๐Ÿ๏ธ Ha Giang Loop: Packing List & Firsthand Tips

A high view of a green mountain with a road running loops through it.

The Ha Giang Loop is a stunning, multi-day motorbike road trip through the rural mountains of northern Vietnam. It’s a unique and bucket-list experience for many adventurous travelers.

I did the three-day Ha Giang Loop during my Vietnam trip, and here, I share firsthand tips on how to best prepare for it. This post covers:

  • โ›ฐ๏ธ Loop’s overview & map
  • ๐Ÿชจ Whether the road trip is safe
  • ๐Ÿ‘• What to pack and bring
  • ๐Ÿ๏ธ 3 ways to travel the route
  • ๐Ÿ  Accommodation types

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The Ha Giang Loop at a Glance

Before getting into safety tips and what to pack, here is some general information on the Ha Giang Loop to help you plan your trip.

โ›ฐ๏ธ What Is the Ha Giang Loop Known For?

The Ha Giang Loop is a 260-mile circular route that runs through a more remote part of northern Vietnam. The most popular way to explore it is by motorbike.

The route is known for its spectacular scenery. The winding roads take visitors through beautiful mountain passes, lush green valleys, and Hmong local villages.

A high view of a deep mountain valley with a river running through it.
Ma Pi Leng Pass Viewpoint in the Ha Giang Loop.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Long Does the Ha Giang Loop Take?

The Ha Giang Loop typically takes three to four days to complete. Some people take their time and complete it in five days.

Most tour operators offer three or four-day packages. Although more atypical, some operators will also do part of the loop in two days.

๐Ÿ“ Where Does The Ha Giang Loop Start?

The Ha Giang loop starts in Ha Giang City, which is 170 miles (about a six-hour drive) north of the capital city of Hanoi.

The loop runs entirely in the Ha Giang region of northern Vietnam. It takes you through several districts including:

  • Dong Van โ€“ known to have unique geological features.
  • Yen Minh โ€“ home of several Hmong communities.
  • Meo Vac โ€“ home of the scenic Ma Pi Leng Pass.
  • Quan Ba โ€“ home of the panoramic Heaven’s Gate.

Ha Giang Loop Map

This northern Vietnam map shows key places of the route, divided by a typical three-day trip:

โ˜€๏ธ Best Time To Do the Ha Giang Loop

The best time to do the Ha Giang Loop is in the spring (March to May) when the weather is pleasant and dry.

However, weather conditions on the loop constantly change and can be unpredictable because it’s up in the mountains. It’s not uncommon to have to wear a full-body poncho and then switch to a tank top within three days.

The Ha Giang Loop is located in northern Vietnam, which has a tropical climate that follows a dry season and rainy season:

SeasonMonthsTemperatures
โ„๏ธ Winter (Dry & Cool)Decโ€“Feb50โ€“70 ยฐF
๐Ÿƒ Spring (Dry & Pleasant)Marโ€“May60โ€“76 ยฐF
โ˜€๏ธ Summer (Hot & Humid)Mayโ€“Aug85โ€“100 ยฐF
๐Ÿ Fall (Rainy & Warm)Sepโ€“Nov75โ€“85 ยฐF
Northern Vietnam’s Weather by Season

๐Ÿ€ Lukiih’s Experience: I did the loop from late October to early November and experienced a mix of rainy and warm, sunny days.

On Day 1, I wore a rain poncho all day. On Days 2 and 3, it was normal to be switching between a rain jacket and a tank top within the same the say. Scroll below for what to pack for the Ha Giang Loop.

Is the Ha Giang Loop Worth It?

The Ha Giang motorbike loop is one of my most memorable experiences in Vietnam.

To help you decide whether itโ€™s worth doing the loop, below are the experienceโ€™s highlights and lowlights.

โญ๏ธ Highlights of the Ha Giang Loop

Here are some of the best things about the Ha Giang Loop:

  • Breathtaking landscapes โ€“ You drive through epic mountain views, rivers, and rice fields for three to four days. The route features some of the best places in Vietnam to enjoy the country’s natural landscape.

If you don’t drive yourself, which is recommended if you have minimal motorbike experience, you get to look out at and enjoy the stunning scenery the entire trip.

