‘We call this the Happiness Road’, our guide, Trang, exclaimed. We were skittering along one of the most perilous stretches of highway I’ve ever travelled on, our car hugging hopefully onto the side of a limestone cliff. Laid out before us was a classic view of Northern Vietnam—infinite hills, peaks and gorges; stacked rice terraces, and concentric circles of walking tracks and unpaved roads etched into the mountainside.

It was February, and the first rays of spring sunshine bathed the hills in light and shadow, giving the landscape even more depth. This wasn’t like anywhere else I had been in Vietnam. It wasn’t like anywhere else I had been in the world.

Ha Giang (Hà Giang) is Vietnam’s final frontier. Infinite in size and sparsely populated, it was the last part of the country to open up to tourism. The ‘Happiness Road’ we were travelling on was only completed in 1967; before that, Ha Giang was practically insulated from the rest of Vietnam, closer to neighbouring Yunnan Province than it was to Hanoi.

Even today, you still need a government permit to visit the politically sensitive Chinese border area. In the far north of Ha Giang Province, a 350km loop road cuts through the mountains, guiding visitors through some of Vietnam’s most rugged territory.

After decades of isolation, Ha Giang’s popularity amongst tourists is growing fast. Since it’s so spread out and still lacking in infrastructure, having your own transportation in Ha Giang is pretty much essential.

Riding motorbikes along the Dong Van Loop is the thing to do in Ha Giang—but for anyone who (like us) doesn’t know how to ride, travelling by car is the next best choice. It’s possible to hire a car and driver once you’re in Ha Giang—but for the sake of ease and comfort, we decided to travel on an organised tour from Hanoi.

We chose a five-day custom Ha Giang tour with YESD Vietnam, a responsible tourism outfit based in the capital.

In this post, I’ll tell you why I think it’s worth spending a bit more time and money to visit Ha Giang. Ha Giang often gets compared to Sapa—so I’ve included a few thoughts on this and why it’s a good lesson on the importance of responsible tourism.

Travelling by car in Ha Giang doesn’t mean having to compromise or miss out on any of the popular sights. In fact, choosing a company like YESD will give you access to some parts of Ha Giang other tourists don’t typically get to see. After our detailed Ha Giang itinerary, you’ll find my honest review of our five-day Ha Giang tour with YESD Vietnam.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Learn more.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

Vietnam essentials

Here are the booking sites and services I personally use whenever I travel to Vietnam.

– Find affordable flights to Vietnam on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).

– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Vietnam and apply for an expedited e-visa online.

– Pre-book a private hotel transfer from Hanoi Airport or Ho Chi Minh City Airport.

– Pre-order a local 4G sim card for pickup at your first Vietnam hotel.

– Find the best hotel deals in Vietnam on Agoda or book a Vietnam hostel.

– Reserve your Vietnam Rail tickets for the train to Sapa, Da Nang, Hue or Saigon.

– Buy your domestic bus or plane tickets in advance using Baolau or Bookaway.

– Find the best cooking classes and foodie experiences in Vietnam. Here are my top 15 Vietnam food experiences to help you decide.

– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Vietnam. Check out my top 10 best Vietnam day trips for more inspiration.

– Consult my comprehensive Halong Bay guide to find the best cruises & tours.

– Try an alternative tour or DIY experience with social enterprise Backstreet Academy.

– Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam.

Why visit Ha Giang?

Ha Giang Province is located in the far north of Vietnam—as far north as you can get without crossing over into China. Still relatively unpopular among foreign tourists, it has a certain mystique that I found very appealing.

But it’s not like people are whispering about Ha Giang—the secret is definitely out, especially among Vietnamese tourists and the expat community in Hanoi. Still, Ha Giang has an aura; a reputation for being an untouched paradise far removed from the trappings of over-tourism. Its reputation is well-deserved—Ha Giang is certainly beautiful and offers a tourism experience you simply can’t find elsewhere in Vietnam.

