Apr 10 2012

Motorcycling around Ha Giang

Published by at 1:15 pm under Hanoi excursions


Motorcycling from Ha Giang offers arguably the best scenery in Vietnam or even Southeast Asia, and provides the opportunity to explore a stunning region as yet relatively untouched by tourism.

Ha Giang city's in a nice spot... but you'll probably want to move north

Ha Giang city's in a nice spot... but you'll probably want to move north.

Unless you’re a really keen motorcyclist or have lots of time to spare, travelling to Ha Giang by bus and hiring bikes there is a good option. While I was in Ha Giang last week (here’s how I got there from Hanoi) I met up with Johnny Nam Tran, the manager of Ha Giang Rocky Plateau, to discuss hiring bikes, motorcycling in this area and the tours he offers.

First up, how much time do you need to explore the area? Johnny reckons a week is a good time to go for, “as there are lots of side roads down to villages that you can explore in this time.” While three days is enough time to get up to Dong Van, it will primarily be riding on the main roads, he says.

On a three-day trip, you can expect to spend one or two nights in Dong Van, travel along the border with China and visit Meo Vac, Johnny says. Though a shorter trip, friends who have been say it’s still amazing, mainly thanks to the fantastic scenery. If you go for longer, however, you’ll have more of an opportunity to explore the backroads and ethnic minority villages, which would enhance the trip.

You need permits to be able to travel up to Dong Van and Meo Vac, as they are near the border, and in theory it seems you are supposed to have a guide to get there. Johnny can arrange these permits, and your overnight accommodation, in Ha Giang. “It’s easy for me to arrange the permits as I’ve been in Ha Giang for a while, so I know how to get it done quickly, ” he says. You’ll need to hand over your passport and for around $20, you’ll have your required paperwork in about 30 minutes. Backpacker 1, Vietnamese bureaucracy 0?

If you’re just using Ha Giang as a base, Johnny suggests staying near the bus station for convenience, as there’s nothing specific worth seeing in the town so you may as well stay somewhere that avoids having to travel too far. However, if you have a bike or want to delve further into town there are plenty of options: I stayed in Hotel Viet Trung opposite the hospital and would recommend it as a good value option, at 270,000 VND for a large double room.

Johnny has a range of bikes available, from everyday Honda Waves — recommended for the more inexperienced rider — through to the more powerful (and dare I say sexy) Honda SL. Johnny seems very safety conscious; he will check a rider’s ability before letting them loose on the more powerful bikes.

As for costs, you can just rent a motorbike and equipment — see prices on his website — or you can take Johnny with you as a guide. This seems advisable if you want to get the most out of your trip. He’ll quote you a price for the bikes and guide, and then all expenses, including his, are down to you. As an example, for two people with a bike each, it’ll be about $60 per day; on top of that there’s food (which is very cheap), accommodation (around 250,000 VND per night in Dong Van) and petrol.

Remember that most travel insurance will only cover you if you have a motorbike license. Make sure you’re aware of your insurance situation before travelling. As far as getting a motorbike license goes: it’s complicated, to say the least. I plan on starting the process soon and if all goes well, shall post about it.

Ha Giang Rocky Plateau, Johnny Nam Tran
Group 15, Nguyen Trai Ward, Ha Giang City, Ha Giang
T: (0917) 797 269 / (0978) 159 123
info@rockyplateau.com

Hotel Viet Trung
32 Minh Khai Street, Ha Giang City, Ha Giang
T: (0219) 388 6403

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One response so far

One Response to “Motorcycling around Ha Giang”

  1. Tommaso Querini (Suturn)on 09 Sep 2012 at 2:25 am

    I recommend the trip, not the company. Mr. Nam Tran, despite several phone calls, didn’t care about showing up and left the business to his wife and his father. I wouldn’t expect him to a be a good guide either.

    I’ve just seen basic Hondas moped in the parking in front of the shop.

    The motorbikes are pricy (200K Dong/ten dollars per day) but in very good conditions, my back brake was a bit weak, but that’s it. I found them perfect for our needs, they’re light and flexible, we explored narrow dirty roads to get a glimpse of village life and I don’t think we would have been able to do the same with heavier bikes. The suspension are not so good, but with the itinerary I suggest you, you’ll never need them so much. The roads are paved almost everywhere, you’ll frequently have to dodge huge holes, or find the flatter side of the road, but the locals do it daily so why shouldn’t you?

