Last updated December 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 | RELATED POSTS
Sapa and Sin Ho are two towns high up on the slopes of the Hoàng Liên Sơn Mountain 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, affording spectacular views over a landscape 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 in Southeast Asia.
GUIDE: SAPA-SIN HO SCENIC LOOP
ROAD TRIP DETAILS:
- Total Distance: 320km
- Duration: 2-4 days
- Route: a round-trip between Sapa & Sin Ho on mountain passes [MAP]
- Road Conditions: good mountain highways & back-roads, some rough patches
- Scenery: the Tonkinese Alps: valleys, mountains & rivers on the roof of Indochina
ROAD TRIP CONTENTS:
- SECTION 1: Sapa to Lai Chau (via road QL4D): 70km
- SECTION 2: Lai Chau to Sin Ho (via Phong Tho): 115km
- SECTION 3: Sin Ho to Sapa (via road 4D cũ): 135km
ABOUT THIS ROUTE:
I’ve written this guide in 3 sections, going anti-clockwise on the loop, but you can drive it in either direction. The total distance is 320km, but I’ve also included an optional side loop which would add another 80km to the total distance. Note that each section doesn’t necessarily correspond to one day on the road. You could ride the entire loop in 2 days. However, the roads are steep and windy so progress is slower than in the lowlands, and the scenery is superb so you’ll want to stop regularly to admire the views. 3-4 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, weather is very hard to predict in this area and conditions can change very suddenly all year round. The good news is that most of the roads on this loop are now either in excellent condition or in the process of being upgraded. April-May and September-October are the best months to go: the weather is warm(-er) and the terraced rice fields are a good colour. Below is my full guide to the Sapa-Sin Ho Loop, including a description of the route, suggestions of places to stay, eat and see, and my annotated map.
Sapa-Sin Ho Scenic Loop | 320km
View in a LARGER MAP
Route: Sapa to Lai Chau (via road QL4D) | Distance: 70km [MAP]
Head west on Road QL4D from the mist-shrouded town of Sapa. The first few kilometres getting out of Sapa can be pretty grim these days, because of potholed, mud-streaked, traffic-clogged, and construction-choked roads. Eventually, however, the road clears and passes a couple of pretty waterfalls (Silver Falls [Thác Bạc] & Love Falls [Thác Tình Yêu]) before reaching the top of the Tram Ton Pass (also known as O Quy Ho or Heaven’s Gate), Vietnam’s highest mountain road at 1,900m (6,230ft). 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. There are a few makeshift, rickety-looking viewing platforms by the roadside offering stupendous vistas.
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 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 and past the Dong Tien Son caves to Tam Duong town. It’s not much of a town – although its new multi-lane high-street would suggest otherwise – but if you need a rest there are a couple of good accommodation options and food stalls along the main road. Putaleng Hotel has excellent rooms for about $20, or cheaper digs can be found at Tan Sinh Guest House. Continue northwest on Road QL4D for 40km to Lai Chau (perhaps detouring to take a quick look at the impressive Tac Tinh Falls, just behind Tam Duong town). 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….
Lai Chau city is a brand new concrete creation in a remote valley surrounded by pyramidal peaks. It consists largely 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, but on a bright day it can be quite appealing. The scale of infrastructure and architecture are not in proportion to the population or significance of the city, but over the last couple of years local life has started to inject some character to this somber provincial capital. Thus, Lai Chau makes a convenient overnight stop. There are decent-value guest houses (‘nhà nghỉ‘ in Vietnamese) and hotels on the main road (30 Tháng 4 Street). Try Binh Long Hotel (2 Tháng 8 Street | tel: 0213 2488 488) or Hà Nhi Hotel (30 Tháng 4 Street | tel: 0213 6250 999) for cheap, clean rooms. Or you could ‘splash out’ ($30) on the Muong Thanh Lai Chau Hotel, which has balconies with views over the town and tea plantations as well as a (often dirty) pool. The area around the lake has some good bánh xèo (Vietnamese savoury pancakes) and ốc (snails and shells) joints in the late afternoon/evening. Or meat lovers should try the roast suckling pig (lợn quay) at Quán 25 (62, 30 Tháng 4 Street). For good coffee head to Gateway Cafe (305 Tran Hung Dao Street).
Route: Lai Chau to Sin Ho (via Phong Tho) | Distance: 115km [MAP]
From Lai Chau continue northwest on Road QL4D toward the town of Phong Tho. This section of road is in very good condition and passes over high mountains before dropping down into a valley. Eight kilometres before reaching Phong Tho, there’s a turning due north for Muong So. This is the beginning of an optional and scenic side loop. The total distance of this detour is around 70-80km. The scenery is very mountainous, heavily farmed with terraces of rice and corn, and dotted with minority hamlets. There are a couple of local guest houses in Muong So, including the clean, simple and friendly Gia Bao (0976 677 999). Alternatively, continue on QL4D to Phong Tho, where there are more hotels and plenty of local rice eateries. By far the most atmospheric of the places to stay in Phong Tho is the Lan Anh Hotel (0989 673 888), a timber, tile and concrete structure built around a verdant courtyard. After Phong Tho the road turns back on itself, becoming QL12 and heading southwest along the Nam Na River valley. The road is in good condition, and it’s a quiet, easy stretch of riding through a pleasant valley all the way to the Nam Cay/Chan Nua junction.
