Today we have to travel from Cao Bang to Ha Giang, northern Vietnam, for 235 km by minibus, which in normal conditions would take 3-4 hours, but in abnormal conditions like ours will extend up to 12 hours!
MINIBUS N.1, CAO BANG – BAO LAC
But let’s go back to the stages of this joyful journey. The first minibus is the best one, half empty, the handy-woman is very friendly and even gets us breakfast during one of the many many stops in order to pick up more people possible.
Passengers are sometimes kids, probably of little bit richer families who can afford to buy bus tickets to go to school, otherwise it’s bicycles or on foot along the steep hills and mountains. [We are in one of the poorest regions of the country, where on average people live with 8,000 Dong per day (0.30 cent), absurd…]. Other passengers are local people who need to cover short distances. We are the only ones who do the whole route and more, not to mention the only foreigners.
The road is ok, there’s green everywhere around, driver is safe, instead a fearless minibus going to Bao Lam takes us over. We are going to Bao Lac, 40 km before Bao Lam, so that vehicle would be more suitable to us. Fate smiles to us, and when we get to Bao Lac, village in the middle of nowhere, asking “Ha Giang?”, they point us the other bus further on, which was about to leave, they pick us up and go.
So far we have done 118 km in 4 hours…
MINIBUS N.2, BAO LAC – BAO LAM
Next 40 km will take almost 2 hours, since the crazy driver will stop repeatedly to upload and download different goods. Moreover, the road gets worse, holes, dirt roads, works in progress are everywhere. For works in progress we mean most of the times dredges that are literally devouring the mountain, so works that don’t necessarily involve the road, at least not now, and for sure not asphalt, this unknown…
Finally at 11.30 we get to Bao Lam, another village in the middle of nowhere, facing a river in a long valley. Not even the time to say something, they point to another minibus, 3rd of the day, direction Ha Giang (“Ha Szan”, as they pronounce). A good Vietnamese lunch based of sticky rice, chicken and vegetables keeps us alive, preparing us to the last stage. It’s only 88 km…it will take 5 endless hours. Yes, 17km/h average.
MINIBUS N.3, BAO LAM – HA GIANG
The road is not even deserving to be called so, it looks like a war path. The driver and his two fellows are very young lads who sweeten the trip with even a DVD player and Vietnamese pumped up music. They pull over randomly inciting people to jump on, especially they hit on girls.
We wonder how things work here, like one day you’re walking on the street, or sitting on the sidewalk, minibus comes by and they ask you “Hey you, want to go to Ha Giang?” and you think about it and are like “Yeah why not?” or “Nah I’ll go tomorrow”. We do not understand.
We do understand, partly, the enthusiasm of the boys who, providing this service, are making good money; not only they carry passengers but every kind of goods, sand sacks, potatoes, water, ice, wood, etc., even a fragrant load of cinnamon delights us. Passenger bus, lorry truck, post service, all in one. Still covering these 90 nightmare km everyday, maybe even back and forth, is pure madness. The road is really horrible, but even tank trucks are driving here, probably at the speed of 7km/h…
It has been a long, intense and painful journey through this remote region in northern Vietnam, but it was the only way for us to cross these charming mountain areas. And tomorrow the astonishing landscapes of Ha Giang province will reward us!
Surely an experience we will remember for a long time…
WHERE TO STAY:
- Primrose Homestay Cao Bang: the most established place in Cao Bang, the young staff is very friendly and welcoming, cheap prices!
- Ha Giang Backpackers Hostel: one of the first hostels to open in town, great hospitality and new interiors;
- you can pre book all your accommodation in Vietnam with free cancellation here.
HOW TO REACH HA GIANG:
- Various local minibuses: Cao Bang-Bao Lac-Bao Lam-Ha Giang, infinite hours, prices between 80,000 VND to 130,000 VND per person;
- Direct bus Hanoi-Ha Giang: 300,000 VND.
|Bus Hanoi - Ha Giang $ 8.49–29.59 5h – 8h|
|Van Hanoi - Ha Giang $ 16.51 3h 15m – 6h|
|Bus Noi Bai Airport - Ha Giang $ 12.86 5h|
- Book your tickets to travel in Vietnam on amt.12go.asia
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
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I’m gonna do the same trip in few weeks and I’m searching how to get to Ha Giang. Just read in some blogs that people went direct there with a night bus, but you couldn’t go and your blog is really recent… So is it not possible to get there direct? How long did you stay in Ha Giang? Was it worthy?
