Saturday, 28 July 2012

The cloudy mountains of north west Vietnam

I am sitting in Bangkok with 10 hours top fill in until I get a connecting flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. What better way to use my time than write about another mountain range which I have visited and climbed in: the Hoang Lien San Range in Vietnam..

The Hoang Lien San range of mountains lies in the north west of Vietnam. The range stretches from the Yunnan highlands in China to Hoa Binh province in Vietnam, 160 km long and at its broadest 3km wide.

On a rare day, the cloudy and misty high summit of Fansipan reveals itself towering above all others at 3140 metres.

Hoang Lien National Park is drained by the Muong Hoa and Ta Trung Ho rivers, which feed the Nam Po River and, finally, the Song Hong (Red) river. The forest has an essential role in water catchment protection, particularly the forest at high altitudes, which is frequently covered in cloud. Water condenses on the vegetation and falls as ‘occult’ precipitation. Occult precipitation makes a major contribution to stream-flow during the dry season when rainfall is low.
A map which gives the location of Sapa, Lao Cai and cao Bang, key places in the foothills of the Hoang Lien San range


The highest post peak is Mt. Fansipan at 3140 metres and quite and arduous climb which affords a marvellous view into China and Laos and of course over north-west Vietnam.

Culturally, this is a very diverse area where many ethnic minorities live. Here at the final camp on Mt. Fansipan, a female Black H'Mong guide leads a party of foreigners
When I climbed Mt.Fansipan, it was a joy seeing young Vietnamese and other foreigners such as a Sri Lankan lady on the right, getting out and enjoying the Hoang Lien San range. This camp is at 2,800 metres on Mt. Fansipan.
Not only is it a land of misty mountains but spectacular waterfalls.

Rice fields dot the foothills of the Hoang Lien San range

I stayed a night at the  Topas Ecolodge which works with local minorities in the Sapa area and the surrounding Hoang Lien mountains to create a mutually rewarding relationship. They support the education of children in the local area, and respect local leaders and local natural resources. In addition  they are committed to sustainable environmental development, and continuously seek environmentally friendly products and services. I was impressed with Ecolodge as they serve as a great role model for other businesses. They helped me with some of my booking and are an excellent travel agency with outstanding staff. For more information click here:

Access from Hanoi is easy and comfortable as you can travel by train overnight in a 4-berth sleeper at  US$ 37 one way.

With frequent showers experienced as you travel about the mountains, there is always a tea shop where you can get a 'cuppa' and a meal.

Sapa is the town in the heart of the Hoang Lien mountains and a good starting point for your travels.

Sunrise over the Hoang Lien mountains from the Ecolodge.

Fansipan or Fanxipan is a climb I would recommend to anyone with a good level of fitness, able to walk uphill for 5 hours each day.

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