I don’t want to romanticise Ha Giang—with extreme isolation comes poverty and a whole bevvy of social and environmental issues that we, as tourists, shouldn’t ignore.

There are three things people come to see in Ha Giang: The dramatic landscapes, the ethnic diversity (more than 90 percent of Ha Giang’s residents belong to 16 ethnic groups), and the Dong Van Loop road, which offers some of the best motorcycling in Vietnam.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
A group of friends on their way to a Flower Hmong festival in Meo Vac. We saw a lot of girls and women dressed in their traditional garb in Ha Giang.

Ha Giang or Sapa?

There was a time when Sapa (Sa P) was considered a fringe destination. That’s certainly not the case anymore. By 2020, Lao Cai Province (Lào Cai) where Sapa is located is expected to welcome more than 6 million tourists annually.

Sapa is far more accessible than Ha Giang, with more accommodation options and better tourist infrastructure. But the downsides of over-tourism in Sapa are now well-documented and well-known. Could Ha Giang be ‘the new Sapa’?

I sometimes hear people refer to Ha Giang as ‘the Sapa of a decade ago’. Ha Giang is geographically close to Sapa and offers a lot of the same experiences—rice terraces, trekking, homestays, ethnic minorities, Sunday markets.

The breakneck speed of development in Sapa has produced some rather troubling side-effects, including environmental destruction, commercialisation of traditional culture, and social problems. I’ve heard that a lot of children in Sapa are being put to work in the tourism industry and are missing out on an education as a result.

I’ve heard stories of women who stalk tourists relentlessly when trying to sell them handicrafts. I’ve heard that many hotels and restaurants in Sapa are owned by business people from the city, and that the local community sees little return.

Sapa has a lot to offer tourists (there’s a reason it’s so popular), but it’s losing its appeal. I’m sure these things are going on in Ha Giang too—but I really hope Ha Giang isn’t destined for the same fate.

Tourism in Ha Giang is still in its early stages. That’s why it’s so important to travel responsibly and set a good precedent. One of the main reasons we chose YESD was their commitment to social and environmental sustainability. I’ll talk more about their various initiatives at the end of the post.

For more information on the impacts of mass tourism and what you can do to be a responsible traveller, I recommend you check out this post by Kate at Travel for Difference.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Hairpin bends on the way from Dong Van to Sung La.

Travelling in Ha Giang by car

Motorbiking in Ha Giang is a right of passage for many young Vietnamese people. Travelling in the days after Tết (Vietnamese New Year), we saw literally hundreds of couples riding. More and more backpackers and expats are heading up to Ha Giang to conquer the Dong Van Loop. In the next few years, I expect Ha Giang will probably become a ‘must-do’ for tourists visiting Vietnam.

Even if I did ride a motorbike, I would think twice before riding in Ha Giang. I know plenty of people who have done it—they are far braver than me! The roads are rough and unforgiving. The highway is often plied with trucks carrying rocks. The distances between homestays are long.

If, like us, you don’t know how to ride a motorbike—or if you’re travelling with kids—you’ll need to find an alternative way to get around. It’s possible to travel to Ha Giang City or Dong Van City by bus from Hanoi or Lao Cai (Sapa). From there, you can use a combination of public transport and hire cars to see most of the sights.

You will have to sacrifice on certain things though, and it will be a lot more complicated to organise and time consuming to execute. Of the options that currently exist for non-bikers, private car is by far the best choice.

Road safety and the comfort factor was important to us—and our car certainly delivered on that. We were a bit concerned that being in a car for long periods of time would make use feel disconnected—but I didn’t find that to be the case.

I was personally anxious about missing out on photo opportunities, but our driver was always more than happy to stop. Trang included lots of trekking and short walks in our itinerary to break up the long drives.

We stopped off at all the scenic viewpoints (Trang always knew the best place to break), and we often pulled up a few hundred metres out so we could walk the final stretch.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Trekking outside Thon Tha village.