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. The road conditions are pretty good for most of the climb, but landslides are a regular occurrence, so expect some extended patches of earth, mud and potholes. If it’s been raining a lot, it may become quite slippery.
Just when you think it can’t possibly get any better, the road snakes through a series of switchbacks until it bears northwards, thus opening up astonishing views down to the Nam Na river valley and far beyond to the distant mountain ranges straddling the border with China. It’s a breathtaking ride.
Like Sapa, Sin Ho is often engulfed in mist and drizzling rain. The town is a bit scruffy and feels very remote. But, as with every town and city in Vietnam, upgrades to public spaces are beginning to make Sin Ho feel more welcoming with each year. 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 very few travellers make the trip.
Try to time your visit to catch the Sunday market. Busiest between 8am-11am, Sin Ho market receives hundreds of minority women dressed in their various colourful clothing. They make the journey by foot (sometimes starting before dawn) 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. Sin Ho market is noticeably calm and unhurried compared to other, more famous, minority markets in the region.
Sin Ho has a smattering of local cơm phở (rice and noodles) joints, particularly around the main square, and there’s a new bakery opened, called Thanh Nam. The town has an increasing number of budget places to stay, mostly in the form of nhà nghỉ (guest houses). However, by far my favourite place to stay is the Phuc Tho Hotel (0213 3870 186). Just a 30 second walk from the market, this is a relatively large hotel run by a sweet older couple. Rooms have balconies looking over town and the main square. Rooms are basic but clean, including hot water showers: 200,000-600,000vnđ for 2-6 people sharing. If, for some reason, you don’t like the Phuc Tho Hotel, there are several other decent accommodation options, including the Hong Hoa Guest House (o1687 271 123) and the Thai Binh Hotel (02313 870 366). But perhaps the most interesting (and certainly the cheapest) option is Ba Sanh Homestay (01649 434 628). On the southern edge of town, Ba Sanh offers dirt-cheap digs (a couple of dollars) sleeping in a communal room, but the real attraction is the Dao minority-style hot herbal baths. Costing just a few dollars (for staying or outside guests) these medicinal baths might be just what you need after a long, wet, cold day riding the mountain passes.
Route: Sin Ho to Sapa (via road 4D cũ) | 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. As the road emerges from the mist, which on most days engulfs the town of Sin Ho, a vast landscape opens up beneath you: endless mountains stretching into the distance and craterous valleys dotted with stilt-home villages clustered around clear streams. However, there are some short but treacherous sections for the first 10km out of Sin Ho, where maintenance work is ongoing and landslides cause the surface to be muddy and slick. Take your time and take care on this section, especially in wet or damp conditions.
About a third of the way down to Lai Chau, there’s a junction with a turn off to the right (due south) to Nam Tam. Although this looks like an appealing road to take, I was told that road conditions were bad. (If you want to go to Nam Tam, approach from the north via Lai Chau instead, as this road is good and scenic.). As road DT128 drops further, through very dense jungle, with the city of Lai Chau visible in the valley, take a short break from riding in order to visit the caves of Pu Sam Cap.
Back in Lai Chau take the alternative route (road 4D cũ) to Tam Duong. To get there turn right (due southeast) at the Ha Nhi Hotel on Dang Van Ngu Street. This is a pretty, quiet route through limestone karsts and extensive tea plantations. It’s almost exactly the same length as taking the main road (QL4D). From Tam Duong, rejoin QL4D and retrace your route back to Sapa via the Tram Ton Pass.
Hey there! I hope this doesn’t come off as a silly question… but do you think I’d be able to do this on a motorbike if I don’t have prior experience? I’m a fairly seasoned traveler and a savvy one, pretty adventurous and quite resourceful. This looks like an absolute dream and I really want to try it. Would it be reckless? Thanks for your opinion!
The main loop is almost all paved, but you should check the comments for other people’s recent experience of road conditions on this route.
In good conditions you could ride the main loop without much experience, but, of course, you would need to be extremely careful: the roads are very mountainous, steep and windy, and traffic culture in Vietnam is likely to be very different from your home country. There is always a risk in motorbike road trips, especially in a country you’re not familiar with, and without previous riding experience. You can also see this article for a bit more information about safety etc.
We did the route the 9th and 10th of January 2023. The southern route between Lai Chau and Tam Duong had quite heavy roadwork at many parts of it at the time of travel. Unsure if I would recommend it at the moment, a lot of dust and bumps. The eastern route up to sin ho was in excellent condition just a tiny bit of roadwork one place. The Eastern road from sin ho was in decent condition. Asphalt all the way, but the first 30 or so km had a lot of potholes and was petty bumpy to be asphalt. Not difficult to ride, but slow going, especially with all the nice views to stop an look at. Due to the weather we did it in two days. Managable, but 3 is probably better paced. The second day (on which we took the west road from sin ho) was pretty long. All in all a magnificent ride. My expections where high and still it was even better than imagined. Even the traffic in Sa Pa is a bit more relaxed and less intense then the other places in Vietnam we rode.
Thank you for your trip report and valuable road updates – I really appreciate it and I’m sure it’s also helpful to other readers.
