Ha Giang Province
The northernmost province of Vietnam on the border with Southern China. It is a hilly mountainous region and, therefore, has all the features you would expect, hills, mountains, changeable weather, harsh farming conditions and high poverty rates.
It is the ‘Mecca’ for motorbike tourists in Vietnam as well as those that want to experience the ‘real’ rural Vietnam. There is a lot packed into a small space.
Ha Giang Province Information
Capital: Hà Giang
Population: About 900.000
Ethnicities: Vietnamese, Tày, Dao, H’Mông, Sán Dìu, Lô Lô…22 in total
is quite large and spreads a great deal further to the West than many people realize. This is because most tourist activity takes place on the ‘loop’, which is defined by Highway 4C, to the North of the province.
The Eastern side
of the province stretches up to China and once you are out of Ha Giang City you will move up on to a huge Karst Plateau, where conditions are quite harsh. Farming and living in this environment is tough but has improved over the last few years due to government intervention and tourism.
The Ministry of Agriculture has invested a great deal of time and effort helping local farmers with different varieties of crop which improve yield. The ministry of tourism has promoted the area, created the Dong Van Karst Plateau GeoPark and slowly allowed more and more tourists to visit the areas. In the past, it was quite difficult for foreigners to gain access to the region.
The Western side
of the province is equally beautiful but has less infrastructure for tourism and hence, less traffic. There has never been any government control restricting foreigners travelling through here, but the lack of facilities has made it hard. This is still an area for travelers that are a little more rugged and self-sufficient.
Strictly speaking you still need to obtain a permit to visit the are North of Ha Giang City. You can get this permit either in Ha Giang or in Meo Vac. It is quite cheap and only takes 15 mins to get. Some hotels will not allow you to stay unless you have this permit. Personally, I think the permit is a good souvenir and you can leave this as ID at any hotel, which means you do not need to leave a passport. However, many people do not do this and do not have any problems.
Travelling through the West of the province is not an issue and access is quite free.
[link to blog on how to get a permit]
Ha Giang City is set on the banks of the Lo River and has a population of around 80,000 people. There are actually 22 different ethnic groups in the city but just over 50% are from the Kinh and Tay groups. The Tay, Dao and Hmong make up the larger part of the remaining percentage.
Ha Giang was an important military outpost for the French as far back as 1886. From then on, the French supported the Hmong king as an attempt to maintain peace. However, there were constant troubles and several long lasting rebellions to French Rule.
Ha Giang became the provincial town in 1991 and it wasn’t until 2010 that it became a city. It was in the same year that the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark was set up and tourism to the area began to grow. This is a much-needed boost to the economy as Ha Giang is one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam.
Ha Giang Province Weather
This is a pretty complex topic because, in general, the climate is temperate, but the mountainous region means that weather is quite unpredictable. Also, as well as there being two main regions there are also two seasons.
The lower region along to Lo river, around Ha Giang City and Cao Bo district has dry season from September to May. The upper region in Du Gia and Dong Van sees the rain come in a month earlier around April.
Ha Giang City see an average temperature of around 23C and the monthly averages are from 15C in January to around 28 in July. The annual rainfall there is 24mm, the lowest is in December, at 31mm, and the highest in July, at 52mm. Humidity is always high with a yearly average of 84%.
[Link to weather blog]
The best time to visit
For travelling and touring, most people prefer to tour between late September and May. At this time, the weather is cooler and drier and the cold winds from the North are generally clearer. The added benefit is that there several festivals at these times that revolve around the blooming and harvesting of crops and the changes of the seasons.
The Summer months are too hot and too wet and, therefore, create too many difficulties.
[Link to weather blog]
There are some excellent treks in the province of Ha Giang. The Hoang Su Phi areas is noted for its natural beauty and the Dong Van area has a very rugged character. Generally, it is wise to take a guide because the routes are tricky to find and there is very little English spoken by the locals.
There are many tour companies that will offer tours at all levels of ability. The Winter months are best for trekking as June, July, August will be too hot and too humid to bear.
[link to review blog about trekking]
Ha Giang Province Ethnic Groups
There are 22 ethnic groups represented in Ha Giang. The Kinh and Tay people make up 55% and the Hmong make up another 32%. The other 19 are few and far between and therefore much less is known about them and their cultures.
There are many similarities and differences between the groups and, interestingly, the same is true within each of the groups. The range of languages spoken and the differences in cultural rites can be quite stark. See below.
Hmong Languages – Hmong / Kim Mun / Pa Hng
Tai Languages – Nung / Tay / Giay
Kra Languages – Red Gelao / White Gelao / Qabiao (Pupeo) / Lachi
Tibeto Burman Languages – Red Lolo / Flower Lolo / White Lolo
Ha Giang Province Advice
The weather will greatly affect the driving conditions. You could experience blinding sunshine, heavy rain and flooding, fog and cold. All of these conditions can change from valley to valley and you can find yourself driving through mist and fog one minute only to turn a corner onto a sunbathed mountain road. You must be prepared for all eventualities.
[link to driving conditions blogs]
Road conditions – map
[Main roads / dirt roads]
Google Map – labelled with photos
Police / Permission
There is an increasing police presence it the area nowadays due to the number of accidents and deaths of tourists. Many people with little or no experience of driving motorbikes are renting bikes and going on self-guided tours. Some of them do not finish the tour; many get hurt.
The police have set up some roadblocks and they will stop all vehicles to check their paperwork. You need to have either a home license and and IDP, or a Vietnamese motorbike license in order to be driving legally in Vietnam. If you are caught without this, you will be fined and the bike will be impounded.
Permission to enter Ha Giang
In theory you need to apply for a license to enter Ha Giang and to travel North of either Ha Giang city or Meo Vac town. This is easy to get, fast and cheap. However, many people do not get this permission and do not have any problems at all.
Some hotels will ask for this and tell you that you cannot stay without it. If that happens and you don’t have one, just move to the next hotel. It shouldn’t be hard to find another.
You can also leave this document with reception instead of your passport, so it is quite useful.
Ha Giang is very much a border area with China directly North. This means that you are required to have ID on you at all times. In practice, for foreigners, this means having your passport. All of this depends very much on the situation and you can find that not having ID or the Ha Giang permission is not a problem and the police waive this request. Or, you may find that they insist on seeing these things and won’t let you travel on without them.
BE NICE WHEN YOU MEET ANY POLICE. This will increase the likelihood that any problems are not problems. Just remember: the police can turn a blind eye to anything they like.
Like pretty much any country, border guards are quite hostile and just want you to go away as quickly as possible. If you venture off the main roads in the direction of China, you will quickly get into border areas. There will be signs, whether you notice them is a different matter, saying that it is a border area and that you are not allowed to be there.
In such a situation, on meeting a guard/soldier you should just smile, be friendly and do as they ask. They will have guns but are very unlikely to use them. They usually just tell you to go back the way you came and that is that. In some cases, they will be friendly and find you to be a novelty. If so, get a quick photo with them and run.