With only 75$ Noi Bai Private Transfer will bring you to Tam Dao. Blessed as it is by such a favourable proximity to both mountains, national parks and sea, Hà Nội is rich in options for when city life gets a bit overwhelming and a retreat to nature is required. You could recharge your batteries in Sa Pa, although that would mean contending with gap year students out in droves trying to get a selfie with someone looking a bit “tribal”. You could unwind in Hạ Long Bay, if you can overcome the peeling white paint jobs burdening all the ships and increasingly worrying safety record. Or you could take a trip up Vieät Nam’s answer to the allegorical Stairway to Heaven…
A mere 85km north of Hà Nội lies Tam Ðảo, accessible only by a single road, the National Road 2B, a ribbon of automotive perfection which snakes and climbs around acres of lush green valleys. One of the best parts of visiting Tam Ðảo is the journey itself. The initial part takes you through quaint villages, where the children riding their bicycles to school (usually with two on each bike) point and shout “hello!” at the rare sight of a foreign face. Linking the towns are vast stretches of almost unused highway, where it’s not uncommon to be the only person around. On more than one occasion I stopped my motorbike to take a few photographs, and didn’t see anyone going past in either direction for five or ten minutes.
The second part of the journey is the reason you need to bring a good camera. Not long after turning off of the TL302, the road up to Tam Ðảo Town starts to climb. The higher you go, the better the views, and as you edge around various corners of the delicious mountain road, a whole new view reveals itself, calling out to be thrust into the spotlight of your Instagram account. Approaching the town, the road is swallowed up by forest and rows of tall trees create a canopy covering large swaths of the tarmac.
The town itself was established in 1907, and contains various relics left behind by French colonists. One of the most beautiful is the church, built by the French in 1937. Most of the surrounding buildings have long succumbed to their war-inflicted wounds, but the surviving church with its impressive stone tower is worth a visit and provides a calming view of the town below. Dotted around the town are various villas, some painted in bizarre colours that enhance the character of this peaceful mountain retreat. Many of the houses are adjacent to small plots of land, where locals grow vegetables.
Visiting the town also gives rise to the opportunity to try some of the local specialities. I was more than happy to take advantage of the freshness of the chayote here, or su su as it is locally known. The greens are best stir-fried with garlic, and make a perfect side dish to any meal. The locals are equally proud of the freshness of the meat, as most of the animals are free to roam – the “mountain chickens” are particularly fat, and a far cry from the caged battery farmed birds served up in most Ha Noi restaurants.
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