I can't count how many times I did Ha Giang Loop and how sad made me feel to see travelers and backpackers not enjoying it at its best. I first came to this province in 2017, and after 4 days up on the motorbike, I felt shocked and amazed.
I had no words to explain what I experienced. My visa was gonna expire and I couldn't stay more. But I immediately thought I would have to go back.
It was two years later that I decided to travel back to the area and, since 2021, established here with my wife to run a pizza restaurant. We have almost spent every holiday we had, every day we were off, going to the Loop. And now it's time to share what we learned. This is the ultimate guide to Ha Giang Loop:
Why is Ha Giang the best place you can go
Ha Giang is still one of the most unspoiled places in Vietnam. The province is all about nature and culture. During the road trip, you will enjoy beautiful views of karst mountains, sometimes covered with clouds or culminated by sudden pine forests. You will see green valleys, covered by rice fields or flowers that vary according to the year's season.
You will also discover the humble lives of the ethnic groups that inhabit this remote part of the country, with their orange houses made of compacted earth, wearing colorful dresses, and always moving somewhere (loaded with corn plants, branches, or grazing animals).
5 hidden gems in Ha Giang you can't miss
Almost every guide will explain the same. It is about following the main road. They couldn’t be more wrong. Well, even if it’s true that the Happiness Road is precious, the places you can't miss in Ha Giang can only be found on the small paths that lead through the slopes of the mountains, that penetrate into remote valleys, hidden behind centuries of freedom.
1. Nam Dam
This cultural village is unique, featuring authentic local architecture from Dao ethnic. Even if their houses are not so old, you will still find some unique elements, such as the compacted earth walls or the common areas where families dine.
According to Chinese books, Dao ethnic first resided in Hunan province, about 2500 years ago. They emigrated to Vietnam in the 14th century, keeping customs and regulations based on honesty, courage, and full devotion to other people. They currently number 750.000 in Vietnam. Culture embroidery, indigo dyed, is used by the women to keep traditions and stories of their culture.
It's highly recommended to sleep if you already passed Heaven's Gate and are stopping over in Quan Ba district. You will discover their day-to-day. Since early in the morning, kids and adults wander around the small paths, with work that varies from rice cultivation, weaving, or carpentering, among other things.
What's more, there's a small road that leads to a stunning suspension bridge with views of dozens of rice fields. You can't miss it!
2. Pho Cao
The first step into the Dong Van Karst Plateau. Built-in the last century, and one of the most important villages by then, Pho Cao still retains the wild and rustic features of an ancient village. The old houses, with yellow walls and stone fences, and almost no windows, keep the house warm during winter and cool in summer.
The village, with around 5000 inhabitants, is almost all of the Hmong ethnic. The surroundings were widely used during the French occupation as opium fields. This is the reason why houses have better structure and characteristic elements related to that period (like opium flower-shaped sculptures).
3. Pho Bang
Still inhabited by Chinese (Han) descendants, as it's very close to the border with China. Once the capital of Dong Van district, its clay-made houses are over 100 years old, with wooden doors and old parallel sentences in Chinese scripts, brown moss walls, or yin-yang roof tile. The morning market is one you should take a look into (check the Lunar calendar).
Some books recall that this area didn't have any Vietnamese people presence until the 1930s. Was thanks to a security post and an interesting weekly market that the first Vietnamese person decided to move there.
Its people are engaged in agricultural products and small trading, thanks to being five minutes from the border with China. Lately, villagers have also been encouraged to raise roses, and when they blossom, it all gets covered by a colorful flowered carpet. Very touristic-oriented, but beautiful.
In general, all girls are taught how to needle from a young age, and this tradition is passed from generation to generation. In particular, the Chinese residents hold the secret to making yummy dumplings. Inside every small shop, you will also find many kinds of Chinese-made snacks and food.
4. Lao Sa
The road, that leads to the cultural village of Lao Sa is practically hanging from a cliff. A part of the stunning views, reaching this hilly terrain will allow you to see a Hmong community village that, apart from agriculture, lives off silver casting.
The Mua family, of the Hmong ethnic, is very famous in all the district. They have been producing rings, necklaces, and bracelets for more than a hundred years. Shaped like flowers and butterflies, they even add bells, making tinkles with every step women take.
What’s more, if you travel there during the spring season, the blossom of peach and apricot flowers will paint a picture as if a fairy tale.
5. Nha Hà Sung
An unspoiled palace from the Hmong ethnic. Few people know about it. Local people say this family was even richer than the Vuong family, the one who built the now famous Hmong King Palace in Sa Phin.
Still, nowadays, not much of its history is known, but by its decoration, one can guess that they earn everything from growing opium plants.
Ha Giang Loop, how many days?
But, for Ha Giang Loop how many days do I need, you are maybe wondering now. I would recommend at least 3 days and 2 nights, as it can be exhausting to ride a motorbike for 4 hours daily and with not much time to stop and enjoy the views.
You have to think that the sunset comes between 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm (in summertime), so your tour guide will try to leave you to the homestay before that. The roads, because are in the middle of the mountains, can get so dark at night that you will take double the time to arrive.