Vietnam days 3-7: iconic Hà Giang motorbike loop

I’m back from my amazing motorbike road trip through Hà Giang, Northern Vietnam! After 400+ km over 4 days, I’m happy to report I’m alive and well. From seeing the most spectacular scenery to stretching out of my comfort, I can honestly say this was one of the most meaningful experiences of my gap year. Today will test the number of times I can say the word “breathtaking” in one post. 😛

Loop day 1: Hà Giang to Yên Minh (92 km / 57 miles / 6 hours)

The first day, I left early from my hostel in Hà Giang, the starting point of the loop. I’m a slow driver and didn’t want to feel rushed in any way, which was also why I decided to tackle the loop alone (even though there were options to join various groups at my hostel). I prepped the night before, so after breakfast, I was off! If you missed my last post where I talked about my (lack of) preparation for this trip, check it out here.

The first day’s drive was the shortest stretch – mostly spent getting out of the busy Hà Giang area and getting a taste of the mountain scenery to come. I’d say the beginning portion was the most hectic of the entire drive, but fortunately, the traffic eventually thinned out. I enjoyed passing through smaller villages and starting to see the mountain scenery, especially as I was feeling fresh on day 1. I pulled over frequently and snapped away on my phone.

 Hà Giang loop

Fairy bosoms

Quan Ba ​​Heaven Gate viewpoint.

Quan Ba ​​Heaven Gate

The roads were well paved and easy to drive – I’m glad the first day was relatively easy so I could gain confidence on the bike. I’m SO glad I chose the semi-automatic motorbike, which I just learned to drive the day before. 😛 It had great power and felt like an easier ride versus a scooter. Overall, handling the bike was the easy part, but other people’s erratic driving was the true challenge.

 Hà Giang motorbike loop

There were surprisingly a lot of people on the road because it was a holiday weekend in Vietnam. It felt like any designated viewpoint had hoards of Vietnamese tourists. Eventually, I wound up finding my own stopping points to have some space.

Casual lunch off the road – cup noodles and a grilled hot dog. 😛 The food wasn’t great on this trip, but it was more for necessity.

After lunch, the views escalated. I drove in a valley along a river, and it was the first of many times this trip I felt truly in awe.

6 hours later, I made it to my first stop, Yên Minh, a popular first stopping point on the loop. There weren’t many accommodations along the loop, so most people ended up in the same spots. Yên Minh was a quiet little village with a handful of homestays. I arrived at 3pm and enjoyed having the afternoon to chill and stretch my legs around town.

Yên Minh

Yên Minh

I stayed at Milk Milk Homestay in their dorm. I have to say this was one of the roughest sleeping situations I’ve encountered my whole year! 20 bodies in a non-AC room made for a rather sleepless night. But I was just happy to have a bed as I planned this very last minute – this was literally the last bed available in Yên Minh on 😛

In the evening, we had a family dinner at the hostel. Most of the guests were Vietnamese, but a group of 5 westerners and I had a little pow-wow. We bonded over dinner and drinks and shared stories about our day. It felt good to be around people after a whole day alone on the bike. Overall a wonderful first day – I felt confident and motivated for what was to come.

family dinner on Ha Giang loop

Day 2: Yên Minh to Đồng Văn + China border! (106 km / 65 miles / 8 hours)

I was most excited for today’s route as I was going to make it to the Vietnam-China border (bucket list item for me). It was a longer route today, so after a quick breakfast at my homestay, I took off.

Aaand immediately I got a flat tire. Womp. I was grateful I was still in Yên Minh where I could easily find a repair shop. 15 minutes and 3 dollars later, I was off again!

repairing flat tire

The morning was overcast as it rained the night before, a contrast to the sunny day yesterday. To be honest, I preferred the overcast weather as I felt like it fit the mountain scenery better. Day 2’s drive felt more remote and rugged with long stretches of isolated mountain roads, rock formations, and beautiful valleys.

At one point, I reached so high that I was inside a cloud. This portion was a little scary as I could not see more than 10 feet in front of me. I drove slowly and honked away like it was no one’s business.

It was a relief to emerge from the cloud. On the other side was the sun again! It was a nice change from the morning as the mountains illuminated with the brightest green hues. I felt like I was looking through a camera filter. 🙂

After eating lunch and driving a bit further, I made it to the main site of the day – Lung Cu Flag Point, which was built to mark the northernmost point in Vietnam. Apparently, you could see China from this point too. There was a climb up a hill to reach the tower, and I treated it as my day’s workout.

 Lung Cu Flag Point

 Lung Cu Flag Point

Overall, I was underwhelmed by the tower – there were a lot of tourists there, and after some research, I found out the actual farthest north point on the Chinese-Vietnamese border was located a few kilometers north. I was determined to make it to this point, so after snapping a few photos, I headed back down on a mission to find it.

Finding the China border was quite an adventure! Google maps had the wrong directions, so I went to the depths of the internet trying to find the right path. I got lost a few times and almost gave up. But after putting my phone away and relying on Vietnamese road signs and the help of locals, I was able to locate it. The road to this point was not great, but the anticipation of reaching the border kept me going. The scenery at golden hour was phenomenal.

The actual border point was a little gazebo on a hill with a rock marking the border. It was such an amazing feeling reaching the border and better than my expectations!! There was no border control and it felt surreal seeing China again for the first time in 10 years. 🙂

China Vietnamese border

northernmost point of Vietnam

Pointing to China. 🙂

I was running behind schedule as it took me a while to find the border, so afterward, I did a straight shoot to reach my homestay before dark. I stayed in Đồng Văn, a slightly larger village than the first one. I stayed at Honey Homestay, and coincidentally, 4 out of 5 people from our group yesterday arrived at the same spot! It was a sweet reunion and nice to see familiar faces. We had dinner together and caught up on our days. Even though we didn’t drive together, I felt like the loop bonded us as we all shared the same experiences. We all agreed today’s scenery was epic and memorable.

