A full moon lights the way as Hanoi’s high-speed local #74 bus briefly slows for a few seconds when entering the town of Xuan Khanh. Several passengers jump out into the shadows of the Ba Vi mountain range. A ghostly fog creeps through the dense forest. Far off in the darkness, a hungry dog growls. Despite the at time spooky appearance, the phantoms of Ba Vi offer a pleasant mountain retreat about 50 kilometers away from the crowds Hanoi.
As the “green lung of Hanoi,” the region is both an ecological wonderland and gateway to the past. Throughout the lush interior of the Ba Vi National Park, reminders of Vietnam’s revolutionary, colonial and mythic ages are cloaked in a primeval jungle. While obviously a little chilly in the winter months, Ba Vi remains a popular year-round destination for Hanoians seeking a nearby mountain retreat.
Only two hours away by bus from the My Dinh station and a brisk hour away by motorbike, the National Park provides travelers with sweeping, misty landscapes with plenty of trekking and birdwatching opportunities. More than 100 species of rare plants and over a hundred bird species reside in the park. However, the best way to witness most of Ba Vi’s biodiversity and peer into Vietnam’s past, is on a motorbike drifting on a leafy, highland road.
Spanning more 10,000 hectares of steep terrain, a motorbike allows travelers to easily access the remote corners of the region. While the many inclines and unkempt roads might be a challenge to novice bikers, the backwood paths lead to breathtaking views over Hanoi.
For cheap lodging and motorbikes, check out the Ba Vi Homestead. The lodging is priced at 375,000 VND per night and 150,000 VND per day for motorbike rental. Five minutes away from the entrance of the National Park, the Ba Vi Homestead is an ideal location to explore the mountain range’s majestic setting.
Above a copper statue depicting the famous revolutionary is a memorable quote by Ho Chi Minh written in Vietnamese: “Nothing is more important than independence and freedom.”
Those seeking more luxurious digs would do well to seek out Melia Ba Vi Mountain Resort. Rooms start at around 2 million VND here, but the facilities are peerless, virtually everywhere offering panoramic views of the Northern Delta. There is also two superb restaurants offering exquisite western and Vietnamese food, as well as the 1902 Lobby Lounge, a chic colonial style bar serving a range of expertly made cocktails.
Once a French hill station, the present-day Ba Vi region possess crumbling relics such as a prison, an orphanage and a cathedral. These eerie ruins offer a haunting photo opportunity, capturing nature’s slow consumption of former colonial powers. Large roots split through a stone floor as thick vines strangle collapsing walls. Moss blankets an empty, unused trough. A cool, mountain mist engulfs the bygone surroundings, as if Vietnam’s natural beauty is reclaiming itself.
The ghosts of Vietnam’s colonial era, neighbor other woodland spirits. According to Vietnamese mythology the Immortal Son Tinh, who fought against foreign invaders and disaster, hails from Ba Vi. The Thuong Temple, dedicated to the mountain god, rests on the peaks of Tan Vien. The sacred, moss-covered site is a beloved place of worship. Many Vietnamese families often make a pilgrimage to the temple, praying for wealth, love and good fortune.
On the nearby King High Peak, disciples of Ho Chi Minh find solace at the Uncle Ho Temple. Built in 1999, the temple is accessible after traversing more than 1,320 steps up the 1,296 meter mountain. While a steep trek, recordings of Vietnamese songs praising Ho Chi Minh echo through the forest, giving the sometimes eerie excursion a cheery soundtrack.
The temple also provides a history of Ho Chi Minh’s fight against French and American colonialism. Above a copper statue depicting the famous revolutionary is a memorable quote by Ho Chi Minh written in Vietnamese: “Nothing is more important than independence and freedom.” In accordance with his burial request, some of Ho Chi Minh’s ashes were spread across King High Peak, leaving his spirit to forever watch over Hanoi.
“Ba Vi is quiet and has very nice views,” she says. “Also, we could kiss each other without the gaze of other people.”
The hauntingly romantic Ba Vi region is a delight for young lovers from the cramped, capital city. Many spend a few hours here, simply to escape the watchful eyes of Hanoi’s conservative older generation. Hanoi resident Phuong Thuy Le recounts such travels with a former boyfriend.
“Hanoi is too crowded. Everyone is rushing so it is very difficult to enjoy romantic moments,” Phuong says. “[Thankfully], Ba Vi is a big park with few people and a lot of privacy.”
Not only a mountainous region, Ba Vi includes a pastoral countryside, sporting many dairy farms and plantations. Phuong reminisces about a picnic date in the vast fields, where in a nearby stream, curious fish nibbled her soaking toes. “Ba Vi is quiet and has very nice views,” she says. “Also, we could kiss each other without the gaze of other people.”
The unwritten tale of Ba Vi is both a love story and a ghost story. A weekend can be spent in nature, in the presence of Vietnam’s various gods, heroes and spirits. Even for a brief afternoon, adventurous romantics can get lost together in wild thickets; no eyes to watch them except for a congregation of ancient phantoms, hiding in the mountain mist.