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The Other Sapa: Trekking in Ha Giang | Vietnam

Ha Giang has something in common with most truly awesome 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 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 me show you Ha Giang.

Ha Giang - An Alternative to Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa vs. Ha Giang

Trekking in Sapa

I skipped over trekking in Sapa, so I asked the guys at Television of Nomads what their experience was like: “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 like 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 the mountains of Ha Giang uninterrupted for days at a time. Local interactions are based on mutual curiosity rather than commerce. How does that sound as an alternative to trekking in Sapa?

Make no mistake that traveling Ha Giang is a pretty rugged trip. Sharing a border with China, Ha Giang is the northernmost point in Vietnam, and often referred to as the final frontier. To put it simply: it’s way the hell out there.

There are plenty of ways that your plans can fall through the cracks along the way. You won’t have nearly as many options for accommodation. Dining will be basic. It’s very possible that your trekking guide won’t speak much English. But those are the same things that make this an adventure and completely worth the effort.

A Guide to Trekking in Ha Giang

Avoid the crowds and the hassle of Sapa and go trekking in Ha Giang instead. Sure, it’s 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 to plan your trekking trip in Ha Giang.Looking out 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. I 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 without a doubt the easiest way to get to Ha Giang.

Riding a Motorbike in Ha Giang

Trekking in Ha Giang:

Most treks in Ha Giang range from 2-to-5 days. While you can’t trek from Ha Giang itself, there are trails starting from small villages nearby.

The best-known trekking district of Ha Giang is Đồng Văn, but in order to visit, you’ll need to pick up a permit (appx. $10) from the Ha Giang Immigration Office. We were short on time, so we opted for a 2-day guided trek starting from Ha Thanh (about 11km away) 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 most people know the corners of their own backyards. Over the course of two days, we trekked past villages, recently-harvested rice fields, and buffaloes, stopping off in local homes for meals along the way with a homestay was in Tay ethnic village.

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: To arrange an independent trek, just catch the bus Hanoi to Ha Giang. We booked a night at the Truong Xuan Resort and spoke with the front desk upon arrival.

They set us up with a trek through Ha Giang – Responsible Tourism (from $99). While the local guides spoke very limited English, they were from the area, had reliable knowledge of the route, and took care of the logistics.

Tours from Hanoi: The easiest way to go trekking in Ha Giang is to book with an operator based in Hanoi, though you’ll pay a lot more for the convenience. Ha Giang tours from Hanoi include round-trip transport, accommodation, meals, and an English speaking guide (from $500/person).

Ha Giang - An Alternative to Trekking in Sapa

Sleeping in Ha Giang:

Accommodation in Ha Giang is simple at best, but there are a few hotels that you might consider.

Truong Xuan Resort | With gardens and a collection of bizarre birds, the Truong Xuan Resort was certainly a distinctly Vietnamese experience. The rooms themselves are comfortable-yet-ordinary, but I’d gladly stay again for the spectacular view of the river and the mountain. Doubles start from $26.

Ban Tuy Homestay | Homestays in Ha Giang offer basic facilities (floor mats and mosquito nets in an open-air house) but this experience is excellent if you’re looking for a genuine cultural exchange. Doubles from $8.50.

Royal Hotel Ha Giang | Royal Hotel Ha Giang is a three-star hotel right in the middle of town. The building is brand new and air-conditioning and WiFi make this the most comfortable spot in town. Doubles from $19.

Vietnam-Ha-Giang-Vietnamese-Food

When to Go

December in Ha Giang is just after rice harvest, which meant a lot more mud and half-grown fields than I 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.

Trekking in Ha GiangVietnam-Ha-Giang-Trekking-6

Far out of the way, Ha Giang is an adventurous alternative to trekking in Sapa. How to get there, trekking routes, and where to stay in Ha Giang.

Have you ever been trekking in Northern Vietnam? What out-of-the-way treks would you recommend? And if you’re traveling in Vietnam…

13 Comments

  • Reply
    Jitaditya Narzary
    September 22, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Great tral… teh food looks good too…
    and the rustic landscapes remind me of my ancestral lands… nostalgic!

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  • Reply
    Evan
    October 19, 2017 at 5:48 am

    We found good trekking in Bắc Hà, about 2-3 hrs from Sapa. Similar situation…our guide didn’t speak that much English, but he sure knew where he was going! Your thought about “mutual curiosity rather than commerce” is a really accurate way to describe the difference between Sapa and other more rural trekking locations. Thanks for helping get us off the beaten track!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      October 23, 2017 at 7:44 am

      I was also really interested in Bắc Hà! You can truly feel the difference of an interaction driven by money. Kinda strange, huh? Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Reply
    Tonkin-Travel
    January 13, 2018 at 3:48 am

    Oh, you give an insightful view of the off beaten track places in Vietnam. If you want to discover some really local and authentic, let’s go to Coc Ly in Lao Cai or Hoang Su Phi in Ha Giang. Anyway, thanks for your post!

  • Reply
    Nita
    January 8, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    Hi ! Can you give contact information of your guides? I am going to Vietnam next week and absolutely am not prepared , its super spontaneous.

    • Reply
      Taylor
      January 9, 2019 at 3:39 pm

      Hey Nita! Our guide wasn’t on email, but we went through Ha Giang Responsible Tourism. Any of the hotels in the area should also have contacts for guides that can take you. Keep in mind most of the guides will be more useful for route finding than sharing in-depth info about the region. Hope this helps, and enjoy your trek.

  • Reply
    Jaana
    January 9, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, we might just change our plans 🙂

  • Reply
    Tomas
    January 10, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Hi I’m travelling Vietnam in july and august. And I’m also going to Ha Giang. Travelling around is much harder there than in Sapa. I want to choose where I want to go, so tours are not really an option. A local bus doesn’t work too because I want to photograph the landscapes on the way. Motorcycles are not an option aswell because I cant ride them. Same for scooter (and such under 50cc). Im backpacking so hiring a car with driver is a little expensive but possible. What do you think is the best way to travel? And what is the sweetspot of travellingdays in Ha Giang?

    • Reply
      Taylor
      March 10, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      Hey Tomas. Glad you’ve got your trip to Ha Giang planned. It’s super remote and completely worth the effort! Would you consider traveling there by local bus and hiring a driver each day to take you where you want to go? Once you get there, the cost of everything is a lot lower than if you booked the same in Hanoi.

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  • Reply
    Zeinab
    September 5, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    Hey, am still confused between sapa and ha giang, but am not too familiar with hiking s… Am also confused about the tour.. From where should I take it and what it costs in total. Thank you

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      September 5, 2019 at 11:34 pm

      Hey Zienab. Sapa is a region 300 km Northwest of Hanoi. Ha Giang is a bit further East. You can reach out to Ha Giang Responsible Tourism directly to understand more about their hiking packages and how much they cost. Good luck with your trip planning!

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