Ha Noi

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IDD Code:(+84) 211
'La Cascade d'Argent' (Silver Waterfall) to the French, and Thac Bac to the Vietnamese, Tam Dao Hill Station was a popular place of escape from the heat of the Red River Delta. Founded in 1907 by the French, most of the grand old colonial villas were destroyed during the Franco-Viet Minh War in the 1950s and the ruins have since been replaced by Soviet-inspired, concrete-box architecture. A somewhat belated effort to restore some of the colonial villas is now under way. Hanoi residents sometimes call Tam Dao 'the Dalat of the north’. This has more to do with its high elevation and cool climate than any resemblance to Dalat. If you're living in Hanoi and would like to find a summer weekend retreat, it's worth heading up for the cool weather and a change of pace. However, unless you plan to do some serious hiking or bird-watching, there really isn't that much to see and do here. Tam Dao National Park was designated in 1996 and covers much of the area. Tam Dao means Three islands', and the three summits of Tam Dao Mountain, all about 1400m in height, are sometimes visible to the northeast of the hill station, floating like islands in the mist. The relative dampness and altitude makes the area particularly rich in rainforest and associated animals. There are at least 64 mammal species, including langurs, and 239 bird species in the park, but you'll need a good local guide and be prepared to do some hiking to find them. Illegal hunting remains a big problem. Remember that it is cool up in Tain Dao and that this part of Vietnam has a distinct winter. Don't be caught unprepared. Hikes vary from half an hour return to the waterfall, to eight hours into primary rainforest. A guide is essential for the longer treks and can be hired from 50,000d; ask about these at the Mela Hotel (right). The best time to visit is between late April and mid-October, when the mist sometimes lifts and the weather can be fine. As with other popular sites in Vietnam, weekends can be packed with Vietnamese tour groups, so try to make your visit during the week if possible. The new Tam Dao Golf and Resort is causing quite a stir in the capital. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the 'Three Islands', membership starts at a hefty US$13,000 or you can swing your club for just US$30 during the week.
Sleeping & Eating
There's a host of hotels and guesthouses in Tam Dao. The town is easy to navigate, so look around, negotiate and watch out for neigh¬bouring karaoke bars.
Huong Lien Hotel (tell: 824 282; r 150,000d) One of the cheaper hotels amid the misty mountains, it's a family run place with clean rooms.
Green World Hotel (tell: 824 315; r 180,000-350.000d) The biggest hotel in town, if Tam Dao can be called a town, it has all wood furnishings, sparkling bathrooms and balconies,
Mela Hotel (tell /'fax 824 352; r US$45-65) This is a favoured haunt for Hanoi expats looking to escape for the weekend. The most stylish hotel in town, the rooms are seriously smart and the roaring fire downstairs is inviting on a chilly night. There are hotel restaurants galore and several rows of com pho (rice-noodle soup) places in town. Try to avoid eating the local wildlife.
Getting There & Away
Tarn Dao is 85km northwest of Hanoi in Vinh Phuc province. Buses run from Kirn Ma bus station in Hanoi to Vinh Yen (20,000d, one hour). From there you can hire a motorbike (about 50,000d one way) to travel the 24km single-lane road that leads So the national park. Hiring a car and driver (or the day from Hanoi will cost about USS50. If you rent a motorbike in Hanoi, the Journey time is about two hours, and the last part of the ride into the park is beautiful.