Mount Fansipan is located just outside of the town of Sa Pa in the northwestern corner of Vietnam.
It is the tallest mountain in indo-china and features a mountain top complex of Buddhist temples, statues and views that will stick in your memory for years to come.
We visited on a cold October morning and had mixed luck with the weather.
I think that made the experience even better with the backdrop constantly changing. As you will see in our photos we witnessed glorious sunshine, clouds, and full-on haze all only minutes apart.
In this post:
- How to Reach the Summit of Mt Fansipan
- Mount Fansipan Highlights
- How to get to Fansipan from Sa Pa
- Mount Fansipan Quick Facts
- Final Word
How to Reach the Summit of Mt Fansipan
Visitors will fall into two categories; day trippers, and serious hikers. This is not a decision you make on the spot as it is a serious hike to reach the summit.
My guess is that if you are reading this article you are not planning to hike but we have touched on this below and linked out to some useful resources if you are considering it.
This is the quick & easy option plus you will be treated to some amazing views of the surrounding valleys as you make the long ascent up the mountain.
There are two price tiers at certain times of year which allows locals to access the mountain cheaper. This was good for Anh as the discount was significant.
Some may baulk at this kind of discriminate pricing, but I don’t mind it when they are upfront about it. It is the random price jumps at vendor’s discretion that piss me off.
There is a small additional fee for the mountain train to take you up the summit rather than slogging it out on the steps.
- Cost for tourists – 700,000
- Cost for locals – 300,000
The cable cars would easily hold 15-20 people when full, but ours was completely empty! So we had full mobility to jump around the car and take in the 360-degree views on offer. But more on this shortly.
It would be a long and challenging hike and can take up to three days to complete depending on which route you take.
Given the cold, foggy, and wet conditions we encountered on the way up there I was happy to be in a cable car.
If you are planning to hike you will need to organize a guide so check out the links below:
Mount Fansipan Highlights
We have organized this list by the order we visited them. It is not intended to be a best of list, more of a guide through our own itinerary.
1. The Cable Car Ride
The moment when the cable car springs out of the loading dock over the valley the wow factor is instant!
You are launched over a broad plain of farms and rice terraces with views on either side reaching long into the foggy valley.
From there the cable car begins a climb up into the clouds with visibility that goes from zero to stunning in the blink of an eye.
What you see will change with every ride I am sure.
The ever-changing combination of fog, clouds, steep mountain ridges and thick forest was just as much of a highlight as the destination itself.
The final stretch of cable is the best with the ascent turning very steep and the surrounding mountain faces almost sheer drops. You move past the clouds and are treated to some pretty amazing views.
It will be a test for those uncomfortable with heights, but the large gondola should give you enough places to distract yourself if it becomes too much.
2. Viewing Deck
As you exit the cable car station you walk up onto a large, flat, viewing platform overlooking the steep drop back down the mountain.
At this point we were surrounded by fog which gave the whole area an eerie mystique, and views that looked different every time you looked up or down.
We were lucky enough for the fog to pass and were treated to a mix of blue skies, low level clouds scattered down the mountain, and complete fog coverage.
From there you walk up a very grand looking staircase to begin your climb towards the temples and the summit.
3. Bich Van Thien Tu Temple
At the top of the staircase is a long flat courtyard where you walk between the temples and the Dai Hong Chung Tower. This is a pagoda that sits just down the mountain from the courtyard.
This picture gives you an idea of just how rapid the change in landscape can take place at this altitude.
You have the option of jumping on the cable car to help you make the treck up towards the summit. The track is so steep that the car is designed to have multiple levels so that you can stand on a flat surface while going up or down the mountain.
When you reach the top there are multiple platforms that offer amazing views in every direction.
5. Cafe du Soleil
This is the cafe with a view like no other!
Located at the junction of pathways and railway stations in the center of this mountain complex is the perfect place to rest your feet and top up those caffeine levels before venturing back out onto the mountain.
The floor to ceiling windows give you an amazing view (depending on what the clouds are doing) down towards a giant Buddhist statue in one direction, and the X temple in the other.
The quirky interior is also worth a mention. The walls are made up of stacks of compressed stacks of Hmong textiles.
This is colorful material that is usually woven together to make traditional clothing and headdresses.
