For years the northernmost province of Vietnam was passed over for nearby Sapa, its more famous sibling to the west. However, as tour groups have inundated the mountain town, many travelers have come to realize that less crowded Ha Giang has even more to offer. For the adventurous out there, this is our guide to Vietnam’s most scenic province.
Almost any trip through Vietnam’s final frontier begins in the provincial capital of Ha Giang in the region’s west. The city, fringed by rising limestone peaks, sits on the banks of the Lo River. Although quite small, it’s a fun place to explore for a day before heading out into the wild. Guest houses and hotels can be found all along the river. For those looking to rent motorbikes, which is highly recommended, the city of Ha Giang is the place to do it. There are a number of shops near the train station and bikes can usually be rented for 200,000 VND a day.
The next natural stop is the town of Dong Van, tucked away in the province’s far north. Much smaller then Ha Giang, Dong Van offers little more than a number of nice guesthouses and homestays. On Sundays, the valley town plays host to a lively market, frequented by ethnic Hmong, Tay, and Hun amongst others. Traditional dresses are worn and the market’s covered alleyways are a mix of brilliant, bouncing colors.
Meo Vac is smaller still and is generally the final stay on any Ha Giang Loop. Most of the action takes place around the town square, where there are a few guesthouses and hotels. The town is always a vibrant assortment of different minority women and there’s also a fun Sunday market.
The landscape in Ha Giang is overwhelmingly beautiful. Limestone ridged mountains rise up in pyramidal shapes before sinking to hundred-foot mounds and then climbing once more to 5,000-foot peaks. Rice terraces slice along precariously steep mountainsides, hanging over blue snaking rivers, beneath blood-curdling bends. Colorful farmland climbs to rocky, edged cliffs before rolling off to distant pine forests.
The area encompassing Dong Van and Meo Vac, sharing a border with China, is known as the Dong Van Karst Plateau. A UNESCO Global Geopark, the jagged rocky outcroppings and undulating hills look like something from a mad man’s paint brush.
The region offers some of the best and most unique trekking in all of Vietnam. Many tours set out from Dong Van and can range from a day to three or four days. Treks generally head either north or south of town, along hair-raising pathways worn into the rocky hillsides, before descending into minority villages. Some of the best can be found with Ha Giang Responsible Tourism.
Vietnam may be home to the best motorbike routes in all of Asia. Some of the best of the best straddle mammoth peaks and swoop through the remote valley floors of Ha Giang. The entire province is a rider’s dream and could be explored by bike for weeks on end.
Many riders make a loop, departing from Ha Giang before reaching Dong Van, Meo Vac and then back to the capital city. Others believe that the best way to explore the region is with Google Maps and a full tank of gas. Dozens of back-wood roads and mountain pathways carve through the spectacular scenery. Getting lost may be the best way to find the truly unspoiled.
There are certain stretches that can’t be missed, most notably the Ma Pi Leng Pass. Snaking along massive peaks on the Chinese border, this may be the most terrifyingly beautiful ride in all of Vietnam.