Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop

First published November 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle


North of Sapa, the dramatic mountainous landscape which you can see (on a good day) from your Sapa hotel window, continues all the way to the Chinese border. Several small roads penetrate deep into steep, terraced valleys and climb high above ferocious rivers, swollen with cold mountain water, to remote minority villages, where a handful of homestays offer basic accommodation for a night. Creating a scenic loop, starting and ending in Sapa via the hilltop hamlet of Y Ty, this short, easily-navigable road trip is a great escape from the increasingly grim and touristy mountain town of Sapa. Either bathed in a warm, sharp highland light, shimmering over the ripe rice terraces like a halo, or covered in a cold, haunting, Dickensian fog, so thick it induces feelings of claustrophobia, the Sapa-Y Ty Loop is a rewarding way to spend a day or two in the saddle, especially as an extension of, or alternative to, the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop.

Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop, VietnamA scenic loop on back-roads north of Sapa through mountains & rice terraces dotted with homestays

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  • Total Distance: 195km
  • Duration: 1-2 days
  • Route: a mountainous loop north of Sapa via Y Ty & the Chinese border [MAP]
  • Road Conditions: paved back-roads, some extended bad sections, light traffic
  • Scenery: mountains, rivers, rice terraces, minority villages, remote borderlands


The Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Loop | 195km

View in a LARGER MAP

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For experienced riders (and with an early start), the Sapa-Y Ty loop can be completed in one day. However, two days is much more comfortable and also gives you a chance to stay at one of the several homestays along the way. Although it’s possible to ride this route in either direction, I recommend going clockwise on the loop, starting from Sapa. There are two ways to complete the Sapa-Y Ty Loop. Either as a literal ‘loop’ (see the blue line on my map), coming back via Lao Cai on road QL4D, or as a ‘P’-shaped loop, coming back via road DT158 from Bản Vược to Bản Xèo (see the red line on my map) and then retracing your outward route back to Sapa on road DT155 and QL4D. Whichever you choose, the total distance is as near as makes no difference 195km. 

Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop, VietnamThe Sapa-Y Ty Loop can be completed in one (long) day, but two days is ideal

Bear in mind that this is a very mountainous route, and, like all highland regions in the north, the roads are subject to landslides, especially after heavy rains. At the time of writing (November 2017), about 70% of the roads were in good condition. But a 40-50km section, starting from at least 10km south of Y Ty and continuing all the way A Mu Sung, was pretty rough, but passable (see map). However, this section is in the process of being upgraded, so I expect conditions to improve within a year. Just after passing through Muong Ham the road is often flooded by the river, so it may be necessary to take the short alternative route (marked in red on my map) to go around it. Motorbikes can be easily hired in Sapa; try asking at your accommodation to begin with. Weather is always difficult to predict in this region, but spring (March-May) and autumn (September-October) are probably the best months for warmth, light, and colour.

Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop, VietnamRoad conditions are fine for most of the loop, except for a 40-50km section & a regularly flooded road

There are at least half a dozen different homestays (often with the local ethnic minority group, the Dao) on roads DT155 and DT158 between the turn off from QL4D all the way to Y Ty. (Be warned that north of Y Ty until Bản Vược there is no official accommodation at all.) Most of the homestays can be seen, or are signposted, from the road. In general, the homestays on this route offer simple bedding (mattresses on a wooden floor under mosquito nets in a communal dorm room) and home-cooked meals. Prices for sleeping are rarely more than a few dollars (100,000vnd) per person, and meals usually run between 100,000-200,000vnd per person. In addition, many of the homestays offer ethnic Dao herbal baths (tắm lá thuốc người Dao). For the names, locations and contact details of some of the homestays on the Y Ty Loop see the markers on my map.

Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop, VietnamSeveral homestays line the route, many with excellent views, but visibility can be poor due to thick mists

If you’re lucky and the weather is good, then the scenery on the Y Ty Loop is fabulous. The grandeur and scale of the mountains and valleys of the northwest is unmatched anywhere in Vietnam. The rice terraces are higher, steeper, more dramatic, and less crowded (if you avoid weekends) than the more famous terraces of Mu Cang Chai. However, such is the weather in this region, that you may find it difficult to see more than a few metres in front of you. But, even in the mist, cold and rain, there’s still a sublime bleakness and majesty up on the high passes. North and east of Y Ty, the road is much less-travelled, following the Chinese border (formed by the Red River) for much of the way. The large border city of Lao Cai is a much more interesting place, with a far more local atmosphere, than Sapa, although it does lack the mountain vistas of the latter. There are lots of budget accommodation options around the train station (including the spotless Kim Cuong Hotel), or good-value mid-range hotels, such as the Sapaly (right next to the China border gate), or Lao Cai’s newest, fanciest hotel, the Aristo International.

Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop, VietnamThe scale & grandeur of the landscape in this region is unmatched anywhere in Vietnam

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10 Responses to Sapa-Y Ty Scenic Motorbike Loop

  1. Graeme says:

    Not sure if this is recent but it appears a river was diverted across the highway at 22.525296,103.700383. There’s another road that you can take around but it involves you driving your bike up a small stream, not for the faint hearted. I took pictures of the river crossing the road as well as the little stream you need to drive up.

    • Hi Graeme,

      Thanks. Yes, I was there a couple of months ago and the river was flowing over the main road (due to the construction of a dam), but I was able to ride up stream a bit on a smaller paved lane then over a bridge (for motorbikes only) and across to the other side, as shown on my map in red here. It wasn’t a difficult detour. Is this the area you are referring to?


  2. Lior says:

    Hey Tom,
    I have 10 days to travel north vientnam,
    What about renting a bike in Hanoi for 10 days, and go for maybe 2 of your suggested routes?
    Is it safe to rent a bike?
    Do you have any recommendations in Hanoi?
    Which routes would you recommend me to make if I plan to start riding in 20/12?

    Thank you very much for all the information!


    • Hi Lior,

      Yes, you could rent a bike from Hanoi. You can try contacting any of the trusted motorbike rental companies that are listed in the right sidebar and bottom of all my pages. Try Flamingo Travel, Dragon Bikes, Rent a Bike, and Tigit. You can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like, they know me.

      However, if you rent from Hanoi then you will need to ride out of Hanoi to get to the countryside and this can be quite a long and busy ride.

      Alternatively, you could send your bike on the train from Hanoi to Sapa (Lao Cai) and start your trip there instead (or just rent a motorbike in Sapa). Then you could ride the Sin Ho Loop and the Y Ty Loop, and the Borders & Back-Roads Loop.

      Or you could take a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang and then rent a bike from QT Motorbikes in Ha Giang. Then ride the Ha Giang Loop and maybe also ride over to Sapa on the Borders & Back-Roads route and then back to Ha Giang.

      I hope this helps,


      • Lior says:

        Thank you Tom, it helped me a lot!

        Is there an option to rent the bike from Ha Giang and put it back at Sapa?

        • Hi Lior,

          I don’t think so, but it’s something that more and more people want to do so I’m sure that soon there will be a service of this sort. Try contacting QT Motorbikes – they might be able to arrange something for you. Again, they know me so you can mention Vietnam Coracle if you like.


  3. Antoni says:

    I’m not sure if it’s easy to stay in though homestays – I wanted to stop in Y Ty, but they didn’t allow me (although place looked completely empty) – I think it’s required to have some permit, but I didn’t really understand too much 😉

    But the ride is very beautiful and definitely worth doing

    • Hi Antoni,

      That’s interesting. I didn’t have a problem at the homestays, but it’s possible that because it’s a border area some of the homestays may require some kind of permit. However, it’s becoming a fairly popular road trip so I imagine that those kind of restrictions won’t last long.


    • Marty87 says:

      Hi Antoni,

      Did you find any other places to stay for the night north-east of Y Ty village? I am trying to cut the loop in half, but would like to ride to Xin Man on day 2 and therefore the clock-wise approach looked best to me.

      All the best – Marty

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