Ha Giang

15 Things To Do in Ha Giang: Terraced Fields and Karst Plateau

Ha Giang Province (Vietnamese spelling: tỉnh Hà Giang) is a new tourist attraction on the rise with many things to do along the Ha Giang Loop. The province is approximately 300 km away from Hanoi and the administrative center is Ha Giang city.

Ha Giang is a highland in North Vietnam with much mountainous terrain. It’s in the humid subtropical climate zone but due to the high altitude, it has some temperate features. Local ethnic groups include Mong, Tay, Dao, Nung, and Hoa people.

Top Things To Do in Ha Giang

Top Things To Do in Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

The best things to do in Ha Giang are found trekking along the Ha Giang Loop that surrounds the four main districts. The scenery composes gorgeous terraced fields, green valleys, and flower fields just to name a few.

You can explore Ha Giang by motorbike or car either by yourself or on tour. Destinations are scattered across the first half of the Ha Giang Loop which is approximately 170 km. 

In each of the districts of Quan Ba (Quản Bạ), Yen Minh (Yên Minh), Dong Van (Đồng Văn), and Meo Vac (Mèo Vạc), there are also small roads to the ethnic villages. Trekkers usually finish the loop for the extra scenery in the latter half and it’s also shorter than backtracking.

View all destinations mentioned in this article 

1. Motorbike Trekking: The Best Thing to Do in Ha Giang

Motorbike Trekking: Best Thing to Do in Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Traversing Ha Giang means trekking the destinations along the Ha Giang Loop. You can rent motorbikes at hotels and homestays in Ha Giang city. There are also motorbike tours that you can book at local travel agencies and online.

Trekking the Ha Giang Loop is the best way to take in all the beauty of this province. It’s not too difficult but some preparation is required regarding vehicles, papers and licenses, and the route— all of which are explained further below.

More about Motorbike Trekking on Happiness Road

2. Ha Giang Loop or Happiness Road

Ha Giang Loop
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

The notorious Ha Giang Loop spans over 300 km and is actually called the Happiness Road (Con đường Hạnh phúc). It starts from Ha Giang city and connects the four districts of Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, and Meo Vac which together have the best things to do in Ha Giang.

Before the Happiness Road was opened in 1965, no one really realized the tourism potential in Ha Giang. Many volunteer workers took part in opening this area and route up, and unfortunately, some even lost their lives.

More about the Ha Giang Loop

3. Buckwheat Flowers to Fill the Eyes

Buckwheat Flowers to Fill the Eyes
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Buckwheat (tam giác mạch) is grown across Ha Giang as a secondary crop. From late October to early November is when travelers flock here to fill their eyes with the sight of witness buckwheat flowers. The flowers may vary in color from white to purple, to red. 

Vietnamese literally call it triangle wheat for its shape. The cultivation period is short (only about one month) so it takes a heavy toll on the soil. Unfortunately, the lack of agricultural knowledge makes it hard to improve the production of buckwheat in Ha Giang.

Buckwheat flour is used to make cakes and a liquor culture. Charcoal-grilled buckwheat cakes are a staple in Ha Giang. It’s also a visitors’ favorite that you can find in any local market. The plant’s stem is used in everyday meals as a vegetable. 

4. Hoang Su Phi Golden Terraced Fields

Hoang Su Phi Golden Terraced Fields
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Hoang Su Phi (Hoàng Su Phì) is a district west of Ha Giang at the foot of Tay Con Linh Mountain (núi Tây Côn Lĩnh). It has graceful golden terraced rice fields on par with Sapa and Mu Cang Chai.

In 2012, Hoang Su Phi Terraced Fields (Ruộng bậc thang Hoàng Su Phì) became a National Heritage Site. You can actually see them from afar as soon as you step foot on the roads of Ha Giang.

The fields have long been considered crafted works of natural art by the locals. The harvest season is from late September to late October. It’s an excellent time to travel here and witness the golden layers covered in white clouds.

You are welcome to spend the night at local farmer homestays. If you come around June to September, you can try catching small carps by hand and enjoy them cooked up in local cuisine.

5. Quan Ba Twin Mountains and Heaven’s Gate

Quan Ba Twin Mountains
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Quan Ba is the next district on the map. Quan Ba Twin Mountains (Núi đôi Quản Bạ) are a lovely sight amidst the fields. Locals jokingly call them Fairy Mountain (núi Tiên) because they remind them of the breasts of a lying woman.

