Conquering the Ha Giang Loop: a motorbiking odyssey through Vietnam's highlands

One of the greatest adventures I have had to date, is motorbiking through the far remote northeastern reaches of Vietnam - zipping through karst limestone mountains, and pintail serpentine roads with nothing but a backpack on my two-wheels. For those who crave an adrenaline like this, the Ha Giang Loop in Vietnam stands as an irresistible siren call. This genuine hidden gem promises not just a journey but an exhilarating motorbiking odyssey through some of the most captivating landscapes on Earth. The Ha Giang Loop is where the road becomes your canvas, and each twist and turn paints a new, breathtaking vista. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!

© Logan Ly

The allure of any motorbike trip lies in the freedom of the open road, the roar of the engine, and the wind rushing past as you navigate serpentine mountain routes. I truly do not believe that there is any other country in the world best suited for motorbikes than the relationship these engines have with Vietnam. Here, with each rev of the throttle, you will be transported into a world where the boundaries between rider and the rugged terrain blur. This is not just a typical road trip; it is a motorbiking rite of passage.

As you embark on this thrilling adventure through the Ha Giang Loop, prepare to be captivated not only by the natural wonders but also by the sheer exhilaration of conquering challenging roads. It's an expedition that will test your riding skills, reward your senses with breathtaking scenery, and awaken your spirit of adventure as you explore Vietnam's remote highlands on the back of a motorcycle. After all, this is the Ha Giang Loop, where every twist of the throttle unlocks a new chapter in your two-wheeled journey.

© Logan Ly

Stop 1: Hanoi to Ha Giang City

I live in Saigon, the high-octane metropolis that dominates southern Vietnam. A lot of people love motorbiking from south to north, or vice versa. For this specific journey, it begins in the bustling capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. Here you have two options: you can make your way to the motorcycle rental shop to choose our trusty steeds for the adventure ahead or, which is what I did, rented in Ha Giant City itself and drove off from there. If you want to do what I did too, simply take a bus (you can buy tickets in advance online or with the help from your accommodation in Hanoi) to get to Ha Giang City. With helmets secured and backpacks filled, set off on the scenic drive to Ha Giang City, or have your base camp for the Ha Giang Loop starting already there.

For those who start in Hanoi, the journey will take you through picturesque countryside, quaint villages, and lush rice paddies - a very different environment from the French colonialist palaces and villas of the capital. As you approach Ha Giang City, the imposing limestone karsts of the Dong Van Plateau come into view, setting the stage for the dramatic landscapes you will encounter over the next few days. After a day of riding, settle into a cozy guesthouse and indulge in a delicious meal of local delicacies. Stock up and rest up! Ha Giang City will be the “biggest” town in miles, as once you head out, you will be in absolute nature and the very definition of villages until you finish the loop.

© Logan Ly

Stop 2: Ha Giang City to Yen Minh

The real adventure begins as we head north from Ha Giang City towards Yen Minh. The winding roads gradually climb higher into the mountains, offering breathtaking vistas at every turn - you see that smile? That's the smile of someone riding on the last frontier of Vietnam, which is the Ha Giang Loop. The Hmong and Dao ethnic minority villages dot the landscape, providing us with opportunities to interact with friendly locals and learn about their unique cultures. 

Make a stop at Lung Khuy Cave, a magnificent underground wonder adorned with striking stalactites and stalagmites. The cool, damp atmosphere provides a refreshing break from the heat of the day. After a visit to the cave, continue your journey through the rugged terrain, arriving in Yen Minh by late afternoon. I spent this evening absolutely devouring the scrumptious local dishes around a bonfire. Since we are quite up north now, no matter what the season is - by evening the air gets a bit crisper and cooler. It just gives up a strong sense of how far you are from what familiarity you are accustomed to only a sheer 24 hours ago. 

© Logan Ly

Stop 3: Yen Minh to Dong Van

On this day, we tackle some of the loop's most challenging yet rewarding roads. The landscape becomes more dramatic as you ride along the Ma Pi Leng Pass, often referred to as the "Heaven's Gate." The sheer cliffs and emerald Nho Que River winding through the valley below make this stretch of road one of the most spectacular in Vietnam. This is where my boyfriend and I got out for a rest stop and to take a moment to soak up the unbelievable views infant of us. While on this trip, it is just the two of us taking turns riding our motorbikes - at this passageway as other travellers get off of their bikes, we all exchange smiles, a feeling of victory and gratefulness of how lucky we are to be exploring this far-flung corner of Vietnam.

Then continuing on, you will eventually reach Dong Van. This is where we explored the ancient streets of the town, where French colonial architecture blends harmoniously with traditional Hmong and Chinese influences. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Dong Van Old Quarter and the local markets, where handmade crafts and ethnic textiles are on display! 

© Logan Ly

If you want, you can extend your trip here as well. There is a lot of trekking trails for those who want to hop off and stretch their legs into the rice paddies and countryside. You can also explore the Don Cao fort, which was leftover by the French colonialist back in the 1920s. A notable place not to miss out on is the Hmong King Palace, a true heritage site made out of timber where the past Hmong King had ruled in this province. 

We also could not miss out on the Lung Cu Flag Tower, which marks one of Vietnam’s four north pole spots to indicate the border. My partner was madly obsessed with the idea of how we could see China from here, and just how within reach China is. You can literally see the road that goes into the country next door to get the sense of what the world is without borders. 

© Logan Ly

Stop 4: Dong Van to Meo Vac

As we continue our journey, the landscape becomes increasingly remote and untamed. The road to Meo Vac meanders through rocky terrain, limestone peaks, and deep valleys. On this part of the trip, we encountered isolated villages where life has remained unchanged for generations, providing a glimpse into a world far removed from modernity. Especially as a city boy coming from Saigon (or even Hanoi for a geographically closer city of reference), it still blows my mind how in the age of technology there are people within the same country that lives so grounded here. It’s beautiful and humbles me. 

In Meo Vac, we were welcomed by the vibrant colours of the local market, where ethnic minorities gather to trade goods and exchange stories. It’s an absolute frenzy and I really adore the energy. We had some local delicacies (like horse stew) and even rode an ox! The ox was being auctioned off in the market, which was another cool experience to see. By nightfall, we spent it at a traditional homestay, giving us a chance to experience the warm hospitality of the locals and share tales of our adventure over a hearty meal.

© Logan Ly

Stop 5: Meo Vac to Ha Giang City

Our final leg of the journey takes us back to Ha Giang City, completing the loop. The ride is a mix of nostalgia and awe as we retrace our steps through the stunning landscapes and charming villages we've come to love. I still can not believe the unparalleled scenery that is tucked away in this region of Vietnam. Behind my motorbike helmet, I couldn’t stop thinking about how these landscapes along the Ha Giang Loop will stay with me for a long time. As our motorbike whizzes pass dramatic limestone karsts, terraced rice fields, deep valleys, and stunning mountain passes, the views are consistently awe-inspiring

Upon returning to Ha Giang City, we had a much needed hot shower and reminisct about the incredible experiences we've had and the indomitable spirit of the people who call this remote region home. 

Word to the wise, the Ha Giang Loop is not for everyone. It requires somewhat more than just beginners motorcycle riding skills, physical endurance, and a willingness to adapt to challenging conditions, including changing weather. Road conditions can be rough, especially in remote areas, and accommodations may be basic. But if you do take on this off the beaten path adventure, it will leave an indelible mark on your hearts, reminding you of the beauty and resilience of the human spirit in the face of nature's grandeur.

© Logan Ly

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