An S-shaped, heavily forested country on the Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam’s physical geography seems to align with its curvature. To the east, its low, narrow coastline serpentines for around a thousand miles. To the west, the peaks of the Annamese Cordillera sweep in a matching arc for some 700 miles. But while this mountain system dominates much of the country’s central landmass, this is not where one finds the biggest mountains of Vietnam.
So, where are Vietnam’s highest mountains? That’s what we’re here to explore.
Hoang Lien Son
The highest mountains in Vietnam are found in the far northwest corner of the country in the provinces of Lao Cai, Lai Chau, and Yen Bai, near and along its border with China. Here, the Hoang Lien Son range runs for around 110 miles, a fraction of the area of the Annamese Cordillera, but packing way more of a vertical punch. Indeed, most of the top ten national elevations are in this range, a fact that becomes less surprising when considering its connection to the highest peaks on planet Earth. Because Hoang Lien Son is in fact the final leg of the Ai Lao Son mountain range. And this, in turn, is part of the Himalayas. So let’s head there now to explore Vietnam’s highest heights.
The highest mountain in Vietnam is Fansipan, with a variety of spellings including Fan Si Pan and Phang Xi Pang. It is perhaps better known as the “roof of Indochina,” a moniker it earned for being the highest point in the Indochinese Peninsula. This was initially based on a height of 10,312 feet above sea level, as measured in 1909. However, a survey in 2019 extended this by a further 14 feet and, today, Fansipan’s height is recorded as at least 10,325 feet. The reason for this discrepancy? Some say that more advanced equipment allowed for a more precise result. Others however, posit that it might be part of a wider tectonic trend. And that the key is location, location, location.
Part of the Hoang Lien Son range and its namesake national park, Fansipan is set barely 20 miles south of the Chinese border, straddling the northwestern provinces of Lào Cai and Lai Châu. As for its geological location, this is west of the Red River Fault, which may account for its increase in size. In particular, this plate-boundary fault is where the Yangtze Tectonic Plate collides with the Sagaing Fault in Burma. And this might be pushing up the elevations of the Hoang Lien Son mountains by about 1.6 inches a year.
Whatever its exact height, Fansipan’s peak, usually encircled by cloud cover, is topped by a metal pyramid, which has been there in one form or another since 1985. Around it are dense forests of various kinds, providing a home to thousands of plant and animal species, many endemic.
Phu Si Lung
At roughly 10,114 feet, Phu Si Lung, also spelled Pu Si Lung or Pusilung, is the second among the highest mountains in Vietnam. Like Fansipan, it’s found deep in the jungles of Lai Chau province and is topped by a small metal pyramid. But while Fansipan is close to the Chinese border, Phu Si Lung is on it, with the peak on the Vietnamese side.
Phu Ta Leng
Just 14 miles northwest of Fansipan along the Lào Cai-Lai Châu boundary, Phu Ta Leng rises to around 10,003 feet. The third of the tallest mountains in Vietnam, it’s famed for its riotously pink and purple rhododendrons, which usually bloom in March. Even without this dazzling display, the foothills of Phu Ta Leng are often described as something from a fairy tale, with their picturesque waterfalls, vibrant waterways, and mossy greens. And the wild majesty continues at the top, with its signature metal pyramid and ethereal mists.
Bach Moc Luong Tu
Virtually unexplored until relatively recently, the fourth of Vietnam’s highest mountains is the first on the list outside the Hoang Lien Son range. Originally called Ky Quan San, it’s more widely known as Bach Moc Luong Tu, a mountain range whose highest elevation is around 9,990 feet. Like Fansipan, it’s on the border between Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces, only some 20 miles northwest of the highest mountain in Vietnam.
Khang Su Van
Khang Su Van is known by several names. Some call it Phan Lien San, others U Thai San. Whichever one adopts, its slopes, richly forested and carpeted in moss and other vegetation, lead to a top peak of 9,881 above sea level. This makes it the fifth on the list of the tallest mountains in Vietnam. In addition to the customary metal pyramid monument, its peak is also home to the highest border landmark with China, milestone 79.
The Biggest Mountains of Vietnam
And so, we’ve seen that Vietnam’s highest mountains are characterised by diverse forests and jungles, cloudy peaks and signature metal pyramid crowns. Most of them are part of the Hoang Lien Son range, and all of them are at the northwesternmost edge of the country.