  • Unique, off-the-beaten-path thrill โ€“ The Ha Giang loop allows you to speed through winding, narrow roads in the mountains. If you do it safely or with an expert local driver (also called an “easy rider”), you don’t have to worry about injury or death.
  • Meet new people โ€“ Since the route is typically a multi-day road trip, you can bond with other travelers and drivers in a way that’s not possible on shorter day trips or tours.
  • See a different way of life โ€“ During the loop, you’ll pass by small villages and perhaps have eye-opening moments on how the Hmong people live.
A high view of mountains with rice terraces.
Stunning view on the Ha Giang loop.

๐Ÿ‘Ž Lowlights of the Ha Giang Loop

Here are some of the worst things about the Ha Giang Loop:

  • Soreness and discomfort โ€“ The loop requires you to sit on a motorbike for multiple hours a day. Regardless if you’re in good shape or not, it will likely make your butt and knees very sore after the first day.
  • Long transportation time โ€“ The route starts in Ha Giang City, which is six hours north of Hanoi by bus or van. You need to budget that long journey time into your Vietnam itinerary.
  • Unpredictable weather โ€“ The loop is located up in the mountains, where the weather conditions can vary and change rapidly. It’s not uncommon to experience sunny, warm days as well as rain, fog, and cold temperatures during your multi-day ride.
  • Safety issues โ€“ Injury, and even death, is not unheard of on the Ha Giang Loop, especially in recent years, as more inexperienced motorbike drivers do the loop. If you get seriously injured, you’ll have to be taken to a hospital in Hanoi as the Ha Giang area doesn’t have the biggest hospitals.

If you’re driving yourself, you should be very comfortable driving a motorbike. Otherwise, you should ride with an experienced driver through an organized tour group. See below for safety tips.

Two people wearing full-body ponchos and pointing at a completely foggy view where you cannot see anything.
Wearing full-body ponchos and unable to see the view on the Ha Giang loop.

How To Do the Ha Giang Loop

You can travel the Ha Giang loop in three ways: by riding on your own, booking a motorbike tour (which is what I did), or booking a car ride tour.

๐Ÿ๏ธ Option 1: Driving a Motorbike on Your Own

To drive the Ha Giang loop yourself, you have to first get to the starting point, Ha Giang City. A popular way to do this is by booking a sleeper bus or van.

Once you get to Ha Giang City, you need to rent a motorbike and plan the loop, accounting for stops, lodging, food, and safety. Several online sources provide a comprehensive guide on how to plan the loop on your own.

Given the risk of injury or even death on the Ha Giang Loop, you should motorbike on your own only if you’re very experienced with a motorbike.

Inside a spacious bus with heavily-reclined chairs.
Inside a sleeper bus going from Hanoi to Ha Giang city.

๐Ÿ๏ธ Option 2: Booking a Motorbike Tour

The quintessential way to do the Ha Giang Loop is by motorbike and you can do this safely with a tour that provides experienced drivers (called “easy riders”) for you to ride with.

I did the three-day tour with Cheers Hostel because I wanted to focus on the views and not worry about my safety. I was encouraged by friends to drive myself, but now having seen the road conditions and driving culture, booking a tour was the right choice for me.

While I did my Ha Giang Loop experience with Cheers Hostel and can recommend them, there are also other very highly-rated operators such as Ha Giang Adventure and Authentic Ha Giang.

๐Ÿ€ Lukiih’s Motorbiking Experience With Cheers Hostel

Here are some details on the motorbiking tour I did:

  • Tour Cost: Cheers Hostel’s loop tour cost $230 USD in total or $76 USD per day. I paid $205 for the tour and gave a $25 tip, making it the most expensive tour I did in Vietnam. This is still incredibly affordable by United States standards.
  • Group Size: My tour group had nine visitors, nine drivers, and one main tour guide, which is a smaller size. My tour was great because I got lucky with who was in the group and enjoyed getting to know everyone.

Some tour operators take up to 60 people on a tour. People who have experienced this type of tour have reported having negative experiences, so you should aim to go with a smaller group.

  • What To Expect: During the tour, you can expect more than five hours of sitting on a motorbike while traveling on mountain roads, with stops and breaks baked in every 30 to 60 minutes. Expect to cover 70+ miles per day.
A dozen people posing with mini hearts on the edge of a mountain.
My Cheers Hostel Ha Giang loop tour group.

๐Ÿš™ Option 3: Booking a Car Ride Tour

You can also visit the Ha Giang Loop by booking a car tour if sitting on a motorbike doesn’t sound appealing to you.

