Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day 9 – The Tam Dao National Park

Meandering through the country I have come a long way from the beaten path. I have not seen another non-Asian tourist for nearly a week, and my arrival to any town causes sensation among mothers, who make a point of calling their children’s attention to me, either to show them that Santa Claus really exists, or to bring home the notion of the dreaded Boogie Man. It is not a bad feeling, since everyone goes out of his or her way to welcome me.
Today this feeling was stronger than ever, as I headed toward the Tam Dao Mountains, a steep block of metamorphic rocks that juts up from the flatlands of the delta to an elevation of several thousand feet. My brave little motorcycle (a Honda Future, semi-automatic, and only 125 cc) labored up the steep mountain path, which reminded me of the climb to Paso de Cortés in Mexico, or the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. Not a soul was in sight.
Finally I made it close to the top, in the midst of magnificent trees and luxurious undergrowth, when the small town of Tam Dao came into view. I was not ready for the sight that met my eyes. In a development worthy of Zermatt or Chamonix I saw a beautiful mountain town dominated by tall and elegant hotels. Some clearly belong to the time of French Indochina, but many more were of quite recent construction, and all of them welcomed the tourist with open arms. The only problem is that I was the only tourist in the whole town!
There were several dozen restaurants waiting for my pleasure, and had I been in the mood I could have shopped for a room for hours on end (as it is I tend to make up my mind immediately, so in less than 15 minutes I had secured a comfortable room with a balcony). I then went for a long walk through the town, never completely casting off the eerie feeling that I was walking the set of a Hitchcock movie. I think that this is a very popular destination for domestic tourism during the summer, when the lowlands become very hot. For winter, however, it is too cold for the average Vietnamese family (but not cold enough to get snow).
Unfortunately there is not a lot to do, because the forest undergrowth is too dense, and I could not found any open paths to go into the mountain. I had to be content with walking the town, and with climbing a lot of steps to a rather handsome temple complex with beautiful marble statues. The rest of the afternoon I spent sitting in my balcony, reading a book and enjoying the view. But I could just not shake the creepy feeling that I was the only actor in an empty movie set.

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