The North of Vietnam hides the true beauty of the country. Only a few tourists explore this area which combines the rice terraces of Sapa with a mountain landscape and the experience of how the poorest province of Vietnam looks like. It was the highlight of our 3 months in Vietnam, because there was limited clearing information on this loop on Internet I will try to provide some.
A few sleeping buses leave daily from Hanoi for 200k Dong. From Sapa you take a 1 hour local bus to Lao Cai and then a 7 hour drive with the local bus to Ha Giang for 150 k Dong. The bus gets extremely crowded so be sure you have a comfortable place to sit by being there in time.
In Ha Giang there are many hotels and all seem about similar, actually they are a little to overpriced for what you get. There are several possibilities in Ha Giang to rent a motorbike. For example at the Anh Anh hotel near the busstation or at Johny nam tram. Automatic, semi automatic and with clutch is all fine for the loop because there is proper asphalt for 95% of the route. Though an automatic may provide some little problems to reach a mountains summit when the engine does not work properly. A semi automatic is almost as easy to drive. You could do the loop in 2 days and have an overnight in Dong Van. 3 days provides you more time to visite some places on your way and enjoy the view. Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac all have some hotels to sleep and all have petrol stations. A bigger loop is possible as well but we met some fellow travellers who were not that enthousiastic about the road and views. When completing it in 2 days, I would advice to first take the lower part of the loop because it is little longer, so the next day you can visit lung cu after leaving Dong Van.
Leave Ha Giang early in the morning so you don’t have to rush at the end of the day. You follow the 4C from Ha Giang until Dong Van so finding your way is easy. The first highlight is heavens gate. Though a kilometer before, you reach the first summit and you have a beautiful view as well on the side you just drove up the mountain. You can stop at a parking place which has a some stairs up to a chapel to enjoy the beautiful view of the valley. The area around Yen Minh is beautiful and even contained some yellow rice at the beginning of november. The area between Yen Minh and Dong Van and between is a good moment to make quite some progress in your trip when time is short. The way between Yen Minh and Meo Vac shows you a beautiful mountain scenery and a lot of children willen be standing among the rode who wave at you. Though it is a very poor area they seem to appreciate it to see tourist because it only occurs coincidentally. Some sharp children may ask for money when you take a picture.
Between Meo Vac and Dong Van there is the Mai pi leng pass which shows the dark orange limestone rocks and in the valley flows a bright blue river. The scenery is beautiful. Dong Van is the most touristic and developed city. There are plenty of hotels, the rocky plateau hotel is a little more expensive. All others seem to have to same quality/price rate. You will have to get used to a hard matrass anyway. The old market is a cosy square where you can bbq your own meal. 2 kilometers from Dong Van there is a turn to Lung Cu, the most northern point of Vietnam. In comparison with the loop there come many tourist here, though almost all of them are Vietnamese. That is why Dong Van is touristic as well, mainly in the weekend.
When you like to visit a less known area, mountain scenery, rice terraces and motorbiking this is the perfect trip in Vietnam!