    This said, the Rocky Plateau are supposedly the only handy place to rent a motorbike. If you look for a more economic place you better ask help to a xe om driver, you might have to do some kilometers, and even though I’ve been asking around (in Vnese) nobody knew any other business.

    The shop itself is a flower seller/Internet point/barber (and it doesn’t have a sign Rocky Plateau on it) so don’t expect a travel agency. They don’t even have a map of the area to give you.

    You’ll have to look for a map in a supermarket and you’ll get a badly printed tourist map, with very few side roads, wrong distances and almost unreadable name of villages and road numbers. There are no clear directions or explanations for the attractions and don’t expect to find them easily on the road. Anyway, I feel like the main attraction is the landscape. Whatever cave or temple you’ll see would be nothing compared to other sights around Viet Nam.

    Ha Giang province is the North in a nutshell and the best of the North at the same time. We spent there 3 days with good weather (beginning of September during a weird rainy season) and we felt it was the perfect time, I’d say a week is far too much. But we didn’t join any trekking tour and we missed, without so many regrets, the “historical village” north from Dong Van.

    The road from Ha Giang to Dong Van can be easily done in one day and it’s a crescendo of beautiness with the last 40 km from Yen Minh to Dong Van as the climax.
    From Quan Ba to Yen Minh I suggest taking the road that goes along the river, it’s more scenic, to do so after Quan Ba you’ll have to turn right instead of following for Yen Minh and go down to a very small village, pass it through and continue towards Yen Minh.

    In pure Vietnamese bureaucracy style, despite it’s illegal to be in Dong Van without a permit, you can arrange the permit at an hotel in the city. We got the best deal with Hoang Ngoc Hotel (they have a website): 150K Dong for a room for two people and 270K Dong (less than 15$) for the permit and this was done at six in the evening, when the police station was supposedly already closed!!!

    The day after you start with some stunning views on the road to Meo Vac, different, but as good as the ones on the way to Dong Van.

    Meo Vac is a bit more closed than Dong Van. In the words of a local teacher
    “A couple of years ago two western girl donated some goods, together with some books, supposedly containing considerations about Meo Vac that the local government didn’t like. Since then you need a permit to do anything”.

    I noticed that in “hot” areas of VN the propaganda signs are spread every five meters of the road. It’s the case of Meo Vac or Dak Nong province in the South.

    From Meo Vac we entered in Cao Bang Province, the landscape wasn’t so nice but the road was almost deserted, actually a common feature of the whole trip together with the absence of tourists, and we could run smoothly our bikes.

    The river that runs along the road is quite strong, but still inviting, we found a small and isolated beach at the kilometer 96 (miliar stone 3) on the road towards Bac Me (again Ha Giang province). You cross a couple of cultivated fields and you can see a boat looking like a wreck. Be aware of the stream though, stay sticked to the first five meters.

    Bac Me has a very lively market, with cattle and pigs, many ethnic groups coming down from the mountains around and NO tourist traps. We found accomodation for 180K Dong in a pension (Nha Nghi) at the entrance of the village.

    We took the last day very calmly, entering side roads to enjoy the rivers and the countryside, playing pool with young Vnese… the road is quite cool but much more trafficked and passing trucks or buses is quite tricky.

    10 km before Ha Giang you can get the cherry on your cake, with stunning views from the top of a mountain.

    All in all, one of the best parts of my trip in Viet Nam. I travelled through the other provinces in the North-West (I cannot speak for Cao Bang, which has just been reviewed on TF) and I never got to see such beautiness again: in Lao Cai the vegetation is much more thick and jungle-like, so if you want to see some glimpse of canyons or rivers you’ll have to be on a bus and not need to keep an eye on the road. From Xin Man to Bac Ha the road is just a nightmare, with mud, landslides, huge stones and a river running through it (THROUGH not across), in fact I had to do it with a xe om driver who wanted 500K dong. There are no buses going through it as far as I’ve understood. If not for the market Bac Ha is quite an ugly city and definitely not an alternative to the Da Lat-like Sa Pa.
    On the road to Dien Bien Phu there are some mud parts, and the scenario is not as amazing as Ha Giang.

    So my suggestion is, if you’re looking for an intense and rewarding experience rather than an achievement invest on an Ha Giang province-ring rather than a long trip from Ha Noi to Dien Bien Phu on a Minsk.

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