Hoang Lien Son Nature Reserve and Mount Fansipan
The Hoang Lien Son Nature Reserve was set up in 1986 to safeguard remnants of natural forest habitat over an area of 30 square kilometers south and west of the Sapa. Over the years, trees below an altitude of 1500m have largely been cleared for agriculture, building and firewood, but reforestation programs are underway, adding commercial timbers in an effort to reduce illegal logging. Of the reserve‘s 56 mammal species, nearly one third are listed as rare or endangered, among them the clouded leopard, tiger and black gibbon. It’s easier to spot some of the 150 bird species, a few of which are unique to the mountains if northwest Vietnam.
Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fansipan (3143m) lies within the reserve boundary, less than 5 km as the crow flies from Sapa but an arduous five-day round-trip on foot. The usual route starts by descending 300m to cross the Muong Hoa River, and then climbs almost 2000m on overgrown paths through pine forest and bamboo thickets, before emerging on the southern ridge. The rewards is a panorama encompassing the mountain ranges of northwest Vietnam, south to Sonla Province and north to the peaks of Yunnan in China. Although it’s a hard climb, the most difficult aspect of Fansipan is its climate: even in the most favorable months of November and December it’s difficult to predict a stretch of settled clear weather and many people are forced back by cloud, rain and cold. A guide is essential to trace indistinct paths, hack through bamboo, and locate water sources; Hmong guides are said to know the mountain best.