Dong Van – 12 things to do & travel guide

Located in the province of Ha Giang, Dong Van offers a blend of cultural experiences and natural beauty. Its bustling local ethnic market, held every Sunday, is a vibrant display of traditions and customs. Wander through the cozy Old Quarter, filled with charming buildings and it is the start of the famous Ma Pi Leng Pass. As a popular overnight stop along the Ha Giang Loop, Dong Van is a must-visit destination.
In this guide:

About Dong Van

Dong Van is both a town and a district, located over 400 km from Hanoi situated in the northernmost point of Vietnam and bordering with China.

The town serves as a popular destination for travelers embarking on the Ha Giang Loop, thanks to its ample selection of accommodation options.

The area around the town part of Dong Van district are home to numerous ethnic minority communities and stunning mountains of the Dong Van Karst Plateau.

Things to do in Dong Van town

1. Dong Van Market

Ethnic minority people walking with small pigs on Dong Van Market

Throughout most of the week, Dong Van remains a serene and tranquil town. However, on Sundays, it springs to life as a vibrant hub where numerous ethnic minorities converge to partake in the bustling Dong Van Market.

Exploring this remarkable market offers an amazing experience, providing valuable insights into the local ethnic groups’ cultural heritage. Witness the vivid spectacle of women dressed in colorful traditional clothes, relish the aromas of food being prepared over open fires, observe locals engaging in lively bargaining at various stalls, and encounter sights like barbers giving haircuts in the open air, as well as even seeing livestock including cows, buffaloes, and pigs.

2. Dong Van Old Quarter

The square of Dong Van Old Quarter
old shop houses in Dong Van Old Quarter

The remote town of Dong Van, nestled deep in the mountains of Ha Giang, boasts a surprisingly charming city center known as the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter features a square lined with historic houses, many of which date back to the French colonial era. These old houses have been repurposed as coffee shops, restaurants, and guest houses, catering to tourists. Particularly at night, the Old Quarter exudes a cozy atmosphere and is perfect for leisurely strolls.

3. Viewpoint French fort

Dong Van French fortress viewpoint in Ha Giang

Visit the viewpoint at the remnants of the French colonial fort atop a mountain in Dong Van. From this vantage point, enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, including the town of Dong Van and the majestic mountains that surround it. Capture stunning photographs and marvel at the natural beauty of the region.

Things to do around Dong Van District

4. Ma Pi Leng Pass

The road of the Ma Pi Leng Pass

Dong Van serves as the starting point for the breathtaking Ma Pi Leng Pass, linking it with the town of Meo Vac. Renowned as the king of mountain passes in Vietnam, the Ma Pi Leng Pass boasts epic views of a deep canyon, a meandering river below, and towering mountains.

The great thing about staying in Dong Van to explore the pass, is that you go go early in the morning, allowing you to savor the panoramic views undisturbed by other travelers.

5. Exploring Dong Van Karst Plateau

views from the Ha Giang Loop in Dong Van district

The town of Dong Van is nestled within the remarkable Dong Van Karst Plateau, recognized as a UNESCO Geopark. This breathtaking landscape is characterized by towering mountains and dramatic canyons. The region is also home to 17 distinct ethnic groups, each contributing to the rich cultural heritage of the area.

Exploring Dong Van Karst Plateau by car or motorbike allows for an immersive experience, offering stunning mountain vistas and opportunities to visit local villages and gain insights into the diverse ethnic cultures that thrive here.

6. Trekking

While many travelers opt for motorbike or car exploration of Dong Van, there is a missed opportunity to truly immerse oneself in the area by embarking on a trekking adventure.

Numerous small roads interconnect the villages surrounding Dong Van, providing an ideal opportunity to slow down, appreciate the stunning scenery, and visit local communities along the way. Trekking allows for a more intimate experience, granting you a chance to go off the beaten track and delve into the authentic local culture that may go unnoticed from a vehicle.

7. Lung Cu Flag Tower

Lung Cu Flag Tower on top of a hill, Vietnam's northmost point

The Lung Cu Flag Tower is located 25 km from the town of Dong Van, but still located in Dong Van District. The flag tower is located on a mountain, and indicated the northmost point of Vietnam. From the top you have a 360 degree view and can see both the mountains and countryside of Vietnam and China.

But the best part is actually the road going from Dong Van to Lung Cu. This route brings you through some of the most epic mountain scenery of Ha Giang, with small villages dotted around the mountain slopes. This area is nothing less than the famous Ma Pi Leng Pass.

8. Visit minority villages

ethnic house made of clay, stone and wood in Ma Le Village in Ha Giang

Exploring the minority villages in Dong Van is a must-do for cultural enthusiasts. With 17 distinct ethnic groups residing in the area, each village offers a unique glimpse into their vibrant traditions and lifestyles.

From the colorful traditional attire worn by women to the diverse architectural styles, such as stilt houses, clay houses, and stone houses, the cultural diversity is truly captivating.

While recommended villages to visit include Lo Lo Chai Village and Ma Le Village, embarking on your own adventure and discovering random villages is highly recommended.

9. Tham Ma Pass

Zigzag road on the Ha Giang Loop called the Tham Ma Pass

As you journey along the Ha Giang Loop from Ha Giang City to Dong Van, you will encounter the picturesque Tham Ma Pass. This pass may not be extensive in size, but its winding S-shaped road offers a captivating sight, making it an ideal spot to pause and capture stunning photographs of the surrounding scenery.

