Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Motorbike Loop

Last updated July 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Sapa and Sin Ho are two small towns high up on the slopes of the Hoàng Liên Sơn Range, known in French colonial times as the Tonkinese Alps. Sapa is a famous mountain retreat, enormously popular with Vietnamese and foreign tourists. Sin Ho, on the other hand, is hardly ever visited by travellers. These two highland towns are connected by lofty mountain passes which afford spectacular views, on a scale not found anywhere else in Vietnam. Rent a motorbike from Sapa and spend a couple of days on the Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop; you’ll be rewarded with some of the grandest alpine scenery is Southeast Asia.

Scenery on the road to Sin HoMajestic: the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop takes you through some of the grandest landscape in Southeast Asia

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GUIDE: SAPA-SIN HO SCENIC LOOP


ROAD TRIP DETAILS:

  • Total Distance: 330km
  • Duration: 2-4 days
  • Route: a round-trip between Sapa & Sin Ho on mountain passes [MAP]
  • Road Conditions: excellent mountain highways & good back-roads, some rough patches
  • Scenery: the Tonkinese Alps: valleys, mountains & rivers on the roof of Indochina


ROAD TRIP CONTENTS:

ABOUT THIS ROUTE:

I’ve written this road trip in 3 sections, going anti-clockwise on the loop, but you can drive it in either direction. The total distance is 330km. Note that each section doesn’t necessarily correspond to one day on the road: You could ride this loop in 2 days, if you start early and have good weather. However, the roads are steep and windy so progress is slower than in the lowlands, also the scenery is superb so you’ll probably want to stop regularly and admire the views. 3 days is perfect. Weather and time of year are important considerations on this loop. Landslides are a common occurrence after wet weather and can block roads for hours or even days. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a dry season in this area and the weather can change very suddenly all year round. The good news is that all of the roads on this loop are either in excellent condition or are in the process of being upgraded. September and October are perhaps the best months to go; the weather is warm and the terraced rice fields are ripe and ready for harvest. Below is my description of the ride, including directions and suggestions of places to stay and eat, as well as my map of the route.

Sin Ho District, Sapa, VietnamThreading through the mountains between Sapa and Sin Ho in Vietnam’s stunning northwest region


ROUTE MAP:

Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop: Mountain passes in the Tonkinese Alps


View in a LARGER MAP

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SECTION 1:

Route: Sapa to Lai Chau | Distance: 75km [MAP]

Head west on Road QL4D from the mist-shrouded town of Sapa. The road passes a couple of pretty waterfalls before reaching the top of Tram Ton Pass, Vietnam’s highest mountain road at 1,900m (6,230ft), about 15km from Sapa. You’ll know when you get here because, if the weather is clear, you’ll see the pass snaking around the mountains below you. Even in misty conditions you’ll know you’ve arrived because it’s significantly warmer on the pass than in Sapa: the pass is both a climatic divide and a provincial one, marking the border of Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces.

Tram Ton, Vietnam's highest passThe spectacular Tram Ton Pass is the highest road in Vietnam: it’s a wonderful ride

The impressive, crenelated ridge to the south is Mount Fansipan, Indochina’s highest peak at 3,143m (10,312ft). Its looming presence bears down on the pass, casting a cold shadow over the road. Deep down in the valley below indigo rivers forge paths over large boulders. Fansipan is so big that it dominates the scenery all the way to Lai Chau.

The Tram Ton Pass winds down through more pristine alpine scenery to Tam Duong town. It’s not much of a place – although its new multi-lane high-street would suggest otherwise – but if you need a rest there are a couple of nhà nghỉ (guest houses) and food stalls along the main road. Continue northwest on Road QL4D for 40km to Lai Chau. If you’re visiting during September or October look out for some absurdly pretty valleys of terraced rice fields about 10km before descending into Lai Chau. This is the kind of scenery that brochures promise Sapa will offer, but in reality you have to travel a little further afield to find sights like this:

Terraced rice fields near Lai ChauScenes like this await you on the road to Lai Chau if you visit in late summer to early autumn

Lai Chau city is a brand new concrete creation in a remote valley surrounded by pyramidal peaks. It consists mostly of grandiose government buildings, wide empty boulevards and depressingly vacant public spaces. On a wet, cold day Lai Chau is a painfully soulless place to be. The scale of infrastructure and architecture are not in proportion to the population or significance of the city; it’s like an insecure person at a dinner party shouting loudly to compensate for lack of personality. However, Lai Chau does make a convenient overnight stop. There are decent-value guest houses (nhà nghỉ) and hotels on the main road. I like Nhà Nghỉ Phương Vy (Tel: 0973 469 342) set a couple blocks back from the main street with very clean rooms for around $10. Look for the bright orange building on the right as you enter town from the east, opposite the bus station. You could even ‘splash out’ ($30) on Muong Thanh Lai Chau Hotel, which has a large pool. The area around the lake has some good bánh xèo (Vietnamese savoury pancakes) and other food in the late afternoon/evening.

Lai Chau City, Lai Chau Province, Vietnam's northwestLai Chau is a fairly soulless town, especially in bad weather, but it’ll do for a night

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SECTION 2:

Route: Lai Chau to Sin Ho | Distance: 120km [MAP]

From Lai Chau continue northwest on Road QL4D toward the town of Phong Tho. Here you can find hotels and food if you feel like a break. After Phong Tho the road turns back on itself, heading south along the Da River valley. The road is in good condition, and it’s a quiet, easy stretch through a majestic river valley.