Our 5-day Ha Giang tour itinerary

Our five-day Ha Giang tour with YESD Vietnam followed the classic Dong Van Loop itinerary. The loop normally takes three or four days to complete by motorbike, starting and finishing in Hanoi. Since we had some extra time, we added in a full day of trekking in the villages around Ha Giang City.

We also dedicated a morning to visiting a small Hmong village outside of Dong Van. One of the best things about travelling with YESD was the chance to explore parts of Ha Giang where few other tourists go. These ‘add-ons’ were by far the most enjoyable and rewarding part of our trip.

Our route through Ha Giang went as follows: Hanoi — Ha Giang City — Thon Tha & Khuoi My — Ma Pi Leng Pass — Meo Vac — Dong Van — Sa Phin & Sung La — Lung Tam — Nam Dam — Tam Son — Hanoi

Here are some of the highlights of our time in Ha Giang with YESD.

Thon Tha village

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

After meeting our guide, Trang, and driver, Mr Ky, in Hanoi, we hit the road. The drive up to Ha Giang took us the better part of six hours. Once we arrived in Ha Giang City, we headed straight to Thon Tha (Thôn Tha), a small village of about 500 people just outside the main centre.

Tourists have been coming to Thon Tha since 2007 and the village is well-equipped to accommodate guests. Several families have turned their traditional wooden stilted houses into homestays. Anyone who can speak English freelances as a guide. Most people in Thon Tha are from the Tay ethnic group and make their living off the land.

YESD has been working with the community here for several years to help elevate the quality of the homestays, provide hospitality training, and implement responsible tourism practices.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
A traditional Tay house in Thon Tha village.

To get to Thon Tha, you have to stray from the main Dong Van Loop. As a result, we didn’t run into any other tourists during our stay. Sleeping in a stilted house surrounded by lush rice fields, we certainly felt like we had ventured off the beaten track. It was the perfect start to our time in Ha Giang.

We spent our first afternoon walking around Thon Tha and trekking to a nearby waterfall, chaperoned by a few local kids who were still on school holidays for Tet.

Khuoi My village

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Our guide, Mr Lim, walking with my dad outside Thon Tha village.

Our second day was spent trekking with our local guide, Mr Lim. We set off early and apart from a brief afternoon shower, had perfect, crisp February weather. We weren’t long into the trek when we crested a small hill were met with one of the most spectacular scenes we saw in Ha Giang—a sparkling rice terrace, as tall and wide as the eye could see.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

As we continued walking up into the mountains, the landscape morphed quite dramatically—one minute we were scaling slippery rice terraces, the next we were in the middle of a tea field, and then suddenly we were under a canopy of palm trees.

By lunchtime we had reached our destination—Tay Con Linh (Tây Côn Lĩnh) peak and another village, Khuoi My (Khuổi My).

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Khuoi My village.

Home to 200 families from the Dao ethnic group, Khuoi My also has some basic tourism infrastructure, including a few homestays. We scaled the wooden stairs of one stilted house to eat lunch with a local family. They were incredibly welcoming, proudly showing off their collection of traditional Dao costumes (they even let me try one on).

We were gawking over the beautiful textiles when the family patron—a man in his 80s—reached up into the rafters of the house and pulled down a plastic bag full of leather and cardboard-bound books. He leafed through them, explaining that they were records of Dao coming-of-age and marriage rituals, handwritten in the most beautiful script.

Next, he pulled out a shaman’s robe embroidered with fantastic Taoist motifs. That house is a living museum; a repository of age-old traditions hidden away in the hills.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

After lunch, we trekked back to our homestay in Thon Tha. Our host, Mr Thien, and his family have been working with YESD for several years. We were among the first guests to stay in the new house Mr Thien recently built to house guests.

It’s built in the traditional Tay style—complete with thatched roof—but with en-suit bathrooms added. Like all the homestays we visited in Ha Giang, Mr Thien’s place was incredibly homely and comfortable.

Independent travellers are also welcome to stay at Mr Thien’s Homestay in Thon Tha. Meals are available at an extra cost, and he can also help with organising treks and transport.

