Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fansipan, Vietnam

2013 November: One day climb of Mt Fansipan, Vietnam

Why climb Fansipan?
Because it is there! (I can hear you say "why don't you do the dishes because they are there?")

At 3143 meters, Fansipan is not only the highest mountain in Vietnam, it is also the highest mountain in Indochina - comprising of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Most people climb it in 2 or perhaps 3 days. But what is the fun in it ... I said to myself. Why not do it in one day.

Little did I know, it turns out to be the hardest day trip I have ever done ... definitely not an easy fancy pantsy walk. Reminds me of the Japanese proverb ... something along the line of ... you are wise to have done it, but a fool to even think about doing it.

Timeline and distance
Here are the stats from my Garmin GPS:

10:30   0.0 km - From trail head at Tram Ton Pass, 1995m
11:40   3.8 km - Reach Camp 1
13:30   7.2 km - Reach Camp 2

----- Lunch - 30 min

14:00   7.2 km - Leave Camp 2
15:47  10.3 km - Reach summit, 3143m

----- Photo session - 18 min

16:05  10.3 km - Leave summit
17:34  13.4 km - Reach Camp 2
19:38  16.8 km - Reach Camp 1

----- Rest - 6 min

19:44  16.8 km - Leave Camp 1
21:33  20.6 km - Finish at Tram Ton Pass !!!

----- Total - 11 hrs 3 mins;  20.6 km

This is also the first time for me where the uphill time (5 hr 17 min) is shorter than the downhill time (5 hr 28 min) ... which succinctly captures how difficult and treacherous the trail is.

The night before

1) Meeting Tâm, my travel agent, for the first time at a Hanoi hotel lobby ... She is super friendly, beautiful and always smiling. She organized my Fansipan climbing trip and the Ha Long Bay cruise.

2) As Fansipan is located in Lao Cai province, 11 hours away by train from Hanoi, she takes me from the hotel to the Hanoi main railway station on a motorbike and on high heels ... this is the type of super friendly personal services you always get from the Vietnamese people.
Hey, don't ask embarrassing questions about what my right hand is doing, ok !?!

For those who don't know what the streets of Hanoi is like ... they are full of motorbikes. Here is a video:

Sensing my desire for a taste of the Vietnamese road chaos, she drives the motorbike down a busy one way street against the traffic, with all the other motorbikes charging head on towards us ... the stuff you only see in a movie!!! And here I am, experiencing it in real life!!! This has to be the high point of my Fansipan climb even before I walk a single step; definitely far more memorable than reaching the top of Fansipan.

Hi Tâm, we must do this again in another day!!! Though I prefer you not to turn your head around to talk to me. Just concentrate on those motorbikes.   :-)

3) We reach the Hanoi railway station in one piece.
By now, you would have noticed that it is night time. Fansipan is near a town called Sapa which is an hour away by car from Lao Cai railway station. There are no day trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai, only night trains.

4) My cabin in the train, 4 bunk beds inside to be shared with 3 others ... you can see 2 beds in this pic. This is my first experience of sleeping overnight in a train. Not too bad, better than trying to get a sleep in a plane.


The train leave dead on time at 8:35pm.


5) 11 hours later, the train arrives here at Lao Cai at 7:30am. (It should get here earlier, say around 5:30am. The delay is due to track work along the way.) As the pic shows, it is a looong train.


By the time I'm picked up in a mini bus, and start heading for the town of Sapa, it is 8am. (Fansipan is near where Sapa is.)


Arrive at Sapa after almost an hour on the mini-bus.

6) First thing is to check into Fansipan View Hotel. To get there, you need to walk up this narrow lane way of stairs ... Here, you can see the Hmong people in their colourful dresses ... they live in the mountainous regions of Vietnam (here) as well as China, Laos and Thailand.


After breakfast, meet up with Dao, my mountain guide. It will be just the two of us ... all set to conquer the roof of Indochina.

7) Half an hour by car and we are here at the Mt Fansipan trail head at Tram Ton Pass, 1995m in elevation. Dao goes inside the building to register and pay climbing permits. As can be seen from the pic, it is a misty day, not good for photographs. The rest of the day is also similarly uninviting.

The climb

Finally at 10:30am we are on our feet walking.

