How To Visit Vietnam’s Highest Mountain In An Afternoon

Did you know that you can reach the summit of Vietnam’s tallest mountain in just one afternoon and be back at the base in time for dinner? Located near the small village of Sa Pa in Lào Cai Province, Fansipan Mountain (Vietnamese: Phan Xi Păng) is the perfect day trip for anyone planning to spend a few days or more in this rural corner of Vietnam. At only 3,143 meters high, the mountain is easily accessible thanks to its relative shortness (compared to other mountains around the world) and a newly-built cable car that can take you most of the way up.

As part of my recent two-week stay in Sa Pa, I decided to spend one day visiting Fansipan. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip! The top is home to a large complex of Buddhist temples and monuments, all of which are really beautiful.

Fansipan can also be hiked, but it’s quite the endeavor. I think it usually takes two days with an overnight stop somewhere along the way. Although that sounds doable, the main issue is that it’s quite expensive. It’s my understanding that you have to hire a guide (i.e. not optional), and this can cost more than 100 USD per person. Although I’m sure hiking the mountain is a really rewarding experience, I decided to save some cash and time by opting out.

This short guide is written for visitors who want to take the cable car to visit Fansipan. If you’re intent on hiking it, check out this blog post that offers more information about treks and tour options. Otherwise, read on!

Why You Should Visit Fansipan

Fansipan is worth a visit not only because it has some amazing views, but also because of all the Buddhist temples at the top. You’ll literally be above the clouds. Fansipan is admittedly out of the way, but if you’re already planning on coming to this little corner of Vietnam, don’t overlook this day trip to the mountain. Below are the steps to a successful visit to Fansipan.

How to Visit Fansipan

Step 1. Get to Sa Pa.

The small village of Sa Pa is much more famous for its stunning terraced rice fields than its proximity to Fansipan. Be sure to see both the rice fields and Fansipan if you’re heading to the area!

Sa Pa is located in the far northwest of Vietnam, not far from one of the major border crossings into China. I’ve written a very detailed post about Sa Pa that you can read here, or skip directly to the section on how to get to Sa Pa from Hanoi by clicking here.

Step 2. Buy your ticket.

Your day trip will start in the main public square of Sa Pa town, or more precisely the Sun Plaza Sa Pa Station. This blocky shopping center towers over all the other buildings around it, and it looks wholly out of the place. The ticket booth is located on the main floor, and signs and employees can help guide the way if you get lost.

Tickets are expensive by Vietnamese standards. In spring of 2019, it cost 750,000 VND (approx. 32 USD) for a round-trip ticket. Compare that to the equally stunning cable car in Phú Quốc, which holds the record for the longest cable car in the world and only cost 150,000 VND (7 USD).

The inside of the station at Sun Plaza

Step 3. Take the monorail.

At the Sun Plaza Sa Pa Station, you’ll first take a short monorail ride from the shopping center to the Cable Car Downhill Station. The train is elevated above street level and offers a first look at the kind of views you can expect to see as you ascend.

You can technically save yourself 50,000 VND (approx 2.20 USD) if you choose not to take the monorail. But the cable car station in Sa Pa is on the outskirts of town, so it would probably take at least half an hour to walk there from the main square. A taxi to the cable car station from town would almost certainly cost more than the 50k, so I highly recommend just taking the monorail even though it costs slightly more.

Step 4. Go up the mountain in the cable car.

After getting off the monorail, you’ll find yourself at the cable car station at the base of the mountain. Hold on to your ticket, which you’ll use to get on. Cars come into the station every few minutes, so you shouldn’t ever have to wait.

The ride up lasts about twenty minutes, and according to this website, earned two world records: the longest non-stop three-rope cable car and the greatest change in elevation of such a system, going up 1410 meters from the bottom to the top.

Views from the cable car are incredible. Most of the ride will whisk you high above a dense forest of trees below, with minimal signs of human activity or presence. In contrast, the bottom of the ride will allow you to see some of the famous rice paddies in Sa Pa from an aerial point of view.

Although the ride was amazing, there was a freaky thing that happened on the way down. Click here to skip below and read about that!

Step 5. Walk the rest of the way to the peak.

There is the option to take a short funicular ride from the cable car station to the very peak of the mountain, but I just recommend doing this last final bit on foot. You’ll save yourself a dollar or two, but more importantly, you’ll be able to explore the many temples and monuments here at your own pace. I think it’s about 600 steps from the station to the peak, but it’s worth it.

By the time you reach the peak, you’ll probably be ready for a little rest. The views are great, but don’t expect to be able to see all the way down into the Mường Hoa Valley below, even on a fairly clear day. The drop in temperature from Sa Pa to the peak is noticeable, but I would say a jacket isn’t necessary at least in spring and summer. A long sleeve shirt or one extra layer might be a good idea, though.

I wasn't too cold in this, but mainly because the last set of stairs was a bit of a workout.

The peak is marked by a number of bronze pyramids which are great places for a picture. I figured there would just be a single one, but luckily there are a bunch, so you won’t have to fight with other tourists for the perfect shot!

Step 6. Repeat in reverse.

After you make it to the peak, you’ll just repeat the entire process in reverse, which is pretty self-explanatory.

One Freaky Incident...

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will let you know about one incident that occurred on the way back down the mountain. The cable car system apparently lost power while I was on it, suspended in midair, hundreds of feet above trees below. This caused our pod to lurch forward and down a bit before remaining stationary and suspended in the air for a number of minutes. Employees eventually radioed in to the intercom and explained (in Vietnamese only) that power had been lost, but luckily other people in my car were able to translate.

