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What to Do in Ha Giang - A Complete Travel Guide

Ha-giang-ma-pi-leng-mountain-pass Ma Pi Leng Mountain Pass at Ha Giang

The North of Vietnam does not possess the sparkling modernity of a major city; it is, however, the rustic nature that keeps visitors coming back for more exploration. Ha Giang is among the up-and-rising travel destination in the area thanks to the adrenaline-rushing motorbike trails, eye-catching mountain passes, and breathtaking nature. Read our blog on how you can prepare for your trip to Ha Giang.

ha giang travel guide 2

Beautiful scenery captured from the side of the road in Ha Giang

Table of Contents

1. Quick Facts about Ha Giang Province
2. What to Pack for Ha Giang
3. Where to Stay in Ha Giang
4. Ha Giang Travel Permit
5. How to Get to Ha Giang Province
6. What to Do and See in Ha Giang Province
7. What to Eat in Ha Giang Province
8. When to Visit Ha Giang Province
9. Other Local Tips for Visiting Ha Giang Province
10. Final Thoughts on Ha Giang Travel

1. Quick Facts about Ha Giang Province

Most people would travel from Hanoi to Ha Giang, and you would need a travel permit and a recognized motorbike driving license. See the section below for more details.

Weather: The best time to visit Ha Giang is during the dry season (November - March) when the weather is generally settled (with the temperatures ranging from 20 oC - 25 oC / 68 oF - 78 oF). However, expect cold and chilly weather from the mountain wind when you drive the motorbike. Read the bottom of this guide on which month to visit Ha Giang.

Geography: Ha Giang is 320 km away from Hanoi. The province lies on the northernmost point of Vietnam and shares a 270 km long border with southern China. The terrain contains mostly of rocky mountains, forested hills, limestone formations, and springs.

Demographic: 25 ethnic minorities are residing in 11 districts in Ha Giang province, which includes a provincial city of the same name.

History: the land establishment dates back to 3,000 years ago, and since then has undergone numerous courageous battles against the enemy for independence. During the colonial period, the French tried to lure the Hmong King Vuong Chinh Duc with an aim to take over the area, but the King stood his ground in supporting the Ho Chi Minh’s ally.

2. What to Pack for Ha Giang Travel

Besides the essentials for your Vietnam Travel, make sure to bring these items when traveling to Ha Giang.

Check this guide for a complete packing list for Vietnam:

  • Passport & Visa
  • Appropriate clothing (depends on the month of travel)
  • Raincoat/toiletries (you can find these along the way at roadside shops, so bring cash in Vietnam Dong)
  • Camera & spare batteries (check adaptors)
  • Security/waist belt
  • Medicine (bug spray, Antihistamines, Imodium)
  • Entertainment items (books, games)
  • Laundry items to wash your own (or you can easily find laundromats for VND 15k - 20k per kg)
  • Quick-dry towel & scarf
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • All should be compacted in a backpack, preferably made of waterproof materials
  • Walking/hiking shoes
  • Face mask & a good quality helmet (if you'll be riding the motorbike)
  • Insurance
  • Translation app to Vietnamese (this will come in handy when you're in the remote region)
  • GPS phone with data for map navigation (3G/4G is cheap in Vietnam)

Check Where to Buy a SIM Card in Hanoi

And since you’re traveling to a more off-the-beaten-path destination, it is advisable that you sign up for travel insurance from a trusted brand like World Nomads.

Get an insurance quote below:

 
 

3. Where to Stay in Ha Giang Travel

Since Ha Giang is not a tourist-centric area in the North of Vietnam, the accommodation options and modern hotel services in the area are quite limited. On the contrary, the cost is pretty economical, and you can easily stay under budget on your trip to Ha Giang.

The provincial city Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac districts in the province are where you can find good choices for hotels and homestays. Check out our recommended places on Where to Stay in Ha Giang.

