This 4-day itinerary gives you lots of time to see the best off the sights in the Ha Giang area. It gives you some flexibility in where to stay so you can adjust as you go along.
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 - Yen Minh
110km / 4hrs
This is an easy drive as you head out of Ha Giang and then up through Bac Sum Pass / Quan Ba Pass. Now, the road begins to twist and turn a little and more caution is necessary.
The road is in fairly good condition but there are potholes so slow down a little. You will notice it gets much cooler once you are up on the plateau and the view becomes much more stark. It is about a 400m climb. Then it is across the plain before you climb again up to Quan Ba and Heaven’s Gate where you can get the view of Fairy Mountain.
There are two alternative routes on the map. The first is a wild ride through the hills. It is quite easy on motorbike but a bit remote so caution is needed. It takes you directly to Nam Dam. The second is an easy drive that you might want to take if you have time. It is a way of getting off the main route and, hopefully, seeing some interesting things, no guarantees.
You can choose to stay in Tam Son or Nam Dam at this point. Tam Son is a small town and has a few cheap hotels and food is easy to find. Nam Dam is a small community-based tourism (CBT) set up, which has lodges run by the local LoLo people. Or, you can head further on to get to Yen Minh. It all depends on how the day is going.
You may also want to take a look at Lung Khuy Cave which is just outside of Tam Son and well worth a visit.
Day 2: Yen Minh - Dong Van
90km / 4hrs
It’s out of Yen Minh to the Tham Ma Pass today. This is where the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark really begins. Even though you have already climbed around 600m, you will be driving between mountains towering several hundred metres above you. Then at the 9 Turn Pass you will climb even more. If you thought it was cold yesterday, you are in for a shock.
With mountains hemming you in on all sides, you will head over to the Hmong King’s Palace and Xa Phin market. You may also decide to stop and check out the Hilltop Hmong Village or Pao’s House, which was made famous in a Vietnamese film ‘Pao’s House’.
From here, it is a relatively short and easy drive over to Dong Van. If you have time, you can head up to Lung Cu Flag Post or save this for the next day and take one of the detours to get off the main road. This is the northernmost point of Vietnam and is a fun stop. You can climb to the top of the 33m high Flag Post and get a great view looking out over the border with China. The route up there also skirts very close to China at certain points.
If there is time, stop off at Café Cuc Bac, the northernmost café in Vietnam and have a drink with the local Lolo people that run it.
In Dong Van it is best to stay in the centre of town so that you are near food and drink options. There is a small area centred on the market and nothing much else around. It can be quite cold up here in Winter so bring your woollies.
Day 3: Dong Van - Du Gia
100km / 4hrs
This time you have 3 choices of route for this part of the trip.
1. backtrack and take the 192B
2. take the 182 directly out of town or
3. follow the 4C to Meo Vac and then take the 182 to Du Gia.
However, the only route that takes you over the Ma Pi Leng Pass and past the Tu San Gorge is the 3rd one. So, you don’t really have a choice, do you?
First, it is out of town and up the ridge to the Ma Pi Leng Skywalk. This is a hairy little route best suited to confident drivers. The Pai Lung Cave is also just near here, and you can visit if you have time. Then, you can head on to the viewpoint over the Ma Pi Leng Pass, where you can get some spectacular photos, if the weather allows.
By the time you get down to Meo Vac, it is probably time to have lunch. There are several places here so it is easy enough to find something.
From Meo Vac down to Du Gia there is one route and it is quite easy to follow. It can be a nice slow drive and very enjoyable.
Day 4: Du Gia - Ha Giang City
70km / 3hrs
If you haven’t spent any time at Du Gia waterfall, you may want to this morning. The drive back to Ha Giang is quite easy and you are not in a rush to get this down. The night buses back to Hanoi leave at around 6-8pm so there is plenty of time. If you are driving back to Hanoi yourself, you will have to overnight in Ha Giang anyway, so again, no rush.
The first part of the trip down to Bac Me and the junction with the QL34 is very scenic as worth going a little slower. There is PETROL here in Minh Ngoc, so maybe get some.
The second part along and into Ha Giang is nothing to write home about and, by now, you will have become numb to stunning scenery.
All in all, it is an easy day with the only thing to stop off for being photos.