With the nights drawing in and the cooler weather summoning dreams of a snowy December and crisp white Christmas to the minds of British adults and children; we thought we’d pay some attention to a little known place in Vietnam. A place where, despite its location in the sub-tropics, during the winter it often sees snow.
A Town at the Foot of the Hoang Lien Son Mountains
The northern parts of Vietnam experience two distinct seasons, and classically colder temperatures than locations on a similar longitude in southeast Asia. Stretching across this area is the Hoang Lien Son Mountain range, which include the Fansipan peak; the highest point in Vietnam and considered to be the roof of Indochina.
Nestled in the foothills of these mountains is Sapa, a town that bucks the trend of hot and tropical Vietnam, and is famous for the snow that comes down from the mountains and blankets the area during winter. The tropical landscape combined with the unusual bitter cold and white snowscape means that this town is a hotspot for local and international tourists alike – keen to absorb the breath-taking views and unique experience.
What Causes the Snow?
Although Vietnam is a tropical country, in high altitudes (such as close to the Hoang Lien Son mountains) the temperature drops significantly – and Sapa (located 1650m above sea level) definitely fits the bill. When cold fronts blow in from the north, the hot humid summer weather transforms into damp, foggy and snowy conditions when the winter months come.
A White Christmas in Sapa?
As you can imagine, snow in the southeast Asia region is something of an event; so when it begins to fall, the area becomes quickly filled by people battling for space on the roads to experience this unique and breath-taking sight. If you’re visiting Vietnam during the winter months, keep an eye on the weather forecast if you’re in the northeast area. Although it only snows an average on one-to-three days every year; for those that do manage to make their way to this sleepy little town – it’s well worth the experience.
Although Christmas is not widely celebrated in this part of the world Ông già Noel (‘Christmas Old Man’ or, Santa to English speakers) doesn’t skip the area entirely. The history of French colonisation in Vietnam means that there is a Catholic population that still erect nativity scenes and celebrate the religious festival – particularly in the larger cities.
Despite being a small mountain town, Sapa has two churches – the Stone Church and the Holy Rosary; where on the 24th of December the population gathers outside to enjoy unique cultural dance, music and celebrations – waiting for the clock to strike twelve. However, snow is unlikely – more common during the December months is a thick and eerie layer of mountain fog, which settles amongst the rooftops of the town.
An Authentic Holiday Experience
Christmas in Vietnam isn’t quite like Christmas in any other place – and isn’t that true the world over?!
Although many families will celebrate on the 24th of December, much more widespread are the festivities surrounding the lunar new year, Tet Nguyen Dan. While Christmas sees a combination of cultures and cuisines come together (turkey and banh khoai mon, anyone,) if it’s the traditional Vietnamese winter celebration you’re looking for there are plenty of authentic and traditional dishes that are enjoyed in the December months.
If the sound of a spicy south eastern curry or a steaming broth filled with noodles and fresh veg is just what you need to chase away the winter chill – visit your favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Oxford, Banana Tree, and sample our Christmas menu. We may not be able to promise you an unexpectedly white Christmas, but we can welcome you in for good food and festive cheer, with a distinctly Indochinese taste.