Exploring Ha Giang Province

Unlike the heavily visited Sapa, Ha Giang Province is a hidden gem which has been hiding under the tourist radar. Located in a remote area in the mountains of northern Vietnam, it features some of the most strikingly beautiful scenery found anywhere in Southeast Asia. The rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai may exhibit the most stunning rice terraces made by man but here in Ha Giang Province we experienced some of the most stunning mountain scenes ever made by God. It seemed as though on every turn of the road we would be treated to a new view even more amazing than the last.

Ha Giang Province has been less frequented by tourists due in part to its distant location near the China border and also in part due to the poor road conditions which in the past has limited accessibility. But in recent years the Vietnamese Government has engaged in an ambitious project of road building resulting in a greatly improved access to the province. Accordingly the number and quality of accommodations in the town of Ha Giang has also greatly improved.

Besides the natural beauty, the attraction for many tourists lies in the fact that much of the province appears as it did over 100 years ago. The varied population is comprised of about 90% minority’s including tribes from the H’mong, Tay, Dao, Nung, and Giay just to name a few. To this day it is still a most authentic and fascinating rural mountain setting which is just waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous travelers who travel to this rough terrain. The traditional practices and local habits of these ethnic groups are diverse and interesting to visitors from the outside world.

As an example of the area’s uniqueness in the most northern part of Vietnam is the small village of Lung Cu. Here they proudly fly a large Vietnamese flag on the nearby Dragon Mountain as a show of their patriotism. The village is well known for its special food and beverages including the enjoyable and unique local alcoholic drink made from honey and corn. Thong Co soup, which includes cooking all parts of the animal, is another local favorite.

 The Ha Giang Motorbike Loop

The Ha Giang Motorbike Loop is well known by the knowledgeable bikers who visit the Province as the best way in which to experience this amazing area. The loop is very popular with the bikers who arrive by bus. They will rent a motorbike from a local shop in order to experience traveling on the loop. We needed some small motorbike repairs and in the process we discovered a repair and rental shop called QT Motorbikes which I enthusiastically recommend for rentals and friendly loop directions. They rent 125cc motorbikes for 150k VND per day. With maps and valuable directions accompanied with positive encouragement from the owner Nam, we confidently began the loop the next morning as we had made it our objective to complete this 350km loop during our visit to Ha Giang Province—we would not be disappointed.

At the beginning we soon discovered that the landscape surrounding the town of Ha Giang is beyond beautiful. Mountains topped with limestone rise-up like pyramids then sink down to meet mole like mounds before climbing once more to a height of over 5,000 feet. Along the mountainsides rice terraces are sliced into precariously steep slopes, hanging over blue rushing rivers carving their way through the deep canyons below.

The road begins a long ascent up Heaven’s Gate Pass. The views looking back toward Ha Giang are terrific and not to be missed. After crossing a treeless plateau Heaven’s Gate Road drops down into the Quan Ba District and the small town of Tam Son, sitting between dozens of limestone mole hills. Near the top of the pass there’s a viewing point and information center where local maps and information are available. Behind the center is a small hill with a path leading up to a gazebo with a fantastic unobstructed view of the entire district below.

We stopped for lunch in Tam Son at the popular Yen Ngoc Café before continuing on our way down Route QL4C . After passing a series of steep severe switch backs we crossed the Mien River. The beguiling bamboo-lined river valley is home to several hamlets filled with wooden houses and naked children playing joyfully in the sluggish River water. Before the road veers east it passes the old ruined fortifications of Can Ty, which dates back to the French colonial times.

Another scenic long pass climbs up through a cultivated landscape near the China border, before peaking in a cool pine forest. The impressive limestone statues of the Dong Van Plateau were visible in the distance as we descended the other side into the Yen Minh District.

Here in the small dusty town of Yen Minh we were ready to stop for the day. The great limestone pillars surrounding the town add to the quaint ambiance of this quiet village. We spent the night in the comfortable and lush Sinh Thai Guesthouse located just a few minutes outside of town. Later we found a pleasant café on the main village road and enjoyed a surprisingly tasty meal before retiring for the night.

After a good night sleep we were ready to resume our adventure some ride on the Ha Giang Loop and anxiously anticipated the new days coming travels .

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