Or find a hotel on Agoda:

 

 

4. Ha Giang Travel Permit

You may need a permit when visiting Ha Giang, mostly to present to the police when visiting the area. We say may here because nobody is likely to check for the permit. You will be more likely to be checked if you travel near the frontier area, which you'll see signs on the side of the road like below. Although nobody is likely to ask you for that in general, it is necessary to avoid unexpected problems. We didn't get checked once. You might be fined up to VND 1 million if you’re unable to show the permit. The permit price is VND 210,000 (USD 10) per person, and the process is quite swift and easy. Most hotels or guesthouses along the way of Ha Giang Province can help you with acquiring one. 

Where to get your permit yourself when in Ha Giang City: Immigration office, 292 Tran Phu Street, Ha Giang City

Documents required: passport, motorbike registration if you’re traveling by motorbike

ha giang frontier area

5. How to Get to Ha Giang Province

Most people would depart from Hanoi to Ha Giang. Hanoi has the Noi Bai International Airport, which is accessible from within the country or from overseas. There are several ways to get to Ha Giang from Hanoi, though the choices are not abundant as after all, Ha Giang is still an off-the-beaten-path area. Note that you may need the travel permit even when opting for public transportation.

Traveling to Ha Giang by Bus
Many transportation companies have buses leaving for Ha Giang Province from Hanoi, and the majority of them offer good basic amenities, such as the reclining seats or a sleeper bus to make sure that you have a comfortable trip. The journey takes 6 - 8 hours and usually goes through the night to arrive at Ha Giang city by dawn.

  • Pros: convenient, cheap, and suitable for traveling in groups.
  • Cons: the long hours of traveling may take a toll on your back and legs; what is more, the staff may not speak English. Having said that, you can avoid those hindrances by booking a bus ticket online as you will receive all the road details and prices via email.

Search for bus (and train) tickets here:

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Traveling to Ha Giang by Train
There is no direct train from Hanoi to Ha Giang Province. You need to get off at Lao Cai Station and take another 6-hour bus to reach to Ha Giang. However, this is a favorable option if you'll be coming from the Sapa - Lao Cai way.

Traveling to and around Ha Giang Province by Motorbike
Motorbike is the most popular means to explore Ha Giang Province among adventurous solo or small group travelers. This is also a favorite means of transportation to travel around Ha Giang province. The 300 km ride of the Ha Giang loop can be arduous as it would take 3-15 days to complete, depending on your route and motorbike loop, and some underdeveloped roads do not make it any easier. Sometimes, you might have a delay from the blocked road due to previous landslides (but this is rare). On the brighter side, there is breath-taking scenery to marvel at along the way, from the splendid limestone karst and deep gorges, to the peaceful life of the ethnic villagers. Our take is that our motorbike trip through Ha Giang was totally worth it.

See our tips for renting a motorbike in Hanoi.

ha giang mountain road

Travel tips:

  • It is by law that you wear a helmet when driving, and for foreign riders in Ha Giang, you must acquire a Vietnamese license or an International Driving Permit (IDP).
  • Check the bike quality carefully, especially if it is a rental. Brakes, lights, oil, chains, tires, etc.
  • Make sure you plan & pack carefully according to the weather in Ha Giang.
  • Be careful of the landslide during the raining season and the sharp turns at the mountain pass. If driving, you should honk when turning at extreme curves with little to no visibility to inform other vehicles that you’re coming in the opposite direction.
  • Start the journey early in the day, and don’t risk going on an unfamiliar road at night.
  • Plan your petrol and distance needed for the day - don't wait until almost empty to refill.
  • Factor in your driving time and do not base your timing off of Google Maps. The region is so beautiful that you'll be making many stops along the way for photos. A good rule is to multiply your time needed by 2 or 3. Like, if the map says you'll get there in 3 hours, plan for 6 hours.
  • Try to stay on roads on Google Maps that are marked "QL" instead of wandering onto "TL" or "DT" roads. QL roads are considered national highways, so the road conditions are better than TL or DT.

ha giang mountain road dong van

A QL road at Dong Van

ha giang mountain road 2

ha giang cattle crossing

Vietnamese ethnic minorities walking their cattle back home before the sunset

6. What to Do and See in Ha Giang

Ha Giang is now internationally praised for its spectacular pristine nature and unique ethnic cultural traits. Not only the prominent attractions but also the little sneak peeks into the local’s life can lead you wonders to wonders relentlessly.

