trip report by site editor Rick McCharles
“the Roof of Indochina”
AT A GLANCE
- 3,143 meters (10,312ft), Fanispan is the highest mountain in Indochina
- northwest region of Vietnam, near the Chinese border
- 9km southwest of Sapa (Sa Pa), a gorgeous hill station developed by the French
- pine forests, bamboo thickets and jungle
Oct 20, 2014
Breakfast at the fantastic Unique Hotel starts 7am. Since I was leaving at 5am, the cook awoke early and put together a takeaway breakfast for me. :-)
I arrived at Sapa O’Chau travel agency at 5:10am for the 5:30 rendezvous. Guide and driver were there already, so we departed instantly.
By 5:30am we were marching briskly up the trail. In the dark.
“Silver”, my guide, spotted a wounded bird near the Ranger Station. Knowing that some dog would dispatch him in the morning, he carried the bird along with us until finding a safer place in the forest.
We started early because I opted to climb Fanispan in one day US$95, rather than the normal US$180 2-day itinerary.
Silver quickly decided I was strong enough to make it. I hoped he was right.
The trek is wet. And muddy. At the bottom you are often walking in creek beds and runoff streams.
Happily for me, it had been very dry of late. My feet did not get wet over the entire day!
The best sections are ridge walks with misty valley vistas far below.
Surprisingly, long sections of the ridge are protected with concrete railings. They are well built and seem to be enduring the climate very well.
I asked my guide about poisonous snakes. He laughed, saying the snakes this high are very wary. People don’t see them. But in his village, Kat Kat, there are many, many.
Just around the next corner we came across that one, bludgeoned to death. Silver was sorry to tell me that his people eat large snakes and kill small ones.
You’ll only see goats and buffalo on this trek. For anything more exotic check the restaurants of Sapa. Some Asians are happiest eating the most endangered species. :-(
Almost everyone climbs Fanispan with a guide. But I did talk to one guy from Hanoi who did it alone. In a day. Much faster than me. Parts of the trail are marked with collapsed signposts and fading red markers.
It would be easier to follow the trash, however. Only western tourists and guides pack out what they pack in. I’ve always found indigenous peoples to be the very worst litterbugs.
This day we were first to arrive at Camp 1 – 1,500m (4,920 ft). You can buy snacks and drinks here. The guard dog was chained.
Up and up. Into the clouds. Fanispan’s summit is usually clouded over.
Multiday hikers normally stay at Camp 2 – 2,800m (9,190 ft). Either in fairly dirty buildings or in much cleaner tents carried by porters.
We had a meal here on the way up. And on the way down.
Though I set out my alcohol gel, my guide didn’t use it. Other cooks I saw were equally unsanitary.
Camp 2 is atrociously trashed. The main reason I chose to do a one day climb was to avoid staying here. :-(
If you feel I’m exaggerating, click over to a photo of the toilet.
This is a tough trek. There are dozens of sections where you really need to scramble. Many inexperienced hikers must turn back.
Here’s one essential handhold.
Though in a hurry, we got stopped high up for 30min because a work crew was blasting rock.
Turns out a cable car is being built. It will open September 2015 or sooner. There must have been 200 workers living atop this high mountain.
I took perverse pleasure in seeing this mess, but I’m not going to recommend Fanispan to others. The cable car will further degrade the hiking experience.
We did finally stand on the summit, the highest spot in Indochina.
I assumed it would be quick down. But we didn’t get back to the Hoàng Liên National Park Ranger Station until 5pm.
That was 11.5hrs up and down. Including 2 half hour stops for food.
I was awarded a certificate and medal. :-)
I could barely walk that evening. But seemed to be completely recovered next morning. :-)
See my high resolution photos from this adventure on flickr.
See our old information page – Fansipan, Vietnam – not recommended