Sapa, Vietnam’s northern hill station is home to the tallest mountain in Vietnam. Mount Fansipan is part of the Hoang Lien Son Mountain range and is often referred to as the rooftop of the Indochina peninsula, watching over the terraced rice fields and ethnic villages from a height of 10,312 feet (3,143 meters). Conquering this mountain is a beast, but here’s how to do it.
But first… when should you visit?
Sapa goes through more seasons than the rest of Vietnam does, and it can get really cold up there. There has even been snow. Sapa also has a rainy season like the rest of Vietnam, and you’ll mostly want to avoid visiting then.
The best time to visit is during September to April, when the conditions are ideal. The end of February is when all the flowers along the mountain are in full bloom, creating an even more spectacular picture for you to be a part of. The snowcapped mountains around the end of December and January are also a beautiful sight. It’s up to you to decide if you wish to conquer the mountain during cold weather.
If you are in no mood to take the arduous journey trekking up the mountain, are physically unable to, or if you are strapped for time, you can opt to take the newly built cable car. A two-day journey will be compressed into a matter of 20 minutes. As the cables run from Muong Hoa Valley up to the final station on the mountain, you can enjoy sweeping views of the poetic Sapa town, the gorgeous valleys, and the terraced rice fields without trying to catch your breath. From the last station, there are 600 stairs you have to climb, or again to make it easy, there is a tram system to take you up—ideal for little children, the elderly, and the disabled. Tickets will only cost you about 600,000 VND (26 USD) for both ways for the cable car, and an additional 100,000 VND (4 USD) for the tram.
DIY for the brave
There are a few route options to consider when reaching the summit. Bear in mind, parts of these routes have been cleared for tourists—you may come across paved steps, ladders, and clear paths, but in the more difficult routes, there are sometimes extremely dangerous steep climbs. Choose depending on your desired level of adventure, fitness, and time.
The easy route begins at Tram Tron, and will take you about 10 hours to reach the summit. The walking distance is about seven miles (11 kilometers), and you can do this in one day if you are as fit as you are optimistic. This route is mostly used by tourists, so you will probably come across others on the same journey, especially at pit stops. We recommend you take over a day to fully enjoy the path.
The medium route begins at San Sa, and reaches the summit through Ban Sin Chai. This trail is actually shorter—about six miles (nine kilometers) in total—but it is a harder route to take. Adventure seekers will love this one, as there are plenty of opportunities to get lost—and this has happened more than a few times!
To take the most difficult route, you need to start at Cat Cat Village. This is the longest trail of the three, but you will also be rewarded with much better views. The distance between the beginning to the summit is around 12 miles (20 kilometers), and we recommend you spend at least three days fully savoring the journey. You will also feel the most accomplished taking the most difficult trail.
Don’t go alone!
We advise that you do not tackle either of these trails on your own, as there have been unfortunate deaths. The best option is to take a guide with you, who is very knowledgeable about the route and an experienced trekker. Most guides will take you through the easy route, but there are some that know the harder routes like the back of their hands.
Finding a guide is not hard. Many locals in the area will offer to guide you themselves or act as agents and hook you up with a guide. If you opt for this option, instead of an organized tour, remember that despite some inconveniences, your money will go towards a family that needs it, rather than an agency. Most guides speak great English, having done this plenty of times before.
How about a tour?
The best Fansipan tour is done by Vietnam Discovery. The tour lasts four days, and in addition to conquering Fansipan, there are other treks you will do, such as Ham Rong Mountain, or exploring other parts of Sapa, such as the town and Lao Chai Village. The route is a mix of the easy and medium, including Tam Tron and Sin Chai. The price includes everything: transport to and from Hanoi, accommodation, guide fees, tents, sleeping bag, gloves, jackets, meals, water, and admission tickets.
If you are looking for other tours in Sapa, please check out Sapa O’Chau. They are a social enterprise organizing responsible treks throughout the region, and your money will go towards a good cause.
Tips for trekking Mount Fansipan:
Make sure you are well fed during the trek. Try not to take part in any unique diet. You need to be fit to handle all that walking. Take some snacks to replenish your lost energy levels, and of course, bring some extra water. You do not want to get dehydrated.
Do not leave your group or stray away from your guide. If you are falling behind, let someone know.
Please do not litter. Carry a small bag for garbage. If you are a smoker, don’t throw cigarette butts everywhere. You can drop them into a water bottle that you have finished using.
Wear appropriate clothes. Waterproof trekking shoes are recommended. Make sure you wear comfortable clothes. At night, it will get cold, so wear warm clothes and also extra socks!
Don’t forget your toiletries—and toilet paper, unless you are okay with using leaves to wipe. But you don’t want to get a rash, so a pack of tissues will make your life easier.
Taking a small first aid kit is a great idea.
Bring only the essentials. Do not carry too much.
Lastly, bring a camera, portable charger, your phone, and a book or a notebook to take notes or to write down your memories.
Lastly, pack everything in Ziploc bags to prevent your items from getting wet.
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