Great to hear you enjoyed this route. I can’t wait to get back up there, too.
Hello. We are in Vietnam now and are planning to take this route. We were planning to use 3 days, but weather looks incredible the first 2 days and a bit so-so the third. I was wondering if the Google travel times are more or less realistic up in the mountains? (pure travel time). It suggestes about 3 hours from sa pa taking the southern route.
Furthermore I wondered if there is a good place to get traffic information for Vietnam, Google seems to indicate the road between Lao Cai and Sapa is closed, but so far on our trip Google maps hasn’t been 100% reliable.
I wouldn’t rely too heavily on Google for things like routes, roads, traffic and travel times – it’s got much better over the last few years (and will continue to get better the more data it acquires), but there are so many variables in Vietnam that Google is nowhere near as accurate here as it is in Europe and America.
In reality, travel times for this route depend entirely on your riding experience, how comfortable you are on a motorbike, how familiar you are with Vietnam’s road rules and traffic, weather conditions, and unforeseen circumstances such as road blocks due to landslides.
An experienced rider in good conditions can easily ride between Sapa and Sin Ho within half a day, but really you should allow a full day because the ride is beautiful and there are places to stop and see along the way. 2 days for this loop would be a bit too rushed in my opinion. 3-4 days is perfect.
Hello, I am going to Vietnam this January, and I want to take this trip. I am a quite experienced motorcyclist, however mainly on paved roads, not much on gravel. I have done some research on rental, and a lot of it is scooters, maybe 125cc or similar. For flat road I think that is fine, if not the most exciting, you can drive over 100 kmh usually, but how hilly is this route? Will a scooter be a bit weak for something like this? My wife will be riding as a passenger.
Almost all of the main route on this loop is now fully paved.
Most people ride this route on semi-auto or fully auto scooters, so you should be fine as long as the bike is in good condition.
However, you can rent a variety of bikes – from scooters to motorcycles. Try contacting some of the rental companies I recommend on this page.
WOW. Simply incredible.
I think Brice covered the roads before and after Sin Ho, and I got caught at a landslide for a hour north of Sin Ho.
But boy what a ride Sin Ho – Lai Chau is! Spectacular. And the O Quy Ho pass and climb towards SaPa to cap it off. A simply MUST DO if in the North.
Thanks for your work Tom
Great that you enjoyed this route. Yes, it is stunning – more so than ever now that the roads are in good condition. (Landslides are always an issues in these mountains.)
Thanks so much Tom for this guide. This is one of the best roadtrips I’ve ever done and the scenery is probably some of the best I’ve ever seen, in Vietnam or otherwise!
Me and 2 friends went over the Independence Day holiday in early September 2022 and didn’t see a single other tourist the entire time. This route feels like Ha Giang about 5 years ago, so I loved it.
Here’s a few comments from me:
1. Like Brice said below, the vast majority of the roads are in pretty much perfect condition. The only exceptions are parts of the mountain road up to Sin Ho and parts of the road down from the optional side loop, where you might have to take it easy.
2. Also like Brice, we had insane fog and rain when leaving Sin Ho even though we had excellent weather otherwise. Seems to be a feature of that stretch of road, so you might have to take this part quite slowly.
3. The optional side loop is 100% worth it. It’s absolutely stunning and probably had the best scenery of the route. For anyone doing it, I’d encourage you to be SUPER careful when it comes to the top of that part of that route; you have to turn left down what seems like a side road, but that’s actually the main road back down to the main part of the route. We continued down the road we were on and ended up driving 30 minutes on the way to China by accident.
4. I have to disagree with you here Tom about the town of Lai Chau! We decided to stay there because it has some genuinely nice parks and lakes, incredible surrounding scenery and a decent selection of bia hoi. We got lucky with the weather and finding a nice nha nghi, so that definitely helped.
Thanks again Tom. I’m now on a mission to try all of your northern Vietnam routes!
Thanks for your updates and trip reports. I’m glad you enjoyed the ride and found the scenery good.
Great to hear the roads are in good condition and that the optional side route was worth your while.
Yes, I agree that Lai Chau is much better now than in the past: food, cafes, accommodation. Vietnamese dining and street life have a way of making even the most modern and soulless town planning attractive, human, and livable.
Again, your updates are much appreciated.
Just did the loop 3 days ago (August 2022, 2 beautiful days & 1 rainy day), a few comments:
1. All the main roads mentioned for the loop in this article are in perfect conditions. A few landslides on DT128 from Muong Lay to Sin Ho but nothing really complex (it’s like 20 to 30 meters maximum, limited mut despite heavy rains)
2. The DT128 Sin Ho to Lai Chau is perfect too, there is litteraly 20 meters of bad road due to a landslide, else it’s perfect.
3. No issues at all with authorities or locals including at Sin Ho market on Sunday
4. Extremely foggy and rainy while leaving Sin Ho for probably a good 30′, don’t underestimate if you go there during the rainy season, it can be quite overwhelming if you have rarely used a bike in Vietnam
5. As mentioned in the comment below the most dangerous part is by far the pass from Sapa, a lot of minivans, trucks and cars makes it more difficult than others.
