Fansipan Mountain in Sapa
The topography of Fansipan is varied. Muong Hoa Valley, at the lowest altitude (950-1,000m), is created by a narrow strip of land at the base on the east side of the mountain.
Mount Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam and Indochina peninsula, located in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. It was once only visited by adventure seekers fit enough to make the strenuous hike, but now this mountain offers a few different experiences for all types of travelers. Regardless of the new tram that brings people to the summit of this large peak, you should make the trek to meet travelers, experience adventure, and talk with locals.
Geologists say the Hoang Lien Mountain Range, with Fansipan as its highest peak, did not emerge in the mountainous North West of Vietnam until the neozoic period (circ. 100 million years ago). Fansipan, a rough pronunciation of the local name “Hua Xi Pan” means “the tottery giant rock”. The French came to Vietnam and in 1905 planted a landmark telling Fansipan’s height of 3,143m and branded it “the Roof of Indochina”. Very few people climbed to the top of Fansipan at the time. Then came the long years of war and Fansipan was left deserted for hunting and savaging. The trail blazed by the French was quickly overgrown by the underbrush.
It takes six or seven days to reach the 3,143m summit, the highest peak of the Indochina Peninsula.
In 1991, Nguyen Thien Hung, an army man returned to the district town and decided to conquer Fansipan. Only on the 13th attempt did Hung, with a H’Mong boy as his guide, conquer the high peak by following the foot steps of the mountain goats. Scaling the height was meant to satisfy his eager will and aspiration to conquer the mountain without expecting that his name would be put down in the travel guidebook. After that a travel agency in Sapa started a new package tour there. It seemed the Fansipan Tour was meant only for those who wished to test their muscular power.
The summit of Fansipan is accessible all year round, but the best time to make the ascent is from mid-October to mid-November, and again in March.
Foreigners like best to book Fansipan tours between October and December, as this period is more often than not free from the heavy rains that obstruct the jaunt. But the Vietnamese prefer their tours to the peak of the mountain from February to April, as it is not so cold then. However, the best time for the trek to the mountain is from the end of February to the start of March, when the flowers all flourish and the climbers may behold the carpets of brilliant blossoms, violets and orchids, rhododendrons and aglaias.
There is actually more infrastructure now, and although the prices have gone up in recent years (from 60 USD to the cheapest being around 120 USD) various trekking packages make it easier on the traveler, with porter services, and gear. However, you can still choose to do this trek on your own (with a guide) and even opt for trails that are more difficult but with fewer tourists.
First, you have to get from Hanoi to Sapa. There are four options: bus, train, private car/bus, or your own rented motorbike. We have written a very helpful and thorough guide that outlines these options here. If you are really looking for an adventure and you have time to discover Vietnam, then make this trip complete by renting your own motorbike!
Once you are in Sapa, you will need a place to stay; check out the 10 best accommodations in Sapa and decide whether you should stay in town or with a homestay here. When you make arrangements, check to see if these places will allow you to store your things or bigger packs and suitcases so you don’t have to worry about lugging around heavy baggage.
Once you are in Sapa, the fun begins!
Pick What is Best for You
There are several options for all types of travelers that allow you to see the beautiful summit of Mount Fansipan. It depends on your desired level of adventure, fitness, and time frame. I will break it down for you.
Treks range from one to four days. If you want to complete the trek in one day, you should be ready to go early with your things ready and you should be in good shape. I suggest the two-day, one-night option as it gives you ample time to complete the trek, allows you to converse and connect with fellow hikers and guides, and you can better acclimate to the altitude change. The three-day trek obviously gives you even more time, and if you haven’t exercised in a while or you feel reluctant as to whether the distance is too long, then choose this option.
There are also three trails that reach the summit, all with different levels of difficulty and distance:
Tram Ton: This is a gradual trail that is most used by tourists, therefore it has the most people. The distance between the beginning point, at about 1,500 meters, and the summit is 11 kilometers. This trail can be accomplished in one day or two days. Keep in mind that while this is the most used trail, it is still physically demanding. Many travelers report taking the tram down because they are too tired to make the trek back. This can also save you some time on your itinerary.
Sin Chai: This trail is shorter but it’s mainly for adventure seekers. It’s treacherous and hikers often report losing the correct path. The distance from beginning to end is about nine kilometers but different guiding groups take different paths. You may need two or three days to complete this trail.
Cat Cat: This is the longest trail but it has the best scenery. The distance from the beginning to the summit is around 20 kilometers. This trail usually takes around three or four days to complete.
*Do keep in mind that the Sin Chai and Cat Cat trail are considered dangerous.
You can also choose to do a private or group trek. There are pros and cons to both, but I will say that I have met many lovely people by doing group treks in Vietnam!
Pros: With a group, you get to make friends, have nightly conversations and entertainment with cool people, and have a social time. A private tour allows you to make your own plans (do you want to wake really early to catch the sunrise at the summit?) and set your own pace.
Cons: With a group, you could either be the fastest or slowest link and you might get a bad seed in your crew. By yourself, you may find the nights boring or lonely and there will not be people to push you.