Climb up to the top of Indochina: Mount Fansipan in Vietnam

So finally I’ve decided to do that trekking trip to the top of Mount Fansipan, the peak of three countries in former Indochina (Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia), located in the North of Vietnam, in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.

Trekking up to the top of the highest mount to hug that triangle metal piece saying “Fansipan 3,143m” has become a long time tradition among young Vietnamese people. And obviously, Fansipan is also a kind of tourist attraction since it is very close to Sapa, a famous destination for tourists in the North of Vietnam, and a few adventurous and athletic travelers love to combine their Sapa trip with this Fansipan Mount trekking.

Before the trip my travel mates and I had quite a naive thought about the trek. We thought “it’s foot path and we can literally walk up to the top of the mountain(!), only 15km up and 15km down, will be easy, everyone is doing it, we’ll be fine”. However, the whole trip actually turned out to be an intensive training of physical rock climbing, which no one had told us before.

1. Tours and train tickets:

It is quite easy to organize for the trip. All you need to do is do is to book a package tour, then to buy train tickets. We booked a 2 day 1 night tour from this travel agency for 4 people at the price of VND1,420,000 per person (around USD70). Quite easy, just needed to make a few calls, send a few emails and deposit VND500,000 (USD25) 2 or 3 days before the trip.

The difficult thing was actually the train ticket part. To go to Fansipan and Sapa, you need to buy train tickets from Hanoi to Lao Cai then go by bus from Lao Cai to the town. And Sapa is so popular for both foreign and domestic travelers that train tickets sell like hot cakes, especially at weekends. Thus, you’d better go for them at least 2 weeks in advance, or else you may risk having no places at all. The best scenario is that you can buy tickets directly from the train station, however, they reserve only a small amount here so you should really go early (2-3 weeks to make sure!). If not, then you’ll have to ring the agents and buy over-charged tickets.

In the hard sleeper class of the train Hanoi – Lao Cai

I only rushed for the tickets 10 days in advance so it was a bit tough. Of course there was nothing left at the train station and I had to call roughly a dozen agents to finally get 4 places in the hard sleeper class. In fact, Vietnamese trains are quite good if compared with the trains I knew in India or Poland. There are mainly 4 classes: soft sleeper (4 beds in one cabin), hard sleeper (6 beds in one cabin), soft seating and hard seating. Advice is to go for the sleeper or soft seating so that you can sleep a bit on the train (there are only night trains going to Lao Cai). Prices per way per person updated in September 2012 are around: VND 700,000 for soft sleeper (USD35); VND550,000 for hard sleeper (USD27.5); VND270,000 for soft seating (USD13.5). Be aware that the price will change quickly due to the skyrocketing inflation in Vietnam(!)

2. Tips before the actual trip:

- If you don’t do exercise very often then I’m telling you that you need to do exercise intensively at least 1 or 2 weeks before the trip because it’s going to be brutal rock climbing, 15km up and 15km down, so don’t expect any leisure! And be prepared: there is no fun about this trip, you will just climb up and down, but there’s nothing on top of the mountain, there’s only that metal little thing and the pride of conquering the toughest route ever. Yes, that’s a personal victory and I’m actually considering putting it in my CV *blinking*(!)

- Bring warm clothes! Trust me, it’s freezing up there during night time (if you feel athletic you can do the trek within a day, but if not then you’ll have to spend one night in a camp at the height of 2,800m like we did).

- Bring as few things in your backpack as possible, only necessary stuff (such as warm clothes, new socks, scarf, and flash light that can be tightened on your forehead in case you have to go in the dark). It is not easy climbing up with a heavy backpack behind (unfortunately, we did), because the porters have to bring a lot of things on the way up and will not offer carrying the backpack for you.

- Best time to do this whole trekking thing is April and May when the weather is good, not cold (and especially) not rainy, and you will also have a clear view of the beautiful valley with flowers in bloom.

- However, if you are just as unlucky as we were and go on a rainy day then remember to bring rainwear with separate coat and trousers so that it doesn’t obstruct your attempt to climb up (we brought ponchos, which was not so wise). Also bring plastic socks so that your feet won’t get wet (be warned that you will have to wade in mud high up to your ankle). We had to put on plastic bags instead, but that helped.

- Wear sports shoes that can stick, your life depends on it! The rocks are super slippery.