Nearby is the Quan Ba Heaven’s Gate (Cổng trời Quản Bạ) which is a resting point by the road with a coffee shop. You can get a pretty good view from the shop, but there’s also the Quan Ba Visitor Center just a bit further down the road with a better view.

About 7 km away is Lung Khuy Cave (động Lùng Khúy) with the best karst formation in Ha Giang. You’ll have to pay a small entrance fee to climb the stairs up the mountain. It takes thirty minutes to get to the cave.

6. Yen Minh Pine Forest and Chin Khoanh Ramp

Yen Minh Pine Forest
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

The next 50 km to Yen Minh District (Yên Minh) is surrounded by pine forests. There’s another rest stop here that sells local souvenirs. You can hike up to the free camping spot in the pine forest with a nice view of the valleys. Unfortunately, they don’t have camping equipment for rent.

Can Ty Slope (dốc Cán Tỷ) is a shortcut to the Yen Minh Viewpoint that saves about 20 km. However, this path is significantly more difficult and the camping site is missed.

On the way to the next destination, you’ll pass Tham Ma Slope (dốc Thẩm Mã) before getting to Chin Khoanh Ramp (đèo Chín Khoanh) or Nine Rings Ramp. This ramp will be one of the most challenging parts of your trip. It requires some good driving skills to get through the consecutive sharp turns.

7. Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark

Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Most of the best things to do in Ha Giang are found in Dong Van District. The most popular destination is the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark (Cao nguyên đá Đồng Văn) which is a member of the UNESCO Geopark Network

This geopark runs across all four main districts of Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, and Meo Vac in Ha Giang. It features vast karst mountains, cliffs, and canyons as far as the eyes can see. 

The deepest canyon here is Tu San (vực Tu Sản) at 800 m which you can visit on your way to Ma Pi Leng Pass. In addition, the Hell Cave (hang Địa Ngục) is one of the ten deepest caves in Vietnam. However, it’s not open to the public and requires a professional certificate to explore.

Other highlights of this geopark include Sang Tung Karst Dessert (Hoang mạc đá Sảng Tùng) where the local ethnic people thrive amidst eroded mountains. On the other hand, there’s Sung La Valley (Thung lũng Sủng Là) with greenery blooming among grey rocks.

8. Visit The Architectural Legacy at the Vuong Family’s Mansion

Vuong Family’s Mansion
[ image by Katy Ng. ]

The Vuong Family’s Mansion (Dinh thự họ Vương) is a National Architecture Heritage Site built from 1898 to 1903. It’s 3 000 m2 in total and also protected by a forest of Cunninghamia trees. There’s a small entrance fee and if you come early in the morning, there’s a local market right outside.

The mansion was built by craftsmen from Yunnan (China) and Hmong workers. It’s an intricate combination of French fireplaces, Chinese Qing Dynasty details on the poles, with the overall shape of a typical Hmong house.

The Vuong Family also built it as a defensive fortress with thick stone walls, arrowslits, and two bunkers in the back. Back then, its total cost equaled 150 billion VND in today’s money or 6.5 million USD.

9. Conquer The Northernmost Point of Vietnam at Lung Cu Flag Tower

Lung Cu Flag Tower
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Lung Cu Flag Tower (Cột cờ Lũng Cú) is one of the highlighted detours that visitors wouldn’t want to miss. It’s the farthest point in the North of Vietnam and very close to the Chinese border.

From the main road, you’ll have to go through 1.5 km of the difficult trail at the bottom of Lung Cu Mountain. You can unwind from the road at the Cực Bắc or North Pole Coffee Shop in Lo Lo Chai Village (làng Lô Lô Chải) here. This coffee shop was opened by Yasushi Ogura— a Japanese who’s dearly in love with Vietnam.

Next, you’ll have to park your vehicle at the entrance, then climb 389 steps to get to the summit. Finally, it’s another 140 steps on the spiral staircase to get to the top of the flag tower.

Despite all that, the view is worth the effort. The flag tower is an excellent place to take panoramic shots of not only Dong Van but also the entire Ha Giang.

Protip: Foreigners visiting Lung Cu Flag Tower will have to get a permit at the military checkpoint in town. If you go by tour, they usually take care of this.