The wonderful scenery around Sin Ho, VietnamJaw-dropping: the scenery on the road to Sin Ho is simply staggering

Nam Cay/Chan Nua is less of a town and more of a country junction. There’s a guest house (nhà nghỉ) here called Hưng Tâm (Tel: 0948 943 643) if you feel like staying the night, and some local food is also available. At the junction turn left (due east) on Road TL128 for the impossibly scenic and steep ride to Sin Ho. In good weather this route is exceptional. Cutting a path in the mountainside, the single lane road zig-zags up for 40km to the isolated mountaintop town of Sin Ho. The views over ridges, farmland, ethnic minority villages and clear rivers are superb. Every time I ride up here I have a grin on my face the whole way, constantly stopping and gazing in disbelief at the landscape.

Big landscape, road to Sin HoTiny hamlets cling to mountainsides outside Sin Ho, blue ridges disappearing into the distance

Like Sapa, Sin Ho is often engulfed in mist and drizzling rain. The town is a bit scruffy and run-down, and feels very remote. Built on a small plateau at an altitude of over 1,000m (3,300ft) Sin Ho is very cool, especially in the evenings. Ringed by limestone pinnacles and surrounded by minority villages scattered over the mountainside, this town has huge tourist potential, but as yet hardly any travellers make the trip.

Showers pass across Sin Ho plateauSin Ho is subject to very changeable weather, making the landscape mysterious and brooding

Try to time your visit to catch the Sunday market. Busiest between 8-10am Sin Ho market receives hundreds of minority women dressed in their various colourful clothing. They make the journey by foot (sometimes starting before dawn) to the market in order to buy (not sell) supplies for the week ahead. Unlike Sapa market and the horrendously touristy Bac Ha Market, where minority people are more likely to be seen selling to foreign and Vietnamese tourists, Sin Ho market is the real deal. This means there’s no hassling to buy trinkets and garments; most of what’s for sale is fresh meat, vegetables, fruit and practical equipment for use in the villages.

A minority girl at Sin Ho Market, VietnamA girl from one of Vietnam’s many ethnic minorities shops at Sin Ho’s Sunday market

There are lots of local food outlets around the main square, which doubles as the town’s football field. There are a few guest houses (nhà nghỉ) in town, but I’d choose Phúc Thọ Hotel (Tel: 0914 541 727). Located right on the main square, just a 30 second walk from the market, this is a large place run by a sweet older couple. Rooms have balconies looking over town and, although a little shabby, cover all the basic necessities, including hot water showers. Rooms from 1-6 people sharing are 200-600,000vnđ ($10-30).

Unusually sunny, Sin HoTown in the clouds: Sin Ho sits on a plateau surrounded by high peaks

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SECTION 3:

Route: Sin Ho to Sapa | Distance: 135km [MAP]

The 60km descent on Road TL128 from Sin Ho back down to Lai Chau is just as beautiful as the ride up. A vast landscape of endless mountains stretches into the distance, dotted with stilt-home villages clustered around clear streams. However, some sections of this road are a little rough due to maintenance work and regular landslides. Take your time and take care on the descent from Sin Ho, especially in wet or damp conditions. At Lai Chau the pass rejoins Road QL4D from where you turn right (due east) and retrace your route back to Sapa via the Tram Ton Pass.

Descent, Sin Ho to Lai ChauMore wonderful and expansive views on the pass down from Sin Ho to Lai Chau

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102 Responses to Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Motorbike Loop

  1. Jenny says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’m in Sapa with my boyfriend right now and are considering the sapa to sin-ho loop when the weather clears up in a few days. As this is outside of your recommended time frame above and it is not harvest season, do you still think the loop is worth doing? Also is there a place in Sapa you can recommend getting a motorbike at? We would love to spend a few days motor biking while we are in the north hoping to see some beautiful views but are not really sure if this time of year is worth it? Or if there is a different northern loop that will be better?

    • Hi Jenny,

      Yes, it’s definitely worth doing it! It will still look fantastic :-)

      I can’t recommend any specific place to rent motorbikes in Sapa but you shouldn’t have a problem finding one. Ask at your hotel first, or perhaps try contacting Sapa O’Chau and asking them.

      I hope you enjoy the ride,

      Tom

  2. How populated is the route? Would it be a big issue if your bike broke down along this route?

    • Hi Dan,

      This route is quite sparsely populated but there will always be at least some passing traffic so you can always find help if you break down.

      Tom

    • Alan Hodgson says:

      Hi Tom

      I’ve just completed the Lai Chau ,Sin Ho loop from Sapa today. I spotted a 4 day window of good weather for the area and went for it. Weather forecasts are pretty unreliable at the best of times and more so in mountainous areas. Happily the forecasters got it right this time. Apart from thick mist on the top of the Tram Ton pass on the way out it was sunshine all the way. So even got to see the stunning views on the return leg over the pass.

      A great ride – thanks for providing the route info. Incidentally I stopped at the Phuc Tho hotel in Sin Ho as you recommended. Only 200000 VND for a room to myself. I guess a lot of the upgrades on the road down from Sin Ho to Lao Chau have been completed since you rode there. A few short sections still being worked on but 90% of road was in good condition and there was a long central section (presumably recently resurfaced) which was absolutely fabulous. Best bit of road I’ve seen in my 3 months in Vietnam. It’s the only bit of road where I wished I had race leathers and a sports bike (but even on a 125, going down hill it was possible to get up a decent turn of speed). Sight lines are good too so easy enough to spot the occasional truck. Just watch out for where the good tarmac ends !

