First published November 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
This post was last updated 5 years ago. Please check the comments section for possible updates, or read more on my Updates & Accuracy page.
INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | MORE POSTS
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.
GUIDE: SAPA–Y TY SCENIC LOOP
ROAD TRIP DETAILS:
- 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
ABOUT THIS ROUTE:
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ll be arriving Lao Cai by train then taking a bus to Y Ty. Are you able to share where I can apply for the border permit around Lao Cai train station as I don’t have much time between the train and bus ride.
Thanks in advance!
I’m sorry I don’t have any specific information about where to get a permit to stay overnight at Y Ty. However, I would imagine you’d need to contact either a travel agent in Lao Cai or Sapa, or go to the nearest government/police office (công an). If you have a place in mind to stay at Y Ty, then contact them to ask where to get permission.
Sorry to come across grumpy, maybe it’s just the high hopes I had for this route. Out of Sapa and climbing towards Y Ty the DT155 is well, to call it a road would be an insult. Not a single KM where you weren’t dodging potholes or at risk of white finger! Seriously disappointing. I decided to half the route and head East on the DT158 and that was exactly what I had hoped for. A perfectly smooth 20km riding with views to match.
I suppose I can only echo those before me in that I don’t think it’s worth it on the road conditions, plus having to complete it in a day due to permit requirements. I would also 100% point others in the way of the Sin Ho loop instead which was incredible 🙂
Thanks for the update on the condition of DT155 – that is very disappointing. At least you got some good riding once you turned east on DT158.
Yes, I agree, at the moment, with the permit and border issues and road conditions, the Sin Ho Loop is a much better option, unless you have a motorbike that can easily deal with potholes and rough road surfaces.
The loop looks great! May I ask a question? What about gas? Do you need to bring some with you? I can imagine around Y Ty there are no stations.
Make sure you leave Sapa with a full tank and fill up again around Y Ty. Also, please read the comments below this: foreigners are currently not allowed to stay overnight on this route. It might be more convenient right now to ride the Sin Ho Loop instead.
THREE RULES for the Y Ty Loop
1) Make a RESERVATION (especially over the weekends in the busy season)
2) Get your BORDER PERMIT in Lao Cai
3) Download google MAPS OFFLINE (it rains a lot and GPS looses direction)
Post-COVID all foreigners MUST have a border permit for every accommodation within the frontier zone of Y TY, which includes every hotel, hostel, and homestay that you can see on google. We were refused by no less than 6 different places due to fear of a run in with the police. They have tightened up security along the China Border and I think extended the frontier area. (You cannot stay just outside of the frontier zone anymore.)
Thanks for these important updates for travellers on this route.
I would hope that these restrictions will slowly fade away as the pandemic recedes into the past. But we’ll see.
It’s a good loop no doubt – did it last year, thank you. Road along the Chinese border and Lao Cai – Sapa sections were not that exciting due to traffic, but a nice trip nonetheless. This year, I made a loop I thought was even more spectacular: Sapa – Su Pan – Bac Ha – Coc Ly – Muong Khuong – Lao Cai – Sapa. Breathtaking almost all the way and easily done in 2 days!
Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed this loop. The other one you took this year is covered in this guide.
Did today the trip from SaPa to Lao Cai in 8 hours with my Honda Blade. From Y Ty I took ĐH106 over the pass to Trinh Tường in the East. Cuts the trip just about 25km shorter.
Coming down the massive mountain pass on the East side – last 19 km before Trinh Tường – is a bit intense driving down with all the zigzagging (the fun part! :D), but more than worth it as the views are just amazing!
The pass from Y Ty to the next village on the East side must be recently made new – the first 6 km till the river south of Ngai Thao Sang. Google Maps has it already on the Satellite view, but not on the default or terrain view, and suggests this rout only to motorbikes, although it’s now super easy (saw vans, a taxi and some other tourists on bikes there too).
After these 6 km until Trinh Tường they’re still fixing some rough patches. I saw them walking on the road taking some measurements for new markings.
Sapa to Y TY ~ 3 hours, 70 km
Y Ty to Trinh Tường ĐH106 ~ 2 hours, 30 km
Trinh Tường to Lao Cai ~ 1 hour, 40 km
Breaks and Photostops ~ 2 hours
Thanks for sharing your experience of this road trip. That road over the mountains to Trinh Tuong looks great – I’ll try it next time I’m in the area.
Just finished the loop. Amazing scenery indeed! The road is super challenging for about 30 km before and after Y Ty, so would not recommend it for inexperienced riders. It’s not being repaired, or at least not any time soon, and with trucks using the road, I don’t see it getting any better. Because of that, I don’t really see how it would be possible to do this loop in 1 day, except maybe if you don’t stop at all.
One thing to consider is that this is a much less touristy loop that the Ha Giang one, which means food places are far and few between and you can forget about coffee outside of homestays and Lao Cai/Sapa towns.
Also, I would strongly recommend doing the P-shaped option, i.e. avoiding Lao Cai. After you drive along the Chinese border for a few kilometers, the road gets boring, but the worst bit is the road between Lao Cai and Sapa. This is the main thoroughfare, which means you’ll be sharing with loud-honking slow-moving humongous trucks and buses, cars and lots of other drivers, whereas the other route is as bucolic as most of the loop.
