Looking for a unique experience in Northern Vietnam? Discover some of the best landscapes in the country on the Ha Giang motorbike loop.
The northern loop is a motorbike route lots of backpackers talk about around South East Asia. There are a variety of ways to do the loop over the course of 2 – 4 days or maybe longer if you really want to take your time.
We opted for four days which was the perfect length of time to not feel rushed and take in the magnificent views and local culture
Where to start?
The loop begins in Ha Giang (310km north of Hanoi). This is easily reachable by public transport. There are many homestays in Ha Giang which offer motorbike rental services. We chose Mamma’s homestay after being recommended by other travellers.
Day 1: Ha Giang – Yen Minh (106KM)
After signing relevant paperwork we were good to go.
We packed a small bag of essentials for four days and left our big rucksacks in storage. Mamma’s allowed us to leave valuables in a locker (with our own lock) and provided us with water proofs and helmets.
There is a known police checkpoint when leaving Ha Giang. Our homestay provided a solution to get past this if you do not hold an international motorbike license.
The first stage of the journey is fairly straight forward, making your way through town on relatively flat roads to get a feel for the bike. We’d advise stopping at an ATM before you leave to fund the trip.
Each day you will see wonderful views. Be sure to go slow or stop regularly to take in the scenery. You will go through the town of Tam Son where you could stop for lunch if you’re feeling peckish. Yen Minh is our advised stop for the first night. Bong Bang homestay was our favourite on the loop. It cost us 590K dong (roughly £20/$25 US) for a dorm room bed, family dinner (including happy water), breakfast and a few drinks each. Private rooms are also available for a good price.
Day 2: Yen Minh – Dong Van (105KM)
Before you head off, it’s important to top up your petrol tank. 40,000 dong (£1.30/$1.72 US) should be enough to fill it. This stretch of the drive is a little trickier than day 1 but the views are more than worth it. On this leg, you will get the chance to cross the border to China. Our day two highlight was seeing the northernmost point of Vietnam. Not many people we spoke to went the extra distance to see this but the views over China were some of the best we saw on the loop.
We stopped in Lung Cu village for lunch at Coffee Trung Nguyen where two bowls of noodle soup set us back a mere 50K (£1.70/$2 US).
There are many accommodation options for the second night. We chose to stay at CND Hostel which is easy to spot during your descent down to Dong Van. We paid 560K (£18/$24 US) in total for a private room (with an ensuite & nice hot shower), family dinner of chicken hot pot & happy water, a few drinks & breakfast in the morning.
Day 3: Dong Van – Du Gia (99KM)
Again, it’s probably a good idea to top up with a full tank of petrol before leaving Dong Van. Day 3 consistently hosts some of the best panoramic views of all the loop, in our opinion.
Du Gia is a much smaller village where the people are a lot less used to tourists. There are a couple of options for accommodation, however, we stopped at Du Gia Backpackers Hostel where we shared a double room. The beds were not the comfiest, however, the owner and his son were very welcoming. It was great fun to speak to
A private room, dinner, breakfast and a few drinks cost us 565K (£19/$24 US). They even have a happy hour with buy one get one free
Day 4 Du Gia – Ha Giang (119KM)
Day four is really all about getting back to Ha Giang. The roads are more challenging at the beginning with a 3KM rocky stretch that can be tough to navigate. It is necessary to fill up on petrol again, however, we advise avoiding the small pump in Du Gia village as they overcharge compared to other stops.
Once you rejoin the road you drove back on day one at Tam Son the road back is straight forward. We stopped at Yen Ngoc in Tam Son for lunch before heading back. Two egg fried rice and two drinks cost us 110K (£3.60/$4.70 US).
Daily drive time
Allow around four hours each day for driving. This is based on the speed we were going however you can take more or less time depending on how often you stop and your confidence with driving the bike.
The bike we rented was a 110cc semi automatic Honda blade. With two of us and two small bags tied to the back we had no issues driving the mountain roads. Although we had no mechanical problems we did have a flat tire on the home stretch. Luckily there are mechanics everywhere.
The bike cost 150K (£5/$6.50 US) per day. We were encouraged to take out insurance for 400K (£13.40/$17.20 US) for the duration of the trip. This covered any damage to the bike but no other vehicles. This is not essential but was good to have peace of mind. It also meant the 70K spent on the flat tire was reimbursed. The total, therefore, was 250K (£8.35/$10.80 US) per day for the bike.
The loop for me was one of the highlights of our time in Vietnam, and quite possibly South East Asia. The vast landscapes were unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Sitting on the back of the bike meant I could really admire the views and attempt to capture what I was seeing through videos and photos. Although admittedly nothing I could snap would capture what the eye could see.
We managed to cross the Chinese border which was demonstrated by coming across different number plated cars and a very strange, almost border party with gambling, very loud firecrackers and lots of chicken feet (I’m talking bucket loads).
Successfully reaching the northernmost point of Vietnam felt like an achievement when China could be seen in the distance.
The point of the journey which stood out to me the most was experiencing local culture. Having a ‘family dinner’ each night and drinking ‘happy water’ (very alcoholic rice wine in the form of shots), seeing all forms of life along the side of the road (ducks, chickens, goats, piglets, cows, dogs, not to mention having to sway out of the way of a heard of water buffalos), waving back at all the children who’s faces would light up with the most warming of smiles as we drove past, and recognising the difference in the attire which would be worn day to day especially by local ladies. The Ha Giang loop exceeded all expectations.
Having only driven a semi-automatic once before, it took a short while to get to grips with, especially with additional weight on the back! It was quite nerve-racking at times being so high up on winding mountain roads, there is not a lot of room for error. However, towards the end of the first day, it does become easier and you can begin to enjoy the most breathtaking views that Vietnam has to offer.
Each day provided something unique, both visually as well as experiences. Every homestay had its own feel and contributed to an unforgettable Vietnamese experience.