      Thanks again

      Al

      • Hi Alan,

        Great to hear you enjoyed the ride and that the weather stayed good for you! Thanks a lot for sharing the updates on road conditions there – it’s good to know that the surface is now is better condition. I’d like to get up there again this autumn and try it out :-)

        Tom

  3. Mark says:

    Hello. I’m in Sa Pa now. The fog is thick and so there isn’t much in the way of views. Would the Sapa-Sin Ho loop be worth it at this time of year? Is there fog cover throughout the route/area? Would hate to do all that riding and have most of the views obscured by fog. Maybe head to Ha Giang instead?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes, it’s often foggy in Sapa, at any time of year. It’s very difficult to know what it will be like on the Sin Ho Loop. Obviously, that is a very mountainous area and December is the winter time, so I would certainly expect cold temperatures and at least some cloud and mist. However, the first mountain pass on that loop is famous for being a climatic divide between provinces: often the weather on the other side of the pass is better than in Sapa. So it might be worth at least riding up to that pass to see what it looks like – it’s only about half an hour from Sapa: the Tram Ton Pass.

      I hope it clears up for you,

      Tom

      • Mark says:

        Thanks for the response. I think I’ll stick around and give it a try. Finished The Classic recently and this resource has been indispensable. Appreciate your work.

  4. Pingback: Sapa & the Sin Ho motorbike loop, Vietnam – mowgli explores

  5. Math says:

    I did the loop last weekend, was my first time in Vietnam (from Montreal). I followed mostly your guide and it was an insane trip! I rent a Sufat 100 in Sapa because I didn’t wanted an automatic bike. Was hard to find a manual bike in Sapa but it was worth, even if I had some issues with the bike. It didn’t had good weather, last part from Sin Ho to Sapa was all in the fog, sometimes I couldn’t see farther than 20 m in front of me but it was still a lot of fun ! The roads were mostly in good conditions. They are currently working on a big part of the road from Sin Ho to Sapa, probably that next summer there will be more concrete part in this section.

    If you want to take a look at what is waiting you, I made a video of my experience in Vietnam, first part is one day in Hanoi and the second one is the scenic loop of Sapa – Lai Chau – Sin Ho.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIal_voyvCs

    Thanks for posting this trip with that much informations, it was really easy to follow and such a great time ! I would recommend this trip to anyone who likes landscapes, motorbike and curves on a motorbike haha !

    I would maybe not recommend this trip to someone who has never ride a motorbike before. Sometimes, the cars are taking both sides of the roads in curves and you need good reflex to avoid them.

  6. Pingback: The Hanoi Impressive Hotel » Vietnam Coracle

  7. Matt wileman says:

    I did this route back in July and hands down this was the most epic thing I did in 4 months of travelling, topping climbing mount Rinjani and mount Fuji.

    I have made a youtube video of it here: https://youtu.be/ie5WeI-DKLM
    along with a Sapa homestay:

    I couldnt get over the fact that there is a different, utterly incredible view around every corner.
    Ended up spending too much time taking way too many videos and photos on my phone.
    It really does feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The locals wave and the children run out of shyness purely because you are white.
    From the top of the mountain it is possible to see China and Laos with the sun setting over Laos at sunset.
    We came down from the mountian, when it was dark, not knowing where to stay (nothing on maps.me) and having gone anticlockwise around the route. But we turned left when we met the main road and stayed in Trạm Y tế xã Chăn Nưa in a homestay where all the locals who had never left their village turned up and played pool with us. Only they were abit too keen to offer out ‘Happy Water’.
    I recommend going further down the road QL12 to the Ban Cheng Nuoi lake after staying the night in the place above before carrying on the anticlockwise loop.
    We did this route in 1.5 days, it was a push but goes to prove the route is easily do-able in 2 days.

    Thanks so much for recommending this route Tom.

    Would it be possible to add a link of my youtube video to your page?
    https://youtu.be/ie5WeI-DKLM

    • Hi Matt,

      Great to hear that you had such a good time on the loop. The video looks good.

      Yes, it’s a wonderful part of Vietnam – so isolated, alpine and majestic, and still not so many travellers go there.

      Just talking about it makes me want to go back there right now.

      Tom

      • Joe Berresford says:

        Hiya Tom.

        Me and my Girlfriend are planning on doing this route next weekend. It sounds amazing. Can you suggest a couple of waterfalls on the way that are worth a visit? We plan on taking our time so a swim here and there would be brilliant.

        Thanks for taking the time to share the loop.

        Thanks
        Joe

        • Hi Joe,

          There are lots of waterfalls and rivers along the way that are good to look at and for a quick swim. But, apart from Thác Bạc (Silver Waterfall) not far out of Sapa, I don’t know the local names. But that doesn’t matter because you’ll see they from the road (most of them are right by the road).

          I hope you have good weather. If there are any road updates, please let me know.

          Thanks,

          Tom

          • Joe Berresford says:

            Cool, Thanks!

            We plan to set of on the bike tour Around 1pm as we are finishing a trek in the morning. Will that leave us enough time to complete the first part of the journey before dark? Also What’s the best way to navigate, is there a good gps App I can use incase I get lost?

            Thanks again

            Joe

          • Hi Joe,

            You can use Google Maps on your phone with 3G. Or maps.me is good too.

