Many a bold motorbike rider visits the Ha Giang Loop in Northern Vietnam. Considered one of the most scenic motorbike treks in the world, the Ha Giang Loop is a must-do for any mountain enthusiast out there. Although there is no arguing that the views from the Ha Giang Loop are stunning, the is much-heated debate over the safety of this Vietnamese motorbike loop. During our trek, what was supposed to be a leisurely 3-day trip, turned into a 10-day disaster. Since we couldn’t find much help on the internet regarding whether the Ha Giang Loop is safe for beginners, I’m going to give you everything you need to know as well as our experience!
Our Experience on the Ha Giang Loop
Day 1 on the Ha Giang Loop: Exploring Ha Giang
The first day we arrived in Ha Giang, it was rainy and cool. We decided we wanted to take a day off in Ha Giang so that we can be rested and grab supplies for our motorbike loop! Our host at the Giang Son Homestay told us that there were things to see in the city. So, we went ahead and explored! Near Ha Giang, there is a waterfall in someone’s backyard that is surrounded by buffalos. Though the waterfall wasn’t huge, it was still a beautiful thing to see in Ha Giang. My favorite part was getting to pet the family’s buffalos and drinking green tea with them when it started raining!
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Day 2 on the Ha Giang Loop: Stuck in the Rain
We were supposed to start the Ha Giang Loop on our second day, but the weather had something else in store for us. When we woke up in the morning to grab our bikes, it was pouring outside. Our research had warned us that the first day of driving on the Ha Giang Loop is one of the longest. Considering that it was going to be raining all day, we didn’t want to run into muddy patches on the road. So, we extended our stay in Ha Giang by one night and decided to start the motorbike loop in the morning.
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Day 3 on the Ha Giang Loop: Lost in the Northern Vietnamese Mountains… at Night…
The start of day 3 was amazing! We got up bright and early and jumped on our bikes excited for the day. The first leg of the journey was from Ha Giang to Yen Minh which was about 3.5 hours long. Along the way, there were many places to stop and see! One of the best things to do in the Ha Giang Loop is to stop in Tam Son. It’s the halfway point between Ha Giang and Yen Minh and was a great place to grab lunch and stretch our legs. Here we ate lunch, flew our drone, and made friends with some of the local kids. It was nice to relax before getting back on the road to our final destination.
While eating lunch, our friend suggested that we book our night stay in Yen Minh so we had a clear direction of where to go. Though Daniel and I usually operate on the fly, we figured it wouldn’t be bad to book a place in advance. So, we plugged in the coordinates into our GPS and pressed forward. The GPS was telling us that it was going to be about 6 hours to get to our hostel for the night, and since we had done no prior research, we thought that sounded right…
The Drive Was Beautiful!
We drove through absolutely stunning landscapes on the way to our hostel. We passed deep gorgeous surrounded by rice paddies and drove over waterfalls that covered the cliffside we were driving along. The road was carved into the cliffside, often leaving us on the edge of a 400-foot drop-off. It was insane. Nature up there is so untouched and pristine that I was even able to fill up my water canteen with a waterfall we passed. I couldn’t believe it!
About an hour into the ride, the main road turned into a backroad and took us over a narrow wooden bridge. The scenery around was so stunning, we decided it was a good place to stop. We took photos, videos, and flew the drone. There was a group of little kids who joined us at the bridge to jump into the small river it hung above. They were adorable, butt naked, and super interested in Daniel’s drone piloting. For about 20 minutes, the kids huddled around Daniel, and would then run and jump in the bridge. We loved the time we got to spend with them. It was a fascinating perspective watching rural Vietnamese families live their daily lives. They were some of the sweetest people we encountered on our entire Vietnam trip and on the Ha Giang Northern Loop.
