PHOTOS: TRAN NGUYEN NHU MINH
At the beginning of the 19th century, the French colonialists built a town at the height of some 1,000 meters above sea level on the Tam Dao Mountain Range in the northern province of Vinh Phuc.
In 1940 it was a mountainous town boasting 145 houses and villas with various architecture styles.
These extravagant and luxurious buildings, however, are all gone now.
But, Tam Dao, which is some 80 kilometers from Hanoi, has developed into a popular resort that people love to take a break in, blessed as it is clean air and temperatures ranging from a cool 18oC to 25oC.
The town is not just a place to chill out.
Those keen on some strenuous outdoor activities can climb nearly 1,400 stone steps to reach a 100-meter high television tower on top of Thien Thi Mountain. The way is graced with a lot of flowers of different colors and fragrances.
For a less exhausting outing, you can climb 200 steps to visit the temple of Ba Chua Thuong Ngan – the Vietnamese goddess of forests and mountains.
The temple, believed to be built at the beginning of the 20th century, hosts chau van (a traditional northern folk art combining singing and dancing in trance) and hau dong (a mediumship ritual) performances on every 15th day of the lunar month, as also during various festivals.
Rung Rinh Mountain, or Phu Nghia, which is some 20 kilometers from the town’s center, is a trekkers’ delight.
At its top, over 1,200 meters above the sea level, is a primeval forest with a rich plant community, including orchid trees with massive trunks.
On the other hand, tourists who love to have a lazy vacation can make do with a visit to a 50-meter high waterfall known as Thac Bac, located in a valley next to the town’s central market.
A stone stairway that is not long but quite steep leads to the waterfall that starts from a mountain slit and is surrounded by big trees and cliffs as well as chirping sounds of birds.
Tam Dao Church, a stone gothic-styled work situated in the town’s center against a background of a pine forest and a mountain is another site worth visiting.
The church was built in 1906 with wood and a thatched-roof, but in 1937 it was rebuilt with stones and bricks. It is located on a height of five meters and is accessed by two stairways at its front and its back.
The church includes a main building that is 12 meters wide and 22 meters long, and on the building’s left is an 18-meter high bell tower.
Land of chayote
| GETTING THERE
From Hanoi, it takes about two hours to reach Tam Dao Town by road.
Go along Bac Thang Long Street and head to the Noi Bai International Airport.
About two kilometers from the airport, turn left to National Road No.2.
After about 20 kilometers on this road, you reach Vinh Yen Town, Vinh Phuc Province.
Turn right on National Road 2B and go along the road for some 21 kilometers to reach Tam Dao.
Every day two buses leave Hanoi for Tam Dao at 6:30 a.m. from 32 Nguyen Cong Tru Street, Hai Ba Trung District, and at 7 a.m. from 122 Xuan Thuy Street, Cau Giay District.
Tickets can be bought on site.
Price: VND180,000 ($8.4) for a round trip ticket.
The buses leave Tam Dao for Hanoi at 3-4 p.m. every day.
With chayote vines present practically everywhere, from big yards to frames in front of houses and even tile floors of abandoned villas, Tam Dao is undoubtedly the land of the climbing plant.
Chayote shoots, leaves and fruits are cooked to make food. The shoots and leaves are stir-fried with garlic, chicken, beef or chicken innards; the fruit is boiled and eaten with salt roasted with sesame seeds.
Since no chemicals are used to grow this plant, the chayote is totally clean.
Tourists can enjoy the specialty at local eateries where a dish of cooked chayote shoots is priced VND15,000-20,000 (70-93 cents).
Another not-to-be-missed specialty in Tam Dao is banh quan – a thin rice pancake that looks like the popular banh cuon (rice rolled cake) but has minced pork and mushroom mixed in its flour before being steamed.
The cake can be eaten with a variety of other dishes like chicken soup, scrambled egg, and boiled pork.
But, the most-recommended option is lon doi nuong (grilled backyard pork). The meat comes from boars that were first domesticated and raised in cages in forest by Tam Dao residents a few years ago. Since the pigs eat only wild vegetables, their meat is lean.
The grilled pork is served in bowls of sauce made from with fish sauce cooked with vinegar and sugar.
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