Safety on the Ha Giang Loop

Many first-time visitors wonder whether the Ha Giang Loop is safe and whether it’s a good idea to drive themselves.

In recent years, as the Ha Giang Loop has become more well-known and popular, injury and even death rates have increased. Below are tips on how to stay safe on the loop.

โš ๏ธ Is the Ha Giang Loop Safe?

The Ha Giang Loop is safe for very experienced motorbike drivers, but not safe for beginner drivers to drive on their own.

Beginner drivers or people with no motorbiking experience should ride on the backs of experienced drivers provided through tour groups.

Here are some of the risks you can run into when driving the Ha Giang Loop on your own:

  • Accidents โ€“ Accidents are not uncommon for visitors who drive on their own. My tour group saw an accident in which a visitor had to be taken to a hospital four hours away after crashing their motorbike into the side of the mountain.
  • Harassment โ€“ The loop can get fairly empty, but it’s also crowded enough that you shouldn’t have issues with harassment. That said, there’s never a guarantee. I rarely saw visitors driving by themselves, but I did see several couples doing it on their own.
  • Deaths โ€“ Though rare, there have been several reported deaths on the Ha Giang Loop, usually due to reckless driving or simply due to insufficient attention being paid to the surroundings.

๐Ÿ๏ธ Should You Drive Yourself on the Ha Giang Loop?

You can consider driving a motorbike yourself on the Ha Giang Loop only if you have these three things:

  • Motorbike experience on mountain roads โ€“ Driving a motorbike on the loop is chaotic and not the same as driving one on big highways or quiet streets.
  • Challenging road conditions โ€“ You’re comfortable with the road conditions described below.
  • International Driver’s Permit โ€“ Like the rest of Vietnam, whether you will be asked to show an IDP or not is up to chance.

You should not drive the loop yourself if it’s your first time driving a motorbike. It’s best to book with a highly-rated tour operator that provides drivers.

๐Ÿชจ What Are Ha Giang Loop’s Road Conditions Like?

Below are the road conditions on the Ha Giang Loop. If you want to drive your own motorbike, make sure you’re comfortable with the following things for multiple hours a day:

  • Blind turns โ€“ The majority of the route has winding and looping roads, some of which are very narrow (fitting only two motorbikes side-by-side) and some which have blind turns.
  • Bumpy, unpaved roads โ€“ Sometimes, you will literally be driving on a pile of rocks or construction materials
  • Aggressive drivers โ€“ On the loop, you’ll have to give way to aggressive passing vehicles that will honk at you until you let them pass.
  • No guardrails โ€“ There are a few portions of the loop that have winding roads with little or no guardrails next to steep drops.
  • Sleek roads and low visibility โ€“ When it rains and gets foggy in the mountains, the roads become slippery.
  • Steep inclines and sharp turns โ€“ A large portion of the room features steep roads and sharp turns.

After experiencing the Ha Giang Loop, I can emphatically say that motorbike beginners should not drive themselves.

A non-paved, dirt road with motorbikes driving on it.
An unpaved road on the Ha Giang Loop.

โ›‘๏ธ How To Stay Safe on the Ha Giang Loop

When riding on the Ha Giang loop, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Helmet โ€“ Always wear a helmet to protect your head in case you crash.
  • Passing โ€“ Let aggressive drivers and larger vehicles pass you on the road, as many local drivers are comfortable weaving and forcing their way by you even if you don’t let them pass.
  • Sunglasses โ€“ Wear sunglasses or put down your helmet’s face screen to protect your face from flying debris and windburn.
  • Weather conditions โ€“ Slow down when weather conditions turn wet and foggy as visibility becomes significantly worse.
  • Crashes โ€“ Keep a safe distance away from other drivers so you can react if one of them crashes.
  • Pads โ€“ Some people also recommend wearing protective gear like elbow and knee pads, which isn’t a bad idea. Some tour groups provide them, some don’t. My tour group didn’t have them and to be honest, I felt fine without them.
  • Don’t drink and drive โ€“ This one should hopefully be obvious. Many accommodations on the loop provide and encourage drinking “happy water,” a locally made alcoholic beverage.

For a different kind of adventure in Vietnam, check out deep water solo rock climbing in Lan Ha Bay located near the famous Ha Long Bay.

Accommodations on the Ha Giang Loop

You will find different types of accommodation on the loop: homestays, motels, and hostels.

Below is what you can expect from them.

