While researching our journey in the Ha Giang region in Northern Vietnam, motorbike tours appeared popular. Yet, some friends who’ve visited the area recommended against motorbike tours, citing frequent accidents.
My research led me to YESD, a social enterprise focusing on responsible tourism that provides tours in the region. The company offers a motorbike tour, where each adult rides on the back of a motorbike of a guide/driver or a car tour. We went with the private car tour and are so glad we did, given the temperamental weather during the rainy season in June and less-than-ideal road conditions.
Day 1: Arrival Day in Thon Ha Village
The day began with rain. We bid farewell to the charming staff at La Vie Vu Linh and headed toward Ha Giang province. The team had arranged a car to take us to our homestay in Thon Ha village, where we spent the first night.
Since we woke up, the rain had been falling all day, following us on the zigzag roads to Thon Tha village. We arrived at Mr. Thien’s homestay after a two-hour drive, just afternoon. The house comprises a few charging traditional cottages that sit on stilts. Our host and his wife kindly whipped up some noodles for us as lunch.
While the rain went on in the afternoon, I read a Vietnam travelogue from the balcony. I watched the village life carrying on in between chapters, impressed by all the women working away under the rain. (But where are the men?) Just before sunset, realizing the rain isn’t going to let up, we put on raincoats for a walk through the village. Yunan province, one of the first trips that Xav and I went on, is 17km away. The similarities invoked our nostalgia.
Day 2: Phuong Do Sunday Market – Heaven’s Gate – Fairy Breast Mountain – Lung Tam – Lung Khuy – Nam Dam
Our driver and tour guide from YESD Vietnam arrived promptly at 8am. We knew traveling the region during the rainy season in July is a gamble and were so happy to have booked a car tour when the rain continued relentlessly today.
The day was packed with activities. We began at a Sunday market in Phuong Do before heading up the mountain to Quan Ba Heavens Gate at 1500m. Couldn’t see much, but the clouds did give it that mystical heavenly vibe.
We then climbed some stairs to check out Fairy Mountain. Legend has it a fairy left behind her breasts to feed her kids. The resemblance is quite remarkable! The afternoon consisted of a visit to a women’s hemp co-operative, followed by a 5km round trip hike to Lung Khuy Cave, only to find it closed.
We checked into our homestay in Nam Dam, a strange place that has been designated as a tourism village by the government. 38 homestay (basically every family) takes place in this small village. The rice terrace view is stunning, though! We crossed fingers for some sun tomorrow. My positive energy was on low reserve after two days of non-stop rain. Though I was loving the near non-existent tourists thus far!
Day 3: Sung La – H’Mong King Palace – Dong Van
After nearly two days of rain, the sun finally graced us with its presence, providing an ideal condition for our breath-taking road trip. Both the incredible views and the several near misses with trucks, goats, and drunk villagers took my breath away.
The roads narrowed and zigzagged as we pushed further into Ha Giang province. We stopped along several charming villages and mesmerizing viewpoints. Photos can never do nature justice, but I gave it my best shot.
The region was in a battle between the Hmong tribe and the French in the early 20th century. We visited the Hmong King Palace built in 1907, financed from large fortunes earned in the opium trade. The architecture was heavily influenced by the Chinese.
Upon arrival in Dong Van, we hiked up to the French Fortress. Built in the same era by the French to guard against the Hmong army. The hike was more challenging than anticipated, but the panoramic view at sunset was worth every step.
After several days of eating with homestay families, we had a hotpot dinner at a restaurant and breakfast at a local noodle shop in the morning!
Day 4: Dong Van – Skypath Trekking – Ma Pi Leng Pass – Du Gia
The highlight of the day was hiking 6km along the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass. Built by the ethnic minorities who lived in this magnificent mountain range, villagers still use the path today.
Meeting children and families in the mountain provided a keen perspective. How life would be so different if I were born here. I travel to far-flung regions like this to remember the right priorities in life.
The view along the hike was astounding. Reviewing photos only hours later, and those sceneries already feel like a dream. To be in the presence of Mother Nature is a beautiful gift.
We spent the rest of the day driving off the national road, going up and down mountains along even smaller and less maintained roads than yesterday. Passing through Meo Vac and Yen Minh districts to arrive at another homestay in the Du Gia valley.
Day 5: Du Gia Discovery – Du Gia Waterfall – Thon Tha
The final day of Ha Giang Loop tour! We hiked to Du Gia waterfall after breakfast. The sun was in full force in the valley, and a refreshing swim in the cool water was much appreciated.
Boys from the village were also swimming, doing flips and jumps, being their carefree selves. Later, two girls came by carrying crops; they didn’t hesitate to rest and dive in fully clothed. The gender inequity was on full display.
In the afternoon, we took some very broken roads back to Ha Giang. Before finishing our tour, we retraced our steps to Heavens Gate to see what we had missed out on the rainy day at the beginning of the tour. We had a little time to kill and could leisurely enjoy a coffee, taking in the view.
In the evening, we took the night bus heading toward Sapa for a rest day. Our driver and guide dropped us back at the homestay where we had started. And through some incredible coordination, a different taxi guy picked us up and dropped us off at a random location where the bus office was located. Somehow, the bus managed to pick us up. Our travel agent was communicating with us via text and was incredibly helpful.
While relatively spacious, the bus ride was incredibly rocky. The fatigue has crept up, and we are reminded that full-time travel is different from a vacation. Rest is necessary.
Final Thoughts on Ha Giang Tour with YESD
Overall, we were incredibly pleased with our journey with YESD. The car tour provided so much comfort and safety. The safety piece was highlighted as we saw accidents along the road and heard other travelers who were hurt during our journey. The total cost for this 5 day/4 night tour was $732, all-inclusive for both of us. For our first time in the region, this tour provided an authentic overview of life in Ha Giang province.
I was impressed by our homestay hosts; many of them speak decent English, all due to the training provided by YESD. Our guide and driver were both lovely and knowledgeable. Given the area is still relatively new to tourists, our guides took us to many off-the-beaten-path spots that we would not have found on our own.
Highly recommend booking a trip in Ha Giang province with YESD. Simply message them on Facebook, and an agent will work with you to tailor an itinerary most suitable to your needs. Enjoy this region’s natural beauty before it gets overtaken by developers!