Scaling Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak - by cable car - Rusty Compass travel blog

Scaling Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak - by cable car

| 01 Nov 2016
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01 Nov 2016

A cable car to Vietnam’s highest peak, Mount Fansipan, opened in early 2016. It’s transforming tourism to Sapa, the once sleepy hillstation set amidst rice terraces and ethnic minority villages. Last week I scaled Fansipan for the first time - by cable car.

Over the past few decades, travellers wanting to scale Mount Fansipan, Vietnam’s tallest peak, had to allow for a gruelling long day, or a two day trek. Quite a few friends of mine, both Vietnamese and foreigners, took the challenge. I managed to avoid it.

Now, even the most sedentary traveller can reach Vietnam’s highest peak. A cable car opened in 2016 that has made the climb easy. You just need 600,000VND for a spectacular 15 minute ride across the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, followed by a 600 step climb to the top.



Last week I checked out the Fansipan cable car (see the video). It was a weird experience. I’d spent the previous afternoon wandering around Hmong villages and was surprised how unchanged they were from my earlier visits.

But that was old Sapa. And as I looked off in the distance, I was reminded of this. The cable car heading through the clouds towards Fansipan’s peak was a signal of big changes ahead.

 

Rice terraces from the cable car
Photo: Mark Bowyer Rice terraces from the cable car

 

Fansipan Legend, Sapa
Photo: Mark Bowyer Fansipan Legend, Sapa
 
A grandiose creation - Fansipan Summit
Photo: Mark Bowyer A grandiose creation - Fansipan Summit

 

The Fansipan Summit
Photo: Mark Bowyer The Fansipan Summit

 

A patriotic ritual - conquering Fansipan
Photo: Mark Bowyer A patriotic ritual - conquering Fansipan

 

Building an imperial monument
Photo: Mark Bowyer Building an imperial monument

 

Vietnamese traditional singer Kieu Mai Ly and her friends.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Vietnamese traditional singer Kieu Mai Ly and her friends.


In future, Sapa’s cable car will define the place. It’s part of a massive project of hotels and tourism developments so imposing and grandiose that it’s hard to imagine how the area’s longstanding market of trekkers and cultural travellers will still find the place interesting.

No doubt they’ll head elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a new market is blossoming. Judging by the flag waving crowds at the top, ascending Fansipan is set to become a patriotic rite for Vietnamese people. At 600,000VND a pop (around $28USD), it might be a while before all 90 million Vietnamese make it. But by all reports, huge crowds of Hanoians are descending each weekend. It’s also proving a hit with travellers from across the nearby Chinese border.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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