COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE FOR TRAVELLING IN HA GIANG.
Until recently, Ha Giang was the secret gem of North Vietnam, and only visted by local tourists. Now word of its beauty is getting out and it is becoming more popular with independent foreign travelers who come to enjoy the untamed jungles and the majestic mountains that make this part of Vietnam unique.
Most visitors are drawn here for the the thrilling and unforgettable experience of riding a bike on the Ha Giang border loop which allows them to really get off the beaten track.
Here you can spend days exploring the roads that wind between the towering limestone karsts and learning about the ethnic minorities that have made this spectacular part of the world their home.
The best time to travel in Ha Giang
In general, Ha Giang is beautiful at any time of the year, and every season has something different to offer.
From sprawling fields of the vibrant buckwheat flowers, wild jungles boasting infinite shades of green, to the spectacular peach and plum blossoms, there is something to impress even the most seasoned traveler.
Read more: the best time to travel in Viet Nam
October to November
It is during October to November that the fields come alive with the vibrant blooms of the buckwheat flowers. These flowers are a real spectacle and sprawling fields stretch as far as the eye can see. The third week of October until around early November is most beautiful time to enjoy these flowers in all their glory.
This species of flowers are unique to this area and are found only in the mountainous areas of north of Vietnam. Ha Giang offers the best views of these fields from the road and the fields become a sea of violet-purple.The flowers are also used by ethnic minorities in locally made cakes to enhance the taste and are the quintessential flavor of North Vietnamese desserts.
Before and after Lunar New Year ( from January to March )
From January to March the plum and peach blossoms are out in full bloom which adds a splash of color to the already stunning scenery. These blooms frame the carpet of green that makes up the surrounding landscape and add a touch of calming pastel to the aesthetic that makes for stunning photographs and unforgettable memories.
April : Visit Khau Vai Love Market on 23rd of April.
This market was once an eagerly anticipated event on many ethnic minorities social calendars. It provided a place for young single members of the community to meet, flirt and hopefully fall in love. Now times have changed and young people meet each other in other ways, however the Love Market remains and important part of the Northern Vietnamese culture.
Once upon a time even married couples were allowed to visit this market. Here men and women were free to talk to members of the opposite sex without judgement or jealousy. A wife and husband considered this as a sacred duty and responsibility to practise their respect and loyalty to one another.
The market is located in Khau Vai commune, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang province, Vietnam and meets once a year on March 27th lunar month.
June – August
June- August is Summer time in Vietnam. Luckily for travelers on a tight schedule, Ha Giang is usually sunny most of the year, but summer is a particularly good time to visit as you are almost guarunteed to have fine weather.
If you reach a high point anywhere along the long winding road you will experience the most breathtaking views across the plateau and deep into the valleys of Ha Giang. Lush green forests smother the craggy mountains and a maze of narrow, dirt roads criss-cross the slopes
This time is the perfect time of year to photograph these spectacular views, landscape and terraced agricultural fields, as the air is clear and you will be able to see for miles. However it is wise to check the weather forecast before heading out just incase.
If you really want to dig beneath the surface of agricultural life in Vietnam and discover how people live off this land, Hoang Su Phi is the perfect location to do so.
Here golden rice terraces jut into the hill sides and farmers in their straw hats lead buffalos on ropes along narrow trails. This is the real Vietnam, away from the the busy tourist traps in the city.
These people are humble and hard-working. The pace of life slows right down to reflect the ebb and flow of natures rhythms.
Must –see places in Ha Giang
Ask anyone where you should visit in Ha Giang and they will surely tell you; Lung Cu flag tower, Quan Ba sky gate or Dong Van Plateau. However there are many more equally stunning places to visit that are not so well known.
Here is a list of the other ‘must-sees.’
Thanh Thuy border gate – the google map link
Vietnam and China are connected through a pair of border gates Thanh Thuy and Thien Bao. This is also where the 261 (Vietnam-China border) and the road to Chau Van Son tourist site meet.
The border gate is about 20km from Ha Giang City and is worth visiting even if you do not intend on crossing the border as this gate is situated between steep jungle-clad mountains and misty valleys.
The air is pure here and you can observe how the landscape changes from farmland to unkempt forests. On the way to the gate, you will pass through vibrant paddy fields that frame the gently curving road and tiny villages where chickens, dogs, and children run free.
Quyet Tien Commune – the google map location link
On the first leg of the legendary road named ‘Happiness Road’, the ‘Bac Sum Slope’ marks the beginning of the journey through the Global Geological Park of the Dong Van Plateau – Ha Giang.