            Yes, you could ride from Sapa to Lai Chau (Section 1) before dark – it probably gets dark around 6pm, so that gives you 5 hours, and the distance is only 75km. However, it’s a very beautiful and very winding road so it may take longer than you’d expect: partly because you will be stopping to look at the views, and partly because all the hairpin bends make riding slow. You’ll probably only average around 30km an hour on this trip. Also, if it’s been raining a lot recently there may be landslides blocking the road, but there’s nothing you can do about that.

            I hope it goes well for you.

            Tom

  8. LJ says:

    Can this be done with an automatic?

  9. Chris says:

    Sinho to Lai Chau had a 10km stretch of gravel road today just near Lai Chau. Definitely passable but worrisome for my tires.

    Funny, I never saw turn off to Phong Tho, was expecting a t junction but never saw one.

    Sorry wrote better post earlier by Wi-Fi timed out…

  10. Chris says:

    By the way, if anyone is considering continuing south on 6 after Sin Ho, allow 3.5 hours from Muong Lay to Tuan Giao. It is a windy road, but pleasant.

  11. Chris says:

    I rode 128 from Chan Nua to Sin Ho today and the road was fine. Had some areas of holes and missing asphalt you had to slow down for but no long stretches of damage.

  12. Chris says:

    I’m sorry if I missed it, but do you have a recommended guest house in Sapa?

    I’m in Tuan Giao right now at a hidden boutique hotel named Hong Ky Hotel. It is directly across from the Honda shop, down an alley. 300000. There is a small impromptu street market a minute away. Very interesting scene.

    Heading up to Sinho tomorrow which just happens to be Sunday so that worked out well.

    • Hi Chris,

      There are so many hotels and guesthouses in Sapa that I haven’t listed a particular one. Just make sure you get a room with a mountain view – in my opinion that is what Sapa is all about, because the town itself is a bit of a tourist trap these days :-(

      Tom

  13. Mattia says:

    Hello,
    We are a couple thinking of going to Sapa the next few days and after reading your blog we would like to do this loop in 2 or 3 days. Any suggestions where we can rent a motorbike without a vietnamese driving license?
    Any others advices on where to stay overnight or anything you have in mind?
    Thanks a lot for your help,
    Have a good day,
    Deborah

    • Hi Deborah,

      You should be able to rent motorbikes without a license pretty much anywhere in Sapa – ask at your guesthouse or hotel for a start.

      Personally, I like to stay away from Sapa’s centre, which is around the main square, because it is very touristy these days and overcharging is common. But, accommodation in Sapa is all about the views over the mountains – so wherever you stay just make sure you ask for a good mountain view :-)

      I list some accommodation options for the route in my guide on this page. Also, please read the comments on this page, because many readers have written with important updates on this route.

      I hope you enjoy the ride,

      Tom

  14. Antek M. says:

    I’ll be actually doing it from the other direction :). I’ll check this 128, especially that it seems like the more scenic one

  15. Antek M. says:

    Hi Tom, which section would you recommend if I can do it only one-way (coming from Mu Cang Chai side, so I can’t complete the whole loop)?

    • Hi Antek,

      First of all, make sure to read the most recent comments above, because people have given important updates about road conditions.

      It sounds like, in the current conditions, it would be best to take QL4D to Lai Chau and then ride up to Sin Ho on TL128.

      Please let me know how you find road conditions on this route – it will be a great help to other readers.

      Thanks,

      Tom

      • Antek M. says:

        Ok, finished few days ago.
        Conditions are ok, after Sin Ho there’s some kilometers of a new road (brilliant ride), later unfortunately you hit the construction works and you need to ride around 10 km on gravel (nothing really scary, just need to go slower). Last 10 km to Lai Chau are mostly ok again.

        Road up from the junction to Sin Ho is in good condition, just occasionally bit bumpy (as you can expect from such mountainous road)

        But in general the whole ride is so nice that it would be worth to do even if the road was in much worse shape

        I must add also that the last part (Lai Chau to Sapa) is also terrific and if someone doesn’t have time for the whole trip it’s worth to do at least this part (especially this part from Sapa to the junction with QL32 – amazing ride)

        • Hi Antek,

          Great. That’s good news. Thanks for the important update on road conditions on this loop. It’s good to know that it’s in decent condition and still a beautiful ride.

          Tom

  16. Janis says:

    Trip is over :)

    How it went?
    After long rain decided to go as soon as it stopped and… Didn’t see a thing in mountains after leaving Sa Pa, thick mist, fog was everywhere, so I hoped that on my way back it will be clear :) as soon as I was down the hills, bright sun appeared and all long way till junction to road 128 it was perfect sun, easy ride, excellent road condition (I don’t count small bumps 20 m long). I stayed at mentioned hostel and next morning I just had some 30 smth km ahead of me. So first day, some 6 hours on a road and 170 km behind me, eaaaaasy ride, fun and I was pretty slow, smiling all way. Second day. Woke up, rain again. It stopped and I went to Sin Ho. Perfect sun, excellent road, fantastic views, easy ride. Just chilled, played soccer with locals, eat some cheap and good Pho, delicious Banh my.
    Third day. Woke up. Rained again… Of course. Stopped, went back. It was pure sun for 10 minutes and again thick fog :) couldn’t see my wheel haha. After some 30km when all amazing views were behind me I guess, sun appeared :) but I don’t mind, cuz road was PERFECT, fun, easy, fast! There was some 10 km without tarmac but road was smooth, still work going on, but it’s completely ideal for riding. And yes, I was rewarded on my way back from Lai Chau til Sa Pa, perfect sun and fast easy ride.