What All Accommodations Provided

I wasn’t sure what kind of facilities or things would be provided, but all three types of accommodations ended up having:

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Outlet plugs โ€“ Make sure to still bring a power bank (see the full packing list below).
  • Food โ€“ Food was amazing at all locations, whether it was a home-cooked meal or at a restaurant. Coffee and vegetarian options were readily available in all places.
A wooden table with plates of cooked vegetables, noodles, meat, soup and rice.
Lunch provided on the Ha Giang Loop.
  • Hot showers โ€“ Be aware that most showers in Vietnam are not in a tub or separate stall; the showers are just comprised of a shower head in the bathroom.
A simple bathroom with a shower head that doesn't have a stall or tub.
A motelโ€™s bathroom on the Ha Giang Loop.

Types of Accommodations

I stayed at a homestay, hostel, and motel during my Ha Giang Loop trip. Here’s what each was like:

๐Ÿ  Homestay

The most unique accommodation on the Ha Giang Loop is a homestay, which is typically a big, open, two-story cabin-like home that belongs to a local family.

  • 1st floor โ€“ The first floor is an open area with no walls. This is where the dining table and bathrooms are located. People leave their shoes on this floor.
  • 2nd floor โ€“ The second floor has a handful of small, very simple rooms with open ceilings (i.e., thereโ€™s a roof, but the walls donโ€™t extend up to the ceiling).
  • Simple rooms โ€“ The private rooms are extremely simple. They have a bed with a mosquito net on the floor, a window to the outside, a door with a key lock, lights, and outlets.
A non-decorated, wooden open floor with several rooms.
2nd floor of a homestay on the Ha Giang Loop.
A large cabin-like building with an open first floor.
External view of the homestay.

๐Ÿ  Hostel

The hostel I stayed at on the Ha Giang Loop was a standard dorm-style room where eight people slept on separate bunk beds and shared a bathroom.

Not everyone in the room is part of the same tour group, so make sure to keep your belongings close to you.

๐Ÿ  Motel

The motel I stayed at was a standard, no-frills motel room with two queen-sized beds and a private bathroom.

What To Pack for the Ha Giang Loop

While on the Ha Giang Loop, your belongings will be carried on a motorbike the entire time. Youโ€™re limited to a backpack tied to the motorbike, so you should only bring what you need.

Below is a comprehensive packing list for the Ha Giang Loop for three days, accounting for warm, cold, dry, and rainy weather.

The Vietnam trip planner below has this packing list in a downloadable Notion.

A packback inside a clear plastic bag tied to the back of a motorbike.
Backpack tied to a motorbike and protected from rain and dust during the Ha Giang Loop.

๐Ÿฅพ Shoes

You can get away with bringing one or two pairs of shoes on the Ha Giang Loop:

  • Hiking shoes or sneakers โ€“ Youโ€™ll need shoes youโ€™re comfortable wearing while on a motorbike for hours. Some roads are muddy/dusty so be prepared to get them dirty. I brought my Solomon hiking boots and thought they were great.

The weather is unpredictable, so bringing waterproof shoes is a plus.

  • Sandals (optional) โ€“ Youโ€™ll potentially want sandals for the bathrooms and for swimming in a waterfall, if you stop at one. I brought my Chacos, which were fine, but I would recommend something that dries out easier.

๐Ÿ‘• Clothes

  • Rain jacket โ€“ A rain jacket will not only protect you from rain, but also from wind and the cold. Even if youโ€™re blessed with sunny weather, it can get windy and cold up in the mountains. I brought my Columbia rain jacket, which was a great addition.

My Ha Giang loop tour operator provided full-body ponchos when it rained and they still recommended wearing a rain jacket underneath because of how wet and windy it can get.

  • Top (1-2 pieces) โ€“ Wear something comfortable as you’ll be sitting in it for hours. I brought an athletic tank and a cotton shirt. During rainy moments, you’ll have to put on other layers on top of your tank or shirt.
  • Pants and/or shorts (1-2 pieces) โ€“ Bring shorts and/or pants that youโ€™ll be comfortable sitting in for hours on a motorcycle. I brought my water-wicking, light hiking pants that were perfect for the changing weather. Some people brought shorts that kept riding up their legs during the trip, so make sure your bottoms are loose.
  • Underwear (3+ pairs) โ€“ There are no convenient laundry services on the Ha Giang Loop, so make sure to pack enough underwear to last you the entire three- to four-day road trip.
  • Socks (2-3 pairs) โ€“ Your shoes and socks will get dusty while riding on the loop, so make sure to bring enough socks to have a fresh pair for every day.
  • Pajamas โ€“ Bring a set of clothes that you’ll sleep in.
  • Bathing suit โ€“ Youโ€™ll need a bathing suit if you plan to swim in a waterfall.
A small waterfall falling out of a small green mountain.
Waterfall and swimming hole on the Ha Giang Loop.