8) Soon, we start meeting female Hmong porters on their way down the mountain. (The other guy in this pic is Dao, my mountain guide.)

9) The last time I met female porters was when climbing Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia's Borneo. There, the porters had very thick thighs, way out of proportion compared to their height. But these Hmong porters are slim. (I don't require a porter, mine is a one-day climb. Whereas most people do the climb in 2 or perhaps 3 days.)

10) Now, why aren't there female porters in Australia ???


11) Dao sets a brisk pace. We reach Camp 1 after 1 hr and 10 minutes. No stopping here from Dao.

12) The trail is not an easy walking track. The tree roots and rock are slippery and treacherous. So far, my pants are clean coz I have not fallen yet. It is almost impossible to walk in this mountain without the aid of hiking sticks ... and yet the porters don't require them and just glide over the trail with ease.

13) At some of the steep parts of the trail, the Fansipan national park authorities have installed ladders like this.


14) After 3 hrs of non-stop up hill climb, we reach Camp 2, around 2800m in elevation. This is where most people would sleep over for the night.
The info put out by most hiking companies for people doing 2-day climbs, says it would take around 7 to 8 hours to reach here. And we did it in 3 hours! I don't think we are that fast. Probably the 2-day-ers do it really slowly.

15) I can see only 2 structures at Camp 2, one in the previous pic (for sleeping) and one here (for cooking).
Dao asks whether I wish to keep going. Does this guy ever take a rest??? By this stage, my legs are like jellies, I need a rest. So I request for a lunch break.

16) It is cold outside, but warm and cozy in here. Lunch is simply egg & ham rolls which Dao carried all the way up. A cup of hot tea is made over the fire ... its smoke fills up the inside of the tent, hence the misty look of this photo.


Half an hour of lunch, and we are on our way. On paper, there is only 350 more meters in elevation to the summit. In reality it is more, because you climb up a bit, then climb a fair way down, then up again.

17) The trail is something like in this pic ... plenty of slippery rocks. Dao is laughing at the countless times I have slipped and fell ... sadist   :-)

18) Fansipan summit is almost in sight now. It is a misty day, which is a pity. Dao said the view down on the country below is beautiful ... unfortunately not today.


19) After 5 hrs 17 mins, we made it to the summit !!! There is a Vietnamese flag here, So I waved it ... I'll wave anything here ... really exhilarated !!!

20) My pants tell the story of the countless times I tripped and slipped and fell on the way up. It is a miracle no limps are broken.


Time to leave. We will be down the mountain by 9:33pm (making the total trip around 11 hrs) ... hence majority of the time we are descending in the dark. Again, during the descent, I fall so many times that both my walking sticks are soon broken. Dao gives me his ... which are merely bamboo sticks. They are light weight and they don't break. Why couldn't our modern high-tech hiking sticks match bamboo sticks in weight and strength ???

After the climb. I asked Dao what is the average time for one-day-ers to complete the Fansipan climb. He said 11 hrs ... which was exactly my time. Hard to tell whether he was covering up the truth for the sake of my ego. I was really tired by Camp 2, a mere 3 hrs after we started walking. For the rest of the day, my legs were in slow motion mode ... hence the suspicion that the average time may be shorter than mine.

Few days later

21) Back at Hanoi celebrating my climb with Tâm in an eating joint ... Tâm plays host and selects traditional Vietnamese dishes for us. They are yummy. By the time this photo is taken, we've licked the table clean.


  1. I'll be there in April and the thought about dropping one day of trekking between villages and doing the climb instead had entered my mind, after reading this I'm changing my plan to do :) How would you compare the difficulty doing in one day compared to summit day on Kili? I've also been up Mt Kinabalu and found that quite easy

  2. Hi Matthew,
    I found the summit day of Kilimanjaro climb relatively easy as our guide walked quite slowly. Kinabalu is a 2-day climb, hence there is no direct comparison to Fansipan. If you were to climb Kinabalu in only 1 day, then Kinabalu should be harder as it is higher. As it is now, the Kinabalu climb is split into 2 days, hence each day is easier than the Fansipan 1-day climb. Just contact me if you have any queries.

