Dong Van Plateau is a splendid mountainous area to the far north of Vietnam. The plateau has been long known for its steep mountains and deep canyons that are much more adventurous than normal trekking. Yet, Dong Van offers a breathtaking vista, a true serenity escape, and the priceless chance to engage in the lives of tribal people. All makes it a worthwhile visit despite the dangers.
Let’s find out all you need to know for your trip to Dong Van Plateau in our ultimate guide below.
Some interesting facts about Dong Van Plateau
- In 2014, UNESCO recorded Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark as a World Heritage Site
- The massive mountainous area is home to 17 ethnic groups, making it a unique and rich cultural sphere
- Limestones take up about 60% of the plateau’s surface.
- The highest mount in the area is about 1971m height, and the deepest Canyon is nearly 800m depth.
- Dong Van geopark is located at an extension foot mount to the East of the Himalayas
- Its geoheritage dates back from the Cambri (550 million years ago) to the present days.
Best time to visit
The ideal time to visit Dong Van plateau is in fall (from September to November). As the weather is not as cold as the winter, and less likely to rain than summer months. Also, from October to November is the blooming season of buckwheat flower, a unique flower of the northern mountain area of Vietnam. You can witness its beauty everywhere, in hills, stepped-rice fields, or in around makeshift local houses.
If you can not travel during autumn, then winter is the second-best choice. Although winter clothes are more burdensome, it is safer to travel during this dry season. Summer months coincide with the monsoon season, coming with risks of landslides, slippery roads, and poor visions.
However, since whether it rains can affect your safety, it is best to check the weather forecast carefully in advance. There may still be some enjoyable sunny days for your summer adventure.
How to get to Dong Van Plateau
Ha Giang city is the starting point for every traveler who wishes to embrace Dong Van Plateau. The common route is to travel to Ha Giang from Hanoi by bus or car, then go north to Dong Van plateau.
To ride or drive around the plateau, you must take the Ha Giang Loop. Half of the loop is wide and paved decently enough for driving. However, the other half is narrow, steep with lots of hairpin turns, few are covered by dirt and gravel.
Most transportation activities happen in 60% of the road, the other 40% is spacious.
There are three ways to do so: by motorbike, bus, and private cars.
Bus is, by all means, the cheapest option of all. But unfortunately, saving money is the only pros of this option. Public transportations are not convenient in mountainous areas like Ha Giang. There are only a few routes, so you may have to wait for a while to get on one. Bus drivers can sometimes drive dangerously, and they sometimes take their bus as a means to load their own goods.
You can choose to ride your own motorbike or have a local given you a ride. Motorbike is an awesome choice if you’re physically active and have a fair bit of adventure blood. While riding through the winding loop of Dong Van, you can enjoy the fresh breezing and the jaw-dropping mountainous view on the way. You can stop any time you want to have a wonderful moment with the majestic nature.
However, riding a motorbike contains lots of risks. It requires you to be a skillful biker to handle all the dangerous turns and narrow roads, and an international license as well. Also, besides travelers’ motorbike and cars, local buses and transportation trucks take the loops too. Drivers of these vehicles sometimes drive at a high speed even at dangerous hairpin turns, which is kind of scary to see. So it takes experience and a calm mind to deal with the fear.
Another great option is to hire a local to do the riding part. Then all you have to do is sit behind and enjoy it. These local guys know the roads well and they can meet your special requirements if any.
A private car is another excellent choice to consider. Although the cost may be higher, you can enjoy the whole hour-long journey in the comfort of the car seat. (sitting on a motorbike too long can be a harsh thing for your hip, believe me). Also, it’s easier to take pictures of the breathtaking view without worrying your phone will be blown away by the wind. Finally, when taking the dangerous turns, being in a car can make you feel safer.
As there are fewer rental car companies in Ha Giang, it’s best to choose a trusted car company in Hanoi, and the driver will accompany you for the whole trip. This way, the rent can be slightly lower too.
It’s advisable to book a Ha Giang tour from Vietnam tour companies. A tour package will include a rental car moving around Ha Giang, and you can enjoy the trip hassle-freely. I also recommend hiring a tour guide, since he can give you many insights about Dong Van Plateau, which can make your journey even more interesting.
Where to stay?
As an off-the-beaten-track-destination as Dong Van Plateau is, there’s no luxury hotel option. So the bad thing is, there is no mountain view 5-star hot tubs, or luxurious spa therapy amid the clouds. But the good thing is, it’s a genuine chance to mingle with nature and the local life.
