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First published March 2024 | Words and photos by Joshua Zukas

Hà Giang City, Vietnam
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Vietnam’s Most Northerly Capital & Gateway to ‘The Loop’

CONTENTS:

Map

Weather

See & Do

Sleep

Eat & Drink

Transport, Bike Rental & Tours

Related Guides

Hà Giang City

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Hà Giang City is at its most amicable in spring, from March to May, and autumn, from September to November. November is particularly pleasant, with sunny and bright days that rarely get too warm and cool mornings and evenings. The city can be very cold from late December to February and very hot from June to August. Note that Hà Giang City also sees bursts of heavy rainfall during the summer months. If you’re heading for the mountains, it’s worth keeping in mind that Hà Giang City can be warmer and drier than the provincial districts to the north and east. Even if the days are comfortable in Hà Giang City, you should still prepare for colder and wetter weather when motorbiking in the more far-flung corners of the province, such as the Hà Giang Loop and the Borders & Back-Roads route.

Boy riding a buffalo, Hà Giang, Vietnam

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Central Square (Quảng Trường Thành Phố Hà Giang) [MAP] makes for brief but pleasant ambling, but bear in mind that it’s almost completely without shade so it’s best visited in the early morning or late afternoon. The statue in the middle depicts Hồ Chí Minh flanked by smaller figures representing the different ethnolinguistic groups in the province. The prosaic text beneath reads: ‘Uncle Hồ with the ethnic groups’. The square comes into its own on weekend evenings when traffic is banned from the surrounding streets and a few dozen kiosks move in and sell cheap drinks and snacks. It can get very noisy, but the atmosphere is jovial and family friendly, usually with entertainment taking place on a makeshift stage near the river.

Provincial Museum (8.00-11am & 1.30-5pm) [MAP] was renovated in 2020 and is worth at least a couple of hours. If possible, it’s best to visit the museum before any road trips as it will help explain and contextualise the province’s rich diversity. Along with information on the geological and cultural history of the province, exhibits devote a lot of attention to exploring and celebrating Hà Giang’s 19 ethnolinguistic groups (more than a third of Vietnam’s ethnolinguistic groups are represented in this small corner of the country). Don’t let the first room’s lack of English signage deter you; the rest of the museum is much more friendly to non-Vietnamese speakers. A timeline illustrates when the different groups arrived in the province and there’s a useful map showing where they live. The short but dramatic climax of the exhibits on the first floor is a sound and light show that briefly chronicles the geological and ethnic history of the province. The visual highlight of the museum, however, is the footage shown projected onto a concave screen on the second floor. This video is 15 minutes or so, with some rather moving drone footage of rural life in the province. The second floor also has a map illustrating the days and locations of the different markets in the province, which is worth studying as it may impact your itinerary. The remainder of this floor details the three different ecotypes in Hà Giang – low mountains, karst plateau and Hoàng Su Phi range – and some brief information on the culture and customs of the different ethnolinguistic groups.

Núi Cấm (Forbidden Mountain) City Viewpoint [MAP] is a fun, sweaty climb (45-60 mins up and down, including time spent at the top), especially if you want to make sure that your legs are still working after a few days on a motorbike. To get here, drive up the steep road to Café Núi Cấm where you can park for free. From here the path is mostly stone steps, though there are also some muddy sections. On your way to the top, you’ll pass Chùa Hộ Quốc, a dusty pagoda that appears to be dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Compassion. Once you reach the top, you’ll find an old French fort that is slowly being reclaimed by the jungle, giving it a somewhat Angkorian atmosphere. Unfortunately there’s no information, but presumably the fort was built around the same time as the Đồn Cao Fortress in Đồng Văn, so turn of the 19th century. Unlike the other forts in the province, here you’ll find several small shrines dotted around, possibly dedicated to those that lost their lives in the fort, only adding to the atmosphere of lost antiquity. There are also impressive views of the city and the encircling mountains.

The villages just a few kilometres west and south of the city are fun to ride around, though there’s nothing of specific interest that I could find. The best activity here is to drive around, get lost and perhaps you’ll chance upon an appealing homestay for a juice or a waterfall like this one. Some readers may be interested to know that some scenes from Neflix film, A Tourist Guide’s to Love, were shot in the area’s more picturesque corners.

Hà Giang City Museum
Ha Giang Museum
Quảng Trường Public Square in Hà Giang City
Ruins on Núi Cấm Hill, Hà Giang City
House used in A Tourist's Guide to Love, Hà Giang, Vietnam

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HIGH-END HOTELS:

Phoenix Hotel $50-$60 [MAP]: The best hotel in the city, at least according to Hollywood (this is where the production team from Neflix’s A Tourist’s Guide to Love stayed in 2022). The building is garish and characterless, the kind of rip-off Vinpearl-type hotel that you now find all over Vietnam, but the service isn’t bad and there’s a pool. Ask for a room overlooking the river for the best views. Downsides are the location – a 25-minute walk from the centre – and that they allow smoking in the rooms. Some rooms are smellier than others, so you can request to see a few rooms at check-in until you find the right one.

Hà Giang Historic House $50-$60 [MAP]: Another pricier option in the city run by a helpful and friendly family that can help arrange tours and motorbike rental. The rooms feel a little dark, but views over the garden and jungled mountains make up for it. From here it’s a 20-minute walk into town.