Quan Ba Heaven’s Gate
The Quan Ba Valley stands at the height of 1,945 m and is a combination of uniformly-looking hills. Such a magnificent view has endearingly dubbed the valley the name “the Heaven’s Gate” at Quan Ba.

Ha giang travel guide quang ba heaven pass

Tham Ma Pass
The Tham Ma Pass does not seem to be for drivers with a faint of heart, but its sexy twists and turns create such an epic view along the way. The road lies on the 4C Highway, connecting Meo Vac District and Ha Giang City.

ha giang tham ma pass

ha giang tham ma pass 2

Ma Pi Leng Pass
The Ma Pi Leng Pass also lies in the Highway 4C at the altitude of 1,500 m, connecting Dong Van and Meo Vac districts. The highway was built in the 1960s by the ethnic villagers.

ha giang ma pi leng 2

Ha giang ma pi leng 1

The famous Ma Pi Leng Mountain Pass - totally worthy of a trip to Ha Giang

ha giang ma pi leng 3

Phuong Thien Cave
Phuong Thien Cave is home to numerous natural caves and grottos, and most notably, the Fairy Spring and Fairy Hill that associate with the mythical story of female sentient beings having frequented in the area.

Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark
This is a massive geopark of Vietnam that covers most of the four districts in Ha Giang: Meo Vac, Dong Van, Yen Minh, and Quan Ba. Almost 80% of the area is limestone, in addition to mountain peaks and deep valleys.

ha giang dong van 1

ha giang dong van 2

Lung Cu Flagpole
As mentioned above, Ha Giang shares a land borderline with China, and it is the Lung Cu Flagpole that marks the northernmost point of Vietnam. There is an entrance fee of VND 25,000 charged by ethnic minorities at the steps before walking up to the flagpole. Motorbike parking is free.

ha giang lung cu 4

ha giang lung cu 5

ha giang lung cu 6

This was a short part of the road leading up to the Flagpole being slippery and muddy due to the rain (picture taken in May 2019)

ha giang lung cu 1

But once you've reached the top of the Flagpole, the view is very rewarding

ha giang lung cu 2

View is taken from the Lung Cu Flagpole - Vietnam's northernmost point, bordering China

ha giang lung cu 3

Mansion of the Vuong Family
Vuong Chinh Duc - who was appointed as the Hmong King in the early 20th century - built a mansion for his family residence in the Chinese design. The building was recognized as an architectural heritage in Dong Van District in 1993.

Weekly Markets
As opposed to the wet market culture in the flatlands in which the market is held daily, markets in the mountainous regions, and particularly in Ha Giang, only meet once a week. Depending on where you’re staying in Ha Giang, make sure to join the local villagers in these weekly occasions to blend in with the vibrant atmosphere of the trading activities here and grab some unique souvenirs for yourself. One reminder is to ask the local organizer, if possible, to check when the market will be organized.

  • Lung Phin Market (Meo Vac District): every Monday and “days of Tigers” of the month.
  • Sa Phin “backward” market (Dong Van District): held in backward order during the weeks. In other words, if it is held on Sunday one week, in the following week, it’ll be held on Saturday, then on Sunday in the next week, etc.
  • Hoang Su Phi Sunday Market (Hoang Su Phi District): opens on Sunday mornings
  • Ma Le Frugal Fair (Lung Cu peak): regular market sessions on the weekend mornings
  • Meo Vac Cattle Market (Meo Vac District): held every Sunday
  • Xin Man Market (near the Chinese border): organized every Sunday

Plan your route ahead of time if you want to visit these markets. It is advisable to visit early to avoid the crowd of tourists.

