Fansipan: Climbing Vietnam’s Highest Peak
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Mountain Stats
- #1 in Vietnam
- “Roof of Indochina”
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Natural Form and History
Natural Fansipan Vietnam - Natural history
Fansipan, often referred to as the ‘Roof of Indochina’ is part of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range that covers the northwest-southwest direction from the Vietnam-China border to the catchment area of the River Da and lies 9kms from the town of Sapa in Vietnam. It is said to have emerged in the mountains in the Neozoic period. This mountain zone has a block structure with different blocks having been formed by different faults in a high grade. The Fansipan structural zone has rocks belonging to the Cha Pa formation and is composed of quartz feldspar – muscovite schist embedded with layers of several other types of rocks including thin bedded dolomite marble.
Natural Fansipan Vietnam - Climbing history
Being a relatively easy – though long – climb, Mount Fansipan has been a favorite for visitors from the colonial times. In 1905, a French expedition climbed the mountain and installed a metal pyramid marking the name and height of the mountain, adding a unique dimension to the dramatic mountainscape. In the war years that followed, there was very little activity on the mountain and the trail was lost to growth and underbrush. The first subsequent officially acknowledged expedition to the summit was by a local army man named Nguyen Thien Hung in 1991. He is said to have ascended with the help of local goat herd and reached the summit after 13 attempts.
Natural Fansipan Vietnam - Current status
Mount Fansipan is a popular trekking destination with several tour companies arranging two or three day climbs to the summit. In 2013, a cable car service was thrown open and many now opt to take the breathtaking 15 minute ride to the top rather than trudge up the scenic mountain trails. The summit is a firm fixture on tourist itineraries to this part of the world and sees a large number of tourists, especially since the opening of the cable car service.
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Climbing Experience & Itinerary
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Climbing Experience
Mount Fansipan is a well-marked tourist spot, offering trails with different options for climbers of different fitness.
The climbing terrain comprises of 3 sections. Fabulous vistas of lush forest, rambling brooks, slippery slopes and rugged rocks all form part of this enchanting climb.
Right from the entrance to the Tram Ton trail, you get to sneak a peek at the summit that awaits, shrouded in clouds. A couple of minutes into the climb you encounter a shallow stream rushing past over rugged stones but you won’t have to get your feet wet as there are stone paved paths laid out for trekkers. For about two hours you step over gigantic roots, trudge on slippery soil and climb up rock boulders – all of it through dense jungle.
Soon after the rest stop is one of the best parts of the trail – the ridge walk along the spine of the lower hills. It is an undulating path that will require you to constantly ascend and descend as you get closer to the base camp. But you are rewarded with amazing views of flower strewn valleys on the way. There are also stretches of brutal vertical climbs but most often you will find hand railings for support.
The final stretch to the summit tests your climbing skills to the utmost. After ascending an almost vertical rock surface from 2,800-2,900m, there is a dramatic descend back to 2800 m and then a seemingly endless stairway to the summit where a wooden platform allows you to take in the sea of clouds and the golden sunshine on the metal pyramid before you start your descend.
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Trail options
There are 3 distinct trails to the base camps each offering unique experiences but differing in levels of difficulty and time needed to ascend. Depending on whether you are looking at accomplishing the trek in a day or would rather savour the sights and spend a night or two in the mountains, each trail offers different possibilities to make the ascend memorable.
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Support facilities
Guides and porters
Food & water
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Safety & Accessibility
Mount Fansipan is accessible at any time of the year but avoiding the rainy season and the extreme cold will make the climb easier and provide more fantastic views on the ascend as well as the summit. The best climate is considered to be mid-October to mid-November and again between February and April. Day temperatures in these two periods range between 15-28°C and night temperatures between 10-18°C.
Slips and falls: Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and also be sure to wear gloves as there are scramble ladders at points and also tree roots and rock surfaces that you may need to grip.
Weather: Be dressed for the climate but also factor in some amount of rain and cold weather.
Mosquitos, leeches, snakes: There are many warning about these dangers in the mountains though not many have reported actually seeing a snake. Even so, it is best to be prepared for the mosquitos and leeches.
Mount Fansipan is a crowded tourist destination but the hiking trails may not see too many people at once. It is still advisable to take basic precautions and keep personal items secure to avoid any possibility of theft.
Permits, Fees, and Regulations
A permit is needed for the climb. It is also mandatory to have booked a guide for the trip before trying to get the permit. If you have booked your tour in advance through an operator, their charges will include the cost of the permit and they will take care of the formalities for you. If you have not made prior arrangements though, you can book your guide in Sapa and directly get your permit from the tourism office.
Getting there and away
Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi is the nearest landing point for international travellers. From Hanoi, there are two options to travel to Sapa. The first is to take the train to Lao Cai from where you will need to arrange transport to Sapa. Many travellers hire bikes and carry them on the train to Lao Cai from where they can ride it to Sapa. The overnight train journey takes 8 hours while the sleeper bus reaches in 6 hours. The second option is to take a sleeper bus from Hanoi that will take you all the way to Sapa.
When booking through a tour operator, the cost of this hike shouldn’t exceed $150 USD.
Climbing Fansipan Vietnam - Special Tips
Tips for amateur climbers
Fansipan is a very amateur-friendly mountain. However, if you’re not up for hiking all the way up, there is a cable car that can take you up instead, and you can instead choose some lesser hikes around the summit.
Tips for advanced climbers
You could attempt to complete the trek in a day for a more rigorous physical challenge.
Or, take the Cat Cat Trail – it is a longer and less crowded trail.
Tips for women
Many solo women as well as women’s groups hike to Mount Fansipan and it is an accessible and safe trek. Ensure you travel with guides though. Women guides are also available if you prefer to travel with women.
Tips for responsible / safety-conscious climbers
The Sapa region has many minority tribes, so taking the time to learn about them and share some of your tourism spend with them is a great way to both get more out of the trip, and to have a more positive impact.
Tips for trail runners
There are trail runners who have completed this peak successfully. There are some organised trail running races in the Sapa region, but not yet up Fansipan.
Tips for nature lovers
February sees the start of the flowering season in the mountains and visitors are treated to a dazzling array of violets, orchids and rhododendrons.