A misty mountain getaway

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 The green forests in the Ba Vi mountain range create a cool and romantic atmosphere, and are rich in medicinal herbs

The road was narrow and winding steeply up the mountain. Sharp bends kept me gripping the motorbike, turning my knuckles white. It was getting steadily colder as I pushed my bike into second gear and continued the climb up Tan Vien Peak.

I was in the Ba Vi National Park, just an hour and half's drive from Hanoi's bustling downtown.

Spread across 7,377 hectares, Ba Vi National Park surrounds Ba Vi Mountain which boasts three peaks: the highest is Vua (King) Peak at 1,296 meters, followed by Tan Vien at 1,226 meters and Ngoc Hoa at 1,120 meters.

I had followed several other nature lovers driving up Tan Vien, perhaps because of its special place in Vietnamese mythology. The peak is said to be home to the Mountain God, Son Tinh, who helped defeat the Water God, Thuy Tinh, and save the land from natural disasters.

I had just driven 50 kilometers away from Hanoi, but it felt like a lifetime away. Gone were the busy streets, the honking and the calls of street vendors.

It was hard to keep my eyes focused on the meandering road. The landscape was circled by shadowy mountains, peaks playing peek-a-boo with clouds, and streams snaking through the valley below.

About 400 meters from the foot of Tan Vien, I stopped at the Ba Vi Resort for some drinks. In a manicured lawn packed with winter blooms, Dang Van Thanh, manager of the resort, urged us to explore the park on foot.

For years, Ba Vi National Park has been considered the lungs of Hanoi. I decided to abandon my pollutant-emitting bike for a walk in the woods with a local guide.

Our enthusiastic guide Hung pointed out several rare plants and birds as I ventured deeper into the forest. The Ba Vi National Park is home to more than 800 exotic plants. More than 100 bird species make the park a bird-watcher's paradise.

Hung said the forest is a significant source of income for the people of the Dao ethnic minority who use herbs from the forest to make medicines for local as well as foreign consumption.

Since it was the dry season, the emerald green lakes I had seen during my last visit three years ago were mostly dried up.

But there was something else missing too. I realized suddenly that the chatter of monkeys that had animated the forest earlier was conspicuously missing.

Hung said the monkeys had been chased away so they wouldn't trouble the visitors. It was sad because the monkeys had really added to the atmosphere of the forest.

Ba Vi was developed as a hill station by the French together with Sa Pa and Tam Dao in the North and Da Lat in the Central Highlands. Along with a 1,100 kilometer road, around 200 villas, a military training center and a church were built on the mountains.

After a two hour trek in the wilderness, I hopped back on my motorbike and continued the drive up the peak. The fog thickened as I climbed up the 1,200-meter mountain.

Upon arriving at the peak, the sun suddenly brightened, its rays slicing through the mist to reveal breathtaking scenery. It was only 2:30 p.m. and there was plenty of time to climb to two mountain top temples dedicated to Mountain God, or Saint Tan Vien, and Uncle Ho (the late President Ho Chi Minh).

Some might say winter is a harsh time to visit the mountains but the misty mountains of Ba Vi are a haven for the romantic and adventurous. If you have the luxury of time, spend a night at the Ba Vi resort. I wish I had.

HOW TO GET THERE

Visitors can easily get to the site by motorbike or car. Follow Thang Long Avenue and turn right to head toward Son Tay Town. The Ba Vi National Park is about 6 kilometers from Son Tay Town. For more information or for accommodations, contact Ba Vi Resort at (09) 9 274 0055/ (09) 8 871 4696.

Visitors can book a day or two-day one-night tour to Ba Vi National Park at: Kien Thanh Tourist, 2nd floor, 381 Truong Chinh Street, Hanoi. Tel: (04) 3 568 1252. Email: reservation@kienthanhtravel.com.

Ami Tour, 2A Tran Thanh Tong Street, Tel: (04) 3 987 6839, Hotline: (04) 2 240 2240 - 09394 88666 0904927888.

Email: info@amitour.com.vn, dulichami@gmail.com.

Website: www.amitour.com.vn.

Reported by Phong Lan

Tourists on a bike trip at Ba Vi National Park

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