    Conclusion. Do it! Tom, it was amazing ride, thank you! roads are good quality, don’t take detour. You can do it also if u want in two days! Thanks again

    By the way, I went from Saigon to Hanoi coastline and now flying back to Saigon again. Want to rent a bike and do some tour to Dalat side :) if there is some suggestion, let me know! Again, have a fun trips and rides everyone!

    • Hi Janis,

      Glad you had such a good road trip. Shame about the rain (again) but you did get to see some of that epic landscape in the sun after all :-)

      Many thanks for the road updates – so good to know that the route is in good shape now.

      I can’t wait to get back up there I ride it again myself.

      Take a look at my Dalat Archive here and my southern routes here.

      Tom

  17. Emily says:

    Best wrong turn I made was into the town of Muong So! There’s a fabulous guesthouse just past the bridge over the river, with basic as well as fancier rooms, 150,000 or 300,000 dong. The town has a lot of charm unlike most of the spots on 4D, a cute suspension bridge upriver, and also a lively local market in the daytime. It’s not far out of the way either, just 3km up Rte 100, toward the right, where 4D splits toward Phong Tho. Not much English spoken, but very welcoming.

  18. Emily says:

    Currently closing out Day 2 of the loop…. Wow! Fantastic thus far! On account of rain, couldn’t get an early start to the market. But that’s totally fine because I got to encounter all the market traffic on the road up to Sin Ho. Did the loop out of Phong Tho clockwise because I instinctively just followed the road sign to Sin Ho going south on Rte 12. Expected much worse conditions because of the constant rain, but nothing too bad considering this is a rural mountain road. Small mudslides, a few boulders, potholes, gravelly stretches, but still pleasantly rideable. Yes, go slow and watch the road, but not treacherous, in my opinion.
    When the rental agency in Sapa heard my plans, they refused to rent me an automatic and I’m so glad for that. Semi-auto Honda Wave is a better choice and your wrists will thank you for avoiding those pesky hand brakes, although I have to guesstimate petrol usage on account of broken gauges. Something to check before you rent.
    Would’ve liked to find out what this “light show” in Sin Ho is about? Couple of people mentioned it (lacking English for further detsils) and I think maybe it is conjunction with a festival up there April 27 – May 4.
    Don’t be an amateur like me… Bring sunscreen. It was warm and sunny (and high altitude) and I got fried.

    • Hi Emily,

      Sounds great so far! Shame about the rain still :-( Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been to that area and NOT had rain at least some of the time!

      Thanks for your updates about road conditions – sounds like it’s still good for riding.

      I’ve never heard of the ‘light show’ but it sounds interesting.

      Tom

  19. Michael Lapin says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for all the great info. Would you recommend a route from Pu Long > Sin Ho?

    Many thanks again,

    Mike

  20. Janis says:

    Hey, Tom, everyone :)

    Just sitting in Hostel, reading all the comments and I think tomorrow I’ll start my ride. Little bit concerned about road quality, but who cares, right, it will be awesome anyways!! Hope to find nice motorbike, Honda Wave I think will be fine? I rode it from Saigon to Hanoi and had just small issues during the road. I don’t have long pants and rain coat, I hope I’ll not freeze to death. Have thin sweater though :) good luck for me, :)

    • Hi Janis,

      I hope you enjoy the ride and that the weather stays nice for you! Please do let me know how the road conditions are when you return – it would be a great help to me and my readers.

      Thanks,

      Tom

      • Janis says:

        Hey,

        It’s been 12 hours just pure rain!!! I guess today I’m not going, still heavy rain outside. How do you think, if it will stop today, will I be able to go tomorrow morning other way? Want to make to sin ho Sunday market? Thanks :)

  21. Max says:

    It’s the 26th and we’re in Sin Ho, having started the route backwards. I’d like to report that the condition of the road from Lai Chau to Sin Ho is in good shape. Yes, there is still construction. The last 8 or so kilometers towards Lai Chau are gravelly and there’s active work being done. Ride slow. However, it is not nearly as treacherous as the northern half of Ta Xua (a 30km, six hour ride through hell). My friend’s ’98 100cc Honda Win did fine. Don’t bother with the back road, the main road is beautiful and rideable.
    I am looking forward to the Sunday market tomorrow.
    Thanks Tom for the great guides.

    • Hi Max,

      Thanks for the update on road conditions – it’s good to hear that the road up to Sin Ho from Lai Chau is (slowly) getting better.

      Thanks for the information about Ta Xua – sounds like a long, arduous ride!

      Tom

  22. Kurt says:

    Hey. Im on the Loop right now staying in Lai Châu right now. See what happens the rest of the Loop.
    One question. Is there a possibility to get some gasoline up in the Hills? I only got a Wave with max 3 Liters in the Tank and I’m not sure if this last for the whole trip back to Sapa.

    By now it’s a awfull trip even without any vietnamesian words in my mind.

    • Hi Kurt,

      Yes, there are gas stations in Sin Ho – you can get from Lai Chau to Sin Ho with a tank of 3 litres of gas comfortably.

      Read the most the comment above by Robert on March 20 – he gives updated details of road conditions from Lai Chau to Sin Ho.

      Why is it an awful trip?

