Apr 10 2012
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.
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
Hotel Viet Trung
32 Minh Khai Street, Ha Giang City, Ha Giang
T: (0219) 388 6403
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