The next morning, we get up early to a sunny mountain view:
After a short car journey, we reach the permit office of Mount Fansipan National Park, Tram Ton, at an altitude of 1940m and meet with the porters who will carry our water, food and bags. Note the guide carving a bamboo stem – this would become my best friend over the next two days!
After a brief flat section, the path turns into a mix of roots, rocks and mud, bordered by ferns and bamboos. But it is so pretty!
Along the path, twining on branches and climbing on bamboo stems are gentian relatives belonging to the genus Crawfurdia (left) and Tripterospermum (right):
It is very hard to choose what to show among so many pictures of beautiful plants, but here are two of my favourites: an Impatiens species with unusual, narrow leaves; and an unknown yellow gesneriad.
Hundreds of species of epiphytic orchids grow on tree trunks, even high up in the canopy. It was a bit unnerving to watch locals cut a tree and throw the orchids in their cooking fire… I also spotted a terrestrial orchid, with rather unimpressive flowers!
At times, the path offers great views over the neighbouring mountains:
Several species of Magnolia grow in Fansipan area. This large tree was growing in the most bizarre position, almost horizontally, hanging over the bamboo forest. Magnolias have rather shallow roots, which provide them with good anchors, even in rocky soils. Right is a cone of Magnolia, with its pretty jewel-like red seeds.
The other large genus of plants that is well represented in North Vietnam is Rhododendron. I cannot count how many different species I have seen, sadly identification can be pretty difficult out of their flowering season:
On the ground, we notice acorn-looking fruits. These are the fruits of Lithocarpus, a genus related to oak and native to Asia. Two species here: one with grape-like fruits, and one with solitary, giant acorns (L. pachylepis; camera case as reference, it is 10 cm long).
Among the exotic-looking plants that can be spotted along the way are numerous Schefflera. Distantly related to ivy, some of the species can be hardy in the UK and make spectacular garden plants.
Of course it is not all about large trees and pretty flowers. The Fansipan has a tremendous diversity of ferns, mosses and lycopodes:
Arriving close to a small stream, Uoc spots on a branch two giant moths belonging to the genus Loepa. With almost a 15cm wingspan, these make for an impressive sighting!
We walk for a while along the bank, but soon find ourselves ascending again. Climbing the Fansipan can feel discouraging at times because there’s actually a lot of descent within the climb (which means even more effort to climb it back!).
Under a rocky wall, we spot a Begonia species growing vertically and sporting a wonderful iridescent foliage:
On the forest floor, we see dozens of strong-smelled, star-like fruits. They should look familiar if you enjoy cooking: they are the fruits of an Illicium species, the same genus that gives us the well-known spice star anise.
We reach the 1st camp, at an altitude of 2250m, by midday, under pouring rain and stop for a well-deserved lunch:
But we have to get moving again if we want to reach the second camp before dark…