Day 3: Đồng Văn to Du Gia + unlucky events + unexpected detour (136 km / 84 miles / 9 hours)

Onto day 3! Little did I know I would face several bumps today and this would be my longest day. But we’ll get to that. 😉

The morning started off smoothly as I drove through the Mã Pí Lèng Pass. I took my time in this potion as it was an incredibly beautiful part of the route. I was very high up driving along the cliff with amazing mountain peaks on the other side. So memorable. It was also nice to see fewer drivers on the road today as the Vietnamese holiday was over.

Mã Pí Lèng Pass

Mã Pí Lèng Pass

Then, I made it to Mèo Vạc, a small village and overnight point for slower travelers on the loop. I was lucky to catch the Sunday market. It wasn’t any different from other Asian markets I’ve seen, but it was nice to stretch my legs and eat some fried treats.

Mèo Vạc market

Mèo Vạc market

After the market, I continued on. Next, I entered an area with terrible roads – bumpy and slippery. There were landfalls and construction going on. Traffic jams built up as we waited for the construction.

And thus began a series of unfortunate events…first up, I fell off my bike! I was going at a slow speed and got stuck in mud, and I fell completely sideways. I felt grateful for the drivers around me who stopped and rushed to my side. Don’t worry, the only thing that hurt was my confidence. 🙂

Soon after, I discovered another flat tire. So unlucky! I was beginning to think there was something wrong with my driving. This time, I was in the middle of the mountain, so I had no choice but to press onwards until I found a repair shop.

Then cue the rain. Good thing I borrowed a poncho from my hostel!

Last but not least, I got lost. 😦 Somewhere I made a wrong turn, and I ended up in the mountains with no phone service. I knew I was lost when I realized I hadn’t seen another motorbike in a while. Every now and then, I would see a local, and I’d ask them for directions – no one spoke English, so we’d use hand signals and my paper map. They all told me to press onwards, and so I did. This was the most stressful part of my whole trip.

I was beyond relieved when I reached civilization. I got phone service again and discovered I was 2 hours off course!! Despite so many things going wrong today, I genuinely felt nothing but gratitude for making it to safety. I knew things could have been a lot worse. I rested up over lunch and continued onwards feeling grateful. 🙂

Things turned around after this point, as the rest of the drive was my favorite scenery of the whole loop. I had a few extra hours to drive due to getting lost, but I saw the most epic scenery including huge rice terraces! The rice terraces were my main motivation for going to North Vietnam, so it felt like a dream come true.

What a day! I was physically and emotionally exhausted when I reached my homestay in Du Gia (pronounced “zoo-za” surprisingly). I stayed at an adorable homestay in the countryside called Du Gia Homestay – my favorite place yet! The village was the perfect peaceful resting point after a long day.

Du Gia

3 days in a row of sleeping on the floor with 20 strangers. This one was more comfortable than the others though. 😉

The evening was spent at a family dinner and bonding with the other loop travelers. We had a larger, lively group, including 2 Canadian guys from the previous 2 nights. It’s crazy how everyone ends up in the same place. 🙂

Day 4: Du Gia Waterfall + Du Gia to Hà Giang (71 km / 44 miles / 6 hours)

Day 4 and the final day of the loop! I took my time this morning in Du Gia. I was constantly rushing out the door every day that I wanted one morning at a slower pace. Du Gia was a wonderful little spot – a quaint, riverside village with the most breathtaking views.

Du Gia

Du Gia

After all the bumps yesterday, I decided to do my final day with my two Canadian friends, Vincent and Nouhad. We spent a good amount of time together over the last 3 days and I enjoyed their company. 🙂

Our main stop of the day was Du Gia Waterfall, a 15-minute drive from town. Along the way, we picked up some kids who were hitchhiking to the waterfall. Why not? 😉

The waterfall was magical! The fresh blue water felt amazing in the heat of the day. There was hardly anyone else there except the kids we picked up. 😛 Besides the China border, this was one of the highlights of the loop.

Du Gia waterfall

Some cliff-jumping happened. 🙂

After our waterfall adventure, we were pretty exhausted from the last few days. We basically did a straight shot back to Hà Giang. It was a nice break to turn off my brain and follow the guys as they did all the navigating.

A driving break for Tylenol and coffee. By day 4, our backs were killing all three of us! Despite feeling exhausted, I tried to savor these last few hours of driving as the Hà Giang loop was coming to an end.

We arrived in Hà Giang and said our goodbyes. Then, I settled into my hostel where I started and took the best shower of my life.

And that’s it for the Hà Giang loop!! 🙂 What an epic journey; honestly one of the best things I’ve done in my entire life. I’ve never seen anything like this scenery before – rugged, untouched, and truly unique – they will be in my memories forever. ❤

Through all the ups and downs, I feel super accomplished for making it through. There was something very empowering about having everything I needed strapped to my bike. I’m also very proud of myself for doing this loop alone. I saw very few solo drivers on this route and only one other solo female. I’m conflicted about whether I’d recommend to others to do it alone – of course, there were some instances when having a buddy could have made things smoother, so take my experience as an example of the harsh realities of the Hà Giang loop. But at the same time, I admit I was less prepared than most other travelers. 😉 In the end, the empowerment I got from accomplishing this solo made it all worth it.

I mentioned in my last blog post how I went on this journey to do something completely out of my comfort zone. Now that it’s done, I feel like I can handle anything life gives me. It’s such a wonderful life boost that I will hold onto for as long as I can.

6 thoughts on “Vietnam days 3-7: iconic Hà Giang motorbike loop

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