Thank you for the road updates. It is really great to hear that road conditions are all good on the loop now. Such as spectacular area!
i will be in Vietnam in September with my girlfriend and we got really hooked on this motorbike tour thing. Initially we wanted to do the Ha Giang loop but we read everywhere that it is dangerous and not suited for unexperienced drivers. Also we are only allowed to drive 50cc and are a bit anxious about getting the bike confiscated, as some people have reported. We both never sat on a bike before but would plan to in preparation for the trip. Would you recommend this Sapa Loop for beginners or can you recommend any other routes more suited for noobs? I guess we would take the risk with a 125cc if necessary.
Thanks alot and best wishes from Germany!
Firstly, you would, of course, need to be extremely careful if you choose to go on a self-drive road trip in Vietnam without any experience. But many people do this successfully and have a great time.
Yes, the Sapa-Sin Ho route would be a decent option. The only problem is that Sapa, although a small town, is quite busy because it’s such a tourist hotspot, and the roads are very steep. However, once you’re out of the town, most of the roads are wide, well-made and quiet.
But the roads are very mountainous, so you’d need to ride very carefully, indeed. If you choose this route, you’d need to rent a 100cc+ bike. This should be fine. I’d also suggest forgoing the loop and just taking the direct route (QL14D and DT128) from Sapa to Sin Ho and back again, because a short section of the road south of Sin Ho still has road works. The landscape is fabulous. But the weather is often cloudy and wet around Sapa.
You might try contacting Flamingo Travel for bike hire. But I’m sure there are lots of other options in Sapa.
Mid-2022 update – The road North of Sin Ho is finally completed.
We just finished the standard loop 2d1n with a stay in Sin Ho. Gorgeous dry weather and friendly faces all through the trip. Road was quality all the way through except for 10km or so South of Sin Ho. Nothing too treacherous, just your average dips and rocks to swerve through. The road between Sin Ho and Lai Chau is now a luxurious 2 lane blacktop and was the nicest road of the trip. Had a heartfelt dinner with the owner at the cafe on the corner of Bo Ho. Then had to turn down the offered VIP room at hotel Thanh Binh for 500k, settling for a standard room for 300k.
Tips: Make sure to check your bikes thoroughly when renting. My wife’s had no working front brake or speedometer and mine had no headlights. For gas, our full tanks out of Sapa were just a little short to make it to Sin Ho. Make sure you fuel up before the turn off up the hill, though there are a few household gas stands on the way in an emergency.
All in all a wonderful 2-3 day trek with easy roads, great scenery, and kind locals. Thanks so much for the guide!
Thank you for your trip report and updates on road conditions. It’s great to hear that the road between Sin Ho and Lai Chau is now finally completely finished. I look forward to riding it again some time soon.
Glad you enjoyed this road trip.
Just finished the whole loop, with the long detour to the north. Again, great write-up and guide, really appreciate the time you put in it. A few notes. I should have taken your advice and spent the night in Lai Chau, but I thought it was early enough and continued to Muong So. The 3 guesthouses in that village are perhaps the worst accommodation values I’ve seen in Vietnam so far. Yes, they are cheap-ish (200-250K), but for rooms with no windows or really, really basic. Nobody speaks a word of English or even really bothers with tourists at all – it’s not a village that cares for tourism. Moreover, there are hardly any food options after 8pm, so just something to keep in mind for anyone deciding to stay here.
Continuing on the northern detour from Muong So, it is actually really really easy to miss the turn off from DT132 to the secondary route to complete the loop. There is no signage of any kind, so you really have to keep checking your map every 5-10 minutes or so. I carried on DT132 for about 40 minutes towards China until I finally realized I veered way off the loop. Is it worth doing the detour? I thought so – some decent views there (although nothing like on the Y-Ty loop or south of Sin Ho), and you are not going to see any other tourists at all. But if you are strapped for time, it’s OK to skip it.
The best section of the whole Sapa-Sin Ho loop is the 30km or so before you reach Sin Ho from the south. The road condition is decent despite the occasional construction patches. But yes, north of Sin Ho is another story – the road is as bad as it was when this guide was written. Passable, but utterly unenjoyable.
Sin Ho market is a nice place to watch the different minority people. It’s a really small market, actually, and no farm animals except an odd chicken or a puppy, unlike the others, but on the plus side, you are likely to be the only foreigner there. Sin Ho is an agreeable town to spend the night, and I concur, the Dao baths at Ba Sanh are the highlight of the whole trip and well worth the 100K they charge for them nowadays. Watch out for the little boy peeking in your bath room though!
Doing this loop in early winter means you are going to pass through bright sunny skies warranting a t-shirt and bone-chilling, foggy, drizzly conditions (usually closer to Sapa), so my advice – bring layers! And something reasonably waterproof for the outer layer. Otherwise, a great motorcycle trip easily doable in 3 days total. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed the route – I think it’s one of the most spectacular in the north.
Thanks for the road updates – it’s a shame they haven’t made any progress with that section of the road north of Sin Ho – they’ve been repairing it for years now.
Just went past the road north of Sin Ho today- no construction vehicles in sight at all, guess they gave up repairing it already…
Strange. I’m sure they’ll be back 🙂
I am planning on doing this two day loop in a couple days. Do you know where the best place to rent a bike in Sapa is? Also, what is the approximate end time of the loop on the second day? Trying to see if I would make it to the overnight train. Thank you!!!