Where Things Started Going Wrong…
After hanging out for about 30 minutes, we got back on the road. This is where things got interesting… The GPS told us that we had to take a very sketchy, rocky path along the cliffside. It was so violent, my friend Danni and I had to hop off our bikes and let the boys drive through the rough bit. Large divets in the road almost sent the boys off their bikes several times. And this was all on a barrierless road. Through the bends and the turns, we would stop every now and then to gaze at the scenery. Every 10 minutes there was something beautiful, or a picture we wanted to take. Since we thought we were getting close to our hostel, we thought it would be fine.
The GPS Gets a Mind of its Own
That’s until the GPS told us we had to take a left, off of the cliff’s edge onto a road that didn’t exist. It was about 4 PM at this point and the GPS was still telling us that it was going to take two hours to get to our destination. We got concerned because driving on those roads at nighttime, with no barriers and crazy Vietnamese drivers, would not be ideal. The road we were on curved down the mountain into a village. We figured that’s where Google Maps was trying to take us. Well… we were wrong. By the time we made it down, the GPS had added 4 hours to our travel time. That’s when we realized we were officially lost.
What Had Happened Was…
Turns out, our friend accidentally booked our hostel in the middle of the Ha Giang loop in a city we were supposed to visit at the end. We were heading in the opposite direction on Yen Minh the entire time! So, we re-routed to Yen Minh, canceled the booking in the called Du Gia, and got back on the road. But by this time, we had been on the bikes for over 8 hours. Fatigue, hunger, and sore butts had set in. We were over it and wanted to make it to Yen Minh to rest, but still had 1.5 hours to get there. Not to mention that the sun had set, and we had to drive exhausted and in the dark. What was supposed to be a 3.5-hour ride from Ha Giang to yen Minh, turned into an 11-hour drive all up and around the Ha Giang Northern Loop.
Ending The Night
Getting to Yen Minh was well welcomed! When we got there, we ate dinner, booked the cheapest place we could find, and relaxed. We couldn’t believe it took us so long to get there. Turns out that we visited at a fun time of the year when they celebrate children. The streets were filled with floats that had children and loud music, parading them throughout the streets. It was equal parts adorable, and painfully loud, but a fun experience none-the-less! We ended the night drinking our stress away with our friends and doing some awesome karaoke in the lobby of our hostel, with nothing but a loudspeaker and an imaginary microphone.
Related: Living in Hanoi, Vietnam- Why I’ll Never Go Back
Day 4 on the Ha Giang Loop: Recovery
After making it to Yen Minh exhausted after long riding hours the day before, we took the day off and rested. It was raining all day so exploring around Yen Minh wasn’t an option. We also didn’t realize how sore our butts were going to be after the long riding day before! Our friends got together that day for meals, and went to an amazing homestay for dinner called the Bong Bang! They had an amazing buffet dinner and we got to meet tons of other travelers from around the world. After dinner, the weather got ugly so we ran back to our hostel to sleep and prepare for an early ride to Dong Van the next day.
Click here to book your stay at the Bong Bang Homestay!
Day 5 on the Dangerous Ha Giang Loop: When Natural Disaster Strikes…
That night, it rained so hard our power cut out. We were frustrated because of the lack of AC and power which didn’t allow Daniel’s C-pap to work. At about 5:45AM, Daniel and I hear screaming downstairs, and just a raucous. But on average, Vietnamese people are always loud, and so we just assumed they were drunk. We got a loud knock on our room door at 6:00AM from our friend David saying, “we’re not going anywhere”. Confused, he led us upstairs to see the disaster that had unfolded. From a window in an upstairs bedroom, we saw the entire street we were staying on flooded. I’m talking knee-high, downed trees, and nothing but squishy mud on the road. It literally looked like a river was flowing below us.
It Was a Disaster!
In disbelief, we witnessed motorbikes getting stuck in the flooded waters, and friends having to come in and push them through the flood. Our hostel downstairs was COVERED in mud. it literally looked like the floor was just part of outside. Danni ended up volunteering to clean up and we joined her straight after. We spent 2 hours cleaning up the guy’s hostel. We were using hoses, and brooms to try and squeeze out a hotel. This was all while the hostel owner did literally nothing. He even overcharged and scammed us upon check-out! Seriously friends, do yourself a solid and don’t stay at the Thien Son Hostel. We didn’t know what to do. Originally, we figured we could wait out the storm and flooding and leave the following day. That’s until things took a turn for the worst.
