Are you are planning to do the Ha Giang Loop? Congratulations! You are about to jump on a motorbike and give yourself one of the best adventures ever. Hundreds of kilometers of breathtaking canyons and jaw-dropping mountain passes are awaiting you.
But if what you are now wondering is what to visit, here are the top places you should have on your checklist. From small villages to towns, passes, viewpoints, or traditional architecture. This is the ultimate map before packing your gear and charging your batteries. Let’s start, by order:
1. Ha Giang city
It is the point of departure and return, the km.0 of Ha Giang Loop, a meeting place for travelers. This small city is divided in two by a river and surrounded by beautiful and very green mountains. With any luck, in the morning you will see it surrounded by thick clouds, giving it a fairytale appearance.
Although the city of Ha Giang is not the main attraction of the province, it hides bustling street markets and dozens of cafes and tea houses where locals often meet friends and family. Visiting it is a good way to get to know the authentic daily life of the countrymen of this remote province of Vietnam.
With a little more time you can even get lost in its surroundings. A few kilometers from the center you will find waterfalls, rice terraces that hang from the slopes of the mountains, or even some small ethnic villages with traditional houses made of wood and bamboo. It will give you the feeling of having traveled hundreds of years ago.
2. Quan Ba Heaven's Gate
At 1,500 meters above sea level, Quan Ba's Heaven Gate is the first window onto the rock paradise of Dong Van, which can already be glimpsed on the horizon.
In 1939, the French, who had colonized Vietnam, erected a giant wooden barrier here, keeping this region isolated from the outside world (mainly due to the secret cultivation of opium plants with which the Gauls financed their colonial adventure). But now there is no trace of it.
From this height, you can see the majestic mountains that surround the valley where the Tam Son village is located, covered by clouds and mist. Be it winter or summer, you will most likely have to put on a jacket. It feels so cool!
3. Tam Son Twin/Fairy Hills
They are the best-known attraction in Quan Ba district. Legend has it that its shape, similar to a woman's breasts, comes from a centuries-old love story, where a talented man from the Hmong ethnic group managed to attract a fairy from the heavens with his flute.
When she went down to see him play, they fell in love and had a son. But when the King of Heaven found out, he made the fairy come back home. Before leaving, the fairy left her breasts in Quan Ba to continue feeding the common son.
Since then, local people believe that the milk from her breasts has helped the valley maintain good weather and a good harvest.
4. Yen Minh Pine Forest
You will smell it from miles away! The perfume of the resin of these pines spreads down the road. The forest, which crowns the mountain that precedes the town of Yen Minh, has a magical color that changes according to the season. In spring it’s carpeted by beautiful pinky and purple flowers from buckwheat.
Here, you will also find the so-called 'Yen Minh Challenging Road', a challenge for the most expert motorcyclists who, for ten minutes, will have to follow a narrow sand road with extreme slopes and descents and full of pinnace and various obstacles. It’s insane.
5. Hmong King’s Palace
This palace, in the village of Lung Phin, took 8 years to be built and was finished around 1903, with a strong influence of Chinese architecture. It is the property of the Vuong family, from the Hmong ethnic, who enriched themselves with opium cultivation in the past, even if they no longer liver here.
The house has 64 rooms divided over 10 two-story buildings and three open courtyards. The inside has images of sacred animals like dragons, turtles, unicorns, and phoenixes. The stones that support the columns have the shape of the opium flower, which is also carved on the walls or in the wood that covers the windows.
According to the family, the location was chosen by a feng shui Chinese master, who saw Sa Phin valley as a symbol of longevity and prosperity. That was thanks to the valley’s tortoise shape, which allows the surrounding mountains to act as a protective belt. What’s more, the mansion's structure is based on the shape of the Chinese word ‘wang’, which means wealthy (four horizontal and six vertical blocks).
6. Lung Cu Flag Tower
It is the northernmost point of Vietnam, a top attraction for Vietnamese who want to see the borders of their country. The flag tower is 33.15m in height and 3,8m in diameter and is decorated with pictures describing the everyday life of ethnic people in the area.
But the most beautiful part is not the flag pole, but the road that leads there. Dotted with crazy-shaped mountains and savage vegetation, it is one of the most scenic spots in Ha Giang. By spending some of your time following it, you will also discover precious minority villages, such as Lo Lo Chai or Ma Le.
7. Dong Van Old Quarter
It’s one of the most iconic areas in Dong Van town, surrounded by evergreen valleys and rocky mountains. Most of its 40 houses were built during the French colonization, and some even before (1810.-1820). Their style was inspired by Chinese architecture, with Ying yang roofs, thick walls, and wooden structures made from ironwood.
Currently, these houses are being used as small restaurants and shops to cater to travelers. The most famous one is Pho Co Coffee, which belonged to the Luong family, from the Tay ethnicity, and that still retains an impressive ancient beauty.
8. Ma Pi Leng Pass
Translated in Hmong ethnic language as the ‘Bridge of a Horse’s Nose’ due to its shape. Ma Pi Leng is, by far, the most impressive mountain pass in Vietnam. 1500 meters high with views of endless limestone mountain ranges and clear skies. Plus, a balcony to Su Tan Canyon, with the Nho Que River on the down part.
With around 25km, from Dong Van town to Meo Vac, this breathtaking scenery is ideal for motorbike riding. An experience you will remember all your life.
9. Nho Que River
This 192km river, which originated in Yunnan (China), penetrates Dong Van Plateau flowing through the rugged mountains wilderness. Its beautiful turquoise color can be seen even from the top of Ma Pi Leng Pass.
But wait, the most dangerous part is getting there. The road that goes down to meet the river is insane. If you are not an experienced rider, just skip it, or hire a driver (there are full of them waiting for you). When you reach Nho Que you will be able to enjoy a boat trip, get a kayak, or just walk around the beautiful scenery that it offers.