I'm pretty sure I've been to the most beautiful place on Earth. Ha Giang province is at least the most beautiful place I've ever visited. And I had never even heard of it before arriving in Vietnam, where everyone told me that I needed to go there. And so I did and they were right. The 3-day 2-night motorcycle loop was an absolutely mind-blowing experience.
I met the three others I would be doing the loop with on the sleeper bus to Ha Giang city: American-Taiwanese girl, Jannah and British brothers, Eden and Jordan. We clicked quickly and within a few hours travelling together and joking around felt completely natural.
We arrived at Chopia hostel in Ha Giang around 4 am and luckily got to sleep for a couple of hours before eating breakfast and setting off.
Picture: our route
We met our crazy and sweet guide (and Jordan's driver), Eagle, as well as our Easy Drivers. Lao would be driving me the next few days and although he didn't say much and didn't really know English I didn't mind. It gave me space to just take in and enjoy the stunning surroundings.
On our first day of driving, we covered 150 km of winding roads through the mountains. Every time we thought we had seen the most beautiful scenery the next one beat it.
Eagle taught us the very useful phrase "acha um num vai!" - which translates to " it is so fucking hot" and - and indeed it was. Over the next days that became our go-to phrase to shout. We stopped frequently for pictures and snacks, eating an amazing lunch at a roadside restaurant.
Picture: Jordan, Eden, Jannah
We passed completely untouched forrest, luscious mountains and deep valleys, fields of rice and corn and small villages of the various ethnic minority groups in the area. And no photo seemed to really capture the beauty and vastness of our surroundings, though I will try to let the pictures do most of the talking.
Picture: we played limbo with some local children
We visited the H'Mong King's Palace before reaching our H'Mong (big ethnic group in SE Asia) homestay just outside of Dong Van town.
Picture: local men playing chess in Doing Can town
Picture: Dong Van
The country side homestay was incredible and we just caught the sunset behind clouds as we arrived.
We all helped in the kitchen with dinner and then sat down to eat the incredible meal.
First, though, we were obligated to drink shots of "happy water" (corn alcohol) with the guides and our hostess, as it is seen as very rude and offensive to decline. Eagle taught us the Vietnamese way to say cheers before downing the tequila-like alcohol. After dinner we moved outside for karaoke night (Vietnamese people love karaoke) and got dressed up in traditional H'Mong clothing. We danced and sung to Queen, Beatles, Beyonce and much more and ended the night with card games.
Picture: me and one of the drivers, "Dragon"
The next morning we set off quickly after breakfast, having to cover 100 km of very winding roads before nightfall.
We started out by taking a detour to the flag point between China and Vietnam and stopped on the way to see the Chinese border.
Picture: border to China
We were back in Dong Van for lunch
and then continued our loop, passing through the Ma Pi Leng Pass, which is said to be the most astonishing mountain road in all of Vietnam. And it really was. Eagle let us up and down a tiny dirt path on the edge of the mountain to Danger Rock. We took turns climbing to the ledge there. The place was surreal - I actually couldn't comprehend it. It was incredible and sitting on the ledge was the craziest feeling of freedom.
The whole day was filled with stunning scenery and fun.
Picture: a rare moment where I managed to take a picture of my driver Lao
We arrived at our beautiful traditional stilt-house homestay in the tiny village of Du Qia around 5.30 pm
and hurried to change into our swimwear before hopping on the bikes again and driving to the nearby waterfall. We stayed there for a while before going back.
We had the best meal yet for dinner, cooked by the family and afterwards a cake was carried in in celebration of Jannah's 22 birthday.
We sang 'Happy Birthday' before karaoke was put on once again.
Jannah, Jordan and I ended up playing cards and talking on my mattress late into the night (Eden had fallen asleep early) and Jannah said it was the best birthday she had ever had. I'm pretty sure I would feel the same way with all the amazing things we had seen and done that day.
Our last day on the bikes was very relaxed as we only had to cover 50 km back to Chopai hostel and so we spent the morning in hammocks untill around 11 am.
On the third day the true incredibility of the last days seemed to sink in and I was smiling so hard the whole way my cheeks hurt. That rare feeling of being completely high on life hit me again and the splendour of our surroundings completely fulfilled me. My stomach seemed to bubble over with happiness and amazement and I think we were all feeling incredibly free, driving along the road with our arms spread out to catch the wind, trying to shout to each other.
I really do think that feeling is the reason we travel, there's absolutely nothing like it. We stopped frequently along the way, mostly to rest our by now very sore bums.
Eagle took us to his father in law's house, where he showed us how they made "happy water" and then to an amazing hemp store, showing us how they make the hemp cloth.
We all ended up buying beautiful bags from the store owned by an incredible Vietnamese woman who was on Forbes top 50 Vietnamese women list.
Around 5 pm we reached Chopai. And just like that we had completed the Ha Giang loop - I could've continued for months had it not been for the sore bum. We ate a really good vegan meal at a local "Chay" Vietnamese restaurant.
And then we took the bus back to the hustle and bustle that is Hanoi, arriving at 4 am and walking together to Buffalo hostel.
Ha Giang was just what I needed after a couple of rough days. The clean air, quiet surrounds, simple life of the locals and absolutely incomprehensible beauty of the place has given me a new and revived energy and joy for travelling. And I have a new group of great people to call friends.