Dong Van District in Ha Giang province. Photo by Jason Zullo
Just a few kilometres from the provincial capital is Thôn Tha, home to a community of warm Tày minority people living as they have for hundreds of years. Trekking opportunities are plentiful with a small number of well-versed guides. The Quản Bạ Pass holds a lookout that lives up to its name: Heaven’s Gate. Quản Bạ is also the gateway to the UNESCO recognised Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark, a landscape characterised by lofty limestone peaks and rock-strewn fields.
High up near the border with China stands a H'Mông King Palace in the village of Sà Phìn. Built-in 1902 during the French occupation, the wood-framed palace is done in the traditional Chinese style and oozes character. Descendents of the king who called this palace home are still living in the area and sometimes give an unofficial tour.
Make time in your Hà Giang trip to journey north to Lũng Cú, where a gigantic Vietnamese flag blows proudly at the border with China. The best time to arrive is late afternoon as the heat subsides, making the climb of 200 steps a little kinder. The grand mountain view as the sun drops is worth the effort.
The roads that weave paths among this region serve up the ultimate in motorcycle adventure. The drive down into the town of Đồng Văn is impossibly beautiful, and the town holds a small but captivating old quarter with ancient buildings and a market that is a riot of colour every Sunday. The Mả Pí Lèn is the jewel in the crown of Hà Giang’s many stupefyingly stunning stretches of road. The highlight is a lookout point where the road snakes past a deep gorge carved by the Nhớ Quê River at around 1,500m.
24 hours is not enough to experience Hà Giang, but those with very little time could drive out from the city and spend the morning at Thôn Tha village and take a small, guided trek before lunch. In the afternoon, drive out to the lookout at Heaven’s Gate before returning to the city.
With two days it is possible to enjoy a full loop of Hà Giang province travelling past Heaven’s Gate and the H'Mông King’s Palace before spending the night in Đồng Vă. Enjoy a morning coffee in Đồng Vă’s old quarter before driving over the magnificent Mả Pí Lèng Pass. After a stop in Mèo Vạc, drive back to Hà Giang city through more magnificent scenery with a brief foray into neighbouring Cao Bằng province.
Hà Giang is hugely popular in November because of a festival celebrating the flower bloom that attracts many Vietnamese tourists. September through to November is a good time to visit, and April to June is also pleasant. July and August can be very hot, but navigating a visit is still possible if the midday sun is avoided.
Hà Giang city, the gateway to the province, lies almost 300km from Hanoi. Day and night buses run daily or tours can be arranged from Hanoi. Public transport around the province is limited, so either hire a motorcycle (available in Hà Giang), or do this trip with a car and driver.