Try contacting Flamingo Travel – they have recently opened a new shop in Lao Cai/Sapa.
I think you probably could make the overnight train, but it’s best not to rush this route, because bad road conditions or bad weather can slow you down. So I wouldn’t commit yourself to catching the train on the same night.
I hope this helps,
Hello, thank you for an awesome guide. Maybe someone knows if the road works north of Sin Ho are complete? Thank you
I had reports from last month that the road conditions coming from the north to Sin Ho on road DT128 are still quite bad for the last 10km. And going due south from Sin Ho on road DT128 there are still some rough patches caused by landslides and road works.
Great guide as usual.
What route would you suggest for the trip from Hanoi to Sapa?
It’s a fairly long ride from Hanoi to Sapa and the first couple of hours involve getting out of the capital and industrial suburbs, which isn’t very fun. After that, you can either take QL70 along the east side of the Red River or head through the mountains on QL32. The former is faster, but the latter is more scenic, including Mu Cang Chai.
However, it’s also a good option to put your bike on the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai instead.
I hope this helps,
November 2018 update : Just finished the loop. Did Lai Chau – Nam Tam – Sin Ho with a night in Sin Ho.
1/ The road between Lai Chau and Nam Tam is in excellent shape with really nice vistas.
2/ Once in Nam Tam we chose to take a completely offroad option : https://goo.gl/fSM4uQ instead of the regular road between Nam Tam and Sin Ho. This isn’t a road, it’s a dirt and gravel track, which takes a long time. The scenery is incredible and there is absolutely no one around. Easily passable in dry months, just a very slow ride. There’s a shop/place to eat in the middle of the road at some point. The last 10km of that road are incredible. A small paved road snaking up through thick vegetation, absolutely beautiful.
3/ The road south of Sin Ho is in good state. Bui Sanh Homestay in Sin Ho is the perfect place to stay. The family is very welcoming, food is good, herbal baths are awesome and you can even get a massage at the homestay. Definitely recommend it.
4/ North of Sin Ho, the road is being rebuilt and is in terrible state in many places. They are in the process of widening the road but that will take some time. Again, no problem in the dry season, might more complicated with rain.
Thanks for the updates and information.
I did half of the that off road track, but didn’t realize it continued all the way to Nam Tam – sounds great, if a bit slow.
UPDATE JULY 2018
We just finished the loop, did the whole side loop also, didn’t take the side road past Nam Tam though, since it looked pretty bad still.
I wanted to make an update on the road DT128 heading to Sin Ho from the South; it has been raining a bit in the past few weeks, so there’s been alot of landslides, and the road is bad and horribly muddy. Parts of the road were broken down the valley, and we had to walk some of the mud sections, or you would fall down from the bike. There were also construction work cars blocking the way, so it takes quite long to get up the mountain.
The road down to Lai Chau is still in work and partly muddy, but not half as bad.
Thanks for the road updates. Yes, I’m sure those roads suffer major landslides during the heavy rains. On the bigger roads they’re usually cleared within days, but on the smaller ones it can take a long time.
I cycled this road from Lai Chau to Sin Ho today but at one point a Vietnamese lady pointed out to me that the road was not passable due to landslide. I didn’t want to get stuck in this remote area so I took an alternative route. One of the reasons for my decision was that there seems to have been massive landslides at the end of June near Sin Ho. Is the road passable?
Yes, there have been big landslides in Lai Chau this summer, including most recently in early August. But it’s highly likely that any landslides affecting road QL4D will have been cleared as soon as possible because it’s a major transport road, but landslides on the smaller road from Lai Chau to Sin Ho are likely to take more time to clear.
Hello all, Tom man, your site is awesome, thanks a lot, I have been referring to your routes quite often throughout my trip. Just wanted to update you and readers that I was on DT128 today from Lai Chau to Sin Ho and 35 kms out from Sin Ho the road is closed due to landslides and road repair. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise the “closed road” notice and read it as you exit Lai Chau because it was all in Vietnamese 🙁 However, while driving the same way back to spend the night in Lai Chau, I saw a huge truck transporting a huge tractor so work is beginning to clear the road but I don’t know about the timeframe.
Thanks for the update, that’s really useful information. There’s been some pretty heavy rain in Lai Chau this year so I expect the landslides will take a while to clear, but it’s usually possible for motorbikes to get through pretty soon after the tractors and earth movers arrive.
We have just finished The Ha Giang northern loop, and thanks for all your tips and yoir map.
Now we are planning The Sapa- SinHo loop, and we would like some advice about the best shop to rent a 125cc manual motorbike, Yamaha or Suzuki.
Thanks a lot.
Baptiste & Solène
Hi Baptiste & Solène,
Do you mean a place to rent bikes in Sapa? If so, I can’t recommend a specific place there, but you will find lots of rental outlets in Sapa.
I am planning on doing this two day loop, and was wondering where is the best place for a manual motorbike rental in Sapa. Also, on the second day, around what time would one be back in Sapa? Trying to figure out whether I’d make the overnight train. Thanks!
Try contacting Flamingo Travel – they have recently opened a new shop in Lao Cai/Sapa.
I think you probably could make the overnight train, but it’s best not to rush this route, because bad road conditions or bad weather can slow you down. So I wouldn’t commit yourself to catching the train on the same night.
