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.
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:
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!