It’s controversial and it’s brought litter to the summit of Vietnam’s highest peak. Yet as the visitor numbers attest, people just love the cable car to the top of Mount Fansipan. Words by Amelia Burns. Photos by Julie Vola


Fansipan is Indochina’s tallest mountain and is located in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. It’s a long one to three-day hike up to the summit, or at least it used to be, until last year when the Doppelmayr-designed cable car made its debut.


Now, the Guinness World Record breaking cable car soars to the peak of the mountain in a mere 20 minutes over the sublime views of the rice paddy fields, making you feel like you’re on top of the world.


Litter and Degredation?


Yet this cable car is a controversial topic in Vietnam, with many thinking it’s a lazy man’s way out.


“The cable car takes away from the experience of climbing Fansipan,” said one person I spoke to. “Climbing a mountain should be for those who wish to challenge themselves, not those who want to take the easy option.”


But Vietnam is not the first country to jump on the cable car bandwagon. France did it in 1991, with the Aiguille de Midi in the Mont-Blanc massif, and it has since been a popular and easy way for people to see a mountain summit they might never get to otherwise. So why can’t Vietnam have the same opportunity?


Concerns have also been raised about environmental degradation. The cable car provides access to up to 2,000 guests per hour, resulting in people littering, defacing, and generally disrupting the serenity and the environment. Although these are reasonable concerns, they have been considered throughout the design and building process and many rubbish bins have been installed.


As we discovered, people did leave behind their own personal memories in the form of graffiti, a natural human behaviour or impulse that goes back to the time of cavemen. Not so welcome.


Walk and Ride


However, the journey to Fansipan summit is now a simple, stress-free one. You can take a taxi from Sapa town, for around VND50,000 to VND60,000. From there, you arrive at the cable car station, purchase the cable car tickets for VND600,000, and the optional funicular tickets for VND100,000 extra.


After taking the breathtaking 20-minute trip through the mountains and valleys, 100 or so stairs under stone paifangs (Chinese gateways) and past pagodas take you to the funicular which transports you to the summit. Or if you choose, you can walk. It’s only 600 steps these days.


The cable car tickets can be bought at the station once you arrive for VND600,000. The funicular costs an extra VND100,000


Amelia Burns

Amelia - known by her friends as Millie - is a young Australian who moved to Hanoi at just 19 years old. She originally came for just one month but before she knew it she'd met the love of her life and began to live out her dream career. She now lives in Hanoi semi-permanently and writes both for pleasure and for work.


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