๐ŸŽ’ Bags

  • Backpack โ€“ Bring a bag that can hold everything and fit on the back of a motorbike. I brought my Patagonia 25L backpack and that was a great size for me.
  • Small bag โ€“ Your backpack will be inaccessible during the drive, so youโ€™ll want a pouch, shoulder bag, or fanny pack to carry your phone, cash, sunglasses, etc. I bought this crossbody water-resistant phone pouch specifically for this trip and liked it so much, I carried it around my entire six-week Southeast Asia trip.
The blog author wearing a black, crossbody pouch while making a heart with a man that is wearing a vest that says "Ha Giang Epic Tour."
The black, crossbody pouch I carried the entire time. Posing with my Ha Giang Loop driver, Dai.

โ˜€๏ธ Personal Care

  • Sunscreen โ€“ Youโ€™ll be outside for many hours and exposed to the sun. This is a sunscreen I discovered in Asia, and it’s particularly nice to apply due to its smooth lotion-like consistency.
  • Toiletries, including body wash โ€“ A lot of accommodations run on the simpler side and wonโ€™t have soap or shampoo available.
  • Bug repellent โ€“ The Ha Giang Loop is home to plenty of disease-carrying mosquitos. I get bitten a lot, so I bought and used this insect-repellent lotion every day since it covered me better than the spray alternatives.
  • Ear plugs and/or sleeping mask (optional) โ€“ If youโ€™re a light sleeper and your accommodation is shared, you might want to bring earplugs and/or a sleeping mask. These are the earplugs and sleeping mask I bought.
  • Sunglasses โ€“ I didnโ€™t use my sunglasses, but many in my group did and highly recommend sunglasses as eye protection. This is especially necessary if your helmet is missing a face screen.
The blog author taking a selfie with a helmet while riding a motorbike through mountains.
My helmet had a face screen, but not everyoneโ€™s did.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Miscellaneous Items

  • Cash (small bills) โ€“ Almost all snack stops along the way will only take cash. Some bathrooms will also require coins. Youโ€™ll also want cash for tipping.

Tipping may not be common in your culture, but keep in mind that most motorbike tour guides and drivers are farm workers from remote villages around the Ha Giang province. A tip can go a long way for them to feed their families โ€“ For my tour operator, it was only $40 more to add a driver, which comes out to about $13 for an entire day of work.

  • Power bank โ€“ All my accommodations had an outlet, but if you use your phone a lot for videos/photos, youโ€™ll likely run out of juice during the day, and the buses to and from Ha Giang may not have outlets.
  • Quick dry towel โ€“ Youโ€™ll need a quick dry towel if you plan to swim in a waterfall or if you stay at a hostel that doesnโ€™t provide towels. I brought these quick dry towels and have used them on multiple trips.

โ„๏ธ Cold Weather

If the weather forecast shows very cold weather during your Ha Giang Loop ride (below 45 ยฐF), you might also want to bring the extra items below.

I packed all of these things during my October and November road trip, but ended up using none of them since the weather held up in terms of temperature.

  • A light, packable puff jacket or sweater to layer on top
  • A hat or headband that you can wear underneath the helmet
  • Gloves to protect your hands from wind and rain

After the Ha Giang Loop, you can visit other amazing areas in northern Vietnam.

The blog author wearing shorts and tanks with a mountain view in the background.
A sunny day on the Ha Giang loop.

Vietnam Trip Planner

To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.

The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Vietnam trip planner for 2024.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy

    Hey I’m going in 5 days from now and get cold quickly, I live in a tropical climate but been told I won’t need gloves, would you suggest bringing some or will socks or something do? Haha awesome info btw

    1. Lukiih

      Hey Amy, glad you liked my info. I brought my gloves and headband (I also run cold), but I ended up not needing it. It’s mountain weather, so it can change rapidly. Right now, it looks like Ha Giang is in the 50s to 60s, which doesn’t seem too cold to me. Enjoy your trip!

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