Evacuating Yen Minh
The rain was back, it was turning the flooding downstairs into what looked like river rapids. Water started rushing down the street bringing more mud and causing the foundation of buildings in the area to bubble. We knew that if we stayed we ran the risk of things getting worse and us getting stuck there, or even worse, hurt. That’s when we made the decision to evacuate.
It was terrifying because the roads on the Ha Giang Loop aren’t always safe. They aren’t fully paved, they hug the side of a cliff, and in the rain, they are covered in slippery red clay. Furthermore, giant boulders were flying off the sides of the mountain and blocking the road. But regardless of the danger, we took all of our bags, walked through the knee-high deep flooding, and got on our way. Daniel and David had to literally drive the bikes through the deep floodwater so that we could escape. I felt like I was in a movie.
Driving in the Storm
The ride to Dong Van was even worse. Visibility on the roads was shotty, to say the least. The intensity of the rain along with how thick the clouds were made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of us. There were twists, turns, and the risk for giant boulders falling on us the entire time. As a matter of fact, we were driving through dozens of fallen rocks, landslides, fallen trees, and patches of mud! It was like driving through a high stakes obstacle course!
To this day, I still don’t know how Daniel drove us through that storm without us getting seriously injured. The rain was pelting us in the eyes so hard, it made it hard to keep our eyes open. The bike almost slipped out from under us when we went through a muddy pothole, but Daniel saved it. Thankfully, we fell in the mud only once and it was gently.
Days 6 and 7 on the Ha Giang Loop: Recover
We made it to Dong Van so grateful for our decision to evacuate but also STRESSED. After getting stuck in the mudslide we needed a major break from riding. We ended up finding an amazing hostel called the Green Karst, and stayed there for three nights! The first two nights we all just slept, ate and sang karaoke. Resting in Dong Van was everything we needed after the stressful start to the Ha Giang Loop we had. It honestly ended up being one of our favorite places to visit on the Ha Giang Loop. The mountains around the area were stunning and there were many things to do in Dong Van!
Click here to book your stay at the Green Karst in Dong Van, Ha Giang Loop!
Day 8 on the Ha Giang Loop: Lung Cu Tower
On day 8 we decided to get back on our motorbikes and explore Dong Van. One of the best things to see in Dong Van is the Lung Cu Tower, which is considered Vietnam’s north pole. The drive to Lao Cao, the city it’s located in, is about an hour away from the Green Karst, but well worth it. The drive had spectacular views, and once we made it to Lung Cu Tower, we understood what all the fuss was about.
From the top, we were able to see 360-degree views of China and the Northern Villages of Vietnam. It was such a treat to be able to see China while driving through the Ha Giang Loop! On the way back, there is allegedly an unmarked hill where you can cross the border illegally to China, but we really don’t recommend you do this. There are tons of guards all around and according to our hostel host just a few years ago, a few tourists were shot dead. You have been warned.
Day 9 on the Ha Giang Northern Loop: The Proposal and the Crash on the Ma Pi Leng Pass…
Before you go on the Ha Giang Loop, you know about Meo Vac. It’s the “money shot” so to speak. With one of the deepest gorgeous in South East Asia and a river flowing through it, it’s easily the most beautiful view of the entire Ha Giang Loop. We woke up early in the day grateful that it was the first beautiful and sunny day we had had. David knocked on our door excitedly as we were all eager to get back on the road and finish the loop!
The Beautiful Ma Pi Leng Pass
The drive that morning was stunning! The sun was gently rising casting beautiful rays of light on the mountains. There was a slight mist that hugged the curves of the hills and valleys making us feel like we were on Lord of the Rings. About 45 minutes into our ride, we saw it open up before us. We stood in front of the famous view, and just took it all in. That moment is what we all had been waiting for. The Ma Pi Leng pass is this narrow road that is etched along the cliffside. There were many times that I would look down, and get dizzy from vertigo. Though I was scared, I was equally impressed by the beauty the earth had created. The entire ride led up to this view and it was so worth it.