Ma Pi Leng Pass & Heaven’s Gate

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
On the road in Ha Giang.

Day three of our Ha Giang tour and we were back on the road, headed east towards Dong Van. As we drove, the landscape started to shift quite noticeably. Tea fields and rice paddies quickly gave way to limestone peaks and rocky canyons as we entered into the Dong Van Karst Plateau, a UNESCO-recognised geopark.

This is what people picture when they think of Ha Giang. Towering mountains, bottomless valleys, patchwork fields, precipitous rice terraces. The views from the car window were breathtaking. I was a bit nervous about asking Mr Ky to stop for photos—turns out I had nothing to worry about.

It was his first time in Ha Giang too, and early in the day he set up his selfie stick and started live-streaming the drive to Facebook. Seeing Ha Giang with fresh eyes, he was just as enthralled with the landscape as we were. Even Trang, who has been to Ha Giang a hundred times, was visibly affected by the beauty we were seeing.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Quan Ba Valley and the famous Twin Mountains—colloquially known as the ‘Fairy Breast Mountains’.

We stopped to climb a hill for a view of Ha Giang’s famous ‘Fairy Breast Mountains’. Quản Bạ Valley was shrouded in mist, so unfortunately the visibility wasn’t so great. By the time we arrived at Ma Pi Leng (Mã Pì Lèng) Pass, the weather had cleared enough for us to catch a glimpse of Chinese territory on the other side of the iridescent Nho Quế River.

We encountered groups of children and young couples taking in the views as well.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

We were now travelling on Ha Giang’s famous ‘Happiness Road’. The 180km stretch of highway was built at the behest of Ho Chi Minh himself who after visiting Ha Giang for the first time in the 1960s, thought it was about time far-flung Ha Giang Province was connected with the rest of Vietnam.

More than a thousand volunteer youth from across the country constructed the road using rudimentary tools. Many perished in the effort. The road officially opened in 1967 and was given its nickname to commemorate the young people who toiled to build it.

Meo Vac

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

As we drove further into the mountains, we started noticing groups of girls and young women on the roadside. Their brightly coloured clothes made them stand out like flowers against the grey and stony backdrop. Mountain-dwellers, Flower Hmong women dress in vibrant colours to look conspicuous.

We stopped to talk to a few girls and learned of a festival happening in the nearby town of Meo Vac (Mèo Vạc). The friends had walked for hours up steep mountain tracks from their villages to participate in the festivities.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
The city of Meo Vac.

We arrived in Meo Vac too late—the festival was already over. We took a quick stroll around the small city instead, passing by young Hmong couples courting in the parks.

Dong Van

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

Dong Van City (Đồng Văn) caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see such a ‘developed’ city in Ha Giang. Tourism has definitely taken off in Dong Van, catering mainly to Vietnamese visitors.

The biggest city in Ha Giang Province and a popular pit stop on the Dong Van Loop, the city centres on an ‘Old Quarter’—a courtyard ringed with coin-roof houses that have been converted into cafes and souvenir shops.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

I found Dong Van too touristy. It wasn’t really my thing, so I opted to spend the afternoon soaking in a Dao herbal bath at the only resort in town. After a pleasant dinner at the best restaurant in town, we were early to bed.

The next morning, we found Dong Van’s better side after following an alleyway behind the square. We got our first look at traditional Hmong rammed-earth houses, all dressed up pretty for Tet.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

Sa Phin & Sung La

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

I was pleased to leave Dong Van behind and get back to greener pastures. We set off early, driving north towards the Chinese border, armed with the registration certificates our hotel had issued for us overnight. We were well and truly off the tourist trail and following the most perilous road we drove on in Ha Giang.

We were headed for a small Hmong village hidden in a valley behind Dong Van. Thick fog and the poor condition of the unpaved road eventually made driving too dangerous. After a few kilometres, we got out and walked.mo

Trang led us into the tiny Flower Hmong village. Bordered by ancient, towering Bodhi trees, it was incredibly atmospheric and more than a little bit eerie.

