Dec 07 2012

Overnighting in Tam Dao

Published by at 9:08 am under Hanoi excursions

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.

Not recommended in winter.

Not recommended in winter.

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.

Su su and bananas -- a balanced diet.

Su su and bananas — a balanced diet.

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.

Yup, it's another 'View from Tam Dao' shot.

Yup, it’s another ‘view from Tam Dao’ shot.

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.

Rent a crowd night at the Mela Hotel.

Rent a crowd night at the Mela Hotel.

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.

Shabby chic?

Shabby chic?

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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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Overnighting in Tam Dao”

  1. Steve Scotton 07 Dec 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Having spent time in Tam Dao with an Earthwatch Institute research team studying butterflies, I wouldn’t recommend a visit there…..unless you want to hike in Tam Dao National Park. The village is a collection of gaudy 1 and 2 star hotels intended for Hanoians enjoying large amounts of alcohol and karaoke! The streets are filled with large and nasty loose dogs, the exotic game menu has probably been poached inside the National Park, and the locals are not at all friendly.
    Currently there is also a big controversy about the National Park supervisor and his business partner daughter evicting the Animals Asia Bear Rescue Center located in the park. This wonderful center will be evicted to make way for another tourist hotel…one which the park supervisor has a financial interest in!
    Check out for the latest on this horrid situation.
    Also check out a video I made about the Earthwatch project….which helped to stop some development inside the park. Travelfish is the only site to get this far off the beaten track and always a wonderful source of inside info on Vietnam Travel. How about doing a story about my group, Vets With a Mission and the medical work we do…..we will be working in Hong Ha, A Luoi and Hue City next June. The clinic in Hong Ha is a joint project (the VN government and VWAM) dedicated to an American helicopter pilot shot down and killed there during the war, and is a fine example of our motto…..reconciliation. In A Luoi we will be working with Ta Oi minority people (montagards) who are very, very poor…..this is in the area of the 1st Cav and still a “hot spot” for Agent Orange exposure. In Hue we will be working with handicapped kids….mostly Downs Syndrome….who sadly don’t have the help they need.
    Also….a better visit would be to Cuc Phuong National Park….large, good trekking, village home-stay, onsite primate and turtle rescue centers, quiet.
    Heres a blog post I did

  2. Sarah Turneron 10 Dec 2012 at 10:23 am

    I’m not going to argue that Tam Dao is a must visit destination, and in part agree with you that the town itself is “a collection of gaudy 1 and 2 star hotels intended for Hanoians enjoying large amounts of alcohol and karaoke.” – although nowadays there are more than just 1 and 2 star gaudy hotels. However, it is still an option as an escape from Hanoi for a day or night and offers an alternative Vietnamese experience. Regarding the controversy, I am in the middle of writing a feature about the issues at the Bear Rescue Centre and that will be posted here soon. I also covered Cuc Phuong National Park back in May and agree it is a more enjoyable trip than Tam Dao but it’s a lot further, so not so suitable for a short trip, and the weather is the same as in Hanoi. Thanks for the information about the work you’re doing – I’ll check it out.

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