3. Our trip:

I did the trip with 3 other friends. Two of them were from Saigon and they combined their Hanoi business trip with the Fansipan trek. Let the photo stream tell our story:

My travel mates looked super happy in front of the gate to Trạm Tôn, the starting point of the trek. We really didn’t have any idea what was waiting behind it lol
The path looked really nice when we still had energy to enjoy.
The route started to get tougher but also extremely beautiful. We needed to keep our shoes dry, so no chance to wade in the clear water of the stream (yet). There were many pretty little streams like that on the way.
My travel mates with our H’Mong husband-and-wife porters cum travel guides (First time we’d seen a female porter!). Already tired but still had energy to take photos and pose.
After having a quick lunch in a camp at the height of 2,200m, we encountered a brutal “path” with non-stop steep rocks. And we had all the heavy backpacks on during those 3-4 hours of climbing. Insane!
But our guides were still totally fine with probably 20 kilos on their backs! And look at their “shoes”!
There was a deep down in front of us! 15 minutes to rest, look down at the tough rocks, get scared.. and pose
This was the camp at the height of 2,800m where we had dinner and spent an oh-so-cold night after 6.5 hours of climbing. It was quite dirty, especially on a rainy day
Actually the view from the camp would be very nice if it were not rainy or too foggy. And in fact in dry weather you can even do camp fire here.
Our favorite lady porter ever!
Candle-lit dinner. Of course there was no electricity at the height of 2,800m!
Inside the tin house at night. The hole on the door kept the winds blowing in all night. It was quite crowded in the camp that night. Apart from 4 of us, there were 2 other groups, each with 11 and 16 members(!). One group actually turned up in the dark. I couldn’t imagine how they could climb, even with the flash lights. It must have been very dangerous!
We finally made it to the top on the next day. Was seriously tough rock climbing and mud wading. But we made it! Yay!
Celebrate with a champagne!
The traditional “Việt Nam vô địch” (invincible Vietnam) pose on the Fansipan lol
I needed a photo with our H’Mong guide too! He has been leading tourists to the peak for more than 10 years! A true conqueror!

The way down was brutal, mostly because our energy had been used up. However, going down was easier so it took us only 2/3 of the time to climb up. There were still some flowers in bloom then, but the tour guide said to us that flowers were everywhere in April and May and the sky would even be so clear that you could see through to Sapa from the top. Well, we chose a really bad time to do the trek, but that was enough, I don’t think I’ll ever find the gut to come back there again!

When getting back to Hanoi my feet were in terrible condition and my whole body was aching like crazy. It took me no less than 3 days to be able to walk normally again, but I’m still very happy that I can finally say: “I’ve conquered the Fansipan”. Yo!

22 thoughts on “Climb up to the top of Indochina: Mount Fansipan in Vietnam”

  1. Doc bai viet cua may ma thay boi hoi boi hoi qua’. Ngay xua di leo Fan ve tao cung muon viet 1 bai co ma chang co luc nao ngoi viet dc ca y’ :((

  2. Awesome! Too bad this was the same weekend as BarCamp Saigon. So did it take you from sunrise to sunset to reach the top? And when you say rock climbing, how steep? Did you need safety ropes to climb?

    Working as a porter on that route sounds like it could be fun too. :)

    1. It took us 2 days actually. But you can totally do it from sunrise to sunset to reach the top and back if you are strong enough :-P. Very steep. But you dont need safety ropes for this route, only need to use all legs and feet and arms and hands. The porter guy said that there was another route that was much more dangerous and you would need all the safety equipment to do it. But nah, not for me, I’ll never come back there, once is enough! Lol

      1. So 2 days to get from bottom to top, then another 2 days to climb down? Or just a day to go down? No, I’m not trying to set any world speed records here. ;)

        I do like rock climbing though.

  3. My old buddy, I plan to visit Hanoi at the end of January ’13, r u still at Hanoi that time??? I need to kind tour guide to take me experiencing the Hanoi contemporary art scene ^o^

  4. That’s must have been quite a hike!! The farthest that I’ve done is 13 km round trip with going up to only 1200 meters so I can feel a little bit of your pain. That said, carrying photography equipment on a hike is really a pain, the cameras are heavy and you can’t drop them :)

    1. Thanks for the comment and the like, Hoan. Oh yeah, this Fansipan is exactly the place where you don’t want to have a photo shooting assignment lol. By the way, I just added your blog to my blog roll :-)

  5. Hi there,

    I want to ask, I’m planning to go to mt. Fansipan but I kind of short of time. I’m planning to do a one day climb but I’m not sure wether can achieved or not. I’m planning to go to Sapa by train overnight from Hanoi. I looked through internet that for one day climb u have to reached summit at 1.00pm. The train will be arriving at sapa around 5.00am plus. Then I have to take a bus to go to the town right. Will I make it for a day climbed?

    Thank you

    1. Yeah, train arrives in Lao Cai around 5am then you take a bus to Sapa (30km away). Yeah, one day climb is totally possible. But probably you should do it on the next day (start the trek from 5am). Also, make sure that you are aware of the tough route. Good luck ;-)

  6. Hi, thanks for the information about Mt. Fansipan. I’m from the Philippines and planning to climb the mountain in November. I have just booked a flight to Hanoi and I wish if you could provide me about the guide in climbing Mt. Fansipan. If you no longer have contact information of your guide you might have some information where I can reach them. Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Ronnie, I’m really not sure, coz the guides were arranged for my group by the tour operator.. But I think they are reachable in Sa Pa if you don’t want to book the tour. I do recommend a tour tho, just so you can take a hot shower after the climb

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