Technically, not really in Hanoi, this post is about Tam Dao, where we spent the first weekend. We initially wanted to go to Sapa, but apparently that was crowded because there is a special promo for the place. Locals discouraged us to visit there, and suggested Tam Dao as an alternative.
Albeit smaller and with less to do than Sapa, we were happy to leave the hot dusty city for the highlands. Sapa is a hill station, I guess similar to the hill stations in Malaysia. Historically, I am not too sure how they came about (e.g. if the French used the hills as an escape from the heat of the lowlands). Still, if it is quiet (compared to Halong Bay, for example), and cooler than Hanoi, then I was looking forward to our weekend visit.
The driver of our rented car got a bit lost, I think. We took a superbly scenic route through the paddy fields of Vietnam. I am always intrigued by the graves in the middle of the paddy fields. Apparently, Vietnamese bury their nearest and dearest in the paddy fields for (if recall correctly) five years. Then they take them out and re-bury them elsewhere. This makes me think very differently about the rice I am eating…
We coursed through the countryside, with our driver stopping every now and then to ask how to get to Tam Dao. We passed by little villages and resorts by lakes, saw plenty of cows and goats and paddy fields, which gave us a glimpse of country life in Vietnam.
Finally, we were on the road to Tam Dao. As steep, winding and treacherous as the road up to Fraser’s Hill, except Fraser’s Hill is a one-way system. I always marvel at the skill of Vietnamese drivers!
The weather didn’t get much cooler on the way up, perhaps comparable to Janda Baik, Kuala Lumpur. According to my cousin (who lives here), Tam Dao isn’t that high up. Still the weather in the village near the peak was noticeably cooler, and the peaks at the top of the hill were narrow and sharper than the mountains in Malaysia. We had arrived!
Tam Dao is a quaint little village set on the slopes. The incline looks pretty steep as one looks down, so if you are prone to vertigo, stay away from the road edges. We stayed at Star Hotel, one of the larger inns in the village, facing a bunch of new buildings.
Actually, my impression is that Tam Dao has too much for what it offers. Even though we went on the weekend, I wouldn’t say the place is a hive of activity with a host of things to do. There is an old church and apparently jungle trails (none of which we took), some karaoke, a swimming pool and a market, and that’s about it.
Yet there seemed to be more inns and hotels (also homestays), cafes and restaurants, than the number of visitors. We kind of felt sorry for the cafe and restaurant proprietors as only one table at the most would be filled during meal times. The inn we were at seemed to only be using one floor, with the remainder empty. Another grouse – the amount of drilling and construction work on the new buildings!
Still, later in the evening, the weather turned much cooler. The old church is charming and just walking down the streets of Tam Dao was restful, compared to the chaos of the city. At midnight, fog rolled in swiftly and visibility was reduced. Then it rained! Heaven! The following morning was foggy and cool too.
It was a good getaway, and I can imagine if I were to live in Hanoi, it would be an easy escape. Would I come back next time? What are your thoughts?