Home to the country’s tallest mountains, Hoàng Liên National Park is one of the most coveted areas in Vietnam. Known for its dense vegetation, this park preserves some of the country’s most primitive beauty.
Impressive altitudes within Hoang Lien range from 3,281 feet (1,000 meters) to 10,312 feet (3,143 meters), drawing in adventurers who aim to conquer Vietnam’s highest peaks. Not too far from a few nearby villages as well as the town of Sapa, there is plenty to experience around and within the Hoàng Liên National Park.
Hoàng Liên National Park is in Vietnam’s far north, within the Lao Cai Province. Most of the Hoàng Liên Son mountain range is protected by the park, though some of the mountains do cross into China at the border. There are small villages within the area, however, Sapa, which is 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) away, is the closest town.
The Hoàng Liên Son Mountain Range was created about 250-260 million years ago, and as far as national parks go, the area is quite young. While nature within the park has existed for millennia, Vietnam did not officially protect Hoàng Liên until it was named as a nature reserve in 2002.
The area remained a nature reserve for four years until July 2006, when it was given the national park status, protecting 115.2 square miles of Vietnam’s remote, northern mountains. Relatively new, youth is not a deterrent for visitors to Hoàng Liên as many backpackers are eager to explore this park before it becomes overrun with tourists.
What to Do
Although the Hoàng Liên National Park is more remote, there is still plenty to see. Main attractions in the park and surrounding area include climbing Vietnam’s four tallest peaks, visiting the small villages and town of Sapa, exploring the rice paddy fields, and near-endless hiking trails.
All of these activities give visitors the chance to experience Vietnam’s culture and beauty.
Fansipan, Phu Si Lung, Pu Ta Leng, and Bach Moc Luong Tu are the four tallest mountains in the national park. Fansipan has multiple access routes to the summit, while the other three peaks can only be reached on foot.
At Fansipan, visitors have the option of a 3-day rigorous hike or a leisurely 20-minute cable car ride to get to the top. With multiple attractions at the summit, Fansipan is the most popular peak for tourists to visit.
However, travelers who are eager to escape the crowds will appreciate the remoteness of the other three tallest peaks, as long you are in shape and have plenty of endurance. Phu Si Lung, Pu Ta Leng, and Bach Moc Luong Tu all take about 3-5 days for trekkers to reach the summit.
Life in the Valley
There are a few small villages and one town close to Hoàng Liên National Park, although most have limited services. A few places like Ta Leng and Sapa are grander in scale, which is why they are often used as base camps for visitors heading into the park.
Sapa is more developed than the other villages and better equipped to cater to crowds of tourists. There are several hotels in Sapa and various restaurants. The hotels in town are also where hikers can go to hire a guide to summit the nearby mountains.
For those trying to obtain more information about the area, there is a small museum in sapa Sapa that can help you on your journey. The station for Fansipan’s cable car is also located in Sapa, just on the edge of town and a short distance away from the Stone Church.
Not all travelers are serious hikers and some visitors may be looking for easier trails. Extending out from Sapa and into the national park, there are plenty of walking trails. These gentle and moderate paths criss-cross the valley with many leading in or out of Hoàng Liên National Park.
Ideal for all travelers, these paths are not near as strenuous as the hikes up to the mountains’ peaks. Most of the trails have gentle slopes, although, some can get drastically steeper, especially if you’re heading out to view the rice paddies.
Plants and Wildlife
Besides the amazing landscapes and views, many visitors are drawn to Hoàng Liên because of the park’s diverse plant and wildlife. There are more than 2,000 vegetative species in the park, alongside 454 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Plants in Hoàng Liên National Park are exceptionally rare with 32 varieties found in the park also being listed in Vietnam’s Red Book. Three of the plant species are ingredients in rare medicines and one, black cardamom, is a central ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine. Larger plants like the rhododendrons and azaleas are favorites amongst visitors.
Wildlife fanatics will rejoice at the incredible range of animal life that resides within the forest. Larger creatures in the park include 16 endangered species like the silver langur. For those interested in a little bird watching, hikers have been known to catch a glimpse of different types of eagles and pheasants roaming around.
Finally, the newest discovery in Hoàng Liên is the vast number of horned frogs that inhabit the area. Hard to spot and normally elusive, these frogs have made headlines due to the discovery of two new species, the Mount Fansipan Horned Frog and the Hoang Lien Horned Frog, within the park.
Mostly untouched and intact, the diverse ecosystem makes this national park one of the best places in the country where visitors can experience Vietnam’s raw nature.
How to Get There
Being far in the north, it takes some time to reach Hoàng Liên National Park. Most visitors will travel from Hanoi to Lao Cai Province by train, being that there are no airports, big or small, nearby.
From the train station in Hanoi, visitors can go by rail to the city of Lao Cai. To reach Sapa, you will need to hire a private car or take a bus. Public buses from the Lao Cai train station to Sapa run daily, taking about 45 minutes between the two towns.
Once in Sapa, it is best to arrange transit into the park with your hotel or a local guide. Transportation to the nearby villages can also be arranged in Sapa, with most of the nearby communities being easy to access.
When to Visit
Hoàng Liên National Park is only gaining further popularity with more visitors coming each year. It is important to see the park during the optimal season, and depending on your itinerary, the best time to visit can change.
June and July are the busiest months at Hoàng Liên, regardless of the heat, making it not as opportune of a time to visit. To avoid harsh weather conditions, many prefer to visit during the dry season.
Visitors who want to escape the heat should travel just before or at the very start of the dry season, with September to December being the best months to visit. The most dangerous time to visit is the rainy season, regardless if you have experience hiking.
Those who want to summit the park’s highest peaks should visit during this time, as they will be more likely to complete their journey. March, April, and May have significantly less rain with cooler temperatures still lingering, which makes them the best season for determined mountaineers.
A Diamond in the Rough
While Hoàng Liên has some extremely remote landscapes and difficult terrain to traverse, this national park is still one of Vietnam’s hidden gems. Located far from the big cities, Hoàng Liên has allowed the land stay to remain in its natural state.
Visitors can tread on the paths most followed as they tour the valley or they can head into the wilderness and conquer the mighty peaks. Beauty is the park’s reward and it is everywhere in the Hoàng Liên National Park.
Address: Vườn Quốc gia Hoàng Liên QL 4D, Lai Châu, Vietnam
Season: Year-Round | Best to visit during the dry season
Peaks: Fansipan | Bach Loc Muong Tu | Phu Si Lung | Pu Ta Leng