This particular village was a sharp contrast from the other communities we visited in Ha Giang. It was extremely isolated and visibly poor. We wandered around and admired the earth houses.

As we made our way down a hill to the outskirts of the village, two separate families invited us into their homes to drink rice wine. They were incredibly generous, sharing what little they had with us.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam

Trang had to communicate in basic Vietnamese with one of the kids—all the adults in the village spoke exclusively in Hmong. We asked one teenager if he planned to leave the village and move to the city. I was surprised when he answered us ‘No’. The village looked idyllic, but life there must be tough.

Outside one of the houses, we came across a group of kids collecting stagnant water in plastic containers. Trang explained to them how they could use river stones to filter out the debris and impurities before drinking it. As we were leaving, Trang mentioned how she’d like to invest in the community and possibly bring a group of volunteers in to set up a water purification system.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
The house of Vuong Chinh Duc—otherwise known as The Hmong King’s Palace.

In the afternoon, we continued driving along National Road 4C to Sa Phin Commune (Sà Phìn) and Dong Van District’s most famous tourist site, the Hmong King Palace. Vương Chính Đức (AKA the Hmong Kind) was a well-known figure during Vietnam’s period of French colonial rule. He famously joined forces with Ho Chi Minh in the fight for independence. Vương‘s home, built in the 1920s, demonstrates an interesting mix of European and Chinese styles. Lavishly decorated, there are poppy buds and flowers carved into almost every wooden surface (Vương made his fortune trading opium).

Vuong’s house now lies empty and is undergoing restorations. Some of the family’s decedents still reside in Sa Phin—a few of them in houses opposite the palace gate. I had to laugh when Trang pointed out where the ‘successful’ Vương lived—the house with the Viettel billboard for an awning. From opium to mobile phones. How times change!

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
A wildflower field in Sung La village. Sung La is famous for its fresh-cut flowers, which make their way to marketplaces in Hanoi.

Our next stop was Sung La (Sủng Là), another small Hmong village. Set in an idyllic valley surrounded by fields of flowers, Sung La was made famous by the book and film Story of Pao. Sung La is also well-known for its flowers.

Most of the roses sold in Hanoi are grown here. A few enterprising locals have set up small wildflower plots at the village entrance and charge tourists a fee to take selfies (we recently saw this in Mai Chau as well). The village was packed with Vietnamese tourists when we visited, so we only managed a quick stroll around.

Lung Tam

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
The first stages of batik at Lung Tam Commune.

We arrived in Quan Ba (Quản Bạ) District and the green valley floor we had admired from a hilltop a few days earlier. Having almost closed the loop, we were coming towards the end of our Ha Giang tour.

We stopped in at Lung Tam Commune for a brief visit with the local hemp co-op. Managed by a group of Flower Hmong women, the business is run in partnership with Craft Link and a few other NGOs. The ladies produce exquisite natural hemp cloth that they colour with natural dyes. They also do applique, batik and embroidery.

I really love the contemporary motifs they use in their designs, made to symbolise the Dong Van Geopark and other points of interest in the local area. Their textiles and accessories make for perfect Ha Giang souvenirs. (You can also purchase their products at the Craft Link shop, one of my favourite souvenir shops in Hanoi.)

After a brief demonstration of the various stages of hemp cloth production, we were ushered into the gift shop. A group of Vietnamese tourists joined us—most of them left with bolts of hemp fabric bought off the roll for very reasonable prices. I ended up buying a wall hanging.

Nam Dam

We spent our last night in Ha Giang in a traditional coin-roof house in the small village of Nam Dam (Nậm Đăm). We shared dinner and drinks with our Dao host family and the homestay’s other guests.

I’ve experienced this kind of ‘hands-on’ hospitality again and again in Northern Vietnam—where visitors are welcomed sincerely, and not just served. It’s one of the things I love most about travelling here.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
A buckwheat field in Nam Dam village.

Early the next morning, we went for a stroll around Nam Dam village, where we found a field of pink buckwheat flowers.

