When you arrive in Sapa you can’t help but wonder if you’re still in Vietnam. The first thing you notice is the cooler temperature. Sapa is at an elevation of 1650m and boasts a much more temperate climate when compared to the rest of Vietnam. The next thing you notice is the architecture of the town; it feels like you’re in the a ski town in the Alps. To add to that effect, there’s a plethora of Italian and French restaurants offering affordable fine dining at approximately 5USD per dish.
The main attractions in Sapa are the treks to nearby hill tribe villages and to the summit of Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Fansipan (3143m). Given my prior trekking experience I wanted to give Fansipan a shot so Dasha and I signed up for a 2day/1night trek. We were joined by an Austrian couple on a rock-climbing holiday through SE Asia. After I spent a few hours ridding myself of the nasty computer virus I got off someone’s memory card the previous day we then spent the first day in Sapa exploring the town and sleeping since we arrived at 05:30 via the overnight train.
The Fansipan trek started with an 08:00 pickup from our hotel followed by a 30 minute drive to the starting point (1900m). We were accompanied by an English speaking guide and 2 porters. I quickly realized that my fitness level had fallen off sharply in the last 3 months since completing the Annapurna Circuit. It was impossible for me to keep up with the Austrian couple and our guide. It wasn’t the difficult terrain or the altitude that slowed me down; it was my poor level of cardio fitness that held me back. I kept thinking to myself how I was able to trek for 2 weeks straight. The walk from the starting point to the camp site (2800m) took about 4.5 hours. We took lunch there and then headed for the summit. Once again, I quickly fell behind the Austrian couple and our guide (Dasha wasn’t feeling well and stayed at the camp). Thoughts of giving up floated through my mind but I took frequent breathers and kept going. The terrain on this stretch was very steep and involved quite a bit of rock scrambling. After nearly 2 hours I finally reached the summit and was ecstatic that I could finally rest and take in the view. The trek back down to camp took about 1.5 hrs and was by far much easier than the way up but still required quite a bit of care since the track was very muddy and steep.
Back at camp we all huddled by the fire as the sun fell and the temperature dropped. Dinner was surprisingly really good and even more surprising the portions were so massive that the 4 of us couldn’t finish it all. A glass of the local rice wine was included as well. After dinner we chatted for a bit then the entire camp went to sleep. Sleeping bags were provided however they were rectangular summer bags and were totally inadequate for the 5C weather. Everyone was freezing and in the morning no one said they got a good night’s sleep. Other groups of trekkers were also provided summer sleeping bags and shivered throughout the night as well. I think I maybe slept about 1 hour all night and feared that I might lose a toe to the cold. I also had to pee but held it all night since it was pitch black outside, freezing cold, and I would have to change back into my dirty trekking clothes and could possibly fall into the mud.
The following morning we had breakfast then made our way down the mountain, stopping for lunch at the 2200m campsite. From here it was another 2 hours to the end where our ride was waiting for us thanks to our guide who phoned ahead. Back in town we decided to stay another night to rest, shower, and launder our dirty trekking clothes. Then I treated myself to a fancy dinner at an Italian restaurant for 7USD J