I hope this helps,
Thank you! I’m planning on doing it tomorrow and finishing it in two days. Do you think doing Sapa-Lai Chau-Sin Ho , and sleeping in Sin Ho is too ambitious? / how long do you think it would take? If it is too ambitious, where do you recommend I stay overnight? Thanks!
If you leave early and road and weather conditions are good then you can make it all the way to Sin Ho in one day, but it would be a full day’s ride. You can stay in Sin Ho or in Lai Chau or Phong Tho. See the information on this page for accommodation recommendations in all those places.
Hi, we are deciding between this loop and the Ha Giang loop. Any thoughts?
It depends on your time and onward travel plans, really. The Sapa-Sin Ho loop is shorter and onward travel from Sapa is pretty easy. The Ha Giang Loop is longer and Ha Giang city isn’t as well connected as Sapa. They are both great rides.
Thanks very much for the reply! We will probably do the Sapa-Sin Ho loop because Sapa is better connected than Ha Giang.
My girlfriend and I are considering taking this loop when we will be in Sapa at the end of April. Since only I can ride a motorbike, we will be both riding on one. In this case is it still possible to do it on an automatic?
Also we are planing to spend 3 days in the region, so we wont stay overnight in Sapa. Is there any option where we can leave our luggage for those 3 days?
Yes, an automatic will be able to do this loop with two people on it, as long as it is in good condition (I just did it a few months ago with two people on an automatic).
I’m not sure about luggage storage: perhaps in the train station at Lao Cai. But, if possible, staying one night in Sapa at the beginning would mean that your hotel would then allow you to leave your bags there until the end of the ride.
I hope this helps,
Excellent motorbike ride. A big highlight of our trip to North Vietnam. My fiancee and I did this loop over xmas.
Thanks for all of the tips on towns, landscapes, and food!
We rode from Sapa straight through strange, government-engineered Lai Chau and ended up staying the first night in Phong Tho, which was a charming little river town. We liked Lai Chau on the way back on the loop when we discovered the bustling backroads.
Amazing ride. Great hikes on cow trails that were linked up to rice patty farms. Loved Sin Ho too.
Drive a gear bike for the uphills and downhills.
Jeff & Rushna
Good to hear you enjoyed this ride. Yes, I felt the same way about Lai Chau until I wandered down those back streets where the life is.
Just wanted to thank you for the wonderful post. I have just completed the loop to Sin Ho and back to Sapa in two days, no rain in the past couple days so all roads were dry. Please be all aware that just out of Sin Ho to Lao Chau works are now increasing in pace and extent. Would avoid that road if it’s raining or still wet from previous rains. Otherwise all roads are clean enough and some are even really nice to ride fast.
Thanks again, will always remember the road up to SinHo with incredible view just before sunset.
Andrea from Italy
It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the ride. And thank you for the road updates – I hope they finish the work soon.
Hi Andrea, how did you split the two days driving? Where did you spend the first night and how long were you driving for per days?
Tom, amy tips on doing this route in 2 days?
Yes, you can do the main loop in two days if you like; you’d need to make sure you leave in the morning to give yourself enough time. You can stay at Sin Ho for the night at then ride back the next day, or if you run out of time you can stay in Lai Chau – I’ve included accommodation recommendations in the relevant sections of this guide.
In generally, because the roads are so mountains and the landscape so scenic, you’re average speed will probably only be between 30-40km per hour.
I hope this helps,
Did the loop this week (Dec 2017), was awesome, thanks for the info, also decided to take the road to Nam Tam. I can confirm it is riddled with landslides and road works, how ever this was by far my favorite road in vietnam, with a nice 20km rhythm section and plenty of muddy,boggy hill climbs. Awesome fun for playing in the mud. Did it on an automatic would recommend gears for more fun.
Great to hear you enjoyed the loop. And thanks for the updates about road conditions on the Nam Tam road – sounds like a lot of fun.
I have travelled every province in Vietnam since I began living here in 2011. My first tour was in early 2011. A tour of Sa Pa and the whole of the North along the Chinese border. Speaking no Vietnamese I went through a travel agency for a 10 day tour beginning in Hanoi across to Dien Bein to Sapa etc. I had all meals and accommodation paid for and an English speaking tour guide plus driver. What was supposed to be 10 days turned into nearly a month. I totally loved it so much. I love the simplicity of the locals everywhere.
It was there that I decided this beautiful country would be for me to retirement.
So here I am. Married to a lovely lady and family, and still going to towns and places we have not seen. Absolutely love every minute of it. Intending to do that Northern tour again next year to see the changes.
Great to hear you love Vietnam so much and that you’re still travelling around and discovering new and interesting places.
Me and my girlfriend are starting this loop tomorrow for 3 days and we were wondering, is there some places that we can stop for a swim on the loop ?
Thanks a lot ☺
Yes, as long as the weather isn’t too bad, you could swim in the river near Muong Ham. But if you do be very careful because the last time I was there it was very fast flowing and dangerous.
I hope you enjoy the loop,
Thanks a lot !
Sorry just saw your reply… Thanks a-lot for that looking forward to exploring!
Hi Tom Love your articles and advice.