This is a very peaceful, remote place often hidden amongst the valley mist. If you are lucky and wake up early enough you might even catch the local fair which takes place in the morning before the sun gets too hot. If you are looking for somewhere to wander through the stalls and observe how the locals go about their daily lives, this is the place for you. If you travel here on a weekend, you will have a chance to attend in Quyet Tien Market. The market still keeps the traditional traits of local minority community.
Skye Gate and Quan Ba Double Mountain
At the top of ‘Bac Slum’ you will find Quan Ba Sky Gate. This gate is a historically famous place amongst Vietnamese because of the magnificent landscape and the local mountain legends.
Quan Ba Sky Gate is 1500m above sea level and is the first gateway to the Dong Van Plateau. In 1939, a wooden door was built 150cm thick, and called the Gate of Heaven. One time it was believed that this wooden door was the entrance to another ‘world’ – also known as ‘Autonomous Region of the Cats,’ and included Quan Ba, Meo Vac, Yen Minh and Dong Van districts.
Quan Ba Double Mountain is next to Highway 4C, 40 km from Ha Giang town. Between rocky mountains and terraced fields, the two mountains emerge, leaving many visitors in awe of their natural beauty. These two mountains are associated with the legend of Mount Fairy.
Dong Van Plateau – the google map link
Dong Van Plateau (or Plain of Dong Van) is a rocky plateau spreading over four districts of Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. On October 3, 2010, the “Geological Park of the Dong Van Plateau” was officially recognized by the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network (GGN) Advisory Board as Global Geopark.This is the only place that holds such a title in Vietnam and the second in all of Southeast Asia.
Here you will see countless fascinating limestone rock formations scattered amongst the terraced paddy fields. Again you will be amazed by how many shades of green you can see. From the deep green of the forest jungles to the fresh young rice plantations, it really is a feast for the eyes.
In the middle of this valley is a small traditional Vietnamese Village. Colorful houses huddle together like match-box toys in the middle of this fertile, lush landscape. Life is simple here. Chickens, goats and children wander freely on the roads and men and women can be seen carrying heavy loads on their backs under clear the blue skies.
Head in the direction of Yen Minh to the town of Dong Van towards Pho Bang. You will cross through a beautiful pass which hugs the green valley.
This is the highest point in the area and offers the most breath-taking panoramic views. It is considered the most beautiful highland commune of Dong Van stone plateau.
Bright green fields slope gently towards sapphire colored Song Da River. On a still day the hills and ranges that surround this lake can be seen reflected in the glass-like surface of the river which only serves to double the beauty of this place.
Pho Bang town – the google map link
The once bustling town of Dong Van (Ha Giang province) seems as though it has been sleeping for several decades. Those that are seeking to find themselves in the wilderness will not be disappointed here. Pho Bang town is an indispensable marker in the geography of the area and was once a hot, crowded township, a few decades ago.It also acted as the capital for drug traders when opium was one of the main sources of income for many people. Now, this sleepy village is best known for less controversial reasons; the beautiful roses that grow here.
Lung Cu flag tower
The Lung Cu flag tower is located at the top of Lung Cu at about 1,700m above sea level in Lung Cu commune, Dong Van district, Ha Giang province. This is a small point on the Vietnam-China border. If you imagine the shape of the Vietnam-China border into a cone, the two lowest points in latitude are A Pa Chai, Dien Bien and Sa Vi, Mong Cai, and Lung Cu is the top of the cone. This is also the highest point of North Vietnam.
This mighty structure ensures that everyone knows this is part of Vietnam with its large distinctive flag that can be seen for miles around. The view from the top looks over what is referred to as ‘corn valley’ because only maize is grown here. For locals this place is somewhere to go to feel a sense of national pride, whereas for visitors, it provides the perfect place to survey the beautiful mountains and valleys.
Vuong Family’s Ancient House
The stone gate of King Chinh Duc’s palace in Sa Phin (Dong Van – Ha Giang) is perched on top of the hill. Vương Chính Đức was the head of the Hương family of the Mong people in Hà Giang a century ago. Rich due to the cultivation, processing and trading of opium across the border with China and Burma, he dominated the plateau.
Behind the stone gate his magnificent mansion still stands tall. You can wander around the courtyards, admiring the intricate carvings and detail. The palace was built in eight years, costing about 150,000 white silver. Most of the builders are Yunnanese and the best Mongolian craftsmen.
Dong Van ancient street
Located in Dong Van commune, Ha Giang, the central area of Dong Van town is Dong Quan district, Central Highlands and Tuong Van district, Tuyen Quang province. This area has a rich history of beautiful architecture and ancient culture that has been around for hundreds of years. In the 1880s, the French planned and built stunningly detailed architecture. These remain popular with tourists, especially the building that houses the Dong Van Market, which was built in the 1920s and is still intact to this day.