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MID-RANGE HOTELS:

Luxury Hostel $20 [MAP]: It’s far from luxury, but this hotel is located in one of the more appealing residential neighbourhoods in town, and just a few blocks from the central square. The hotel is well-run, and the rooms are basic but clean and comfortable. You may have trouble convincing them to let you leave your motorbike inside overnight (like I did).

Nhật Bảo Hotel $20 [MAP]: This dated but adequate hotel overlooks the main square, which is nice in theory, but in reality means it can be very noisy, especially during the weekend. If you plan on staying here then pack earplugs.

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BUDGET HOTELS:

Tiamo $15 [MAP]: Offering some of the cheapest private rooms in the centre of town, Tiamo is walking distance to the museum, central square and most of the city’s restaurants. The rooms are dated but clean enough.

Sky Building $10 [MAP]: This multipurpose building has a café-cum-hostel overlooking the river on the ground floor. It’s difficult to book the beds in advance, but they seem to always be available. You can also negotiate a half-day if you want some downtime before catching your bus.

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OUTSIDE THE CITY:

Homestay Field $15 [MAP]: Highly recommended for the two bungalow rooms that overlook a pond. The charismatic owner speaks very little English, but that won’t stop her from throwing together a delicious dinner, even at the last minute.

NoMadders $25 [MAP]: With thatched bungalows and a quiet pool, this is one of the best places to stay, though the 10-minute drive in and out of town will deter some travellers. Still, this is an excellent place to relax for a night before or after a road trip.

Hà Giang City, Vietnam
Hotel in Hà Giang City, Vietnam

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STREET FOOD:

Bánh Cuốn Quảng Trường Hà Giang [MAP]: This bánh cuốn (wet savoury rice flour pancakes) street kitchen probably offers the best breakfast in town. The bánh cuốn here is served the same way as in Cao Bằng Province with a side of hot soup. The serving matriarch can be a little brusque, but don’t let her scare you off.

Bánh Cuốn Bà Làn [MAP]: Another reliable bánh cuốn option but considerably more friendly. Ms. Làn, who serves in the evening as well as the morning, also dishes up the Cao Bằng version of the dish.

Quán Phở Nghĩa [MAP]: This decent enough chicken phở joint is one of a cluster on Nguyễn Trãi Street. Quán Nghĩa is busy in the mornings and then serves throughout the day until the broth runs out. You can usually order a lemon juice from the café next door.

DT Quán [MAP]: A little gem of a place that seems to be more popular with foreigners than locals, DT is open throughout the day and serves a variety of Vietnamese favourites, like nem lụi (pork skewers) and bánh xeo (fried savoury pancakes), popular dishes in Vietnam’s central and southern regions.

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RESTAURANTS:

Bếp Việt [MAP]: One of the city’s more upmarket restaurants, prices here are similar to what you might find in equivalent establishments elsewhere in the country. While the a la carte menu is extensive, most locals come for the lẩu (hot pot).

Hương Sen Vegetarian [MAP]: Hà Giang’s obligatory vegan restaurant, Hương Sen serves meatless versions of Vietnamese favourites, including dumplings and hot pot. This is a small business and they may not have everything on the menu, so prepare back-ups when selecting dishes.

Pizza Here [MAP]: If you’re craving western food, this might be the best place in the city. There’s a good selection of pizza here, including tempting vegan and seafood options. The space is cosy and welcoming, and the back bar overlooks the river.

Mr. Hung Bar & Restaurant [MAP]: Standard backpacker fare that will satisfy a certain type of craving. The main draws are the pool table and rooftop bar with views over the river.

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CAFES & BARS:

Trung Nguyên [MAP]: The best Vietnamese coffee that I managed to find served on a quiet street on the riverside. The juice menu is limited but fresh, and there’s also yoghurt drinks and iced tea.

Lofita [MAP]: Probably Hà Giang’s cutest café, Lofita serves a decent coconut coffee (cà phê cốt dừa), bubble tea and a handful of cakes and snacks.

Cafe Núi Cấm [MAP]: Perfectly positioned for a post-hike juice after walking up to the viewpoint (see above), part of the café is in – and on – a cramped and gutted bus. Best stick to the decked terrace, which also has a covered section. The drinks are average but this is the best view in the city.

Nhà Hàng Phố Beer [MAP]: This rowdy but friendly local bar serves cheap fresh beer when they have it and bottles when they don’t. Like all bia hơi bars worth their salt, there’s a good menu of snacks that can constitute a full meal.

Hà Giang Mama’s Homestay [MAP]: Offering familiar rowdy backpacker vibes on the outskirts of town.

Bánh cuốn in Hà Giang City, Vietnam
Cafe Núi Cấm, Hà Giang City, Vietnam
Cooking bánh cuốn on the streetside in Hà Giang City, Vietnam
Noodle soup in Hà Giang City, Vietnam

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There are many motorbike rental outlets in Hà Giang City, including Ngân Hà Travel, Kiki’s House, Style Motorbikes, and QT Motorbikes. There’s no need to book your bike in advance; if the rental place doesn’t have the bike you want, simply move on to the next one. Prices range from 150,000vnd to 500,000vnd per day depending on the bike.

In terms of tours, Flipside Adventures runs bespoke self-driving experiences that specialise in off-road adventures. Cheap and cheerful tour agencies include Jasmine and Mama’s, though I can’t personally vouch for their quality and safety standards. With these cheap cookie cutter agencies you’re likely to be in groups of 30 people or more, which might dilute the sense of adventure offered by the province.

Ha Giang Loop by motorbike
Ha Giang Loop by motorbike

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