Tam Son

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Shopping for sugarcane at Tam Son Sunday market.

The final stop on our Ha Giang tour was the town of Tam Son (Tam Sơn). Fortuitously, it was a Sunday—market day—so we got to spend some time at the wet market. Once a week, families from surrounding towns and villages converge on Tam Son to do their shopping.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Chilli for sale at Tam Son Sunday market in Quan Ba.

Most come dressed in their Sunday best, i.e. their traditional garb. The result is a colourful conglomeration of ethnic groups—Hmong, Dao, Giay, Nung, and many more. Paired with the gnarly stalls and the dimly-lit market interior, the vibrantly dressed women made Tam Son feel really authentic. We were flies on the wall for almost an hour as we lapped around the marketplace in awe.

Stallholders at Tam Son primarily sell fresh produce, but we also saw lots of agricultural supplies and a few stalls selling handmade textiles. Our Ha Giang tour ended the same way it had started—in a small town, surrounded by friendly people and full of eye-opening experiences.

An honest review of YESD Vietnam

© Emily Lush 2018 | Ha Giang travel tour itinerary YESD Vietnam
Our guide, Trang, walking with a few of the local kids outside Thon Tha village.

We try our best to travel responsibly no matter where in the world we are. But we felt it was particularly important to choose a responsible company to travel to Ha Giang. By the same token, we wanted to go with an experienced outfit that knew the area well. We wanted a guide, and we wanted the chance to visit a few less-touristed spots while also ticking off the main sights. YESD Vietnam was a perfect fit for us.

Ross has been volunteering for YESD for a couple of months, so we had a pretty good idea of what they’re all about. The company was founded by three friends—all young Vietnamese women. They use local guides and homestays, and a percentage of profits from every tour goes into a community fund for Thon Tha village.

They also lead volunteer trips to Ha Giang, where groups of students come to work on a specific project, such as building a library. YESD walk the walk when it comes to responsible tourism. They are truly pioneers in their field. YESD has been instrumental in bringing tourists to Thon Tha and ensuring the industry develops in a way that’s beneficial to both communities and the environment.

We felt confident that our money was going into the right pockets and was going to be put to good use.

We were impressed with how organised YESD were in the lead up to our tour. Booking and online payment was easy, and Trang gave us the opportunity to customise our itinerary. The price of our tour was very competitive—our private van was great, and Mr Ky was a very professional driver.

During our trip, Trang took care of everything, including accommodation, meals, entry fees, and our Ha Giang permits. She was by our side throughout our five days on the road, always keen to answer our questions, rattle off facts and share stories about Ha Giang. Trang pours so much energy and passion into her work. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide.

You can find out more about YESD’s Ha Giang tours here. YESD also run ‘easy rider’ motorbike tours in Ha Giang, and offers a range of other tour packages throughout Northern Vietnam.

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  1. Hi Emily …
    Fantastic ” just one question when you left Hanoi was it by car or bike to get to Ha Giang

  2. Hello Emily. I am in the beginning stages of planning 3 months in SE Asia and Ha Giang is a place I read about a few years ago and we want to go. I will be traveling with my husband and 3 boys (ages 15,13 and 8). On the long driving days, can you tell me how many hours you were in the car and how many times you stopped? Did your kids stay interested in the drive? My kids do have issues with getting car sick but we have medications and bags but if there are frequent stops that would really help. Do you know if there is a different town near to Dong Van and less touristy to stay for a night? Thanks for your help. Jenny

    1. Hi Jenny,

      I would go for a homestay outside Dong Van rather than the city itself. It does involve quite a lot of driving on windy roads. I think the longest day we had was 6-7 hours. I definitely wouldn’t attempt doing it in a bus with three kids, car is definitely the way to go. The good thing about going through a company like YESD is that you’ll have an English-speaking guide with you the whole time, and you can request to stop whenever you want. We probably stopped every 2 hours or so.

      I hope this helps!

