Traveling around Northern Vietnam winter 2018-19, second of the three part posts.
Ha Giang is famous for its “loop”, which actually consists of several different loop’ish routes, some shorter some longer. Route is best explored on two wheels by riding yourself, although local traffic police require international driving license for Vietnam. If this is a problem, consult travel agencies (often working as part of guest house) in Ha Giang town for options. Shorter route (described bellow) can be done in 3 days, in longer loops one can spend around a week. In many ways, Ha Giang loop, its idea (ride motorbike to mountainous border region), stunning vistas, and hill tribes people living the region. It all reminded me the Mae Hong Son loop in northern Thailand.
Map of the wider region, town of Ha Giang marked center.
3-4 day Ha Giang loop and northern border of the country. Trip is usually begins from and ends to Ha Giang town (south-west in picture). Town that has good selection of rental vehicles and tour agencies. Route can be made clockwise or counter, but best views are on northern portion. If I would do it again, I’d go counter clockwise. A on map is Yen Minh, which can be used as first night stopover although it takes only half a day reach it from Ha Giang. Rest of day can be used for exploring the surrounding region. B is Lung Cu, most northern place in the whole country right next to China. It also can be reached in half day (from A), and book to a guesthouse around mid day. C is Dong Van, after Ha Giang, largest town in the loop. From B to C, it takes only 2-3 hours, so either can be used as a base for night. There are plenty of guest houses and some scooter rentals in Dong Van. D is Ma Pi Leng pass, that has the best views in the loop. Narrow emerald green river snakes deep in the valley bellow! Because road zigzags in mountain sides at this part, there are not much infrastructure like guest houses here. D best explored when leaving or arriving to Dong Van (C). E is Na Phong, one of many smaller villages along the way. Scenes are still nice, but best part of trip is now behind. Its not too much of a stretch to drive from Dong Van all the way back to Ha Giang, if in a rush and starting early.
Preparations. During winter time around December-January, wind proof jacket, long sleeve, jeans, good shoes and preferably glows and helmet with a wind mask help keeping warm. T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops are definitely not enough, and obviously not safe either. For someone not used to riding motorbikes on mountains, its best to practice first on somewhere with less traffic. On the loop, getting used to ways of local traffic needs special attention. Always riding on side of road and especially in curves. You never know if there is overtaking bus arriving head on your lane. Learning how to engine breaking, when going down hill is also good to know. Before starting the trip, make sure tires are OK, breaks grip well, and lights work! There are gas stations all along the way, but some are far apart. If knowing ride ahead can be long, its better fill up just for peace of mind. Oh, and remember to buy a rain poncho, riding around on wet clothes gets old very fast. These don’t take much space and good place to keep them is under your seat (not bottom of your backpack).
My trusty Honda road warrior and locals walking by. Somewhere by the loop.
Ma Pi Leng pass views at dusk.
Typical small town in the valley in Ha Giang region.
While driving around Ha Giang and elsewhere in north, locals were often traveling on foot. Oftentimes they were carrying heavy loads such as firewood or hay for cattle. Could not avoid thinking of how long that will it last? Will younger generation be willing to endure such hardships, while watching scooters and cars buzzing by?
Early morning. Old lady working by the road side.
Viet youth in Ha Giang region.
Morning in Dong Van. Family preparing to head out for the day.
Vistas in the loop.
Hmong “Royal Palace” is nice brief visit along the way, approx. 15km from Dong Van. Without a guide, museum is pretty empty experience though.
Hmong Royals can be considered as their tribes head headmen, local warlords with small militia under their command, and opium traffickers to nearby China. This link provides some insights to two men who were the royals of this palace.
Ha Giang downtown. Town is split into two by small river. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and guest houses, but not major attractions with center itself.