Vamp, our magical Fairy Motorbike-Mother, has been flooding Caroline’s Facebook mailbox with wonderful routes and paths throughout the north of Vietnam. He said to us, “You must visit the small village of Y Ty,” and so we obliged, taking a beautiful one-day loop from our base in Lao Cai.
The drive is 171 kilometres, which is pretty epic. There are a couple of homestays in Y Ty if you want to break your trip up, but we did it in one day.
Look! A helpful map.
We drove this loop at the start of spring, therefore the haze from paddy-burning reduced the visibility and the rice fields were in a state somewhere between harvested and planted. I am positive that this area would look even more incredible near the end of rice-growing season in October. A sunny day with the endless layers of mountains and multi-coloured paddy fields carved beautifully into the landscape would probably be too much to bear. I’d be reduced to tears.
So yes, we can highly recommend this route. The roads are steep and occasionally bad, you’re not likely to see much traffic if you go on a weekday, and there were no other tourists when we drove it.
We started in the border town of Lao Cai and drove along road TL156 until reaching the town of Bản Vược. From here you can either turn left at the roundabout onto road TL158, or you can keep going straight, hugging the border of China. Either way, you’ll end up back in Bản Vược again. We took the left turn, but I think if I did it again I would keep going straight alongside the border. Most of the really stunning scenery is on the right hand side if you go this way (anti-clockwise), meaning you’ll be able to get a more unobstructed look down some of the valleys.
No matter which way you go, you’ll be seeing stuff like this:
The actual town of Y Ty is perched high in the Nhi Cu San mountains and looks out over China. Both countries have terraced paddy fields running down to the border at the foot of the valley. It’s a relatively popular spot with Vietnamese weekenders, but it doesn’t seem to attract many foreigners – surprising given its beauty and proximity to Sapa. The standout feature of the town and surrounding mountains are the clay huts. These dwellings are built upon a foundation of stone, and wood or corrugated iron is used for the frames and roof. Clay is then compacted to make the thick, solid walls.
In the depths of winter, it can snow in the mountains – as this rather dramatic video demonstrates.