Ha Giang has something in common with most truly great places; it is just hard enough to get to that it has withstood the ravages of time. Adventurers go trekking in Sapa in pursuit of indigenous culture and cascading rice fields, but they instead might find a once charming French hill-station town that has made a disappointing backslide into a disorderly tourist hub.
Of course, trekking in Sapa is popular for a reason – the region is nothing short of stunning. But what if you could experience an alternative to Sapa with similarly spectacular views and fewer tourists? Let us show you Ha Giang.
Trekking in Sapa vs. Ha Giang
Trekking in Sapa
We skipped out on trekking in Sapa, so we asked the guys at Television of Nomads for their opinion: “A trek in Sapa can take you to a secluded hill-tribe village atop magnificent verdant stacks of rice terraces with stunning mountain vistas—if you’re lucky, that is. You can also be hustled to a nearby, less-stunning town on tours operated by greedy companies that rip off the tribe guides if you’re not lucky. Either way, you’ll probably have to deal with the influx of Sapa guides trying to get you to join them, and groups of children following you for periods of time trying to sell you things. Still, we certainly found a night with this remarkable Sapa view to be more than worth it!”
Trekking in Ha Giang
With pine forests, granite mountains, quiet farming villages, and heavenly views in every direction, Ha Giang is an illustration of how nature can flourish when unsullied. The trekking routes in Ha Giang fall far enough from the tourist circuit, so you can wander its mountainsides uninterrupted for days at a time, and local interactions are based on mutual curiosity rather than commerce. We’d say that is enough to make it the perfect alternative to trekking in Sapa.
Make no mistake that Ha Giang makes for a rugged trip. Sharing a border with China, Ha Giang is the northernmost point in Vietnam, and often referred to as the country’s final frontier. To put it simply, it’s way the hell out there, and there are a few ways that your plans can fall through the cracks along the way. You won’t have nearly as many options for accommodation, dining, tour guides, etc. in Ha Giang as you would in Sapa, and it’s very possible that your trekking guide won’t speak much English.
A Guide to Trekking in Ha Giang
We chose Ha Giang over trekking in Sapa because we wanted to avoid the crowds and the hassle. It was a little rough around the edges but in all the best ways. If you’re seeking something further off-the-grid than trekking in Sapa, here’s everything you need to know about trekking in Ha Giang.
How to Get There
You can get from Hanoi to Ha Giang by bus, motorbike, or by private transfer.
- By Bus: You can catch a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang at My Dinh station. The trip will take about 7 hours and should cost no more than $10. We hilariously ended up on a daytime bus with beds instead of seats, so the journey was bumpy but comfortable enough.
- By Motorbike: It’s not uncommon for travelers to explore Northern Vietnam by motorbike. If you’re the adventurous type, perhaps there’s no better way to get to Ha Giang. You’ll get some of the world’s most spectacular views along the way, and enjoy more freedom than you would on a bus or an organized tour.
- By Private Transfer: If you book a Ha Giang tour that begins in Hanoi, it will usually include minibus transfer. While this is the most expensive option, it is no doubt the easiest.
Trekking in Ha Giang:
We arranged for a 2-day trek with an included homestay. Our trekking guide had learned basic English in an immersion program for local farmers, but he knew the route better than we know the corners of our own backyard. We meandered upwards for several hours, past villages, rice fields, and more buffalos than we could count. Mid-day, we stopped for a homemade lunch and more rượu (rice wine) than one should really imbibe before a downhill trek. After about 9 hours of trekking, we got back to a Tay ethnic village for a meal and a homestay.
If you’re interested in trekking in Ha Giang, you can either arrange a trek in Hanoi, or you can arrange a trek locally.
- Independent Travel: The extent of our planning was catching the bus Hanoi to Ha Giang, booking a night at the Turong Xuan Resort, and speaking with the front desk upon arrival. They set us up with a trek through Ha Giang – Responsible Tourism. While the local guides spoke very limited English, they were from the area and had reliable knowledge of the route. ** At the time of writing this post, their site is down, but you can reach them at email@example.com. Our 4 day trip (including transit) cost us $105/person.
- Tours from Hanoi: Perhaps the easiest way to go trekking in Ha Giang is to book with an operator based in Hanoi. These tours will include round-trip transport from Hanoi to Ha Giang, accommodation, meals, and an English speaking guide. We used Ethnic Travel for our trip to Halong Bay + Bai Tu Long Bay, and are sure they would offer a pretty great trekking experience in Ha Giang as well. 5-day tour packages (including transit) start at $500/person.
Sleeping in Ha Giang:
Accommodation in Ha Giang is limited, but there are a few spots in town that you might consider.
- Truong Xuan Resort ($23-$30): With gardens and a collection of bizarre birds, the Truong Xuan Resort was certainly an experience. The rooms themselves are comfortable yet ordinary, but we’d gladly go again for the spectacular view of the river and the mountain beyond!
- Cao Nguyen Hotel / Khách sạn Cao Nguyên ($25-$30): The Cao Nguyen is a well-located hotel near the river with modern and spacious rooms.
- Homestay: Our trek with Ha Giang – Responsible Tourism included a homestay. Facilities are extremely basic (floor mats and mosquito nets in an open-air house), but you’ll eat with the family and it’s a really great opportunity for cultural exchange!
When to Go
We got to Ha Giang just after rice harvest, which meant a lot more mud and half-grown fields than we would have hoped! The best time to go trekking in Northern Vietnam is between October – December. You’ll experience limited fog, moderate rainfall, and perfectly comfy temperatures.
Traveling in Vietnam? You might also like:
- The Other Halong Bay: Bai tu Long Bay
- I was wrong about Hanoi
- Must Eat: Northern Vietnamese Street Food
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