• Painting Memories • Past & Present • For the Future •
Conquering Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Păng)
Mount Fansipan (Vietnamese: Phan Xi Păng) is located at the north-west most region of Vietnam. Towering at 3,143 metres high, it is known as the roof of Indo-China and is bordering to the province of Yunnan (China) to the north and Laos to the west.
There are also other alternative transportation from Hanoi to Sa Pa, however each with its pros and cons. For example, one can also get from Hanoi to Lao Cai via overnight sleeper bus, but safety is always the concern since the road is long and dark. Another option would be to hire a car (which can take you directly to Sa Pa), however as the journey is long, most ‘normal’ people would think twice.
I slept through the whole 8 hours journey, only waking up an hour before reaching our destination. I got up, brushed my teeth and washed my face, and immediately pulled out my long zoom lens to capture some of the serene views of the daybreak.
Alas, we arrived at Lao Cai at the crack of dawn. Upon arrival, we were unsure as to whether or not this was our stop since all the train’s announcement was in Vietnamese and none of the signage on the platform was in English. Most of the cabin crew and officers on the platform did not understand English either. In the end, it was just down to asking two words… “Lao Cai?”. With the nod of the head from one of the guards, we took a deep breath, packed our belongings and got off the train.
The journey to Sa Pa would take us through long and winding uphill roads, with very scenic views of rolling hills and terrace fields in the valley. Our driver was careful and drove at an average speed, relying the most trusted safety device of the vehicle: the horn.
Honking our way the whole way through, we arrived in Sa Pa in within an hour. From the small and humble villages and fields that we passed along the way, making our way deeper and deeper into the region, we started imagining Sa Pa to be another small sleepy village with villagers going about their everyday routine. We were dead wrong. Every corner of Sa Pa’s street seems to be crowded with throngs and throngs of tourists. Some sipping coffee in the coffee shops, warming themselves in the chilly mountain air, some walking about for souvenir hunting. Some of the local ethnic tribe ladies dressed in their cultural wear can be seen approaching tourist trying to sell their handicrafts.
After a much needed breakfast, our guide for the climb came to meet us. We were then quickly whisked away in yet another mini bus, driving through yet more long and winding road. This time, the sides of the road were filled with houses and mini marts. We reached the starting point in under an hour.
Our guide ushered us into the National Park office, which was manned by officers wearing their usual green military officer attire. It was strange that we did not need to register ourselves into the park, neither did I see any formal procedure in placed for that. Every single signage and information in the office was in Vietnamese as though it was only meant to be read by the locals. The only words that I could recognize was ‘WC’!
Our guide introduced himself as Su and we were extremely pleased that he was able to speak good English than most of the locals. It was here too that Su briefed us on our hike and what we should expect.
There was a miscommunication with our agent regarding porters. We did enquire about porters in our initial communication and our agent assured us that the porters will carry all our equipment, but this only meant our tents and food. This was a problem for me as my own camera backpack already weighted at least 7 kg with all the camera lens and accessories. Su was kind enough to offer to carry my other backpack that had my clothing and other necessity for the hike.
Surprisingly, the first section of the trek leads us to a few descents. I never liked descents this early in a trek, because it only means that we need to do an ascent on the last part of the trek back!
It was here that the trek started to introduce hard ascents, which found us clawing for more breath at end of each ascent section. The randomness of the rock formation makes it harder to ascent each step must be properly footed, otherwise it will cause unnecessary use of our energy.
Picture: (Left) I wonder if the hole in this tree is made by a bird, or was it formed from natural causes? (Right) The upward ascents can get really long and tiring, sometimes impossible to complete in one run.
Picture: (Top) Watch out for these nasty ‘landmines’. Don’t worry, you will know when a mine is near from the odour that is emitting from it. (Center-left) Oops, too late, looks like someone has stepped into one of the ‘landmine’. One thing is for sure, it wasn’t one of us! (Center-right) Looks like this buffalo was having a bad day, wonder what it ate for breakfast. (Bottom) The mother load of it all! Just look at the size of that thing, from one end to the other. Needless to say, the ‘aroma’ being emitted from this gargantuan pile of crap may be enough to power a village!
Many of the plants, flowers and fruits found along the trail.
Picture: (Left) The courageous chicken with its chicks roaming freely around the campsite foraging for anything to eat. (Right) The extremely friendly man’s best friend forming part of the welcoming committee to the campsite.
The two dogs at the campsite gave us a very warm welcome, planting their kisses all over our friend Weena (left) and Anna (right). We foreigners must taste different compared to the locals.
Some of the ridges ascents are so steep that we would use the man-made cement handles at the side to pull ourselves up.
The largest shelter (shown in the picture below) was to be our accommodation for the night. It has 6 large rooms and each room is able to accommodate 5 persons comfortably. That calculates to a total of 30 climbers at most at its full capacity.
Each room has a wooden raised platform (to keep it further from the cold of the ground) on which we would place a layer of insulation followed by our sleeping bags. There are 6 toilets located at the end of the shelter, with proper flushing and wash basins. Strangely, none of the toilets had any water supply! Luckily, we were already mentally and physically prepared to be without any water source (other than our precious drinking water) for the whole journey. There is also no electricity supply, so come night time, we would be relying on our torchlight.
Mobile reception at the basecamp is weak, often non-existent when there is a breeze. The reception and any internet data comes in short bust every few minutes, so you have to be really patient to wait for your messages to get through.
Whenever I go for any camping trip, or any trip that sees me far away from civilization, I would set my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to witness the marvels of the universe; the milky way and the infinite stars in the celestial sky. Before retreated for the night, I set my trusted watch alarm to 10.00 pm and made a little appeal to the Almighty so that there would have a clear sky and good weather at that time.
My alarm rang on the dot, and as I slowly attempted to get out of my sleeping bag, I realized it was freezing cold! Every inch of my body was telling me to just stay in bed and stay in the warmness of the sleeping bag! After what must have been few minutes of battling with my own self, I was finally outside… alone… in the dark. The feeling of emptiness and void was only for a brief moment and then I experienced the most incomprehensible feeling of astonishingly breathtaking canvas the cosmos has ever revealed to me!
Each of our individual shots on the peak of Mount Fansipan; (Clockwise from top-left) Xiao Yan, Anna, Weena and John.
Special thanks to Su our guide who was there to assist us all the way from start to end. He really went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable and safe. Special thanks also to Daisy of Rising Dragon Legend Hotel in Hanoi who has is the representation of genuine Vietnamese hospitality and her everlasting smile which has been embedded deep into our cherished memories of Vietnam. Not for forget, special ‘Hi’ to our friend Anna, who must still be on her 3 months backpacking. Lastly, thank you to my dear friends; John, Weena and Xiao Yan for the wonderful journey together. I hope that with God’s grace that we would have the chance to cross path again one day in this lifetime.