Khau Vai Love Market
Of all the ethnic markets in Ha Giang, Khau Vai Love Market in Meo Vac District is the most popular and awaited among both locals and tourists. The market starts from the late evening in the 26th of the third lunar months and lasts till the end of the next day. Traditionally, it is when and where the young villagers gather to find their significant other. Therefore, do expect a lot of colorful costumes and a romantic atmosphere in the stunning highlands

Hiking and Trekking in Ha Giang
For outdoor lovers, hiking in the majestic peaks of Ha Giang is an unforgettable memory. The highest tops of Ha Giang are Tay Con Linh Peak and Kieu Lieu Ty Peak.

7. What to Eat in Ha Giang

Au Tau Porridge
This is a type of rice gruel cooked with, you guess it, a type of poisonous flowering plants! But fear not, au tau is completely safe and edible when appropriately treated.

ha giang chao au tau

Have a bowl of hot au tau porridge when in Ha Giang City - most shops open in the afternoon - evening

Steamed Eggrolls (Banh Cuon)
The steamed eggrolls is an easy dish to enjoy. One portion is often enjoyed with a delicious dipping bowl of mixed fish sauce.

Thang Co
Thang Co is a type of soup originates from the Hmong people, and is usually made from pieces of either horse meat, pork, or beef. The dish is eaten with spicy chilly flakes. You can easily spot giant pans of thang co in the weekly market in Ha Giang, ready to be served.

Con Lam Bac Me
Com Lam is one of the many signature rice dishes in Vietnam. The glutinous rice is carefully grilled on hot charcoal in a bamboo shoot before eaten with sesame salt.

Grilled Algae
Grilled Algae is a staple dish of the Tay people. Though algae are nowhere near a usual cooking ingredient in any household, the Tay people know just the right seasonings to add and create a remarkable taste.

8. When to Visit Ha Giang Travel Guide

Ha Giang shares the humid subtropical climate in the northeast of Vietnam. Nevertheless, the montane weather patterns vary depending on the regions and altitudes. There are two seasons: the dry & cold season (November - March) and the rainy season (April - October), so naturally, the dry season is when you can freely explore Ha Giang without worrying about the unexpected showers. Nevertheless, Ha Giang still presents distinguished charm at different times of the year, so make sure to check your calendar carefully to plan your ideal itinerary in Ha Giang.

Springtime (January - February): is the time when the whole country supposedly enjoys the Tet holiday according to the Lunar calendar. The new year celebrations and festivals in Ha Giang, on the other hand, is especially vibrant thanks to the diversity of the ethnic groups in the area.

March: is when Ha Giang puts on its most colorful coat with the plums and peaches gardens blooming in profusion.

April sees the gathering of the Khau Vai Love Market, which only happens once a year and is actually considered the Tet holiday in the northernmost mountains when people dress up nicely and rejoice in the exultation of the market.

From May to October, is when you can enjoy the best panoramic view of the terraced fields and observe the agricultural life of the locals. Beware of landslides in the raining season.

October to December is probably the most visited time of Ha Giang due to the blossoming of the buckwheat flowers, especially after the magnificent landscape has captured international attention not so long ago.

ha giang travel guide 3

Ha Giang terraced rice field taken in May 2019 (slight rain on our trip)

9. Other Local Tips for Ha Giang Travel

  • Bring cash. Though there are ATMs widely available in Ha Giang city and the central districts, the local vendors only accept cash.
  • See our tips for Avoiding Food Poisoning when Traveling in Vietnam
  • Budgeting: plan for USD 25 per day, including accommodation, food, fuel, other small miscellaneous expenses (note that this number is a conservative budget)

10. Our Final Thoughts on Ha Giang Travel 

If not now, then when? Hands down, do it! Despite being a far-off area, the breath-taking nature in Ha Giang will fulfill your adventurous spirit. It's a once in a lifetime trip that's totally worth it, and you'll probably end up talking about it for a long time. Trust us. :)

Read our blog on Motorbiking through the Ha Giang Loop to plan for the adventure of your lifetime.

Do feel free to share with us if you have any other cool suggestions for Ha Giang travel in the comments below.

Copyright

© Written by Kim Hoang & Alexis for itourvn.com | itourvn.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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