10. Chin Khoanh Pass

Chin Khoanh Ramp along the Ha Giang Loop

Before entering the enchanting Sung La Valley, you will conquer the Chin Khoanh Pass. This pass presents an exciting stretch of road that winds through the landscape, revealing breathtaking vistas along the way.

11. Hmong Kings Palace

the entrance of Hmong King Palace in Dong Van District in Ha Giang

Discover the fascinating Hmong Kings Palace, located in the town of Sa Phin. This historic site holds significant cultural importance as it once served as the residence of the Hmong kings during the French colonial period. Explore the palace grounds, admire its distinct architectural style, and learn about the intriguing history of the Hmong people in the region.

12. Sung La Valley

The green Sung La Valley with ethnic villages

Sung La Valley is a picturesque destination nestled amidst the towering mountains of Ha Giang. This valley offers a tranquil escape, with its lush green fields, traditional Hmong villages, and captivating natural landscapes. Take leisurely walks, interact with the locals, and soak up the peaceful ambiance of this idyllic valley.

How to get to Dong Van

Dong Van is best to combined with visiting the rest of this part of Ha Giang. It is recommended by doing this through the Ha Giang Loop, either by driving motorbike, on the back of a motorbike or by car.

The loop starts in Ha Giang City, a 6 hour bus or car ride from Hanoi. Normally if you arrange a guided tour, they will also arrange this transfer for you. If you desire to travel around yourself on a motorbike, you can easily arrange the bus ticket at any travel agency in Hanoi.

From Ha Giang City to Dong Van is less than 150 km, but it will take you a full day with all the stunning sights you have on the way.

Accommodation in Dong Van

Where to stay?

When it comes to accommodation in Dong Van, there are a few options to consider. If you prefer to stay in the city center close to the Old Quarter, you’ll find a range of guest houses and hotels that cater to different budgets. This is a convenient choice if you want easy access to restaurants and the vibrant atmosphere of the Old Quarter, especially if you’re staying over the weekend to visit the Dong Van Market on Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you can choose to stay outside the city in a homestay or lodge. This option allows you to experience a more local and authentic side of Dong Van. By staying in a homestay run by ethnic minorities, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in their culture. Enjoy family dinners, engage in conversations with your hosts, and get a glimpse into the local village life. It’s a great way to connect with the community and gain a deeper appreciation for the region.

Recommended accommodation Dong Van Town

  • Ancient Town 29 Pho Co: This budget-friendly guesthouse is located on the square of the Old Quarter, offering clean and affordable rooms for a comfortable stay in a convenient location.
  • Nha Nghi Quang Trung: This small hotel offers spacious and clean rooms, providing excellent value for money. While not luxurious, it offers a comfortable stay for travelers looking for a good deal.
  • Hoang Van Hotel: Ideal for a one-night stay, this hotel offers decent accommodations for travelers passing through Dong Van Town. It provides a comfortable resting place without breaking the bank.

Recommended accommodations outside town

Long Co Tran – Situated in Lung Cu, this accommodation offers a truly authentic experience in a beautifully constructed minority house. It provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy the serene surroundings of the area.

Nha Co Lao Xa Homestay Hmong – Although located a distance away from Dong Van Town, this homestay provides exceptional hospitality and a genuine local experience. With friendly hosts and clean accommodations, it offers an authentic taste of the Hmong culture and a chance to explore the rural lifestyle.

Food & restaurants

The Dong Van Old Quarter and its neighboring streets are the ideal areas to explore for restaurants in the evening. Here, you will find a variety of dining options to suit different tastes.

If you are staying in a homestay outside of town, you can enjoy a family dinner where you’ll have the opportunity to dine with the host family and other guests, savoring delicious local cuisine.

Recommended restaurants

For those in Dong Van town, a few recommended restaurants include:

  • Banh Cuon Ba Ha: This eatery offers a wide selection of tasty local food at affordable prices. Enjoy the flavors of authentic Vietnamese cuisine and indulge in their delicious banh cuon and other traditional dishes.
  • Roma Italian Restaurant: Surprisingly, Dong Van is home to a fantastic Italian restaurant called Roma. Treat yourself to pizzas, pastas, and other Western-style dishes prepared with care and served in a cozy atmosphere.
  • Green Karst Restaurant & Bar: A popular spot among locals and tourists alike, Green Karst offers a pleasant dining experience with a menu that combines both Western and Vietnamese flavors. Enjoy a variety of delicious dishes in a cozy setting.

Tips for visiting Dong Van

  • Visiting the market: Arrive in Dong Van on Saturday and stay overnight so you can experience the vibrant Dong Van Market on Sunday morning.
  • Enough time: Plan to spend at least one day to fully explore the Dong Van District. There are several sights and scenic spots to visit, such as the Ma Pi Leng Pass and Lung Cu Flag Tower. If you want to venture off the beaten track or engage in trekking activities, consider adding more days to your itinerary.
  • Best time to visit: Dong Van offers beautiful scenery year-round, but it’s important to consider the weather conditions. Winter months can be chilly in the mountains, while summer brings a higher chance of rain and hotter temperatures. Spring and autumn are generally considered the best seasons to visit, as the weather is more pleasant and stable.
  • Respect local customs and traditions: Dong Van is home to various ethnic minority communities with their own unique traditions and customs. When visiting local villages or attending cultural events, it’s important to be respectful and observe local etiquette. Ask for permission before taking photos of people, and be open to learning about their way of life.

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