The cafe seating is backed by stacks of this material mashed together to make up a bright, but neat, wall covering that contrasts with the darker colors of the seating, floor and bar area.
6. Temples and Pho Minh Pagoda Replica
After leaving the cafe you have a steep staircase that leads to a walkway that sits on top of the mountain ridge that leads you towards another set of temples and pagodas.
7. Bodhisattva Statue
Sticking out on top of a mountain ridge is this gigantic statue that stands proudly overlooking the mountain range. The best views of it are further back but the viewing platform below the statue is a great place to get some uninterupted photos of the mountains.
On our walk back along this pathway, we saw two men who had somehow made their way onto a rock outside of the guard rail. It looked like they had dropped a bag into the trees and were trying to fish it out.
I have no idea what they were doing, but it looked dangerous AF!
8. Mountainside Statue Walkway
You have the choice to go back the way you came and climb a lot of stairs or follow a walkway that hugs the mountain edge on one side.
On the opposite side are a series of monk statues (I have no idea what they are called) mounted above the walkway, all pulling bizarre faces.
Each with a small plaque summarising the significance of the person represented by the statue. Unfortunately, this is all in Vietnamese. Anh told me that they represented people from the temples in the past and not any type of God.
This made me wonder what kind of personalities these guys had considering the bizarre faces that memorialized them!!
This is one area that is worth taking your time and we found it almost deserted compared to the other areas in the complex.
9. Amitabha Buddha Statue
A relatively new addition to the mountain top is this 21.5m high bronze Buddha statue that was completed in 2015.
Built into the base of the statue is what looks like a prayer room that contains the Ngoc Xa Loi Buddha. You are free to enter but the public areas is separated by a glass window.
In front of the gigantic statue is a large split staircase with a waterfall that runs through the middle which leads you back towards the Bich Van Thien Tu Temple and cable car station.
Anyone who has seen Ace Ventura 2 may have thought the same as me when seeing this…. But, I didn’t bring a slinky.
How to get to Fansipan from Sa Pa
The journey will take you about 10-15 minutes.
We noticed the flagfall (starting fee) on the taxi meter was much higher than it was in Hanoi.
Starting at 18k and climbing up to 95k on arrival.
Most drivers will be happy to pick you up and take you back into town, so get their phone number to organize pickup.
Note: We have since found a number of online sources that quote taxi costs of 250k so don’t be too surprised if you are asked for a fixed fee around this mark.
We may have gotten away with a lower fare due to Anh being a Vietnamese speaker.
You can avoid all of this by just taking the newly built mountain train from Sapa to the Cable Station at Fansipan Peak.
The train leaves from the MGallery Hotel and will get you to the peak in just four minutes, offering some stunning views along the way.
Unfortunately, this will not save you any money with tickets costing 200k per person, with discounts available if you combine with a cable car ticket.
If you are traveling with more than one person then a taxi may be a more cost effective option.
Mount Fansipan Quick Facts
How tall is Mt Fansipan?
The height of Mt Fansipan is 3142m (10,308 ft).
When is the best time to visit Mount Fansipan?
You will get the best weather and the clearest views from March to May.
We visited in October and still had a great time with great views. We didn’t hike though and I would expect the trails to be wet and muddy at this time of year.
Why is Mount Fansipan Called The Roof of Indochina?
Mount Fansipan is the tallest mountain on the Indochinese Peninsula. This is how it got the nickname of the roof of Indochina.
Is the Air Thinner at Fansipan’s Summit?
Yes, the air is thinner on Mt Fansipan due to its high altitude. Above 2,400m the air pressure starts to drop and the summit is above this at 3,142m.
When climbing stairs I tend to bounce up them in a springy, light, jog. But a few times I was instantly light-headed when i reached the top…. It’s possible my vacation had made me unfit, but it had only been a week so I’m blaming the altitude!
So just walk like a normal person!
Being this high on the mountain and surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains is spectacular. I expect that it would be even more satisfying if you brave the trek and hike your way to the top.
But visiting such amazing structures at a high altitude like this is an amazing experience and easily makes the trip out to Sa Pa worthwhile.
This is the first activity that I would recommend to anyone visiting this north-western corner of Vietnam.