Tam Dao Travel Guide

At an altitude of over 1,000m, Tam Dao was once home to over 200 French villas, a collection of hotels and restaurants, a swimming pool and even a dance auditorium all coming together to form northern Vietnam's first hill station and health spa. Today, while the pool may be empty and the 1920's ball gowns off the scene, Tam Dao retains an element of charm and a welcome respite from the oft-well heated plains below, over which Tam Dao offers some splendid views.

The area offers some easy hiking in and around its tree-covered summit, and while some of the trails tend to see more goats than backpack-wielding tourists, the hill station is popular with Vietnamese tourists, so weekends can be busy -- if you want the place to yourself, try for a weekday jaunt.

The national park itself is a cool pine forest with walking trails leading off on numerous hikes around its crown. Hiking trips can be organised from hotels with local guides up to the three peaks. Recent reports suggest that wildlife is returning to the area after long periods of depletion due to slash and burn farming and hunting. Notably, the hawk and white collar crow, previously thought to be extinct, are now literally flocking to the park. Larger wildlife such as deer, boar and weasel have appeared again though the chances of seeing them while hiking are extremely slim.

To satisfy the hordes of domestic tourists, who largely come for the cooler climate and blaring karaoke, there's a reasonable amount of development and construction going on -- when this will settle down remains unclear.

Most of Tam Dao was destroyed by the Viet Minh in their war with the French but you can still see a few relics of the French presence here, including the empty pool and a few of the more dilapidated villas. But the villas are all going the way of the dodo and their more modern replacements are far from charming.

Best described as a half fishbowl wedged onto a hilltop, Tam Dao Hill Station backs onto a large pine forest. The centre of town is marked by the park, with the com pho places and the large hotels behind it.

Sitting over the drop onto the plains sits a decrepit, rundown hotel, from the roof of which a splendid view can be enjoyed of the plains below. As you sit there, you can imagine the balls and parties that would have been held on this rooftop back when the French still ran the place.

A new golf course and villa complex is being built on the road up to Tam Dao's peak. At present it offers nine holes with plans to complete the other nine before October 2006. It represents quite a spectacle contrasting bright pitch perfect lawns and greens with the hills overlooking the course. Conical hatted caddies can accompany you as you putt around the course and although incomplete it offers some fantastic golf for enthusiasts eager to hit a small white ball away from themselves. Final plans for the resort include a professional pro shop, resort-style hotel, villas, restaurants and shops.