  3. Ha Giang is such a beautiful, dreamy and peaceful place! It is less touristy compared to Sapa, therefore I could totally immerse myself in the authentic and interesting local life with minority people.
    Thank you for your informative and amazing blog post!

  4. Hi Emily, actually grew up in Australia :-). Am planning a trip to Vietnam in January and am considering visiting Ha Giang. One question – are the roads wide enough as it is very steep or does one feel scared constantly? I don’t usually get car sick, but do have a problem with hights if the path is very small (hence trekking is also no real option for me) Many thanks for the article. I have to decide Sapa or Ha Giang. Latter seems far less touristy which I prefer. Best, Heike

    1. Hi Heike!

      The roads are actually pretty good. It’s windy in parts, definitely, but it’s not very steep. There was one narrow dirt road we took to a small village. Other than that, it’s mainly highways. I get carsick too and I don’t like heights, but I didn’t feel scared. It’s nothing like driving off-road or anything like that. As long as you have a good driver, I think it’s perfectly safe!

      1. Hi Emily,

        Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. It sounds very interesting and I am excited. Have tried to contact YESD but will email them now, as I have not heard from them. Perhaps just busy. Very helpful blog. Many thanks!

  5. Hi Emily, your posts on Vietnam have been incredibly helpful, thank you. We are heading to Vietnam in October, with our three children, we have enough time to do either SaPa or Ha Giang. Can you recommend which place to go to considering we are travelling with kids, they are 14, 12 and 5. Our 14 year old really wants to experience a Homestay.
    Thanks Ky

    1. Hi Ky!

      Thanks for the kind words. Unless you’re incredibly intrepid, I would recommend Sapa for families. Yes, it’s more touristy, but it’s also closer to Hanoi (less travel time) and has better infrastructure. I highly recommend staying at a homestay outside of Sapa town. My personal favourite is Indigo Snail: https://wander-lush.org/boutique-hmong-homestay-in-sapa-vietnam/

      I’d only recommend Ha Giang if you go with a private car and tour option like we did.

      I hope this helps you reach a decision!

  6. Great article. Well written. Appreciate your concerns for the local folks especially.
    I would like your advice if possible. My friend and I want to hike in the area, preferably between home stays, or at least 4-5 hours most days. Is Ha Giang an area this would work? Is YESD a company that could provide such an itinerary?
    Than you,

    1. Hi Cynthia! Yes, I think Ha Giang would be ideal.

      Definitely reach out to Trang and Tuyet at YESD, I’m sure they could put something together for you!

  7. Hi Emily,

    Thank you for the informative blogpost. I’m heading to Vietnam in June! I am really interested to travel around Hagiang with a car tour as my partner and I have no bike license. Do you mind sharing how much your 5-day tour cost in total? Thank you for your help! 🙂


    1. Hi Jacelyn,

      I’m very happy to hear that! The cost of the tour differs depending on a few factors (how many people, where exactly you choose to go), so it’s best to reach out to YESD for a quote. I’m happy to share the cost of my tour with you via email—but chances are, the price will be different based on your circumstances.

      Another option is the easy rider tour, which YESD also offers. Basically you ride on the back of a motorbike with a qualified driver.

  8. Dear Emily,

    Thanks for writing such a descriptive and detailed blogpost – and such representative pictures !!.
    We stumbled upon it looking Googling for Ha Giang without motorbike as a search argument.

    Your great article sealed the deal, and we booked for a custom tour the very next day.

    We mentioned your Wander-Lush article to Tuyet, our guide for the tour and she smiled fondly as she said your name ” …. Emily !!…” !! …

    Honestly, not being well-travelled, I had never thought too much about the ravages of tourism on traditional existing cultures and ways of life …. So glad I found YESD via your recommendation.

    I even tried to give you props in my TripAdvisor review, but was not permitted to reference your website specifically, so had to allude to it, I hope the moderator will let it pass this time …. so other readers can find your post.