Im planning on coming to VIETNAM NEXT fEBRUARY 2018 AND WANT TO RENT A MOTORCYCLE FOR 2-3 WEEKS. WHICH AREA IS BEST TO DO SO CONSIDERING THE WEATHER. I’D LOVE TO GO TO THE NORTH BUT FEAR IT MAY BE TOO COLD AND WET. ANY SUGGESTIONS ARE APPRECIATED . THANKS JANE
Yes, the north can be quite cold and wet at that time of year, but lots of riders still do it during that time and love it.
However, the best weather at that time of year is in the southern provinces, particularly south of Nha Trang.
For more about weather conditions all over Vietnam and where best to go and what time of year, take a look at my Weather Guide.
If you decide to stay in the south try browsing my Southern Routes Archive for ideas. Or for the north, try my Northern Routes Archive.
I hope this helps,
We came across your blog, really like the route you have taken, and has inspired us to do this next month on a trip to Sapa- thanks! Looking to go the opposite direction and stay at Sin Ho the first night, followed by Phong Tho the second perhaps- doesnt seem to be much online for booking accommodation in these areas, and didnt have much luck with English ringing some! Do you think it’s necessary to book in advance or are there generally plenty of walk-up options available? or do you have a reference for booking some online? Thanks again- really looking forward to getting on a bike to explore this area- looks amazing!
Walk-in bookings should be fine in the guest houses (nhà nghỉ) and hotels in those areas, unless you are visiting on a Saturday, because there might be more people staying on Saturday night for the markets on the Sunday morning. I am also travelling there next week in order to update this guide, so I’m sure there’s been a few changes.
I hope you enjoy the trip,
estou indo em dezembro 2017.
vc acha que sera dificil fazer o looping nesta data por causa do tempo??
o que vc diria??
December might be cold but it should still be fine to do this loop at that time of year.
Thanks for this wonderful website – you’ve done some great trips.
I’m hoping you can answer a couple of questions that I’ve been trying to research, but not having much luck. My husband and I are visiting in September and wanted to travel by motorbike from Sapa to Ha Giang and then do the extreme north motorbike loop that you suggest. Do you know if it’s possible to hire a motorbike in Sapa and leave it at Ha Giang? Also my husband can ride a motorbike, but I can’t. Probably a stupid question, but would any of the automatic or semi-automatic motorbikes handle the route? I’m guessing not.
I don’t think any of the rental companies offer that service yet. But you can try contacting Rent a Bike Vietnam and asking them – I think they have or will be opening a rental shop in Ha Giang, so maybe they can arrange something. If not, you could just rent your motorbike from Hanoi and put your bike on the train to Lao Cai (Sapa).
Yes, the automatics and semi-autos can do that trip. I ride an auto and it’s fine. The only problem is that those mountainous road suffer from landslides which can make the road surface muddy and occasionally bumpy and autos aren’t very good at that.
I hope this helps,
Hi Tom, hi all,
in september i’ll do this trip with my girlfriend. Could you suggest me where to rent a manual motorbike in Lao Cai or Sapa? I’ll not have a hotel because i’ll be there in the morning and i want to start immeditly for the trip.
Second question, what’s the best homestay in Sin Ho?
I can’t recommend a specific place to rent motorbikes in Sapa but most hotels, guest houses, and travel agents in Sapa will have motorbikes to rent, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one. You could try contacting Sapa O’Chau and asking them.
In Sin Ho there are a few guest houses (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese) that cost around 200,000vnd a night, but I don’t know about homestays in Sin Ho.
I hope this helps,
I’m planning to get started on this loop tomorrow, and am trying to work out the timing of a bus back to Hanoi on the final day. How long would you say the Sin Ho-Sapa leg takes, compared to the Sapa-Lai Chau leg? I’m wondering if a 4pm bus from Sapa would be doable after biking down from Sin Ho, or if it would make more sense to do this loop in reverse (head to Sin Ho first from Sapa).
Thanks in advance for your help!
Well, it depends on quite a lot of things, like how the weather is, what condition the road is in, what speed you might ride at etc. I would say that the extra bit up the hill from Lai Chau to Sin Ho takes between 1 hour and 90 minutes. In general, on these mountainous roads you can expect to keep an average speed of between 30-40km an hour. Also, you’ll have a much better idea of how long it will take after you’ve ridden the first day.
I hope this helps,
Thanks Tom — appreciate the quick response.
and thanks for your blog. We did 2 loops (this one and Central Golden loop) – they were wonderfull.
Just as add on to your existed route want to advise travellers visiting Xã Bản Bo. 11 km away from the main route of 1st section this place is worth to be visited. Dozen of 5-6m handmade wooden wheels standing on a little river are used by locals for irrigation of their rice fields. Here is the picture http://i67.tinypic.com/ir7xaw.jpg
GPS coordinates 22.23744359,103.68104478
Great to hear you enjoyed both those loops.
Thanks for the suggested extension – it looks fantastic.
