We are two independent and budget travelers heading to northern Vietnam around September 16th.
As a last minute decision we've become obsessed with the idea of heading to Ha Giang as independently as possible, recognizing the need for permits and guides.
We have booked our train ticket to Lao Cai and will arrive there on the 16th. As we understand from the research we've done on this site, LP thorntree forum, and other reading, we can catch an 8 hour local bus to Ha Giang from Lao Cai.
We would love to get some more current information from anyone that has done this recently.
Ideally we would arrive in Ha Giang on our own and then arrange something there (or have it pre-arranged in Lao Cai or Sapa, if necessary). A two or three day trek would be lovely. We have found the tours that can be organized from Hanoi but we definitely cannot afford them and we have already purchased our train tickets to Lao Cai.
How possible is it to organize something independently and so last minute? From Ha Giang we'd like to travel back to Hanoi via Ba Be or something similar.
Is it pretty impossible to use local transportation and do most of this on our own?
Am I correct in that we definitely need a guide to do the trekking and homestays in local villages?
Again, any detailed and recent information that you'd care to offer would be ever so appreciated.
Thank you so much!
#1 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32
I'm sure someone will be able to help you a lot more than I can: I started researching it when my boyfriend was going to head up there on bikes but didn't get too much further than you and then he decided he didn't have time so went to the North West instead. Anyway, from what I know, you can do it all by public bus and of course that doesn't require pre-booking. But be prepared for the state of the buses! It would also be worth doing a bit by motorbike taxi, especially in the far north as you'll get to see the scenery which you might not see so much of from the buses. As for trekking, I wouldn't bank on it - there isn't much of a tourist infrastructure up there so might not be an option. But I could well be wrong - Ha Giang would be the place to look into it I assume.
From my experience of travelling independently by local bus in the North West there are two bits of advice I can give you: (1) make sure you have plenty of time to allow for problems (2) make sure you have plenty of cash because there aren't any or many ATMs up there! I got stuck in Sinh Ho, having missed the last bus (or maybe the only bus) out, but needed to get to Lao Cai for my train back to Hanoi. I managed to find a truck driver who took me to Lai Chau but unfortunately that used up all my cash and none of the ATMs in Lai Chau were working. Fortunately he was a lovely man and explained the situation to the lady at the bus station (I made the last bus by literally 30 seconds) so they let me pay when I got to Lao Cai. Lesson learned!
Have fun - I'd love to go to Ha Giang so post your experiences.
In general I agree with Sarah (as with most of her posts). I visited the region roughly a year and half ago.
3 day trek: There isn't one. Going to Ha Giang (both town and province) is what some people might call "travelling". Nothing is organised for tourists just because there aren't any to organize for. If you want to do a 3-day trek you're far better of in Sapa
If you only have 3 days it may not be worth it for you anyway. The most beautiful scenery is up north in the province. The saturday market in the provincial town has a colorful crowd of minorities but that's roughly the only thing which there is to do in town.
When is it worthwhile? Rent/buy a motorbike (Minsk or Honda is ok) in Hanoi, Sapa, Lao Cai and put the bikes in the back of a lorry and hitch a ride to Ha Giang. From there take the motorbikes and drive, just drive. Find a good map, which won't be easy and/or learn quickly basic vietnamese. Some roads suddenly turn into walking paths so some stretches are not for the fainthearted. It's not an area where roads get immediately repaired when a patch of road gets washed away.
Plan at least a week for your trip if you do it all by yourself. It's not an area where you can quickly go in and out in a few days like Halong or Sapa after a rewarding experience.
Tip: Make sure you get to the lake (forgot the name, sorry) and cross it on a local ferry.
I completely agree that you'll need at least a week. The reason my boyfriend decided not to go was that they only had 6 days and decided that would be far too rushed(although they wanted to go to Sapa as well) and that was on motorbikes, not public buses.
You may be able to glean a few ideas from this website. The first few days seem to be what you are looking for. Don't know about transport, though.
I was trying to do two things at once, and stuffed up.
Some months ago, a couple of blokes were planning a trip from Hanoi to Ha Giang, Cao Bang, Lang Son, back to Hanoi. From memory, they had worked out some of the transport into Ha Giang. I was trying to find their post to refer to. That would have been more helpful, but I can't seem to track down the post.