A Little Surprise
After relishing in the view for a little while, we got back on our bike and went on the hunt for coffee toward Meo Vac. At coffee, David pulls Daniel to the side and he whispers something to him. I was confused, but let boys be boys and ordered my coffee. That’s when Daniel comes up behind me and excitedly tells me, “Annette, David is proposing to Danni”! Needless to say, I was pumped! We made a brief plan regarding how we were going to film and photograph it and sat down to drink coffee with Danni as though everything was normal! David agreed that on the way back from Meo Vac, he would give us a signal when he was ready to do it.
So, we went to Meo Vac, enjoyed some breakfast and made our way back. About 30 minutes into the drive, David gave us the signal and we stopped off. I had told Danni that I was going to be doing a photoshoot for them in front of the Ma Pi Leng pass so that they could keep it for memories. So, I positioned her on the edge of the cliff and had David stand behind her to do the quintessential, “follow me” Instagram shot and the rest… well, you’re just going to have to see it for yourself on our Youtube video!
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After the proposal and while the love birds were calling family, Daniel launched our drone to capture the footage of the climax of our trip. Looking over his shoulder was unbelievable! The footage he was capturing was easily the most beautiful scenery he had ever filmed. About 15 minutes in, however, the drone starts beeping at us saying that it had low battery. Daniel brought the drone is like he usually does, except this time it was taking longer than usual. We all stopped to watch the drone landing and right when Danni says, “can you imagine if that just fell out of the sky?”… can you guess what happened next?
The Drone Crash
I swear it happened in slow motion. The drone froze up in the air, went sideways and then crashed about 20 feet in front of us. This would’ve been fine, except we were standing on the edge of a cliff. In disbelief, we desperately got on our bikes and drove to the other side of the mountain to see if we could recover the drone, and if nothing else, the footage. We ended up getting lost in a villagers hemp plantation and driving through rough terrain. After 30 minutes, we had to give up so we could get back on the road before sundown. We drove back to Yen Minh from there. Mixed excited about the proposal, and totally bummed about the drone.
Being back in Yen Minh after the flooding and mudslide was crazy. We learned when we arrived that 8 people died from the flooding the night we evacuated. Vietnam had dispatched their national guard and military to help the people affected by the floods and to clear the roads. Needless to say, we didn’t spend the night with the guy who ripped us off. Instead, we found a nicer place so Danni and David could celebrate their engagement!
Day 10 on the Ha Giang Loop: Our Near Death Experience… Again…
Because it took us so long to get through the Ha Giang Loop, we skipped Du Gia altogether. So in the morning, we got on our bikes and made our way back to Ha Giang. By the time this day had come, we were all exhausted and ready to leave. Most people probably don’t encounter half of the drama we endured during the Ha Giang Loop, but we were over it.
The drive this morning was nice and quiet. That was up until a crazy Vietnamese driver sped around a corner on the mountainside. It almost sent us tumbling down the cliff. I literally felt the warmth from the truck, that’s how close he came to hitting us. I screamed at the top of my lungs and ended up uncontrollably sobbing on the back of the bike. We ended up having to stop at a pharmacy so I could buy Rotundin, an herbal anxiety medication. If it wasn’t for Daniel’s driving experience, I don’t know how this story would have ended. But man was I grateful to be with an experienced rider.
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Was it Worth it?
Gratefully, we made it back to Ha Giang safely. As you can imagine, we didn’t want to ride the bike all the way back to Hanoi. So, we booked a sleeper bus, got our motorbikes on it, and made our way back. The Ha Giang Northern Loop will forever be in my memories as one of the coolest, scariest, and most adventurous experiences in my life. From mountain passes to waterfalls, the nature had me amazed from the moment we got there. But I definitely am a lot more aware of my own mortality after that trip. Haha. All part of chasing adventure, am I right?
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