This 3-day itinerary is about the fastest that you can ‘do the loop’. It is fine if you want to see the main sites, but it does mean you spend more time driving and less time hanging out in cool spots getting cool photos. There is a lot to see in the area so try to spend longer if you can.
The loop starts and ends in Ha Giang City, which sits on the Lo River at quite a low elevation. The weather here can be a little chilly in the Winter but it is warmer than up on the plateau.
You head out of Ha Giang and follow the river valley. You head up the Bac Sum Pass (after around 50km), then spend a lot of your climbing and descending between 800m and 1400m in elevation. Dong Van and Meo Vac are considerably cooler than Ha Giang, which is a real benefit in the heat of Summer: it isn’t until you leave Du Gia and are nearly back to the start of the loop that you get back down to a similar elevation to Ha Giang.
The Dong Van Karst Plateau is a very sparse place with very few trees nestled between small hills. The landscape is mostly barren rock with pockets of soil in between that the locals are able to grow a little corn. It is very unforgiving and can be quite miserable in the rain, mist and cold weather. However, in the early morning or evening when the sun shines through the hillocks you can get some wonderful photos. And, of course, the local people and their culture are fascinating.
Distance / Duration
The full loop is around 320km in total and it can be driven rather quickly in around 2 days. However, it is better to take a minimum of 3 days and here, as we suggest, 5 days allows plenty of time for sight seeing. Each day has a roughly equal amount of driving distance and time, so it is well balanced. You shouldn’t find yourself at all rushed unless you have to change plans due to the weather. At any point you are only 4-5hrs from Ha Giang so you can get back easily.
Most of the road that you will travel on is reasonable tarmac. It is potholed and there are likely to be landslides or the remnants for landslides to deal with, but this is nothing that a semi-automatic, such as a Honda Blade or Honda Future, can’t handle.
The smaller roads that take you to Du Gia are solid dirt track and are also passable on a semi-auto bike, so there is no real need for a dirt bike on this loop as you will not really have the chance to fully use it. However, the extra clearance, better suspension and comfier seat will be a benefit. If your budget runs to a dirt bike, such as the XR150, then it would be a great choice for this trip.
Lots of people come up to Ha Giang by overnight bus, which means that they arrive very early in the morning. In this case, it is a really good idea to have a bike rental booked in advance. Your rental company should have a room for you to sleep and a hot shower for you to use before you head off a bit later in the morning.
Giang Son Hostel and Bike Rental is a good choice. Their bikes are new and reliable and they offer really good service. If you need any assistance, they are very helpful. Their hostel is standard budget and very clean. Good people.
Day 1: Ha Giang - Dong Van
150km / 5hrs
This is quite a long drive but you can take the main toad so it is fairly easy. The road is in reasonable condition for the most part. You will find spots that are a little potholed but this will only slow you down a little. The road goes up some fairly high mountains and it can get quite chilly and misty up there. I was surprised the first time I went up there. Be prepared.
You will also note that there is a shorter route marked on the map(in purple). This is a new road that has been cut and as such might have landslides on it. It is good for all kinds of bikes but you should ask about conditions when you meet the junction with the QL4C, just to be sure.
It is quicker to get to Dong Van and leave Lung Cu until tomorrow so that you have more time to stop and take photos. Day 2 is a very easy day and if you think the weather will be good, then leave Lung Cu until tomorrow.
Day 2: Dong Van - Lung Cu / Meo Vac
25km / 1hr (Lung Cu) / 50km / 2 hrs (Meo Vac)
- Ma Le Market (close to China)
- Lung Cu Flag Tower
- Pai Lung Cave
- Ma Pi Leng Skywalk
- Ma Pi Leng Pass
- Tu San Gorge
- Xin Cai Market and Khau Vai Love Market (these places are definitely worth a visit, but they’re way off the main route)
Assuming you have stayed in Dong Van, today will see you take an out and back to Lung Cu and then head further South to Meo Vac. The distance is not great so you will have plenty of time to stop off for photos.
Your first destination will be Lung Cu Flag Pole which is the northernmost point of Vietnam. You can to the top of the flag pole for a great view out towards China. The road there through Ma Le is reasonable and should take much time at all. When you are there are a few little shops and a café ‘Café Cuc Bac’ to get some refreshments. There are a couple of homestays but you don’t have time for that.
Now, you need to retrace your steps and get back to Dong Van. After that, you take the main highway down to Meo Vac and you will go past the Tu San Gorge (the deepest in Vietnam) and the Ma Pi Leng Pass. Hopefully, you will have good weather and be able to really appreciate the beauty and scale.
Accommodation is easy enough to find in the main town. If you plan to stay a little way out it might be a good idea to call ahead to make sure there is room and to reserve dinner.
Day 3: Meo Vac - Ha Giang
140km / 5 hrs
You have two choices of route on this day and both are big days. You can follow the 4C, and actually go into Cao Bang Province, and then join the QL34 to go through Bac Me to Ha Giang. This route is tarmac all the way and quite easy to drive. This is borne out by the fact that it is slightly longer but quicker.
The other route will see you go through the centre of the loop past Mau Due and Du Gia, which are both good places to stay in their own right.
This route is shorter but the road is smaller and windier so will take a little longer. It is also more scenic and interesting than the main roads so you will need to decide what your priorities are and how much time you have for this part of the trip.
If you are taking the bus back to Hanoi, you need to have tickets arranged. Again, your bike rental firm may be able to help you. Giang Son can arrange for the bus to pick you up outside the hostel so you don’t have to go far.
Buses leave between around 6pm and 8pm, which works out fine as you won’t want to be driving back to Ha Giang in the dark and will have time to get a bite to eat and a shower before getting the bus.