You can choose to stay in a hotel/motel or a homestay. Price can vary from 8USD to 48USD per night. All accommodation options offer basic necessities, though not excellent but enough.
However, personally I would recommend homestay. Since it’s the best way to experience the local life of the ethnic group people. You can stay in a traditional wooden stilt house, lit a campfire like a H’mong, and watch their daily life activities.
How long should you stay
It depends on how many attractions you want to see. Normally, people who travel to Dong Van karst plateau also combine a visit to Meo Vac and Quan Ba – two nearby districts and Ha Giang city, into a whole Ha Giang trip. 5-7 days is ideal to get the most out of this up north province without a too empty schedule.
Things to do in Dong Van Plateau
As Dong Van plateau gains its reputation from its breathtaking mountainous landscape, the beauty of Dong Van is far beyond. It is home to 17 ethnic groups of Vietnam, which makes the district a tribal cultural hub that can be found nowhere else.
Let us skim through some inspiring things to do in Dong Van karst limestones.
Visit Quan Ba Heaven Gate and see the Fairy mountain
Quan Ba is, of course, not the door to heaven but it gives you a superb viewpoint of Dong Van’s zig-zag roads, misty clouds and lush mountains from the top, which is kind of the same. The gate is also the gateway to Dong Van geological park.
From Quan Ba heaven gate, you can view over Fairy Mountain. The two mountains sitting alongside each other look like the two breasts of a woman from afar. Locals people believe that it belongs to a fairy, who was once fallen in love and married to a mundane man. As her emperor forbade this love, she had to leave the land, thus, leave her breast here in order to feed her babies. And it is the milk from Fairy mountains that keeps crops around always lush and abundant.
Learn history at H’ mong Royal Palace
Hmong royal palace is an interesting historical site that is grandiose in style.
It belonged to the H’ mong kings who used to rule this land during the French colonial area. The wealthy royal family spent a handsome sum of money of USD 6.5 million and 8 years to build this palace as a fortress to protect them from attackers. During the August revolution, it is the hideout of the richest man of the region, who profited from drug dealing and trafficking. This explains why there are many poppy planted- shaped decorations in the palace.
Architecturally, The royal mansions bear heavy influence from the Chinese Qing Dynasty style with pine woods, terra cotta tiles, and Chinese-writing decorations. Yet it still has many Vietnamese traits. Images of lion, dragon, a phoenix that symbolizes power and prosperity, to name a few.
Challenge yourself in Ma Pi Leng Pass
Remember how we talk about the adventurousness of Dong Van plateau in the first place? Ma Pi Leng pass must be the most adventurous of all. It’s challenging to pass due to steep, winding, potholed roads which are often covered by thick fogs. Not to mention there are unexpected road constructions, no road barriers in many parts and it is a two-way traffic road.
Yet overcome the bumpy road, and the reward is awesome. From the height of the pass, you can see Ha Giang majestic mountains under your feet, and get a total view of local villages that are now tiny dots amid the green mountain.
Ma Pi Leng Pass is also the only place to fully view the probably deepest chasm of Southeast Asia, through which the green poetic Nho Que river runs.
My advice is to go to Ma Pi Leng Pass on a clear day to get the best view and wear enough warm clothes.
Dong Van Sunday market and local villages
Dong Van Sunday Market
Dong Van Sunday Market sits by massive terraced fields and the H’ mong royal palace. In a place where there are no malls, the Dong Van Sunday market is an important event for the locals to trade and to hang out as well. People come from miles away carrying goods on their backs to sell while wearing colorful dresses.
It is a busy, lively market that can give you so many insights about the life of local people. In the sweet scene of rice wine diffused in the air, you can try horse meat (a traditional dish of the H’ mong, practice bargaining for a piece of hand-woven fabrics or sort out different ethnic groups by their costumes.
The market starts from 5 am to 10 am, you’d better set your wakeup call early so as not to miss the authentic experience.
Be sure to spend some time on your itinerary trekking, as you do not want to skip visiting local villages hidden in the mountains.
You can spot local people with colorful, well-patterned handwoven dresses that represent their own ethnicity. You can also emerge in their unique folk tunes, tales, and watch their rural lifestyle that may as be just the same as hundreds of years ago.
Suggested Vietnam tours
After reading my article, I hope you now get basic travel information as well as a whole lot of inspiration to travel to Dong Van plateau. Dong Van is a great destination and worth your visit.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask us at any time. Our travel consultants are always willing to help make your travel planning easier.
Chi Tran – Travel Specialist