Nov 30 2012
At 80 kilometres northwest of Hanoi, Tam Dao hill station makes for a good overnight or one-day respite from the chaos of the Vietnamese capital. You can get to the cooler area, where there are plenty of hiking trails and pretty scenery, by bus, motorbike, taxi or private car; here’s a little about how to do each.
Usually the cheapest option for getting to Tam Dao is to go by public bus, from Gia Lam bus station, but they only run as far as Vinh Yen, from where you’ll need to take a taxi or motorbike taxi the last 24-kilometre stretch.
If you want total flexibility, at relatively low cost, then go by motorbike (but remember you need a license to be legal and insured). Unfortunately, as is always the way when getting out of Hanoi, you have to battle through the pollution and crazy traffic before you reach any notable scenery or signs of serenity, but once you get off the highway it’s an enjoyable enough ride. Expect to be on the road for around three hours.
First head out of town on the dyke road — this is the main road that runs to the east of Old Quarter and keeps on going… Eventually you will reach the Thanh Long Bridge, which traverses the Red River. The route to get onto the bridge is a bit convoluted but follow motorbike (xe may) signs and you’ll be fine.
From the other side of the bridge, the most direct, but less pretty, route takes you almost all the way to Noi Bai International Airport on the main highway, then turns left onto another large road towards Vinh Yen. Turn right at the big roundabout as you enter Vinh Yen then continue onto the next large roundabout where you turn right again onto a peaceful yet wide road called Duong Tam Dao. From there you can see Tam Dao hill station and it’s an easy, signposted route.
For a more scenic ride, and if you’re feeling brave or have GPS, take the first turning that’s signposted Phuc Yen, shortly after Thang Long Bridge. From there, explore the back roads to make your way to Tam Dao. The last 10 kilometres or so of the journey is particularly scenic, although steep. If you’re heading up with a passenger, make sure your bike’s got a decent engine — or take good walking shoes. And expect it to take a while as you’ll want to stop for photos.
If motorbikes aren’t your thing, how about cycling? A good degree of fitness is essential, particularly for the last climb, but you’ll certainly deserve the cold beer at the end.
Given the distance from Hanoi, it’s also feasible to take a taxi without breaking the bank. A small Mai Linh will cost around 800,000 VND (US$40) each way — it’s not bad if there are a few of you, although a bigger taxi will hike the price up to over 1 million VND. If you’ve been practising your Vietnamese you might even be able to negotiate a stop off en route for a coffee or lunch.
If you want more flexibility and have a bigger budget, then consider hiring a car. A day trip will run to around US$60 and overnight US$80. Or organise a tour through an agent. Group tours aren’t common so you’ll need to arrange a private tour, but it’s a hassle-free alternative. Most travel agents and hotels will be able to help, although True Colour Tour comes recommended and I’ve successfully organised car hire with Golden Package Tour (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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