This 5-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 - Tam Son
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.
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 Lo Lo 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: Tam Son - Dong Van
50km / 2hrs
The route out of Tam Son is very easy to follow. You simply stay on the QL4C. The road is good tarmac and it is easy to make good time on this. You might to stop at Lung Tam Linen Co-Op if you are interested in Brocade. To do this you need to take a right turn off the main road and down to Lung Tam Village.
The QL4C continues along the Lo River until it head uphill to Yen Minh Pine Forest. It then curves back on itself and drops down into Yen Minh Town. The drive through the forest can be a little hairy if it is Winter and it is foggy. One minute you will be in dense fog and then you will turn a corner and have clear skies. Take it cautiously on this section as several parts of the road do not have barriers and, of course, there is plenty of oncoming traffic.
There is a new road (shortcut) that you can take at Can Ty. The turn off for this is fairly easy to see just after Can Ty Bridge. This route is shorter and doesn’t take you up as high so might be better in bad weather. However, it is a new road and often these types of road are prone to landslides. There are often locals at the bridge selling small good so you can ask them if the road is passable or not.
After you turn back on to the main road, you will continue along the ridge for a short way and then drop down into Yen Minh Town. here you might want to have some lunch or take a look at the Happiness Rd memorial cemetery. There is a new bypass that you can take if you want to skip the town and head straight on towards Dong Van. Simply take the left fork. If you do plan to stop then take the right and head into town. There are a few small restaurants and food stalls. You can get pho / noodles and near the main market there are a couple of restaurants that will sell simple food. There are also a couple of cafes on the main road and the one next to Thao Nguyen Hotel is quite good.
After Yen Minh, you head out of town along the valley floor. Then, in about 6 or 7 km you will climb up the mountain and enter the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. There are a series of sites labelled for you to stop and look at. This is also the site of the Tham Ma Pass, which is a great spot to stop for a photo. Further along this road is the 9 Turn Pass, which is, again, a good photo opportunity. As you continue on the QL4C you will pass Flower Fields where people stop to take photos amongst the Buckwheat and also the H’Mong Cultural Village and the site of filming the film Pao’s Story.
The next place you might like to stop is the small Restop Cafe. This has some good food and is a good place to rest and consider your next move. The simplest choice is to follow the QL4C and head over to Xa Phin and Xa Phin Market. If you are feeling adventurous there is a short detour that that will cut out part of this and bring you back in to Xa Phin Market and the H’Mong King’s palace. It is a little tricky to find so perhaps only do this in good weather and if you have enough time to get lost.
Stopping at the H’Mong King’s Palace is a must due to the interesting history of the site. From here on, it is a simple drive along the QL4C to Dong Van. It shouldn’t take very long at all. Being only 10km, it should take less than half an hour to get to town.
In Dong Van there are many hotels and restaurants to choose from. I think it is best to stay near the old market as it has more culture than the newly built area of town. There are also a few homestays dotted around the outskirts of town and they can also be a good choice.
There are a few sites that you can visit such as: Don Cao Fortress, Ha Giang Central Market and the old market.
Day 3: Dong Van - Meo Vac
25km / 1hr
This is a very short route and there is not much distance to cover. There is plenty to see and do here so it’s good that you don’t have to go far.
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. 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.
On the way down to Meo Vac, you can choose to turn off to Xin Cai. You will have to go down one side of the gorge and then up the other and you will get some good views and a different perspective. You should also be able to take a boat trip on the gorge.
Day 4: Meo Vac - Du Gia
70km / 3hrs
This is a simple easy drive and will only take as long as the number of photos you might want to take, which could be a lot.
You would have time to take a trip down to Khau Vai in the morning and then over to Du Gia in the afternoon. Alternatively, you could head straight for Du Gia in the morning and spend the afternoon at one of the two waterfalls there.
Day 5: Du Gia - Ha Giang City
70km / 3hrs
This is quite an easy day so you could either have a late start or take the first half real slow and get lots of photos. Once you hit the main road again (QL34) it is a fairly dull trudge back in to Ha Giang.
If you haven’t been to the Du Gia waterfall yet, then you could spend the morning there and still get to Ha Giang in time for tea.
As you can see from the map, the first part of the trip is on the quite back road. This is the part that you might take slow and enjoy. After that, it is on to the main road, which is not too busy and straight back in to Ha Giang City. There is not much to see or do so a slow enjoyable drive is the theme for today.