Ba Na Mountain in the central city of Da Nang offers more than an escape from the summer heat
The world's longest non-stop cable car route offers spectacular panoramic views
Ba Na's recent claim to fame is two entries in the Guinness Book of World Records, for the longest (5,042m - 16,545ft) and highest non-stop cable car system (1291.81m - 4,239ft above sea level), but what lingers in the mind is not the technological feat, but a sense of rediscovery.
Located in the Truong Son mountain range, Ba Na in Hoa Vang District was "discovered" in 1901 by the French colonialists with their predilection for building high quality resorts to pamper high ranking civil servants and military officials.
The temperate climate, unspoiled forest, and spectacular views of the sea and mountains made it an irresistible location, and many French officers chose to build their own villas here. Historical documents show Ba Na, 46 kilometers southwest of Da Nang, soon became a French town with a main road to the mountain peak, private houses and villas. By the late 1940s there were several hotels, a stadium, a market, a medical station, an opera house, security and police stations, and not to mention more than 200 private villas.
After the 1945 August Revolution forced the French to withdraw from Vietnam, Ba Na was relegated to relative obscurity as Vietnam became embroiled in a long struggle for freedom against the French and the Americans.
Ba Na today
Considering that there is still just the single, long winding road that requires strong engines and brave minds, not to mention hours of patience, the cable car system seems a boon. It carries visitors from the foot to the top of the mountain in about 20 minutes, and as befits the world record holder, it offers breathtaking views of the lush jungle and waterfalls along the way.
Watching the Ba Na Mountains from high above is an experience in itself, but there is more to offer. Newly-built French-style hotels including Hoang Gia, Le Nim, or Morin offer super comfortable accommodation, and there are trekking tours to explore the mountain.
Specifically, five routes designed for tourists wind their way through thick forests, springs and waterfalls, and many vestiges of French colonial constructions.
After checking into the Morin Hotel that afternoon, we followed a short trail from the Ba Na By Night Resort to explore the forest, ancient mansions and listen to the laughing thrush. Sport shoes, some leech repellant and raincoats were strongly advised.
"In summer, Ba Na has four seasons in a single day," Hue, a young guide, told us. "In the afternoon, the weather is like autumn and it may rain at any time."
The sun was still bright, but the dense forest made the only narrow path dark very quickly, and our steps quickened without any further prompting. At some parts along the way, however, the sun suddenly appeared through the leafy canopy, as though the scenery was playing peek-a-boo.
The old fir trees and ferns that were several dozen meters tall evoked awe as only nature can.
Some mossy terraces led us to the vestiges of old French mansions, also covered with moss. We easily conquered the 800m trail in about 30 minutes and were rewarded by the beautiful sight of Ba Na By Night Resort with its Meditation Garden, the Lavande Hotel, and many small paths covered with colorful flowers.
Our guide told us that the graceful ball-like flower, hydrangea, or cam tu cau in Vietnamese, which was all over the place, was often referred to as a symbol of Ba Na.
Hue whetted our appetite for the place further. Tomorrow, she said, she would take us on the longer trail (3km) to the Thung lung Vang (Golden Valley).
"You will see vestiges of some old gold mines and learn about the lives of miners who worked there decades ago," she said. "You will see beautiful natural scenery with waterfalls, flowers, and creeks. Let's return and prepare for tomorrow."
We couldn't wait.
For more information on tours or accommodation on Ba Na, contact Ba Na Hills Resort, An Son Hamlet, Hoa Ninh Ward, Hoa Vang District, Da Nang City, tel: (0511) 379 1999 or 379 1791, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.banahills.com.vn