If you're headed between Lai Chau and Muong Lay, you have two options — the (relatively) flatter road leads through Phong To, but a more interesting and scenic route passes through the high mountain village of Sinh Ho, a kilometre above sea level. The entire road is now well-paved and easy to ride, and the winding ride up to the mountain top is a treat (unless you're on a bicycle).
It makes a lot more sense as a lunch stop than an overnight, but there is a decent hotel here if you want to spend the night. If you are eating lunch, you'll have to settle for the rather meagre pickings at the local rice joints. You might try the outdoor cafe/restaurant at the Thanh Binh Hotel, but budget a lot of time, as service is slow.
It's true that Sinh Ho doesn't get a lot of foreigner visitors, and the reception we got on arrival wasn't what we were used to. Few smiles, little interest, people going about their business and ignoring us completely. In other words, after having way too much attention paid to you at every step of your journey, Sinh Ho might be a welcome relief.
So, the face of Sinh Ho is a complex one, and it's also changing — the addition of the Thanh Binh Hotel three years ago to accommodation travellers has made Sinh Ho a destination, if only a destination in the making.
If you spend any amount of time here, really all that you can do (that we know of) is visit some of the local ethnic minority villages. The village of Xa De Phin was recommended to us — it's 5 km from the town centre along the road to Muong Lay, and after the turnoff onto a dirt road, it's another 5 km.
As you enter Sinh Ho town via the winding ascent up the mountain, you'll find the town square at the centre, which is actually a sunken football field. Everything of note is close by the centre.
Don't even think about finding any banking services up here, but, believe it or not, there's internet. It's along the main road from the square to the Thanh Binh Hotel on the right. —
There also seemed to be internet at the post office, but on our visit we couldn't scare up a soul to confirm it. It's on the southside of the main square.
Buses to either Muong Lay or Lai Chau depart from the town square but are limited and no-one was able to confirm times. So budget for a night in town just in case. The journey to Lai Chau takes around 1.5 hours and to Muong Lay takes around 3 hours.
Internet: T: (0231) 379 0531, (0913) 325 682.
Sinh Ho Post Office: Khu 3, Sinh Ho. T: (0231) 387 0118, F: (0231) 387 0109
By Sarah Turner