Obviously, no one got hurt, and a feat of engineering such as this should have multiple safeguards for cases of inclement weather or power failures. However, it was still quite a shock that left everyone’s hearts pounding!

So on that note, I’d say if you have a major fear of heights, this cable car ride many not be for you. Our little power failure notwithstanding, this ride was much more adventurous than the one in Phú Quốc, or other ones I’ve been on in Colombia and Ecuador.

The cable car on Phú Quốc, which is the world's longest

You’re so high off the ground for most of it, and the truly massive distances between support poles will leave you wondering how the design is even physically possible. Sometimes five or seven minutes would go by without passing one, and in many places, the cable would disappear into the horizon because the next tower was so far away, such as in the picture below.

I’d say Fansipan is worth the visit, unless you think the cable car would give you a panic attack. So would you do it? Let me know in the comments below! If you’ve hiked this mountain, I’m curious about your experience as well! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for upcoming Vietnam excursions!

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. I had been to Sa Pa and I spent my days there in Tavan village. Though I had a wonderful holiday there but I feel I missed out so much without visiting Fansipan. I should surely be visiting this place on my next trip to Sa Pa. It will be so so beautiful. It is a bit expensive but I think the views from the cable car make it worth. The Buddhist temples at the peak are also magnificent. This is going to my list right away.

  2. Wow, so beautiful! I would love to do that. I haven’t been to Vietnam (yet), but hopefully some day. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Oh wow! Vietnam has always been in my bucket list but i think i would neew a good few weeks to see everything.

    This looks so incredible! Those views make me make me nervous but its so beautiful as well. Thanks for sharing. Adding to my list of destinations!

  4. It sounds amazing and I reckon there’d be something spiritual about making it to the top of Fansipan and seeing the temples. I mean, imagine even transporting those materials up there in years gone by for construction! But… I dunno if I could do that cable car. I’d feel pretty trapped. The power outage is my worst fear!

    1. I didn’t even think about getting all the stone and other material up the mountain to construct everything! That must’ve taken SO much work. And yes, I agree… while I generally love a good cable car ride, this one was definitely the furthest off the ground I’ve ever been!

  5. Wow this looks amazing! Vietnam is on my list of places to go, but mountain is high! I’m a little bit afraid of heights so I’m skeptical, but it does look amazing!

  6. Very unique and amazing content. You have shared an amazing place and Vietnam is an amazing country to visit in South East Asia.

  7. Thank you for such an informative post. The views from the top of the Fansipan Mountain are simply stunning. I had heard of it and have been wanting to visit Sa Pa when we travel to Vietnam. I didn’t realize until I read your post that it is such an easy and convenient half-day trip. Will surely be referring back to your post as we plan our trip.

  8. I am planning for Vietnam in January or February, will it be the right time to visit the country? Fansipan was not in my itinerary but thanks for sharing about it, now I will try to visit and click such amazing pictures.

    1. I’m not sure yet since I arrived here in March! I think Northern Vietnam can actually get a bit chilly in the winter, although I think the south (Ho Chi Minh City and the beaches nearby, etc) stays warm basically the whole year round. Regardless of temperature, I do think winter is off season for the Sa Pa area because the rice fields aren’t green and just look muddy. But who knows, maybe Fansipan would be a sight to see with snow! Keep me updated on what you decide to do!

  9. Wow ! That’s really a sight from the top ! Will definitely check this out if we are making the trip to Vietnam end of this year ! =)

  10. This is amazing!!! I want to visit Vietnam next year so I am need of posts like this so I can plan my trip properly. This mountain looks like a must do! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Vietnam has been on my list for a while now and this just solidifies it! It looks like an absolutely amazing country and the views from this spot are incredible.

  12. Oh wow, the views from and of Fansipan are absolutely incredible! I can’t believe the power issue you had on the cable car. That sounds terrifying!

  13. I went to Vietnam years ago but didn’t make it to Sapa unfortunately. I doubt that the cable car was in operation then. I have to say your post left me with mixed feelings about the cable car though. The distances seem pretty big between pylons!

  14. I totally see my self taking the cable car to reach the highest point as I am not very keen on trekking. Was the temperature too hot when you guys visited?

  15. I’m glad to hear you already made it to Fansipan Mountain, Kevin. Seems like you chose the perfect time to do so too. I visited during the rainy season and there were a lot of clouds and mist in the way. The views look much better from your pictures!

  16. I went to Vietnam years ago but didn’t make it to Sapa. I would love to go and that cable car looks amazing but your post leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m not sure it’s entirely safe and I sure don’t want to get stuck up there!

  17. We didn’t have chance to do Fansipan when we were up in SaPa last time but we are planning to return to that region to do some of the things we didn’t get to do the first time. Initially I would have wanted to hike it but with you mentioning having to have a guide and the price, which is really annoying as we are experienced climbers, maybe we would just do the cable car!

  18. The cable car incident is very scary. I would have freaked out. But your photos are amazing. I would love the views but would need to psyche myself up to go in one of those pods.

  19. Ok that incident of cable cab sopping hundred of meters in air would freak me out! But I would totally be to go for it atleast once. I honestly never heard about Fansipan before and the views are incredible from the top. The temples too look lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  20. That’s a great set of pics to accompany all your useful information on the trip. The monorail itself sounds fascinating, and you almost had me convinced that my fear of heights would mean nothing compared with those great views. But the “incident” made me take a cold hard look at my levels of bravery, and find them a bit lacking. Still a fantastic trip though, and one I’d take a deep breath and try. Perhaps whimpering a little under my breath…

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