10. Ma Pi Leng Pass: A Favorite Challenge for Motorbike Trekkers

Ma Pi Leng Pass
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Ma Pi Leng Pass (đèo Mã Pì Lèng) is the motorbike trekkers’ favorite challenge of Ha Giang. As stated above, if you’re uncertain about your driving skills, you can always book a motorbike tour. It’s advised to go around 10 kmph on this narrow two-way road.

Ma Pi Leng in Meo Vac District is one of the famed Vietnamese passes alongside Hai Van Pass in Hue. It’s 20 km of grand and beautiful scenery, but at the same time, quite an adrenaline rush. During the cold and rainy seasons, at some high points on the road, you can actually touch the clouds.

Mã Pì Lèng is actually how Hoa people read ‘horse’s nose bridge’ in Mandarin Chinese. The shape of the pass is only the literal meaning. Figuratively, it emphasizes how difficult it was to traverse the steep slopes, and horses would actually die. Nowadays, the pass is much more developed and it became a National Heritage Site in 2009.

11. Further Exploring Ma Pi Leng Pass

Further Exploring Ma Pi Leng Pass
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

On the way from Dong Van, you can make a little detour through Ta Lang Pass (đèo Tà Làng) to Nho Que River (sông Nho Quế) with a boat ride. Nho Que is a mesmerizing emerald turquoise river that flows through the aforementioned Tu San Canyon. The boat ride lasts for two hours but you can also rent a kayak for two people for 30 minutes.

Just a bit further down the road is a physical challenge not for the faint of heart. It’s a four kilometers skywalk around Ma Pi Leng Pass that will lead you to the Divine Cliff (Vách đá thần).

From the main road, you’ll see the Young Pioneers Memorial (Đài tưởng niệm Thanh niên xung phong) to those who contributed their lives to the Happiness Road. From there, continue for one kilometer and there’s a place to park before conquering the skywalk. The path and the view will be equally exhilarating.

12. Local Markets of Ha Giang

Local Markets of Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Each district Ha Giang has its own market with the most well-known being Dong Van Sunday Market. From 5 Am to 10 AM every Sunday morning, the local Hmong, Tay, Nung, and Hoa people dress up in traditional clothing and gather here.

The market’s a good chance to see how people bargain and socialize. It’s located in the Dong Van Old Quarter (phố cổ Đồng Văn) with the typical Trinh Tuong Houses (nhà Trình Tường) of a hundred years old and made of mud. 

If you come from the 14th to the 16th night of March in the Lunar Calendar, you’ll see the traditional Night of the Old Quarter take place. During the festival, houses will be decorated with red lanterns and people will bring out their festive clothes.

Khau Vai Love Market in Meo Vac District will be one of the last stops along Ha Giang Loop. This love market is only held once a year on the 27th day of March in the Lunar Calendar. On this day, local ethnic people will dress up, meet their ex-lovers, potential lovers, celebrate love, and show affection in their own ways.

13. Ethnic Villages of Ha Giang

Ethnic Villages of Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

From the Quan Ba Viewpoint, you can actually see Lung Tam Embroidery Village (làng dệt thổ cẩm Lùng Tám) lurking 20 km away. If you want to check out some local ethnic clothes, the market is only a 6 km detour from the road.

Continue for about 3 km from Chin Khoanh Ramp is Lung Cam Village (làng Lũng Cẩm). It’s a romantic photo spot for couples filled with buckwheat flowers, rapeseed flowers, and rose fields. 

Lung Cam Village was developed for tourist purposes to help with the lives of locals. There’s a small entrance fee per person for each field. You can also purchase flower bouquets and wreaths for your snaps.

Most of the houses here belong to Hmong ethnic people. One of them was used for filming a well-known Vietnamese movie— Story of Pao (Chuyện của Pao). The house is now open to visitors for a small entrance fee.

14. Specialties to Eat and Buy

Specialties to Eat and Buy at Ha Giang
[ by Mai Tiến Đạt from Tripadago ]

You can find the local specialties of Ha Giang across markets in each district.

1. If buckwheat is the secondary crop, then corn is the main food in Ha Giang. Corn liquor (rượu ngô) can be freely sampled at local markets before buying. A staple in an everyday meal is ‘mèn mén’ which is made from steamed ground corn kernels.

2. ‘Thắng Cố’ is a traditional dish of Hmong people originating from Yunnan, China. Basically, it’s a meat stew with mostly horse meat and organs, optional beef, buffalo, pork, and spices like tsaoko and lemongrass. 

