Dec 07 2012
While not a must-visit destination, if you’re not in a rush and are keen to explore less touristy spots in Vietnam, Tam Dao hill station is worth an overnight from Hanoi, especially to escape the capital’s summer heat. Here’s some advice on how to spend your time there.
Leave Hanoi after breakfast — by bus, bike or car — to get to Tam Dao in time for lunch. Places to eat and drink line the streets, so if you’re a fan of Vietnamese food you’ll be spoiled for choice. If you’re not a fan, simply grilled yet tasty meat is easy to find and the town is famous for its su su — a leafy green vegetable served boiled (luoc) or fried (xao) with garlic. Other specialties include deer, squirrel, porcupine and boar.
Check into your hotel and change into walking shoes — it’s all about walking in Tam Dao. Head along the main road up the hill until you reach a gate, where you’ll need to pay the guard 25,000 VND admission to continue; it’s a bit of a walk to get there, or on a motorbike it takes around 10 minutes. Once past the gate, you’ll begin about a two-hour walk through bamboo forest with the occasional 180-degree view of the forest below. The path can get muddy, but is well-signposted and you’re unlikely to come across anyone else, making it a peaceful and interesting walk.
For a shorter walk, visit the waterfall, near the Mela Hotel, or, in summer, spend the afternoon at the public swimming pool in the centre of town.
Tam Dao is not a place to go looking for a party – unless you’re a fan of Vietnamese karaoke, which seems to be very popular – but street food stalls selling delights including kebabs, baked eggs, chicken feet and corn run alongside the river, near the market, and are a good place to start, and maybe end, the night.
As the food on offer at the stalls is unlikely to satiate a hearty appetite, head to one of the many restaurants for some more meat and su su and, if you’re brave enough, some rice wine. Check out the rice wine variants at Kim Lien restaurant, near Gia Le Hotel – the grilled pork is highly recommended but the snake rice wine is not.
Next day, after breakfast at your hotel or a local restaurant, wander down to the market square to see vendors selling both to locals – meat and eggs – and tourists – rugs, scarves and the like. Enjoy a Vietnamese coffee at one of the cafes at the northern end of the public pool; expect to pay 10,000 VND for a strong cafe sua (coffee with milk).
Explore the rest of the town. Despite recent development, many interesting buildings remain. They may be rundown and shabby, but that somehow adds to their appeal.
Consider a stop at Tay Thien Pagoda, sometimes called the birth place of Vietnamese Buddhism, and home to some wonderful mountain pagodas, on the way back to Hanoi if you have time.
As for when to go, at 920 metres above sea level, the weather in Tam Dao is far cooler than in Hanoi, so it’s a pleasant respite from the heat in the summer but in the winter you’ll need to wrap up, particularly in the evenings. On the positive side, despite the cold, the weather in winter is lovely, with blue skies and low humidity.
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