Non-polar surfaces of HVPE grown GaN were characterized by cathodoluminescence (CL), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). Both of a- and m-plane GaN were prepared by growing thick GaN along the c-axis, and cutting in transverse orientations. The exposed non-polar surfaces were prepared by mechanical polishing (MP) and chemically mechanical polishing (CMP). Non-uniform luminescent characteristics on a- and m-plane GaN were observed in CL images, indicating a higher concentration of impurities in the area of more luminescence. CL spectra from the bulk samples revealed two peaks: 364 nm and 510 nm, related to band edge and impurity defects respectively. The detection by SIMS confirmed that oxygen was inhomogeneously incorporated during the growth of thick GaN layers. Surface qualities of a- and m-plane GaN were also investigated. The lower optical intensities from a-plane GaN at low acceleration voltages indicated more surface damages were introduced during polish. The optical intensity difference from the two samples was reduced at higher acceleration voltages. Similar CL intensities at low acceleration voltages from a- and m-plane GaN substrates prepared by CMP indicated improved surface qualities.