The Ha Giang Loop, an adventurer's paradise. All photos by Jason Zullo
Get an early breakfast in Hà Giang city before hitting the road. As you head north on the QL4C, the landscape quickly transforms into a limestone mountain range, covered with lush jungle. Soon you’ll reach the Dong Van Karst Plateau, a UNESCO Global Geopark. The highlight of this section of the trip is Heaven’s Gate Pass, where you’ll get your first taste of exhilarating views along with challenging, tight curves.
Cruising down from Heaven’s Gate Pass, you’ll arrive in Tam Sơn -- a town surrounded by jutting, forested hills -- just in time for lunch. Here the restaurants and road stalls serve classic Northern Vietnamese fare. And like anywhere else in the country, a great Vietnamese coffee is not hard to find.
Once you’re refuelled, continue on the QL4C towards Yên Minh. The road follows the beautiful Mien River before climbing through a tall canyon. Cruise though karst plateaus and mountain passes before arriving at Yên Minh, where you can settle in at a local hotel for the evening.
TIP: It’s best to reserve your hotel or homestay ahead of time when staying in smaller towns: the best accommodations fill up quickly, especially during high season.
Enjoy a steaming bowl of pho for breakfast before you set off for Dong Van, taking the QL4C northeast. The steep road quickly rises above the tree line, revealing an otherworldly landscape of eroded limestone karsts with incredible views at every turn. Dốc Chín Khoanh (Nine Turn Pass), is a great place to stop and admire the sets of curved roads descending into the valley below. Stop in the Sà Phìn area for food and fuel.
A three-hour detour takes you to the Lũng Cú Flag Tower. The 360-degree views over the border into China are worth the effort. Back on the QL4C, you’ll have no shortage of stunning views on the way to Đồng Văn, where you’ll stay. Set aside time to visit a local market, either at night or in the early morning, and see the colourful ethnic minorities going about their business.
TIP: Be sure to check with your host in Dong Van about dates and times for the local markets. It’s a cultural experience you won’t want to miss.
Today you’ll encounter what is arguably the most mind-blowing stretch of road in all of Vietnam. From Đồng Văn all the way to Mã Pí Lèng Pass, the valley floor drops far below as you wind your way through massive peaks and canyons. The only problem may be the number of stops you feel compelled to make, as every turn is full of picture-perfect views.
Mèo Vạc is only 24 kilometres from Đồng Văn, but it will take most of your morning to reach it, if you stop to appreciate the panoramic views along the way. Once there, enjoy this quaint town, which has colourful character and more than a few options for lunch.
For a quick detour, take a left off of QL4C at the bottom of Mã Pí Lèng Pass onto side road 193A. It’s a short but fun ride offering a closer look at the winding Nho Quế River below.
You’ll finish the day in Bảo Lâm, a small hamlet with wonderfully warm locals. Spend a few hours relaxing in this remote setting, readying yourself for the drive back to Hà Giang in the morning.
Start the last day of your trip with a simple breakfast and stock up on provisions to make the journey back to Ha Giang. From Bảo Lâm, take QL34 southwest towards Hà Giang. The road follows the Gâm River most of the time, making for an enjoyable drive along the valley floor. There will still be plenty of twists and a few passes but nothing as strenuous as before.
Stop in Bắc Mê for bite at one of the local food stalls. You’ll find fewer towns in the last stretch before reaching the city.
Arrive back in Hà Giang City and treat yourself to some modern comforts after all the miles travelled over the last four days.
You’ll be travelling through the northernmost part of Vietnam, and there are limited resources once outside of Ha Giang. Be sure to bring enough cash, as ATMs are scarce.
Daytime and overnight buses depart from My Dinh bus station in Hanoi for Ha Giang regularly. Private transfers and tours can also be found online or through tour companies in the capital.
You can easily find motorbikes for rent in Hà Giang City. Both Honda and Kawasaki Service Centres are available in town.
The roads of on this route are in good condition for the most part, however, obstacles and construction can show up anytime. For safety, approach curves with caution, drive during daylight hours and stop after dark.