      Tom

  23. Robert says:

    Hey Tom, thanks for all the guides. I’m nearly at the end of my trip and followed your south to north route, just skipping a bit of the north east part because the riding combined with the Vietnamees beds are taking a toll on my back.
    Drove the sin ho- Lai Chau route a week back. Leaving the Sin Ho district the road gets horrendous, it’s all being resurfaced or is in desperate need of it. I ended up driving kilometres over rocks that are meant for the foundation. It goes on and of for a 20km stretch. I didn’t have your detour at hand and think the road was still in excellent condition when I past the turn.
    In Lai Chau I stopt at the Yamaha garage where they repaired 7 punctures on the the rear tyre and 5 on the front (some where there for longer I assume).
    So anyone doing the loop is better off taking the detour.

    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks for this useful update. It’s a shame it’s taking so long for this road to be resurfaced – I wish they would finish it so everyone can enjoy this scenic stretch of road.

      Wow, 12 punctures – that must be a record!

      Great to hear that you’ve ridden south to north and enjoyed it.

      Tom

  24. Pat says:

    Hi Tom
    As we are continuing on from Sin Ho to Dien Bien we will only have time to take one route. We were thinking either the QL12 or TL128? Which would you recommend?
    Thanks
    Pat

    • Hi Pat,

      TL128 is more spectacular that QL12 but slower and there may still be some roadworks on it (see the comments above). However, this is one of the most scenic rides in the region so don’t miss it if the weather is good.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  25. Renato says:

    Thanks Tom and and the people updating this post with info!
    I am planning to do the loop in 3 or 4 days with my wife in one bike next week. Sounds like a treat!
    A couple of questions I have if you can help. What bike and where could I rent? Currently thinking a 250 of some sort. Second, is it easy to find a place where we could leave our extra luggage there (either whatever guesthouse we book – suggestions welcome or the bike rental place – suggestions also welcome :) )?

    Super thanks

    Renato

    • Hi Renato,

      You should be able to leave your extra luggage at your guesthouse or hotel in Sapa, as long as you book a room at the same hotel for when you RETURN to Sapa after the road trip.

      What kind of bike you hire is up to you, but you don’t need anything bigger than a 115 semi-automatic to ride this loop. Try Rent a Bike Vietnam (there’s a link to them in the sidebar and bottom of this page) or Flamingo Travel in Hanoi. Or in Sapa you should be able to rent bikes from most guesthouses.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Renato says:

        Great stuff Tom. I just say 250 because it will be me and the miss plus a backpack but let me see what I find when in sapa.
        I suppose the weather will be mild this time of year too?

        Thanks for the detailed post and site.

        Renato

  26. Lydia says:

    Hi!

    I am about to cycle some of this route, in a few weeks – planning for 4-5 days from Dien Bien Phu – Muong Lay – Sin Ho – Lai Chau (and on to Sapa/Lao Cai). Hoping to do the road straight from Sin Ho to Lai Chau (not the back way to Phuong To) – it sounds like the last few commenters got through okay in recent months. Can you (or anyone reading this who has recently been) comment on what the road conditions are like for a bicycle?

    I imagine the rough road might be more suitable by bicycle than by motorbike, I’m just more cautious as turning around and going the other way is a bit more of a commitment if we can’t get through!

    Thanks again – I’m really glad I found this post!

    – Lydia

    • Hi Lydia,

      That’s quite a bike ride to undertake – lots of very challenging hills! But the scenery is stunning and it should be all the more rewarding having cycled it :-)

      Road conditions are fine for bicycles, providing it hasn’t been too wet recently – the rain can turn the dirt and dust to mud (very slippery) along any unmade sections of road. However, I would think the previously unmade sections and now finished, but you never know.

      The other thing to consider is your tyres – if they are thin racing tyres then you may have a problem on some of the bumpier patches of road. However, remember that you can always flag down a passing vehicle (or even motorbike) to take you and your bicycle back if the road becomes impassable at any point.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

      • Lydia says:

        Thanks Tom! That’s really helpful. It does look quite challenging, but I’m excited to give it ago. Your info about nha ghi/guesthouses in some lesser known spots (e.g. Nam Cay) is also really helpful for planning backup stops in case things don’t go as expected.

        Our bikes are off-road touring bikes with pretty hardy tyres, so hopefully about as good as it can get for mixed conditions of on-road/off-road riding -we will have just come through some pretty remote/hilly sections of Northern Laos as well (Houayxai – Pak Beng – Luang Prabang – Muang Khua).

        I’ll report back in a few weeks and let you know how we find the road conditions!

        Thanks again,

        Lydia

  27. Sam says:

    Hi Tom

    I just wanted to say thanks so much for the time and effort you put into this blog – it’s such a fantastic resource! Your passion for Vietnam really resonates through your writing and the meticulous descriptions and maps on each post. I’ve lived in Saigon for nearly a year now and I refer to it constantly for new ideas and places to visit – the value I have received from your blogging has been tremendous. I literally just got back from a quick bike ride to Thanh Da island after reading your Saigon River post – it’s really amazing how you suddenly feel like you’re in the countryside.