    Next we travel, I will try to see if you’ve written about our intended destination, you are like the new Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

    1. Dear Warren,

      Thanks so much for your comment—you’ve made my day! I’m really glad to hear that the article was helpful. I bet you got to see a different, greener Ha Giang at this time of year, though! I would love to go back in the summer or spring just for something different.

      Tuyet is a good friend of ours! I’m so glad you got to meet her and experience Ha Giang with her. I have so much admiration for her, Trang and the other men and women at YESD—they really are doing a wonderful thing up there. Thank you for choosing to support them. Did you travel to Sapa as well? It’s pretty clear to see how tourism has negatively impacted that part of Vietnam and how important responsible tourism projects like YESD are in those remote areas.

      Thanks for sharing on TripAdvisor! I hope you have an opportunity to spread the word among your friends about YESD too.

      Sincerest thanks, and happy travels! Please don’t hesitate to email me in the future if there’s anything I might be able to help with.

  9. Thank you for your precious time writing an excellent review. Your satisfaction really inspires me a lot.

  10. Thank you for this great post, Emily! Ha Giang sounds like such a great destination and your tour seems like it was amazing. With all the offers out there, it can be hard to know which ones are the ‘good ones’… your experience and review helped she some light. So excited to plan my own trip there soon! 🙂

    1. Hi Juliana! Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m delighted to hear that! Ha Giang is a special place—unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. I hope you find the tour that’s right for you. Please don’t hesitate to ask if there’s anything else I can help with.

      Enjoy your trip planning and enjoy Vietnam!

      1. Hi again Emily,
        Just a few weeks ago I went on a 5-day tour with YESD from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and around the wetlands. It was amazing! A friend from home came to see me in Vietnam and we wanted to do something new and different so a tour with these guys sounded like the perfect thing, and it was. So happy I found your article about your tour with YESD. Thanks so much for the inspiration 🙂
        Cheers, Juliana

        1. Hi Juliana,

          I’m so glad to hear that! My trip with YESD is still one of my favourite tour experiences of all time. I’m so chuffed to hear that you were inspired to travel with them too!

          Thanks for taking the time to return and let me know! It means a lot.

          All the best,

  11. This sounds like an incredible trip. Your pictures and descriptions make me feel like I’m there. Such a fulfilling and gorgeous experience.

  12. oh what a wonderful area! It’s great to see such untouched regions still to be discovered in rural Vietnam! Your pictures are wonderful compliments to such great travel inspiration!

    1. Thanks so much, Mikayla! Tourism is pretty well established everywhere in Vietnam, so it’s nice to get off the beaten track, at least for a few days 🙂

  13. This is so beautiful, Emily! Both your pictures and Ha Giang itself. I’ve been to Vietnam three times, but never so far north as SaPa. Partly due to the overtourism you mentioned in your post, but also because I wasn’t up for a 12-hour train ride from Hanoi. 🙂

    Given the choice, from your photos and the way you describe it, I’d pick Ha Giang over SaPa any day. But I should probably get there quick. It seems many of Southeast Asia’s “final frontiers” are rapidly turning into tourist destinations that cater so heavily to foreign tourists that it’s hard to even tell what country you’re in when you visit them. 🙁

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah! Tourism can be such a great source of income and opportunities for remote communities—but it’s such a shame when overtourism occurs. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it. Ha Giang is definitely a special place, no doubt about that. I think you would really like it!

  14. I love the idea of doing this route by car – I’m terrified of riding on a scooter or motorcycle with my backpack, which can really throw off my sense of balance. It would be so much easier (and safer!) by car.

    1. Me too! There have been many times in SE Asia when I wish I knew how to drive a bike, but this wasn’t one of them. Car was definitely the right choice for us 🙂

  15. Your trip looks amazing, full of picturesque views and exposure to so much culture. I would absolutely love to bike in Vietnam but looking at your pictures the cliff faces look so steep haha

    1. Thanks, Jacqui! It’s such a unique and beautiful part of the country! It is rather steep up there—we were certainly glad to be in a car and not on bikes. I hope you make it one day soon!

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