GPS coordinates posted above are near the bridge which should be crossed to see “the wheels”. So more accurate coordinates are 22.2382163,103.678261
Did a long drive from Son La to Sin Ho today. I have to thank you, the road leading to Sin Ho from Muong Lay is just the most beautiful place i have ever seen. Cloudy all day but just as i started the ascent, sun came out. Astonishing views. Update on road conditions : QL6 between Tuan Giao and Muong Lay was really bad, took me about 3 hours to do about 90 kms. Almost fell out of my bike as surface was so rocky. After that, Ql12 is in good shape to the junction with tl128, and this last road is pretty good too, some rough parts but you can avoid easily. Thanks again for all your information, havibg the time of my life and i feel like i get to see the real Vietnam !
Wonderful to hear you enjoyed the Sin Ho road – what a spectacular area that is! Thank you for the road updates, too – that’s very helpful for me and other readers also.
Enjoy the rest of your trip,
Small other update. The first 15 to 20 kms out of Sin Ho are quite rough. Lots of la dsl des and constructions. But then the 40 or so last towards Lai Chau are new and in excellent shape ! Have a good day
Thank you! 🙂
Thanks for the great post, really helpful!
My boyfriend and I are hoping to do this trip from 1st may this year for 3 days. Neither of us have ever riden a motorbike and I’m not keen on doing so, so was hoping to go on the back of his. He is doing his CBT this weekend to get a bit of practice before we go!
I wondered what kind of bike you think we need? For two people and a very small bag? I’ve heard that riding a bike over 50cc without a Vietnamese licence is illegal, is this true? Could we do it on a 50cc bike?!
Any advice very much appreciated 🙂
You will need a bike with more than 50cc because this is a mountainous route. Most rental bikes with be 110-150cc are these are fine for doing this ride.
Technically you need to have a local license to ride in Vietnam, but in reality the majority of foreigners riding here do not have a local license. You will not have a problem renting a motorbike in Sapa. If you get stopped by the traffic police you will most likely just have to pay a standard fine of about $10-20 and then be allowed to continue.
I hope this helps,
Thanks that’s really helpful.
Are there places in sapa to rent decent motorbike helmets? Or would we need to get them from Hanoi and take with us?!
Yes, you can rent motorbikes in Sapa but I can’t vouch for any specific place. The most reputable motorbike rental companies are in Hanoi.
loving the blog and all the great info. if we didn’t have a full 3 days to dedicate to the entire loop… is it still worth/doable to head directly toward Sin Ho rather than doing the loop, and then come back the same way? or is it better to try and squeeze the whole ride into 2 days?
Yes, it’s still worth going direct to Sin Ho and back again – it’s still an amazing ride even if you don’t have time to do the whole loop.
I hope you enjoy it,
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?
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,
How populated is the route? Would it be a big issue if your bike broke down along this route?
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.
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 !
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 🙂
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?
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,
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.
It would have been great to hear what this route was like in December time.
I was thinking of doing some of the very northern bike routes (I would be in the area around early December but i’m not sure the risk of black ice is overly appealing on some of the sheer drop roads.
Yes, it will be cold in December, but ice and snow are quite rare. However, you would need to ride very carefully in those conditions and make sure you have appropriate cold weather clothing.
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.
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.
Thanks for sharing your experience of the route. Great to hear that you enjoyed it (even if the weather wasn’t great). Good fun watching the video too 🙂
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Can this be done with an automatic?
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…
Thanks for the update, Chris. It’s good to know that the roads up and down are in decent shape.
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.
Good tip. Thanks, Chris.
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.
Thanks for that update on road conditions – that’s great to hear. Let us know how you find it going down the other way to Lai Chau, please.
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.
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 🙁
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,
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,
I’ll be actually doing it from the other direction :). I’ll check this 128, especially that it seems like the more scenic one
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)?
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.
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)
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.
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!
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.
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.
Brilliant! I’ll have to try that ‘wrong turn’ next time I’m in the area too. Thanks for the tip.
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.
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.
Thanks for all the great info. Would you recommend a route from Pu Long > Sin Ho?
Many thanks again,
Pu Luong * (or Mai Chau)
You can take Highway 6 and then Highway 12 – that’s a spectacular but long ride. Or you can go from Mai Chau to Moc Chau on Highway 6 and then take Road 43 towards Nghia Lo and stay on Highway 32 until it meets Highway 4D near Lai Chau. Either way it’s a long and scenic ride.
From Pu Luong Nature Reserve (near Mai Chau) to Sin Ho?
Yes thats the one. Maybe I’ll re-look at my initiery, as this seems a huge ride. Would you mind taking at look at what i’ve got planned if i email it to you?
Cheers again for all the great stuff,
Thanks, Mike. Have a good trip.
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, 🙂
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.
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 🙂
Oh dear, what a shame! It’s only Friday today so yes you can still get to Sin Ho for the Sunday market if it stops raining 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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,
Thanks Tom. I think we will go with your recommendation.
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 🙂 )?
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,
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.
Yes, the weather should be OK, but you can never tell in that region – it is very changeable.
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!
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,
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!
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.
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.
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.
Glad to hear you had good weather. Thanks for sharing your experience of the ride. I hope that section of road will be finished soon!
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.
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.
Tanks alot Tom.
you have been very helpfull.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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:)
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
There is still buying and selling on Saturday, but it’s not as busy as Sunday. Most of the activity is inside the market space not outside.
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.
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.
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 ?
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.
That Sa Pa loop is a prime candidate for my next trip.
Also, there are some advantages to traveling alone.
It’s a spectacular trip!