Pass Ma Pi Leng
Ma Li Leng is the Chinese name meaning literally ‘horse nose’. This refers to the top of the mountain where horses were often used to transport goods. Here the terrain was so steep and the path so narrow that it was said that horses passing one another must hold their breath or plunge down the vertical slopes. However, according to some indigenous Hmong people, the proper name of the pass is Mui Pia Leng, meaning ‘cat nose bridge’.
The peak of Ma Pi Leng is in the three plains of Pa Lung, Pa Vi and Xin Cai (Meo Vac, Ha Giang) in the Dong Van Plateau, about 2,000 m above sea level.
It was formed by a series of limestone deposits shale, silt containing fossils about 426 million years ago. The landscape of this area is jagged, with the Nho Que River cutting deeply into the land in Ma Pi Leng and Sam Pun, Xin Cai to Dien Bong, China.
French scholars, hundreds of years ago, called the peak of Mt. Li Leng. Now the Global Geological Park of the Dong Van Plateau is widely known as a geological monument. Travelling on Ma Pi Leng Pass you will also overlook the spectacular royal blue Nho Que River.
Sơn Vi, Xín Cái, Thượng Phùng
These are the three most remote border communes of Meo Vac district with the highest border crossing point in Vietnam. This area is suitable for those who like to explore and drink in the spectacular mountainous scenery.
How to get Ha Giang
The easiest way to get Ha Giang is from Ha Noi. For those, who are not in Ha Noi but still want to visit, the easiest way is to start from Ha Noi. The following will advise independent travellers about how to reach Ha Giang from Hanoi.
How to get Ha Giang by public buses
Ha Giang is 300 km away from Ha Noi. Normally, it would take you 8 – 10 hours to get there.
In Ha Noi, go to My Dinh bus station. Once at the bus station, you will easily find a bus to get Ha Giang. In my experience, you should choose a sleeper bus to ensure you will be comfortable during the 8 – 10 hours trip.
If you have a bike and you don’t like the idea of cycling fo 300 km solidly, you can ask a bus company in the bus station to carry your bike with you. You will have to pay extra for your bike transportation.
Or you can simply book a ticket from Ha Noi to Ha Giang here
How to get Ha Giang by motorbike
If you are a fan of riding, Ha Giang is the perfect choice for you. You will be amazed by the stunning view on the way as well as enjoying the freedom of the ride.
Starting from Ha Noi – Son Tay province ( you should go to street 21 in Co Nhue) – then go to Trung Ha bridge (go to intersection of Son Tay town then turn right) ~> Co Tiet ~> Phong Chau bridge. Go past the bridge then turn left, heading to Thao river located in Phu Tho. Once you reach the river go to Doan Hung town and then go to Tuyen Quang province in Tuyen Quang. Do not go through the city but in the direction of Highway 2 which will take you straight to Ha Giang.
Going to Ha Giang in this direction will be quieter and save about 30km
Where to stay in Ha Giang
Although there are a large number of tourists that travel this way there are not that many hotel and motel services in Ha Giang. Travelers may encounter problems finding cheap accomodation if they happen to be there during the peak holiday season.
Before the trip, once you have figured out your route in Ha Giang, you should book your accomodation online. There area a lot of hostels and hotels which you can easily book on booking.com and other booking channels.
If you are after a different kind of experience consider finding a homestay with a local family. This will surely be an experience you won’t forget.
Ride a bike in Ha Giang
When you arrive in Ha Giang, unless you have your own, the only way to explore is by renting a bike. In general, rental bikes in Ha Giang are reliable. Prices range from around 200.000 vnd – 250.000 vnd day and are negotiable. You can also usually rent a bike directly from your accommodation.
Rent a bike in Ha Giang and riding experience?
Make sure you bring sunglasses, water and sunscreen to ensure you get the most out of your experience and don’t miss a second of the spectacular scenery.
Ha Giang local cuisine
Ha Giang is not only known for its awe-inspiring mountains, majestic scenery, ancient customs, colorful festivals, but its bountiful natural produce. Ha Giang has very fertile soil and as a result the cuisine has a unique style. What to eat in Ha Giang
Some notes you might have to keep in mind
Bring your water, sun-cream, towel. During the day temperatures can be around 20-25 in Autumn and 28-30 in Summer so staying hydrated is essential. The sun is also very fierce in Vietnam so make sure to regularly apply sunscreen.
Make sure that your bike has enough fuel and bring 2 -3 liters of extra fuel if it is possible as petrol stations are scarce.
