There is a reason why Mt Fansipan is on the list of every mountain baggers of the world. The view of sea clouds from its peak is breathtaking and the trails are picturesque. With the opening of the cable car which can carry up to 2000 pax per hour, it is getting more accessible to the masses.
The time to visit is now, and whether you’re planning a guided trek or a cable ride, you still need to figure out how to get to Sapa first.
HANOI TO SAPA
By train: Trains are the safest and the most comfortable option, but all trains will terminate in Lao Cai and you will need to arrange your own transport to go to Sapa.
The train leaves for Lao Cai from Hanoi at 6.10am (LC3), 8.17 (SP7), 9.40pm (SP1), and the last one at 10pm (SP3). From Lao Cai, the train leaves the station at 9.50am (LC4), 1.50pm (SP8), 8.15pm (SP2), and 9.15pm (SP4). It will take around 9 to 10 hours to reach Lao Cai.
LC are day trains with wooden seats and no air-conditioning. SP are sleeper trains with both soft and hard sleeper berths. Tickets vary from 290,000 to 580,000VND for LC trains and 680,000 to 720,000VND for SP trains.
From Lao Cai, you can take a shared minibus (approx. 50,000 VND) or a taxi (approx. 500,000 VND). The trip will take around an hour.
By bus: Going by sleeper bus is a cheaper option but it might be difficult for you to get a good rest on board as the roads are winding and the bunk beds are narrow. You only get one toilet stop, so you might want to take that into consideration. Most websites will tell you that all buses terminate at Lao Cai, but now there is a new highway that has paved the way for direct trips from Hanoi to Sapa.
Buses run from Gia Lam Bus Terminal in Hanoi to either Lao Cai or Sapa and costs around 300,000VND. The trip will take approximately 5 hours to Lao Cai and 6 hours to Sapa. Different operators have different schedules, but most buses will leave the terminal the latest by 7pm. Some operators will pick you up from your hotel for additional fee.
SAPA TO FANSIPAN
To avoid disappointment, remember to get your Fansipan climbing permit beforehand as you can’t get it at the entrance. If you hire a guide or book a tour agent, they will arrange everything for you. Otherwise, visit Tourist Information Center near Sapa Square to get your own at 400,000VND. There are three routes that you can choose from: Tram Ton (the easiest), Cat Cat (passing tribal villages), and Sin Chai (the most challenging). You can arrange to hire a car or a motorbike from your hotel to reach the entrance of your chosen pass.
Not fit enough (or too lazy) to trek all the way up? Have no fear, with Fansipan Cable Car it will only take you 20 minutes to reach the top! All you need to do is to fork out 30 USD for adults and 20 USD for children.
SOLO FIGHTER OR TEAM PLAYER?
So you are an experienced trekker, but should you do an independent hike? First of all, it is obligatory to go with a guide. If you have any friend who claimed that they went by themselves, know that it is illegal to do so. That being said, doing an independent trip wouldn’t save you a lot. You still need to pay for the transport, tent, permit, meals, etc. Sure you need to pay around 1,600,000VND (solo) or 1,200,000VND (group) to a tour agent, but these would include transportation, guide, porter, meals, transportation, sleeping bag, etc. It’s a good deal and you’ll be helping the locals with their livelihood.
At the end of the day, being on top of the peak of three countries would still be an amazing experience, no matter which way you choose.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Hanoi from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. For flight schedules and fares, visit airasia.com.