Overall, a great 2-day getaway from Sapa. Thanks for testing it out and writing about it.
Thanks for you trip report. Glad you enjoyed it.
I wholeheartedly agree, I just rode this loop starting from Lao Cai ending in Sapa- and even with a proper trail bike it took me almost 8 hours to complete (8am-4pm, with couple of rest stops- much needed in this bitter cold). Going counterclockwise from Lao Cai, the road basically starts deteriorating after turning inwards and climbing into the mountains. When the condition is wet and the mountain covered in thick fog like today it is pretty treacherous.
Ditto about the lack of food options, after Y Ty I couldn’t even get a nice warm bowl of Pho until I was 20km from Sapa, the place only serves instant coffee and charged me 60,000VND for both. No doubt that the scenery would be great in fine weather, but if there’s any sign of low lying clouds in the mountains just avoid this road haha.
Hi Young Lee,
Thanks for sharing your experience on this route.
First, thanks a lot for all those informations ( just new on this blog ) !
I’m going to North Vietnam in june ( around the 1st ), i would like to do the Y ty loop ( 2 peoples ) but i know it’s gonna be rainy season and probably bad raod condition.
I’m wondering about wich motorbike should i get, i’ve already driven in North Thailand but it was with an Honda click 125. I’m quite beginner with motorbike but confident on the raod, automatic or semi-automatic ?
Do you think June will be to dangerous with the flood ?
Well, if conditions are dry a Honda Click or similar bike is fine – I do all my riding on an auto like that. But perhaps it’s best to stay on the Sin Ho Loop instead if you don’t have much experience or if it’s been raining a lot. It’s also a highly scenic route, but the roads are generally in better condition, with the exception on the last 10km or so to the top of Sin Ho.
If you’re worried about renting an auto for these routes, just get a semi instead – anything like a Honda Wave is fine.
Remember, if it’s wet conditions up there, you must ride extremely carefully – the wet mud can be treacherous.
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom! I wanted to mark the condition of the road on this route. I passed it less than a week ago. A bad stretch of road starts 17 km before Y Ty and ends 11 km past Y Ty as soon as you go around the mountain. In dry weather, the route does not cause problems. I passed it in 8-9 hours (with stops in the photo and gas search in Y Ty) There are also broken sections on the DT 155, but they are not critical. I did a full circle (blue line). I agree with the commentators that the road to Lào Cai is a bit boring, but it is better to finish this day on a good, cool and very beautiful road along the classic route to Sapa. It is so nice to rest on a good road and just watch the sunset, considering that you are already at home. Check your tires starting this way.
Thanks very much for the updates. So that’s the same sections of rough road as last year – it’s a shame they haven’t made any progress with it.
November 2018 update : Just did the Y ty + Sin Ho loops, a good part of it offroad. Conditions were perfectly dry, the road between Lao Cai and Y Ty on the Chinese border is in perfect state. Had to pay the border protection fee at the homestay in Y Ty.
The road is still in pretty bad state south of Y Ty but nothing major, easily passable by everyone. For those who want to switch up the loop slightly, I recommend this road instead of the main one : https://goo.gl/iBPTuw – road seems to be in better condition.
And for those who want a truly awesome offroad experience on this loop, I highly recommend this turnoff to the left that starts with a steep climb : https://goo.gl/maps/4vgvdpsxCpF2
It turns into a dirt/rock track going through villages and a steep downhill through rice terraces all the way to a small dam where you can cross the river. You can then get back on the road to Sapa or Lao Cai. Don’t attempt this in the rainy season, you’ll have a bad time. No issues with a semi-auto, awesome experience.
Thanks for the updates. Sounds like an interesting off-road option, too.
Is it okay to find gasoline all along the road ?
There are several gas stations on this loop – mostly in the village. But you should also make sure you start the loop with a full tank, just in case.
did the loop recently, the roads around “ET” are terrible, but thankfully no mud. the last leg down to Lao Cai is mostly boring, it’s probably better to just do the “P”.
And yes, 200k is the going rate for border “protection”, but it can be avoided by staying at places on the edge of town (we stayed at the first place, about 4km from the town centre. not the most traditional room, but still good people)
Thanks for the updates about the border rates and road conditions.
Personally, I think the northern section is very scenic, and the valley down to Lao Cai is interesting too because it’s right on the border with China. But to avoid the rough roads it’s not a bad idea to do the “P” route instead, although apparently that section is due to get a major upgrade soon.
Regards the bike, I think it depends on weather conditions and experience: I didn’t have a problem on my automatic but I do have a lot of experience riding it. However, if it was wet and muddy I’d definitely want an XR.
Thanks for your blog which is amazing !
I’m planning to do the Sapa – Y Ty loop this weekend. I was wondering if you know a good place to rent a motorbike in either Lao Cai or Sapa ?