    Regarding the Sapa-Sin Ho loop, my brother and I had a great adventure doing the ride back in early October. We took screenshots onto our phones of this entire blog post so we wouldn’t have to access the internet. That said, my 3G worked most of the time and we could access sat nav when necessary. Like Bill said above, the roads are mostly fine other than a few construction sections and the odd landslide…I actually came off in one short strip of thick mud but it wasn’t a problem, I was going very slowly which was probably why I came off, come to think of it! And anyway, it only added to the fun! I highly recommend to anyone else reading this – the views are sublime and it’s a great experience riding up and down the winding mountain passes whilst receiving smiles from the locals…or just looks of utter bemusement :-)

    Tom – thanks again for the effort you put into this blog and keep up the good work! I’d love to buy you a beer some time.

    Cheers
    Sam

    • Hi Sam,

      Thanks – it’s great to hear that you’ve found my site useful for your trips.

      I was in Thanh Da the other day too – great place to escape the city. I’m jealous of your recent road trip on the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop – I can’t wait to get back up there again in 2016 – especially since the roads should all be finished by then :-)

      I hope you continue to enjoy your exploration of the country and your time in Vietnam.

      Tom

  28. Luis says:

    Hey, thanks for your tips on the loop! We did it in two long days in late November and it was awesome! We had very good weather so that’s a plus. The last 15km in the descent to Lai Chau are still really horrible, but the lack of rain made them bearable.

  29. Bill Levey says:

    Tom –
    Thank you so much for this. I’m on Day 2 of this loop right now and it’s been amazing. I really wanted to be at the Sinho Sunday market, and it was as incredible as I hoped it would be. I was the only foreigner there, and spent hours there – met as many people as I could, and using the few words I know in Vietnamese really helped break the barrier. The guesthouse you recommended was nice, too – especially the couple that runs it. After a few heavy fog days in the Sapa area, I was really happy to have had perfect weather yesterday and today.

    As for the roads – generally great, with a couple minor construction/rock slide delays. They’re still actively working on/improving the road on the way down from Sin hò, but the first half and the last third (heading into Lai Châu the way you have it) are good. It really was only “bad” in a few places, and if you don’t mind a little dirt bike/offroad action, and just take it slow and easy, it’s actually pretty fun. Of course, the bike’s odometer didn’t work so I can’t really give specifics, but wanted to give a little update and thank you for the info.

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your update on the route.

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I love this little loop and I hope I can make it back up there soon to do it again. Good to know that the roads are continuing to get better.

      I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Vietnam.

      Tom

  30. Gadi Amitai says:

    Tanks alot Tom.

    you have been very helpfull.

    gadi.

  31. Gadi Amitai says:

    Hi Tom.

    we are a couple , aiming to arrive at SaPa around 15th of December.
    this route seems to suit us perfectly.
    I wonder if we can ride a scooter, 50cc , for the two of us plus luggage.
    Appreciate your advise.

    thanks

    Gadi.

    • Hi Gadi,

      As this route is extremely mountainous, I don’t think a 50cc bike is suitable. What kind of bike were you thinking? Any of the common bikes you find in Vietnam – Honda Wave, Yamaha Nouvo etc – are 115-125cc and they will manage it fine, as long as they are in decent working condition.

      A couple of things to consider if you’re planning on riding this loop: December can be mighty cold up in Sapa, especially once you factor in the wind chill once riding on your bike – also make sure you check in Sapa about the state of the road up to Sin Ho from Lai Chau: as I mention in this guide, it’s being upgraded, but should be finished soon – check the comments above for other people’s experience.

      I hope you have a great trip,

      Tom

      • Gadi Amitai says:

        Hi Tom.

        thank you for your good advices.
        Unfortunately we are limited to 50cc , since we dont have local driving license and our stay is too short for arranging for one.

        thanks again.

        Gadi.

        • Hi Gadi,

          Well, technically that’s right, but in reality the vast majority of foreigners riding motorbikes in Vietnam do not have a local drivers’ license. Not having a Vietnamese license should not stop you from riding this loop. Almost all motorbike rental and tour companies in Vietnam will rent bikes to travellers who don’t have local licenses. You can check with major rental agencies, such as Flamingo Travel and Rent a Bike Vietnam for more details. My advice: do it.

          Tom

          • gadi amitai says:

            hi Tom.

            thanks for the practical info.

            i read several posts worning that police stops you and you must pay huge fine.
            they say that the same applies to accidents , since in this case the insurance is not valid.
            is it correct?
            rounding corners is ok, but not too much.

            thanks again.

            Gadi.

          • Hi Gadi,

            The standard police fine for foreigners driving in Vietnam without a license in 200,000vnd (less than $10). To check whether or not accidents would be covered by your insurance policy I suggest that you check with the insurance company directly.

            Any decent motorbike rental agency in Vietnam will provide you with their phone number so that, if you get stopped by the police, you can call them for assistance when dealing with the situation. Perhaps you can contact Flamingo Travel or Rent a Bike Vietnam for more specifics about the police as this concerns you so much. They are both reputable rental companies and should be able to provide you with more information regarding licenses, police and fines.

            I have been driving in Vietnam for close to 10 years: on average I get stopped by the police twice a year.

            Tom

  32. Adele says:

    Hi Tom, thank you for your great website! It helps me a lot with planning my trips :)

    We plan to make this loop in the end of September. However, we don’t consider ourself as experienced riders :) Do you think it is possible to make it with two people and a heavy bag on one motorbike or should we rent two motorbikes?
    Thank you! :)

    • Hi Adele,

      Well most of this route is on good, paved roads so normally I’d say yes, two people on a bike plus luggage would be fine. But, the road up to Sin Ho is particularly steep and some bits are still undergoing repairs (see comments at the bottom of this page), so perhaps you’re better off renting two bikes, just to be sure. Drive carefully because the roads are windy and steep, although there’s not much traffic about. It’s a stunning ride so you’ll want to take it slowly anyway and make plenty of stops by the road on the way. I hope it works out, and you enjoy this loop as much as I do.