Thanks a lot for your blog, it’s really useful!! 🙂
Cheers and keep enjoying!
Hi Cristina! Thank you for your comment!
It all depends from where you are planning to get there. What’s your plan? There are a few options:
1.from Hanoi to Ha Giang there are many buses both day and night, all leaving from My Dinh bus station; this is the easiest and most popular way.
2.coming from Laos or Northwestern Vietnam, the biggest city is Lao Cai, which is probably the most important intersection in the region: you can get trains to/from Hanoi, buses to Sapa/Dien Bien Phu/Laos, minivans to Ha Giang, and buses to China too.
3.coming from Cao Bang and Northeastern Vietnam by minivan, as we did, is the hardest and less beaten track. There are no direct bus at all, not even big buses as the roads can be very narrow.
So I suppose you read about somebody getting there from Hanoi, and that should be no problem for you, because instead I can guarantee there are no direct buses from Cao Bang to Ha Giang.
We stayed in Ha Giang one night only because we were rushing, still we managed to witness a lot of amazing views up North all the way to Lung Cu (you can read about it here https://amilliontravels.com/ha-giang-dong-van/), and it was totally worth it! I would suggest to spend at least 2 nights if not 3 between Ha Giang and Dong Van. Ha Giang province and Lao Cai province, including SaPa, are both wild and beautiful, the difference is that SaPa is a lot more touristic and always crowded, while around Ha Giang you can appreciate the true Vietnam, lots of poor humble people, amazing landscapes, absolutely authentic experience.
Hope to be useful, let us know if you need more details!!
Great pics and great blog, thank you! I am having a hard/impossible time planning my route via motorbike from Cao Bang back to Ha Giang since I plan to detour off the Ha Giang loop to check out the falls and caves around Cao Bang. It looks like this road is just in the process of being built? Did you see many (any) tourists doing this via motorbike? We are very experienced riders but still…just asking.
Do you happen to know what highway it was?! I guess I would like to avoid that route if possible.
thank you for commenting and for the compliments!
The roads were alright in the north-east around Cao Bang, going up to the Ban Gioc waterfall too, asphalt was quite new, not too much trafficked, awesome landscapes! We met very few tourists up there back in May, especially the waterfall is only busy on the Chinese side, not at all on the Vietnamese one.
The bad condition of the roads we talk about in this article, concerns road QL34, in particular in between the small town of Bao Lam for tens of km towards Ha Giang. They were actually improving the road in many points, setting down new asphalt and guard-rails, so maybe now it’s fine. The thing is, coming from Cao Bang, QL34 is the shortest way to Ha Giang, so it’s not very convenient to avoid it.
As of Ha Giang loop, up to Dong Van and Meo Vac which was our farthest destination, the road QL4C is amazing again, with stunning sceneries, worth every meter! There a few guides that take this loop by motorbike, we did ourselves and it was totally fine.
I absolutely recommend to ride around Cao Bang and Ha Giang, the only hard time you could face could be in that road in the middle, depending on the weather too, heavy raining could worsen the situation. But hey that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it?
We had less than one year riding experience at that time, so I guess you are more prepared than us!
Enjoy your trip and let me know if you need more help!!
Thank you so much for the information! I will definitely do some more research and try to find out if the condition of QL34 has improved much. Yes, I see the only other way would be to do a lot of back tracking and what we’re really after is seeing new scenery on the way back 🙂
Thanks again you two 🙂
You are very welcome!!
We wish you safe travels!
Hi Heather, just wondering if you did do the stretch from cao bang to ha giang by motorbike. I am about to head that way .. I am on my own so would like to know about the state of the roads. Are there villages along the way to find accommodation? Thank you!
I don’t know how Heather’s trip went, anyway I’m pretty sure you can find accomodation either in Bao Lac or in Bao Lam, which are the main villages along the road. The road itself should be improved by now, there were many road works last year when we did it. Surely by motorbike it’s easier and faster than by bus, you might encounter some potholes here and there, some dirt road sections, but hey that’s part of the trip in Vietnam!
Enjoy your trip!