I know there are plenty of hotels or places in Sapa that rent automatic, semi-automatic or manual like Honda Win, but As we will be two on the bike I’m looking for a bigger bike like a Honda XR 150, or equivalent model (meaning not a very old honda win) and can’t find any place online.
I will arrive by train in Lao Cai so was planning to start from Lao Cai but the places I’ve contacted don’t have anymore manual bikes.
If you know any places that are reliable it would be very helpful !
It might be easier to rent an XR from one of the good rental companies in Hanoi and send it up to Lao Cai by train. More about the train here, and all my recommendations for motorbike rental are here.
I hope this helps,
It seems like a good option. I just hope that if I go tomorrow to the train station in Hanoi they will still have room for motorbike !
Do you know the price of transport for a 150 cc by train ? I saw in your article a price for 110 and 125 but not 150 cc.
I don’t know the exact price for a 150 but I guess it will be just a few more dollars.
We rode from Sa Pa to Y Ty yesterday (5/14). The small bridge (for motorbikes) was open. The river did flow over the highway but was only 6”-8” deep. The road became pretty bad about 16km before Y Ty but was passable, just slow.
We stayed at A Ho Homestay, which was nice. They made us pay 200,000 dong each for “military border protection.” I’m not sure if this is normal but it’s quite high. No paperwork or anything involved, it was just added to our homestay bill.
The homestay was 400,000 for two people and 3 vegetarian meals each. (800,000 with military fee)
Here is a video I made of the roads on the way here. You can see the water crossing in it:
We’re continuing the loop today and I will update on the road conditions. It rained last night so it might be rough, but we’ll see.
Thanks for the update. I hope the road is passable after Y Ty for you. Looks like you were lucky enough to get some good weather on the first day 🙂
The road after Y Ty was indeed passable. We made it to Pho Rang. the first 20km or so were pretty rough but still passable and not muddy at all. We were surprised because it rained a ton last night. There were 2 sections where waterfalls on the side of the road were flowing over the road’s surface. The deeper one was about 4″-6″ deep, so not too bad. After the first 20km or so the road really improved and was a lot faster. I can see how the beginning would be difficult for new riders. Although, Vietnam in general probably isn’t the place for new riders…
Thanks for that important update. It’s great to hear it’s still passable – sounds like it hasn’t changed that much since I was last there, in fact – maybe even better now.
Just finished the loop :
1. According to the homestay in Y Ty you need to register to the military, we basically just had to give 200 000 VND and it was done (no paper required). My gf is vietnamese so it made the process easier.
2. The loop is amazing, I did it in 3 days & 2 nights to explore the areas around, fantastic for photographers, but it’s for experience riders only since some part can be really dangerous (like the Y Ty to Lung Pop was quite a challenge). If you have never ride a semi-auto bike in the mountains I would defintely advise to stay away from the Y Ty loop !
3. Right now (end of april 2018) it’s not possible to do the second route after Muong Hum “Alternative route if bridge is flooded”, the road just after the bridge (going Muong Hum – Y Ty) is under construction and it was muddy like crazy so we had to do a U turn. We saw many big machines working there so I assume this part will be finished soon. Can still pass through the river though (picture : “Road conditions are fine for most of the loop, except for a 40-50km section & a regularly flooded road”).
Glad you enjoyed the route.
Thanks for the updates. I hope they finish those road works soon.
Personally, I think the first half of the ride to Y Ty is not too challenging for inexperienced riders as the roads are paved and traffic is light, but after that, because of the road works affecting road conditions, it is much more challenging.
Yes I agree, and for anyone reading this the “bad part” is still exactly the one highlighted on the map (well the landscapes are amazing but with poor road conditions).
I am in Y ty right now.
I have an automatic scooter.
So if i understand Well you suggest To go back and lot continue thé road because of the road conditions ?
Yes, I think that is what Brice is saying. I did it on an automatic in the mist, rain and mud a few months ago and it OK. There was heavy machinery but they weren’t working on it on that day, so perhaps I got lucky. It’s worth asking locals in Y Ty whether you should continue north or not.
Thanks for your answer. I think i will go back. I dont really want to be in the mud ?
🙂 Good idea. Try the Sin Ho Loop if you haven’t already.
I’ve done the first half of the loop to Y Ty today. It was really a beautiful ride with good weather.
I didn’t read the comments before so I was surprised when the owner of the Homestay ask me to pay a 200000 vnd fee for military border protection. According to him, it’s only for foreigners and the Vietnamese couple which also stay here didn’t pay anything. I’m really not sure that it’s normal as I read that Brice Vietnamese gf also paid the fee. Do you know something about it ?
I will try to go north tomorrow even if it’s raining a lot this night. I hope it’s still passable!
Thanks for your blog, it’s really great informations and I’ve met a lot of riders who use it.
Glad to hear the route is good so far.
Yes, that could be a genuine condition for homestays in that area – border regions in Vietnam are always a bit sensitive.
Good luck with the second half of the loop.
definitely agree about an automatic transmission bike being a poor choice. We used a Honda XR 150 and I was very thankful for the gears to help control descent speed.
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.
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?
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!
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,
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?
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.
Thanks again and again! 🙂
I will mention you.
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
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.
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