Our art director and his friends all decided to take on an exciting challenge by trekking up Fansipan mountain. This is their story. Words by Thang Pham. Photos by Ha Nguyen, Thach Lam, Chuan Nguyen.
Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina (including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) at 3,143 metres. The mountain is located in Sapa city, Lao Cai province, and it belongs to the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
To enjoy the fantastic view from the top of Fansipan, visitors now can easily do it by taking the cable cars from the base to the summit of the mountain in a mere 20 minutes for the more than reasonable price of VND600,000. If however, you would like to make the journey a bit more memorable, you can go trekking through the mountain via three paths: Tram Ton, Sin Chai and Cat Cat.
After having many discussions, we finally chose the path of Sin Chai – Tram Ton, the most difficult path to travel. We planned to accomplish this in two days, which has not been achieved by anyone for about 10 years. We were dedicating two days to do something that would place an unforgettable memory in our minds for the rest of our lives.
It is never too late, nor is it redundant to prepare and then over prepare your equipment before every trip. To ensure that you do not get into any trouble while climbing, these are the items and tools you must have: trekking shoes, climbing gloves, waterproof pants and jacket, long and short t-shirts, extra pairs of socks, a flashlight, chocolates and extra calories, and some painkillers. Things do go wrong.
The last step is hiring a guide that will lead you from the start to the end of the trek. Two or three porters will carry some of your luggage through the journey. The number of porters depends on the quantity of your luggage and how much you can carry yourself. At first, we only had two porters but then we asked for one more and that was a very smart decision. If we did not, we would not have made it as high as we did because the more you climb, the more heavy your luggage becomes.
Ready To Go – Day 1
It took us eight hours from Hanoi to Lao Cai by train and one more hour from Lao Cai to Sapa by shuttle bus. After checking in at the hotel, preparing all of our luggage, contacting the guides and having breakfast, we finally start our journey. Because we were two hours behind schedule, we had to go quickly, and we hoped that we could reach the campsite before the sun went down. It was more difficult than we thought. The path was so easy at the beginning that we laughed at each other that we could make it just in one day. We definitely spoke too soon. The path became harder and higher. Our legs became slower and weaker. We started feeling the pain and stress of our boots and bags. No one laughed anymore. Honestly, we got kind of scared.
There were some points that we thought we could not make it because the path was very dangerous. You have to use your entire body to climb. You must make sure your feet step on a steady mound or a deep hole. Your hands must hold a root of a tree, or something that’s strong enough to hold your weight up.
Our legs burned with pain, and at noon, we decided to stop for lunch. It was the best lunch we’d ever had. Just some boiled eggs, boiled salty pork and sticky rice with some apples for dessert.
The view from where we stopped was magnificent. The mountains were all around us. It seemed endless. Some parts of the mountain are covered by clouds that are so close that we thought we could touch them. Half of the mountain was illuminated by sunlight, the other half was covered by the shadows of the clouds. After we finished our lunch, we kept going.
Now, we went down the mountain so our pain was less than before. We walked faster until we went up the mountain, into a huge jungle. The path was easier, but we needed to pay attention because the road was wet and if we were careless, we could hurt ourselves by falling quite a long way. The jungle was very quiet. We could hear the sound of the crickets, birds singing and the sound of the waterfall. We were close to the campsite. After nine hours of struggling, we finally reached the spot that we will stay to eat and sleep. Our resting spot was beside a beautiful stream.
Because we were still a little bit late, we decide to depart before dawn the next morning.
Keep Moving Forward – Day 2
We woke up at two-in-the-morning to prepare our items and tools as well as to have breakfast to start our day off right. We set off at around four. Because it was still dark, we had to use our flashlights to see the way. It didn’t help much. All we could do was follow the person in front of us and do exactly what he or she told us.
One time, we had to cross an area by climbing over a big tree trunk. The scariest thing was that you couldn’t see anything around or below it. You just focussed on the trunk and moved your body forward, because according to our guides: “if you fall, you die.”
Another time, we had to pass a cliff that was very narrow, with only enough space for one person to walk. Just imagine that in front of you was an abyss where you couldn’t see anything. There were just the darkness, the abyss, the cliff and you in between. There were many times that we had to face a situation where we didn’t know how we would get through. Then we thought that the darkness was actually helping us, because if we could see the reality of what was in front of us, we might have not been able to take it.
Finally, the sun rose. The light had come back to us. One of the most difficult and dangerous paths had passed. We were still in the jungle and going higher. The roots and bamboo bushes, our friends, were still there to help us climb up. After six hours, we finally got to the second campsite. A worker we passed who was living up here told us we were nearly there. Only 30 minutes to 1 hour to walk, easy. That was the nicest lie we’d ever heard in our lives. In fact, it took us more than two hours to get to the top, and we had to face the most dangerous challenge yet.
There was a cliff with a 70-75 degree angle. We could try to climb it without using any tools, but after looking around and seeing that there was very little to grab onto, we decided not to risk our lives on this. We remembered the saying, “if you fall, you die.” Then we asked our guide to hang us a rope, and we used it to climb up.
One by one we made it up. We looked at each other and smiled, then laughed out loud. We were still here, in one piece. Finally, after eight hours of risking our lives, we got to the top of Fansipan mountain. We will never forget that moment, the moment when we climbed up the last stair and saw the red flag flying. We shouted like crazy and people around looked at us with a surprised look on their face. That was alright, they didn’t know what we had gone through.
The important thing was: we broke our limits. We challenged ourselves and we won. We were here, on the top of Fansipan.
Members of our group who completed Fansipan trekking (Sin Chai – Tram Ton): Nguyen Bao Chuan, Nguyen Hoang Ha, Nguyen Van Hong, Pham Le Cao Thang, Lam Hoang Thach, Le Kien Trung, Tran Huy Truong, Nguyen Tran Dang Vinh.