Up high mountain town
If you’re travelling between Lai Chau and Muong Lay, you have two options—the (relatively) flatter road which loops to the north via Phong To, or a more interesting and scenic route through the high mountain village of Sin Ho, a kilometre above sea level. The road is mostly well-paved and easy to ride, and the winding ride up to the mountain top is a treat.
Because it is there! The road up to Sin Ho from Muong Lay and onwards to Lai Chau is one of the more spectacular in the northwest. Coming from Muong Lay, DT128 runs off QL12 for the run up to Sin Ho. Hugging the steep valley wall as you head higher and higher, the views are simply magnificent. In wet season this road is prone to landslides, so expect possible delays, but the views more than compensate. The road onwards to Lai Chau is equally stunning—and terrific riding. Expect big skies.
Sin Ho itself is a cute little town. There’s an interesting wet market, a pleasant artificial lake (yes with swan boats) and town square, around which pretty much everything is walking distance. There is also a good hotel and enough simple restaurants to keep you fed. The town does not get a lot of foreign travellers, but we still found it to be friendly enough.
As with the rest of the region, June through to September is wet season. Expect heavy rainfall and misty weather. Landslides are common and will slow you down. Visibility wise, late September to October and March through May are the best bet.
Evenings and early mornings can be cool to cold year round. If motorbiking, be sure to dress accordingly. The temperature can be cold on high passes yet hot in the valleys. Sin Ho itself is pretty high up—you’ll appreciate a jacket or at least a long-sleeved top come the evening.
Sin Ho is small and pretty much everything is within walking distance of the town square. The Phuc Tho Hotel is well situated in the centre of town, overlooking the main square, and is the pick of the bunch as far as places to stay is concerned. Sin Ho has a popular Sunday market—and while we were not there on a Sunday, Vietnam Coracle says “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.”
There is an Agribank ATM in town, though these can be fickle at accepting international cards, so we’d suggest bringing enough cash with you.
If you need a motorcycle doctor, there is a Honda workshop facing onto the town square.
Phuc Tho Hotel
# Opposite the town square, Sin Ho
T: (0231) 387 0186
Set right opposite the town square in the centre of Sin Ho, the Phuc Tho Hotel has a lot more going for it than just the location.
The gleaning facade overlooking the street and square offers up three floors of rooms, each with a shared though unfurnished terrace dotted with small palms and other greenery. From there you look over the square and Sin Ho market is just steps away.
Rooms (from 200,000 dong) are simple but clean, well kept and not of a bad size. The beds are as hard as the bathrooms are modest, but after half a day on a bike or in a bus, they’re welcoming enough. Staff were friendly enough but there wasn’t much English on hand.
If in the very unlikely situation the hotel is full or not to your liking, the larger but pretty charmless Thanh Binh sits towards the western edge of town, perhaps a ten minute walk from the Phuc Tho.
Click on the hotel name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Travellers getting around with their own transport often make Sin Ho a lunch stop (as we did) rather than an overnight, but either way you won’t go hungry.
Just a little down past the Phuc Tho, on your left when walking away from the town square, there is a decent pho joint (sorry, we forgot to note the name down) which serves up enormous bowls for 30,000 dong.
Over the other side of town, by the pond with the swan boats in it there are a couple of simple cafes. You could always grab a simple takeaway from Cho Sin Ho (also just down from the Phuc Tho) and scoff it by the square or pond-side.
Click on the restaurant name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Cho Sin Ho Near the town Square
Com and Pho joint Near Cho Sin Ho.
Pond-side cafes South side of the pond, Sin Ho.
As with a number of the other smaller centres in the northwest, the main attraction here is the getting here. The scenery both between Muong Lay and Sin Ho and onwards between Sin Ho and Lai Chau is just magnificent.
If you are travelling under your own steam, it is worth noting that the roads, while generally pretty good, particularly near Sin Ho are susceptible to landslides. When we were riding through here after heavy rain in September 2019, one stretch of road had been almost completely swept away. While the chances of you being swept away are minimal, you should bank of the occasional delay, of an hour or so if you are a bike, often considerably longer if travelling by bus or car.
We found the run up from QL12 on DT128 to be especially enjoyable. With almost no traffic, the road was tightly wrapped to the valley wall, making for excellent riding and plenty of spots to stop to enjoy the view up and down the valley. On the other side of Sin Ho, heading towards Lai Chau is an excellent stretch which loops around the northern end of a broad rice field valley. The views are superb, especially with clear weather.
In Sin Ho itself, aside from the pond and the market there isn’t much in the way of sights, though the setting, surrounded by stubby karsts and rice fields, is scenic. On Sundays the central market goes off with people from the surrounds trekking in for the affair. If you can time your trip to coincide with this, that would be sensible.
On a past visit to Sin Ho it was suggested we visit some of the local ethnic minority villages. The village of Xa De Phin was recommended to us—it’s apparently 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. We didn’t have time to visit it this time around. The Phuc Tho Hotel or Thanh Binh Hotel would be good places to ask for advice regarding finding a guide.
Buses to Lai Chau and Muong Lay leave from early to late morning from a parking area beside the town square. Take these trip times with a dose of salt as if there are landslides the delays could be substantial.
Lai Chau: Takes around two hours and costs 50,000 dong.
Muong Lay: Takes about three hours and we were quoted 60,000 dong.
Last updated on 10th October, 2019.
9 other destinations in Northwest Vietnam