  3. hi, I intend to climb fansipan in 1 day too. Could you please give me the contact of Dao if you have? By the way, ffter doing some search on internet, I found out that Tram Ton-Tram Ton is the easiest path. So if you want something more challenging, maybe Sín Chải or Cát Cát is the better choice :)

    1. Hi txx,
      What is your email address? ... so I can write to you on how to contact him. (You can reach me at mntviews at gmail dot com)

    2. Hi, ive already sent you an email. If you havent received that, here is my address: httai91(at)
      Thank you. :D

  4. Hi Paul

    Still deciding between doing Fansipan in 1 day or 2. After seeing your pictures of the campsite, maybe we'll do it in 1. Could I have Dao's contact? You can contact me at othebellejar at gmail dot com

  5. Oh my god!!! Your blog is what I am looking for.
    Most travel agency keep telling me that I need to do in 2 days.
    I am terrified when I look at the camping site (at 2,800m). I can't.
    Could you please send me the agent contact? My email address is (Well, even I am a Vietnamese but I live abroad for a long time)

    By the way, they have the new highway so we won't need to take the train anymore. It shortens the journey a lot. 4 hours by car from Hanoi to Sapa now.

  6. Thanks for such a detailed account. Big help for working out timing. Do you think it's possible to do on your own or are the paths too dangerous or too many splits/badly marked route?

    Could you please also send me Dao's details to How much did you pay for your one day tour?

    1. Toto Ro, I have replied to your email address.

  7. I am considering to climb, pls send me Dao's email and phone contacts to

    Cheers, Ryan Lau

    1. I have replied to your gmail address

    2. Dear Paul I wish to try a one day climb and descent. I will arrive in Ha Noi 5 April and hope to be in Sa Pa on the 6th. Climb 7th. I would greatly appreciate Dao's contact info and your travel agent's as well. Much thanks. Bily Kelly 'E'

    3. Dear Paul I wish to try a one day climb and descent. I will arrive in Ha Noi 5 April and hope to be in Sa Pa on the 6th. Climb 7th. I would greatly appreciate Dao's contact info and your travel agent's as well. Much thanks. Bily Kelly 'E'

    4. I have replied to your email address

  8. Hey Paul, thanks for your detailed post! May I know how much did you pay for the entire hike? Also, could you send me Dao's contact to Will really appreciate it. Thanks!

  9. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for your detailed account (: How many days will you recommend for this hike? and would greatly appreciate Dao's contact details for this hike, here is my email,

    Thanks Paul! (:

  10. Hi Paul.
    thank you for the great post! may i have Dao's contact details please? and also, how much was your overall expenditure for the hike?

    my email is

    thank you so much Paul :)

  11. Hi Paul, can I get Dao's contact details as well? Thank you!

  12. Hi Paul. Fantastic blog. Could I get the details of your travel agent Tam please? I think I'm not as fit as you so may have to go for a 2-day option. Will be in Hanoi April 16-22. Pls email f d m w (at) y a h o o (dot) c o m Thanks Frank

    1. I have replied to your email address

    2. Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the detailed blog. We think of going on a 2-day trek. Can we have Dao's contact and details please?

    3. Hi bzmayol, I have replied to your email address

  13. Hey Paul, please send me Dao's contact! :)

    Thank you! andrew (AAAT)

    1. Hi Andrew, I have replied to your email address.

  14. Hi Paul, I as well would like to contact Dao. Please send me his contact information. :)
    And how far in advance you have to book his time?? akrushen(at)

    1. Hi Alana, I have replied to your email address.

  15. Hi Paul.
    really appreciate the great post here! Could I have Dao's contact details please? Also, can I know how far in advance you have to book for his service? and how much was your expenditure? :) -

  16. Hi Mr. Paul,
    Thanks for your kindness for replying to everyone's request. I find your post informative. My friend and I are planning to climb up this June, how's the weather during this month? May I also request Dao's contact details? Can he also be a porter or just a tour guide? Please email . Thanks in advance for your reply.

  17. hi Paul,
    I wish to get Dao contact too. can I have his email address please? is it safe for a girl doing the hike without any partner.
    mine is stephygals(@)gmail(.)com

  18. Hey Paul! You've got a great blog! I'd really appreciate if you could pass me Dao's contact details. My email address is


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