Geoff from Hong Kong got in touch via the original Fansipan post asking for details about the climb and so on. I passed on what I knew and he jetted off to Vietnam for the hike / climb. Then he wrote back with his experiences, which he’s given me permission to publish here. Everyone’s experience of a place or a journey is going to be different, so I thought it might be useful to have this up here as well. I’ve included his opinions on Vietnam as a whole and the surrounding countries as well.
Glad to be of help, Geoff, and thanks for your emails!
Yeah everything went quite well. We elected for the two-day option in the end. But we ended up leaving the day after the train arrived. Spent the first day on a rented motorbike cruising around the little minority villages
in the area. So that allowed us to get an early start on day one of the hike, meaning that we easily got up to the 2800m camp by about 3:30pm. The food was awesome… except that it was served at about 4:30, and bloody hell the guides and the porters all went to sleep at 5pm. Leaving us to try to figure out what the heck to do in a corrugated tin hut haha! Anyway played a few games and went to sleep around 8pm. The next day alas was pouring rain (previous two days had been beautiful). But we got to the top in about 2 hours. No views… but nice feeling. Clouds parted to give us some good views on the way down though. But oh my what a haul down!! We were going to take the long way down to another village, but my friend was all but dead by the time we got to the 2250m camp so we just slogged back to the original car park. Full and hot sun by the time we got half way down.
So yeah it all worked out really well on the whole… quite a tough trip but manageable by staying higher on the first day. If anyone else was going to go… personally I’d recommend taking your own sleeping mattress. I’m used to some pretty hard core camping, but that bamboo matting was terrible. So sleep was hard to get the whole night. For the sake of one extra kg I’d rather have a good nights sleep. And since you come back via the same hut, you wouldn’t have to take the mattress up to the top. As for the guides… mmmm…. kind of ok service but not great. Got us up and down but nothing extra. We bargained hard and got the agency down to $60 per person (group of 4) for the 2 day trip. Seems excessively expensive to me but anyway had no choice. Typical north-vietnam – where they gang together to set a price and there’s nothing you can do. So it was $120 for the two of us. Would have been $150 for the two of us but luckily we found two more people so the cost went down.
I exited Vietnam by crossing into China and taking a sleeper bus up to Kunming. That was great fun – highly recommended. I love China… always have. And what a difference in the honesty of the people. As soon as you cross the border everything just seems to be ‘simpler’. You don’t have to pay ‘tourist’ prices for dumb things like bottles of water. Bus tickets are fixed for everyone. Food is cheap. Love it! Not to knock Vietnam, but I get so tired of fighting for everything there, from a bus ride to a bottle of water to a bowl of noodles. One bugger in Lao Cai asked me for $4 US for a cup of coffee. What a laugh. I threw him 10,000 dong and walk away, and he laughed like it was funny. Well guess that’s normal there… get sick of it though!
And a second mail, following on about the pricing and “rip off” policies:
As for your thoughts on rip-off pricing… interesting… and I know everyone has their own opinion on the matter. As for my experiences though – I’ve found Vietnam without a doubt the worst place I’ve ever traveled to when it comes to people trying to rip tourists off. For many reasons… but first I’ll admit it only happens in tourist places like Sapa and Halong Bay. I’ve been to Haiphong for example and never experienced any problems at all. And I’ll also say that the Vietnamese people are as keen to rip their own people off if they can get away with it as they are to rip tourists off – I’ve seen many a ‘rich’ Saigon citizen getting raped over the coals as well. And in a funny sense they fight it less and just accept it because they are, after all, rich. Compared to the villagers. And of course they have the whole face-saving aspect where they wouldn’t be caught dead bargaining for a bottle of water because they want to show the world that they can afford three dollars for a bottle of water.
But my issue with the Vietnamese is that it’s turned into a national sport for them… and there’s no peace. I’ve travelled extensively all over south-east asia. And sure in Cambodia and Thailand for example a tuk-tuk driver will ask for more than he might otherwise get. But the difference is that if you call his bluff and say no – you’ll only go for whatever – they’ll normally back down and accept it. They’d rather get something than nothing. But in Vietnam they’ll flatlely refuse. Because they don’t want to appear ‘weak’ in front of their co-workers I suppose. Or often there’s price-fixing where all the drivers get together and say “Ok if it’s a foreigner the minimum price is this”. And if they contravene that they’re kicked out of the ‘gang’ of drivers. So the end result is I have to argue for everything. Water. Food. Noodle soup. A bus ticket. And it’s bloody tiring. Because more of often than not they just refuse to sell the item. And I don’t even mind paying more than the local price… I can understand that rich people should pay more. But I refuse to spend 3 bucks on a bottle of water.