Always remember to get the hotel number and address before you leave. Most will have a business card that you can pick up on your way out. It is even better if it is written in Vietnamese in case you need to show it to locals or a taxi driver.
If you travel to Ha Giang in winter make sure you have warm clothes as it can get very cold as a result of being far north. Bring pain killers, insect spray, other medicines, trainers, and waterproof shoes.
In case your bike breakdowns, don’t worry, you will find a mechanic shop on the way. However it pays to check your bike out before you leave and have a number of a mechanic with you in case the worst comes to the worst.
Reference itineraries for those, who want to travel to Ha Giang by public bus.
In order to travel to Ha giang from Ha Noi, you should depart in the evening due to you will have time to sleep on a sleeper bus. You will have a whole day to explore HA Giang as you arrive Ha Giang early in the morning
3 day -2 night Ha Noi – Ha Giang
General information: This schedule is suitable for those who have limited time an want to see as much as they can in a short amount of time. However as it is a large area the sights listed are limited.
In the evening, catch a sleeper bus to get Ha Giang. If you have your own bike, you can contact a bus driver to ask about carrying your bike on the bus with you. You will have to pay for your bike transport fee.
Around 4 -5pm next day, you will arrive Ha Giang city, rent a bike, have breakfast.
Then you should follow the route :
Ha Giang city – Bac Sum slope, Quyet Tien market – Quan Ba skygate, Tam Son town – Sung La – Lung Cu flag tower – Dong Van town. Spend a night in the town, enjoy the famous street coffee.
The next day, wake up to have breakfast, sight-see Dong Van market, take a walk in Dong van ancient street. At 10am-ish, leave Dong Van to Meo Vac in order to see Ma Pi Leng pass. Have lunch in Meo Vac then get back straight away to Ha Giang city. You will arrive in the afternoon, take a rest then catch the night bus to Ha Noi. You will arrive Ha Noi next day morning
4 day – 3 night Ha Noi – Ha Giang
Ngày 1 : Hà Nội – Hà Giang
In the evening, catch a sleeper bus to Ha Giang. You will have time to take a rest on a sleeper bus. When you arrive
Around 4am -5am next day, you will arrive Ha Giang city, rent a bike/ ride your bike, have breakfast.
Day 2 : Hà Giang – Quản Bạ – Yên Minh – Phó Bảng – Sủng Là – Đồng Văn
– 7h00am : have breakfast and fill up with petrol
-7h30am – 9h30am : Ha Giang – Quan Ba ( 46km) visit the sky gate and Quan Ba double mountain. If your second falls on Saturday, you will have a chance to visit Quyet Tien market.
-11h00am – 12h00pm : Quản Bạ – Yên Minh (50km) on the way to get Yen Minh, you will see Yen Minh pine tree forest on the side of the highway. Take a time to rest in Yen Minh
– 1:30pm – 3pm : Yên Minh – Phó Bảng (40km) Start from here, you will see the fantastic and majestic view of Dong Van plateau, visiting Pho Bang town.
– 3pm – 4:30pm : Leave Pho Bang, turn around go towards Dong Van intersection. That is the way to get to Sung La.
–4:30pm – 5:30pm : Sủng Là – Đồng Văn. Stay a night in Dong Van and try the famous street coffee.
Ngày 3 : Đồng Văn – Lũng Cú – Đồng Văn – Mã Pì Lèng – Mèo Vạc
– 7h00 – 9h00 : Have breakfast, take a walk in Dong Van market. You can visit Dong Van ancient house that is still as beautiful as it was 100 years ago. .
– 9h00 – 11h30 : Đồng Văn – Lũng Cú (26km) – Dinh Vương (26km) – Đồng Văn (15km) visiti the furthest point in the north of Viet Nam, then head back to lên với điểm cực Bắc của Việt Nam, have lunch in Dong Van again.
13h30 – 15h30 : Đồng Văn – Mã Pì Lèng – Mèo Vạc – marvel at the Nho Que river from the peak of Ma Pi Leng pass.
– 15h30 – 17h00 : Back to Meo Vac to visit other places in Meo Vac. Stay a night in Meo Vac.
Ngày 4 : Mèo Vạc – Mậu Duệ – Du Già (depends on weather conditions ) – Yên Minh – Hà Giang
– 7h00 : Have breakfast.
– 7h30 – 12h30 : Mèo Vạc – Yên Minh – Quản Bạ. Visit other places in Quan Ba then back to Quan Ba to have lunch.
– 13h30 – 16h00 : Quản Bạ – Hà Giang : take a break in Ha Giang city to wait for the bus at 8pm. You will arrive Ha Noi early morning next day.
I hope this article is helpful for you. Good luck with your trip!