Wondering how to summit Vietnam’s highest mountain? Called Fanxipan or Fansipan. Look no further. I will provide details that include maps, costs, logistical requirements and facts as well as links to additional details, photos and videos. This is a self-guided adventure on a shoestring. Follow the links to dig deeper into the adventure.
First, note that you cannot do the summit without a permit & guide. However, with a bit of digging and bargaining, you can get the cost down quite a bit.
In summary, this is a two-day trek. First day ride to park entrance then walk to lunch hut (bring your own snacks since provided lunch is thin). Then hike higher and sleep in bamboo hut (bring a mattress since hut floor is bamboo). Next morning hike 2 hours to summit then all the way out to park entrance for ride back to Sapa.
Total Cost Range of this Activity is: $
|2 day summit package (1 night in bamboo hut) pp
Package includes guide, permit, food & transport to/from trailhead
3 nights in Sapa (1 before & 2 after trek)
I rate the Difficulty Level:
Getting to Sapa
The mountain is in a national park near the village of Sapa (which has rail & bus connections).
To Sapa (from Hanoi):
Train to Lao Cai (northeast next to China boarder and connection to trekking town of Sapa):
Trains depart a few times every evening for the town of Lao Cai. There are tourist trains with sleepers (4 per compartment) and non-tourist trains. The trip takes all night (8 hrs on average). Tourists are charged 300% more for train tickets in Vietnam by government decree. Even so the price is pretty cheap. However, getting a ticket is almost impossible. All the tourist class spots are sold to agencies that then double the price again. We opted to buy our train tickets from our hotel/guesthouse. They charged us 220,000 Dong per soft seat (the actual printed ticket price was 139,000). We opted for a soft seat on a non-tourist train rather than a sleeper that cost 380,000 Dong.
The two soft seat cars were packed (including floor space) and the hard seat cars were even worse (6 people per 4 person seat I was told). Yet it wasn’t that bad a ride. The car was air conditioned and I slept most of the night.
Lao Cai to Sapa:
From Lao Cai there are many shared vans. The starting price for tourists is $10 per person for the 45km ride. The actual price is less than $2 per person. We settled on a 50,000 each ride after much negotiation and then waited 30 minutes for the van to fill. The proper price is 35,000 each.
Map of Sapa
Map of Trek
Is Dog on the Menu?
On one of our free days after the trek we decided to visit the local H.Bac Ha market. It was an experience to remember. Yes the locals do dress up (more for the tourists than for comfort) but it is a real market. Strange fruits, vegetables, fish and animals are all for sale (for the dinner pot). And yes, dogs were definitely on the menu. So watch the video to see how to pick your dog and what else they eat in SE Asia.
And here are some photos of market day.
Traveling from Sapa to Laos by Road
Leaving Sapa for Dien Bien Phu (for the Muang Kwa, Laos crossing):
Asking around the various travel agencies in Sapa for a connection to Dien Bien Phu (DBP) resulted in some good information and some bad information. They all pretty much agreed that the price of a bus (van) ticket is $13-$14. Some said the bus would pick us up in front of the hotel and others said we had to walk to the main road (the other side of the lake) and flag down the bus. The time of departure also varied from 6am to 9am, depending on who you asked. The average stated length of the trip was 6:45hrs to 8hrs.
We purchased the $12 tickets, and even though we were assured that we would be assigned a seat, and be picked up in front of the hotel, we ended up without a seat assignment and had to get a scooter lift to the main road. Further, the 8am bus turned out to be a 9am van. So much for truth in sales.
The ride to DBP took about 7hrs and was over a mix of very bad roads (under construction) and relatively good paved roads.
Warning about DBP Arrival:
We arrived at the main bus park and were attacked by the usual throng of tuk-tuk and taxi touts. After much negotiation we settled on a 50,000 D ride for four to the Bien Long GH (a recommendation of the Book of Lies – Lonely Planet). The ride was a rip off.
Exiting the bus park, turn left. Walk 100m to a bridge. Cross it and follow the road to the left (thru a market). First street on the left you find the rip-off Bien Long GH. The woman charged $10 (170,000 D) a double, then dropped the price to $8 (140,000 D) after much negotiation, and then switched the room to a smaller and lower quality room. The bait-&- switch method. She also offered 80,000 D bus tickets to Vietnam for 100,000 and hotel pickup at 6:30am.
We purchased our tickets at the bus park for 80,000, arrived early to claim seats (the assigned seat numbering is ignored) and then left to pick up the fellow travelers at the Bien Long GH. The bus stopped out front and they had to sit on top of already loaded sacks of noodles, etc. The bus filled up at the station so their premium tickets got them the worst seats or no seats at all. Further, they didn’t actually get tickets. The GH woman simply gave the driver some cash and the entire transaction stayed in the black.
Accommodation in DBP:
As mentioned above, do not stay at the Lonely Planet recommend Bien Long GH. Instead simply walk out of the bus park, cross the road and usethe May Hong Hotel GH (0989.797988), to the left 20m. It charges 120,000 D ($7) a double with private balcony. Not only a cheaper price than the others, it is also more practical for catching the early bus to Vietnam.
Note on Bus to Laos (Muang Kwa):
The ride is long and the road is mostly dirt and pot holes. The ticket costs 80,000 in DBP bus park.
You can get a Laos visa at this new border crossing for cheaper than at the Hanoi embassy. They charge the listed rate and not the premium of $10-$15 that the Hanoi embassy charges. It only takes about 20 minutes to issue the visa at the border (bring two photos and US dollars). You will also have to pay a stamp fee to the border guard of about 30 cents (in either Laos Kip or Vietnamese Dong).
The bus completes its journey on the other side of the river from the town of Muang Kwa around 11:30am. As a westerner you will be directed to a small motor canoe and asked to pay 5,000 K to cross (50 cents). Once the westerners are across the locals walk onto the large car ferry for the 20m crossing (and pay 1,000 K).
Once across the river you need to follow the road into town and then out of town for the bus park. It cost 3,000 K per person in a shared tuk-tuk to reach the bus park. You need to hurry since the van to Udom Xai (3-4 hr trip) leaves at 12:30pm (next bus is at 3:30pm). Bus costs 28,000 K ($3.25) or $4 if you don’t have Kip.
The town of Muang Kwa does have two guesthouses if you want to spend the night (since you will have to spend the night in Udom Xai anyway). There is also a bank (Western Union Station) in the center. You can change money here, but they are closed for lunch (when you arrive) so consider changing at least $10 worth of dollars or Dong at the border.
If you continue to Udom Xai you can find heaps of guesthouses, but I only found one ATM cash machine. Since my cards are all Debit Cards they are all Plus cards, not Cirrus. As a result the machine would not give me cash (or any others in Laos for that matter).
If you make the connection in Udom Xai for Louang Prabang be prepared to pay a lot for accommodation. You will reach the bus park (6km outside of town) around 1am. The normal shared tuk-tuk price to the center of 10,000 K ($1.20) will be much inflated. Then when you reach town most of the guesthouses will be closed and if you find one open (waking up the owner) don’t be surprised if you are charged $25 (or more) for the night. Louang Prabang is not a backpacker town. It is a tourist town so even in the best of times you will find it very difficult to find a room for under $10 night.