Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fan Si Pan (3143m) lies less than 5km as the crow flies from Sa Pa, but it’s an arduous three- to five-day round trip on foot. The usual route starts by descending 300m to cross the Muong Hoa River, and then climbs almost 2000m on overgrown paths through pine forest and bamboo thickets, before emerging on the southern ridge. The reward is a panorama encompassing the mountain ranges of northwest Vietnam, south to Son La Province and north to the peaks of Yunnan in China. Although it’s a hard climb, the most difficult aspect of Fan Si Pan is its climate: even in the most favourable months of November and December it’s difficult to predict a stretch of settled clear weather and many people are forced back by cloud, rain and cold.
A guide is essential to trace indistinct paths, hack through bamboo and locate water sources if climbing Mount Fan Si Pan; Hmong guides are said to know the mountain best. Sa Pa hotels and tour agents can arrange guides and porters as required.