3. Rocky Moss (rêu đá) grilled over charcoal fire may sound funny but it’s an excellent side dish to grilled meat. The moss can’t be stored for long so Ha Giang is one of the few places where you can actually try it.

4. Au Tau Congee (cháo ấu tẩu) is a savory dish made from aconitum fortunei which is a medicinal root. Local people usually have it as a late-night meal for a good sleep.

5. Five-colored sticky rice (xôi ngũ sắc) is entirely organic with colors gotten from different kinds of leaves.

6. Banh cuon trung (bánh cuốn trứng) are steamed rice paper pockets with an egg inside.

7. ‘Thắng Dền’ is a hot sweet soup perfect for chilly days.

15. Specialties to Bring Home as Souvenirs

Besides the above-mentioned buckwheat cake, Ha Giang has got some more tasty treats for you to take home.

1. Snow Shan Tea (chè Shan Tuyết) can only be harvested from big and old trees on the highlands of North Vietnam. The whole cultivating process makes it a high-quality and rare organic tea.

2. Cured buffalo meat hung over the fireplace (thịt trâu gác bếp) originating from Thailand, along with Vietnamese sausage (lạp xưởng), is a common source of protein in Ha Giang.

3. Mint honey (mật ong bạc hà) is a specialty from bee farms of predominantly mint flowers. The honey has a unique fragrance and greenish-yellow color.

Staying in Local Homestays

A homestay in Dong Van District
A homestay in Dong Van District
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Each district in Ha Giang has a lot of local homestays. Waking up to mesmerizing scenery is something you wouldn’t want to miss on your journey through Ha Giang. Prices vary from 100 000 VND to 250 000 VND a day.

  • Dao Lodge in Nam Dam Village (làng Nặm Đăm) of Quan Ba District is on the top of a mountain with a view over the terraced fields and green valleys. It also appeared on Arch Daily— a well-known architecture platform. This particular homestay was built with the help of Swedish architects.
  • Bụi Homestay in Dong Van District is fairly modernized with a water heater and wifi. It also has space for customers to hold a BBQ by the fireplace.
  • Auberge de Meo Vac and Lô Lô Homestay are some of the popular homestays in Meo Vac District.

How to Get to and Getting Around Ha Giang

How to Get to and Getting Around Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

How to get to Ha Giang: 

  • The most convenient way is to book a coach (travel bus) ticket from My Dinh or Giap Bat Station in Hanoi to Ha Giang Station
  • On the other hand, you can always stick to the conventional way with tours from Hanoi that may include Sapa.
  • You can rent a motorbike from Hanoi and get to Ha Giang yourself but it takes over 7 hours with nothing really worth seeing.

Getting around Ha Giang: As stated above, you can follow tours or rent a car or motorbike to get around Ha Giang.

Ticket Prices in Ha Giang

Ticket Prices in Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]
  • The boat ride and kayak on Nho Que River: 100 000 VND per person (the boat and the kayak are separate).
  • Vuong Family’s Mansion’s entrance ticket: 20 000 VND per person.
  • Lung Cu Flag Tower’s entrance ticket: 25 000 VND per person.
  • Lung Khuy Cave’s entrance ticket: Adults: 50 000 VND per person ; Children: 20 000 VND per person.
  • The house in Story of Pao’s entrance ticket: 10 000 VND per person.
  • Flower fields in Lung Cam Village’s entrance ticket: 10 000 VND per person.
  • Photo fee for flower fields in Lung Cam Village: 10 000 VND per person (regardless of equipment).
  • Flower bouquets and wreaths in Lung Cam Village: 10 000 VND each.

Traveling Tips for Ha Giang

Traveling Tips for Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Best time to visit: Technically, you can visit Ha Giang all year round. If you’re worried about the weather, Meteo provides really useful tools to keep track of the forecast in Ha Giang.

  • Spring is the rapeseed flower season.
  • September and October have golden terraced fields.
  • November is when the buckwheat flower blooms.
  • On rare occasions in December, it may snow.

What to bring: If you’re going to ride a motorbike, you’ll need papers like your ID, both an international and national driving license. Prepare warm clothes as Ha Giang is chilly all year round, comfortable sportswear is excellent for long treks. Bring raincoats and a basic first aid kit just in case.Culture: The local ethnic people have really different lifestyles even compared to the average Vietnamese. So, keep an open mind and be polite to them.

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