Offbeat Vietnam: Ha Giang’s adventure trails

Vietnam may be known for popular tourist destinations like Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ho Chi Minh City, but its lesser-known towns are where its real beauty lies. Located high up in the mountains near Vietnam’s northeastern border is one such town, Ha Giang, often referred to as the country’s final frontier due to its location. 

Largely unexplored until recently because of its rough terrain and lack of accessibility, Ha Giang offers a wonderful opportunity for adventurous travelers to explore a different side of Vietnam; one that’s often left out of commercial travel guidebooks.

How to get to Ha Giang

Despite its remote location, getting to Ha Giang is now possible from several cities in Vietnam. Travel from Hanoi to Ha Giang in just 6-7 hours by taking one of the many transportation options on this route – minivan, limo bus, sleeping bus, or a luxury bus. Sapa to Ha Giang is another popular route that takes approximately 6 hours to cover by either renting a private car or by bus. 

Two other locations in Vietnam that have a direct connection to Ha Giang are Ninh Binh and Cat Ba Island. While the travel from Ninh Binh to Ha Giang takes at least 8.5 hours, Cat Ba Island to Ha Giang can take up to 16 hours, to be partly traveled by bus and partly by ferry. With so many transportation options to choose from, we urge you to look past the usual tourist spots and uncover Ha Giang and its many facets. To help you do that, here is a rough guide to the adventures you can look forward to.

Bike through the famous Ha Giang Loop

Covering a distance of 185 Km connecting Ha Giang City, Dong Van and Meo Vac, the Ha Giang Loop or the Happiness road is easily the most iconic road in this part of Vietnam. Cutting through mountains and valleys, the winding Ha Giang Loop was the very first motorable road in the province, making this region accessible to travelers.

Because of the terrain, elevation, and surrounding natural beauty, one of the best ways to truly enjoy traveling on this route is by taking a bike ride. With sweeping views of valleys and mountains lying ahead of you and lots of scenic places to stop for breaks, biking on this road is a thrilling experience you must not miss!

Get an adrenaline rush in the canyons of Dong Van

Dong Van lies on the Happiness Loop road and offers an experience unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. While it may seem like a quiet town in the Ha Giang province, don’t let it deceive you. A plateau perched at a height of almost 1,600 meters above sea level drops sharply to create deep canyons – a typical sight at the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, a UNESCO Global Geopark covering a massive area in Ha Giang.

Home to a variety of unique flora and fauna, limestone cliffs create a dramatic scenery here comprising of jagged mountains and picturesque canyons. The deepest canyon, Tu San, goes as deep as 800 meters, and is one of those things that give you an adrenaline rush just at the sight of it!

Cross the Ma Pi Leng Pass 

Definitely not for the faint-hearted, the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass is part of the Ha Giang Loop road, located somewhere midway between Dong Van and Meo Vac. Known for its winding, steep and fairly narrow road, this 20 Km long pass is a treat for those who enjoy long bike rides.

©Gavin White/Flickr

With challenging turns and narrow hilly paths to maneuver, the Ma Pi Leng pass is undoubtedly one of the most adventurous places to visit in this part of Vietnam. While it’s an adventure like no other, be mindful of your safety and stay extremely cautious when traveling on this route.

Terraced rice fields in Hoang Su Phi

Sapa’s rice terraces may have gained celebrity status for international travelers in Vietnam, but Ha Giang is not far behind. In fact, the district of Hoang Su Phi is home to gorgeous rice fields in the form of layers of cultivated land in the mountainous terrain.

©buianhha/Flickr

Depending on the season, the sprawling rice terraces will either be a vibrant green or luscious golden – the former is typically when the rice is planted while the latter occurs when the rice crop has matured and is ready to be harvested. The rice terraces look equally magical at both stages, especially if you can get there early in the morning or during golden hour in the evening. 

Visiting the rice fields may not sound like a conventional adventure activity, but anything that manages to make our heart skip a beat counts as one in our books!

Immerse yourself in local culture at the Dong Van market

No adventure in a new destination is ever complete without getting a taste of the local culture. And what better way to do that than to pay a visit to a bustling local market! Located in the older part of Dong Van town, a Sunday market brings together food sellers, farmers selling fresh produce and local people out for a good time.

©Gavin White/Flickr

Get here earlier in the day and indulge in freshly made local delicacies for breakfast, followed by a relaxed stroll through the market for a unique shopping experience. The atmosphere is lively and fun, and offers the best chance for travelers to mingle with local people. 

While the more popular destinations in Vietnam may offer glamour and glitz, Ha Giang’s appeal lies in its understated charm! We hope this gives you plenty of reasons to include a trip to Ha Giang in your Vietnam itinerary, especially if you are seeking an experience that’s off the beaten path.

Chandrika Ghosh

Chandrika Ghosh

Full-time travel blogger & writer from India on a mission to live life on her own terms. Perpetually suffering from itchy feet syndrome. Can be found zoning out into the distance when not typing away on a laptop. Survival strategy - tea & coffee.
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