      Tom

  33. Karen & Roland says:

    Hello Tom,

    Thanks for your great route suggestion. We just got back to Sapa after following your loop. We did one section a day (so 3 days total) and that worked out really well.

    The scenery is truly stunning and the Sin Ho market was incredible to see. Hard to imagine that Sapa must have been similar to Sin Ho just a few years ago.

    Unfortunately the road from Sin Ho to Lai Chau isn’t finished yet. As reported previously, there is new tarmac from kilometer 39 to 15 and now also on the last few kilometers before Lai Chau. The 10km or so in between are still very bad. It was very rough everywhere with a few muddy sections. We saw quite a lot of heavy machinery there, but it didn’t look like it had moved in a while.

    Thanks again for helping us experience this remote and tourist-free area.

    Best wishes,
    Karen & Roland

    • Hi Karen and Roland,

      Great to hear that you did the loop and enjoyed it. I hope you had a bit of good weather too – the views are stupendous!

      Thanks so much for the updates on road conditions – I’m sure that’ll be a huge help to anyone else considering this road trip. I hope they seal that road soon!

      Tom

  34. Wilai says:

    Thanks for useful information.
    I would need to know is it possible to finish 1 section (75 kms) in a day.
    My plan is to hike to Fanispan (2d1n), visit Bac Ha market and I have 1 day and night left.
    ( I used to trek in Sapa Cat Cat and Lao Chai villages in 2015)
    Thanks in advance
    and looking forward to hearing from you soon:)

    • Hi Wilai,

      Yes, it’s definitely possible to finish one section in one day. The only way that this might be a problem is if there is a landslide blocking the road – this sometimes happens during heavy rains in the north. Also, please read the guide carefully, especially regarding the roadworks on the road up to Sin Ho – they should be finished by now, but if they aren’t take the alternative route which I suggest in this guide.

      For my take on Bac Ha Market you can take a look at this article.

      Have a great trip,

      Tom

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  36. Shena Mah says:

    The roads are rather narrow so renting a motorbike is indeed a great idea to watch the scenic views of Sapa. This is a perfect getaway guide for a solo traveler like me. By the time I visit next year, all the roads are probably upgraded already so I don’t have to take the back-road along the way from Sin Ho to Sapa. Would renting a manual motorbike more recommended than an automatic one, though? Thanks

    • Hi Shena,
      No, I think either an autmoatic or manual will be fine. I drove an automatic with lots of weight on the back and never had any problems.
      As for road conditions – I think you’re right that they will be finished by the time you visit. See the previous comment on this page for an update on current conditions.
      Tom

  37. Alex Gibson says:

    Firstly thank you Tom for this amazing blog. I have just completed this loop (in two hard days!!) and absolutely loved it.

    I can confirm that the second half of the descent from Sin Ho to Lai Chau is still in bad condition.. actually terrible condition but ONLY the last 15 km. New roads have been completed and from the alternate “back road” until about 15km from Lai Chau is absolutely glorious fresh seal with road markings. After that things get very tough. I had a pillion but was blessed with excellent weather so it wasn’t too bad but certain sections required 1st gear and a dismount of my passenger.

    It’s a fantastic loop with stunning views though and I highly recommend.

    • Hi Alex,

      Glad you enjoyed the loop, even if it was hard going for some of it.

      Thanks for the valuable updates on the road conditions – it sounds like it won’t be too long before it’s all finished.

      I can’t wait to ride it again when the road conditions are perfect.

      Tom

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  39. Chao Zhou says:

    Thanks for share the wonderful place to us !I just want to ask that only Sunday is the market day not Saturday?The people will do business on the street or inside the market mall!
    Thanks

  40. jrwoon says:

    Hey guys, currently resting at a hotel in the seemingly deserted town of lai chau. Attempted to go sinho but decided to head back even though I was only 20km away from it at that point, due to safety concerns. The roads are more like tracks with lots of stones and mud. Much construction is still underway. Fell down twice due to this. I consider myself to be too amateur to ride the tracks. On top of that, I was riding automatic, and not manual, thus there isn’t engine brake to lower the speed, especially for down slope which is considered extremely dangerous. Nevertheless, the views were splendid.

    • Hi,
      Yes, that’s right. As I said in my guide to this route above, the approach to Sin Ho from Lai Chau is currently under construction. You can still get to Sin Ho by taking the alternative route I suggest in the article above. Then you can go down from Sin Ho on the other side, which is still in decent condition, from there you can continue to Dien Bien Phu.
      Thanks for the update.
      Tom

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  42. Sylvain Bui says:

    Thank you for this fantastic loop, i will probably do that when i will go there.
    Just a little question, do you speak vietnamese or english with peaple who live there ?
    Is that ethnic minorities speak English ?

    • Hi Sylvain,
      Thanks. Some English is spoken, just like anywhere else in Vietnam. It’s better if you can speak some Vietnamese. Most ethnic minorities speak Vietnamese and their own language.
      Tom

  43. Jim Carlson says:

    Fascinating, Tom.
    That Sa Pa loop is a prime candidate for my next trip.
    Also, there are some advantages to traveling alone.
    Jim

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