definitely a night to remember.
Day 3 Dong Van to Dua Gia: 98 KM / 61 Miles
We woke up the next morning not wanting to leave the comfortable, soft bed. We ate our crepe-like pancake breakfast and met up with our convoy (the couple we met at the Ha Giang Hostel). This was our longest day because we stopped a bit too much for a bit too long but that’s the point of this whole adventure isn’t it?
Coffee and a View
This day had some of the most amazing views and it was shocking to even believe they could have gotten better from the day before. We stopped at various viewpoints along the road including this incredible coffee shop. The shop sat on the edge of a cliff with a bamboo rafted patio that didn’t look sturdy enough but we’ve learned not to doubt the interesting building ways of Southeast Asia. It felt unreal to be sitting there sipping a coconut coffee with views like this.
After our coffee stop, we made our way down to the boat marina, bought tickets, and took a short boat ride through the canyon we were just looking at from above. It was beautiful, and we even saw some cute little goats grazing on the edge of the water too!
We finished the boat ride and continued our journey to the next village we could find for food. Thankfully, there was a larger town with restaurants along our route not too long after the boat ride. Surprisingly, it was easy to find vegetarian options on the loop. Fried tofu in a Vietnamese tomato sauce is really popular and SO good.
Rough Roads Ahead
After lunch we hit construction and the road got pretty rough. Near the start of the construction, we lost traction on some rocks as a crane started swinging toward us and we took a tumble. It was pretty slow motion and somehow Ty had turned completely around to try and grab me (Sam). Thankfully, we were only left with some scrapes and bruises. And although we were a bit shaken up, we dusted ourselves off and continued the ride.
The construction seemed to go on FOREVER and the roads were rocky and bumpy for a long time. But we took it nice and slowly, making sure to watch for the best parts of the road.
The sun sets so early and before we knew it the sun was going down behind the mountains. The last part of the drive this day was so beautiful but we couldn’t stop much because we needed to get to our destination and were running behind. We ended up driving the last 30-45 minutes in the dark but we made it safely to our homestay.
Last Night on the Loop
We had dinner shortly after we arrived, family-style, with the rest of the tourists and the family that owned the homestay. We drank some rice wine, chatted as much as we could with the language barrier, and eventually tried to go to bed. Emphasis on ‘tried” because no one quieted down until late and the bed was HARD.
Again, Google Translate was a great resource that night because we were able to communicate a bit more with the people that didn’t know much English at all. It’s so cool to be able to communicate and break the language barrier.
We of course got asked where we were from and sometimes felt hesitant to tell the Vietnamese people we were from the US. We had heard that Americans are not always welcomed and especially when speaking to older generations, we didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. However, no matter their age, and where in Vietnam we were, including these rural villages of the Ha Giang Loop, we were ALWAYS greeted with smiles and nothing but welcome feelings. Ty obviously made a good impression through Google translate with one of the family members this night because he was asked to take a photo with him. We just want to make a point to say this in case anyone is curious about how Americans are treated in Vietnam because of the hesitancy we have heard from other travelers.
Day 4 Dua Gia to Ha Giang: 104 KM / 64 Miles
The combo of rock-hard bed, loud talking until late, and our sore bodies from the fall were not great for restful sleep and we woke up wishing we didn’t have such a long journey ahead! Today was our last day on the loop and although it had been absolutely magical, we were also ready to spend some time off the motorbike.
We ate breakfast at our homestay and then headed off. Luckily, our first stop was right outside of the village we had stayed in: Dua Gia Waterfall. The road to the waterfall was not one for the inexperienced and after the fall yesterday, we were both a little hesitant but we made it, and boy was it worth it.
The whole place was stunning, like something from a fairytale! You can swim at the falls but since we were a bit sore from the fall still and didn’t want to be in wet clothing we decided not to. We did however hike back to smaller pools and took in the views without anyone else around. We were waiting for some fairytale creatures to make their appearance because it felt like another world.
There are young boys, around 6-8 years old, that ask for rides to the falls at the beginning of the road and then pretend to guide you there, being “helpful”. But when you head back to your bike, they will ask for money in exchange for their work. We didn’t meet any on the way but saw other travelers being led by a couple of small boys with their hands out waiting for money at the end. It’s so interesting to see how these young kids are already scheming haha.
Continuing the Journey
After the waterfall, we grabbed some delicious bahn mi in town before really starting the ride for the day.
We drove through some smaller villages and watched more kids line up for high fives on the side of the street (if they weren’t smiling and waving or flipping us off). Our surroundings were stunning as we drove along the winding mountain roads.
Throughout the whole day’s ride, we saw lots of corn drying on the side of the road and couldn’t stop singing the corn song from social media that was popular at the time. At one point we were stopped in our tracks by a group of ducks and had to wait for them to cross the road before continuing. On the side of the road, we also saw goats, pigs, and buffalo!
Half of our last day was backtracking part of the same road we started on, so we stopped for a coffee to warm up at Heavens Gate again and then finished the last leg of the drive. We will never complain about another chance to stop for coffee, especially Vietnamese Coconut Coffee (if you can’t tell Sam is obsessed).
The entire journey was absolutely amazing, but those last 15 minutes seemed to go on forever. Our bottoms were SORE and ready to get off the bike. When we arrived back at the hostel to return the bikes we enjoyed celebratory beers with our travel buddies before heading to our next accommodation for the night, hopeful for some restful sleep.
It was sad to part ways with the friends we traveled with along the loop but hopefully we will meet up again one day!
Completing the Ha Giang Loop
This adventure was one we will truly never forget. Being on the open road, riding through the mountains of northern Vietnam was an experience of a lifetime. As much as we try to describe how incredible it was in this post, it seems that our words don’t do it justice. The people we met along the route, in the homestays, and at every stop we made were so kind. The views were continuously taking our breath away, and the memories we made together are priceless. As we mentioned before, this experience ties with Khao Sok National Park as our top experience during our travels through Asia!
Here are some more photos from the journey that we couldn’t fit in above: