Sa Pa Town in the northern province of Lào Cai has become more attractive to tourists in winter, with snow and ice appearing on the top of the highest mountains.
The town is now in its best season, with plum, apricot and peach flowers. Despite chilly weather, snow is always rare, though much desired, here.
Many visitors across the country flock to the town to see ice or snow, which falls like a winter coat over a young girl, making Sa Pa more mysterious.
On December 26 and 27, photographers and snow seekers from Hà Nội, Hải Phòng, Quảng Ninh and even HCM City flocked to the town to wait for the rare scene of snow scattered among the highest peaks.
“Right on that afternoon and night, I received 10 orders for packaged tours to Sa Pa,” Hoàng Giang, a local travel agency owner told Việt Nam News. “The visitors travel alone or in a group of family members and friends of up to four people."
“They are all eager to welcome the snow in Sa Pa. The number of guests surges when the weather turns cold and it is likely to snow here."
However, Tô Bá Hiếu, a photographer in Sa Pa, said the weather did not indulge snow seekers when they went.
“I joined a group of photographers in Fansipan peak for two days and nights to hunt for snow and catch the sunrise,” Hiếu said.
A photo by Tô Bá Hiếu captures photographers taking photos of snowy scenes on Fansipan Peak. VNS Photo Tô Bá Hiếu
“Yet after the first snow in the previous afternoon, it poured with heavy rain, and the humidity was too high, so there was no snow. We failed this time and had to return to wait for other chances.”
Hiếu has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years in Sa Pa, during which he has witnessed various winters with thick snow covering the mountains and hills, especially in the years 2003, 2013 and early 2021.
“Before, I took photos with my mobile phone,” he said. “But I soon realised that smartphones cannot catch the whole beauty of the land when it snows. So I bought a camera to record the valuable moments.”
Hiếu said the snow falling on Sa Pa was not as thick as that in European countries, but the scene was rare and lured tourists and photographers.
Hiếu said in early 2021, ice and snow covered trees, stone staircases, sculptures and buildings on Fansipan peak.
Snow covers the trees on a mountain in Sa Pa. VNS Photo Tô Bá Hiếu
“I could not stop uttering to myself at that time: 'so beautiful, like in Europe,'” he said.
Hiếu said it is likely to snow when the sky turns brighter. It rains heavily at night, or when it drops to 1-2 degrees Celsius, with no fog and low humidity.
“In order to catch impressive images of snow, photographers often choose wide areas with few people, at sunrise or sunset,” said photographer Lê Bình from Hà Nội.
Hiếu said his photo collection from 2021 was really exciting.
“I joined professional photographers in a long line to avoid leaving too many footprints on the snow,” he said.
“That way, we can each take good photos with intact scenery. We also keep the natural scene for people coming to visit."
Đỗ Mai Nhật Yên, a visitor from Lâm Đồng, said she decided to take a plane to Hà Nội and rent a car to Lào Cai with her husband, expecting to see the snow.
Yên said her family had experienced snowy weather in Sa Pa a few years ago.
Snow on Fansipan Peak. Photo govn.vn
“We did not feel cold at all when it snowed,” she said. “The universe seemed to be more immense and mysterious. We felt so small among the spectacular scenery of mountains and forests. The snow reminded me of the time when we studied in Russia few decades ago,” she said.
She said she closely followed the weather to choose coldest period with the north-east monsoon in the northern region, to buy the air tickets.
This is the second time this year it has snowed on Fansipan peak, which stands at 3,147 metres and is dubbed as the roof of Indochina. The first time was on February 8.
Giàng A Tính, who works as a guardian on Fansipan, said that in the last three years the snow had appeared more often than in the past.
In 2020, Fansipan experienced severe cold with snow and ice for long days, he said.
“The snow covered all the mountains white, some places over one metre thick,” he said. “The scenery is really magnificent on the peak.”
Locals said snow often appeared between December and January, the coldest season.
“The snow may fall for up to several days, so it depends on your luck to see the snow,” Tính said.
Where to see snow best in Sa Pa
Fansipan Peak is the first and foremost place locals suggest seeing the snow.
People can buy tickets to take a cable cab to the peak.
Local fruit covered with ice. Photo eva.vn
“The feeling of flying through the air to see the scenery around the mountains in a cable car is already fantastic, let alone the feeling of seeing snowflakes in the complex of pagodas and gardens,” said Hà Nhi, a visitor from Đà Nẵng.
Nhi said she has several times visited the peak.
“In summer, when there is no cloud, we can see mountains in the far distance,” she said. “But on cloudy days, we can see only fog surrounding the peak. When it snows, the peak looks like one in Switzerland.”
Hàm Rồng Mountain is another place, where visitors can see the whole town and scenery beyond. Located at 1,700m altitude, the peak is considered an ideal place for visitors to see local plants, flowers, clouds and, if lucky enough, snow.
Bát Xát Commune is another top choice for seeking snow, where one can see an immense field of thick snow.
Y Tý in the west of the commune has attracted many visitors, especially in winter, with white clouds embracing the mountains. It is even more magical when snow falls.
Ô Quý Hồ Pass is another place to see white snow covering cottages and trees. The pass connects the mountains of the Hoàng Liên Sơn range, which looks like a zig-zagging silk cloth from afar.
Silver Water Falls, Sa Pa Ancient Stone Area, Mường Hoa Valley and Cát Cát Village are other highly-recommended destinations for tourists in winter.
Photographer Bình said the ideal time for taking photos of snowflakes was early in the morning when the sun was not high and the flakes do not melt.
“You should pay much attention to the photo gears [cameras] as they can get wet when the snow melts,” he said. “I often put my cameras and lenses in nylon bags.’’
Bình also suggested snow seekers wear warm waterproof coats that have hats, as well as leggings inside waterproof trousers, warm scarves, gloves and socks.
“Shoes are really important,” he said. “Snow boots with anti-slide soles are highly recommended.”
Hot patches, medical oil, and medicine for colds do well on a snow seeking trip, he said.
Trần Sơn Bình, deputy director of Lào Cai Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, said people from ‘green’ areas (safe zones for COVID-19) could travel in the province, while ones from high-risk areas could not enter the province or should take 7-day quarantine before being able to travel in the province, otherwise they had to return home.
“The policy is flexible for people from border areas between safe and high-risk zones,” said Nguyễn Lam, from Sao Việt Bus Company. “They can fill in the healthcare forms, take quick tests and enter the province if the result is negative.” VNS
Local children play in the snow. VNS Photo Quỳnh Trang