Monday, January 11, 2010

Tam Dao

Shortly after the New Year begun I got a chance to go up the mountains just north of the city. A good friend of mine designed and built a beautiful house set into the hillside of this Hanoian mountain retreat and a few of us motorbiked up to get some mountain air, to start the New Year off on a good note.

Leading this small pack is Duc-bar owner, artist, art patron, journalist and business consultant. Born in South Vietnam, he spent his formative years in Danang and Hue, eventually immigrating to the US. After 16 years there and 16 years traveling the world as a reporter he finally made it back to Vietnam three years ago. This time for good. I'm riding tandem with him and it is to his house that we are visiting.

The other friend riding along side is Frank-Asian bureau chief of AFP, currently visiting from Tokyo where he and his Vietnamese wife and son reside after having have lived here for three years. And because he's lived here in the north, like many of us,  he loves to tour the countryside on motorbikes. His choice is a Bellarussian stalwart Minsk.

Duc on the other hand has a beast of a Russian bike made by a company called Ural. Here they are. Don't they look like a couple of Hell's Angels? LA Rubbies, rich-urban-bikers, wished they looked this cool!

Tam Dao is about 90 kilometers north of Hanoi and it sits almost at 3,000 feet. In the summer it offers quite a respite from the heat in the valley and Duc chose this location for exactly that reason. A couple years ago he bought a piece of land and built a great place where he can come to rest and be inspired. Let's just say he did a really good job. Frank and I were truly inspired.

The property looks down a valley towards the south. Since it's currently winter the hillsides were intermittently shrouded in clouds and blustered by a cool wind. Inside, the house is spaciously designed like a New York loft, but just beyond the floor to ceiling wall of glass you step into a pool with an infinite edge. I'm sure it's great during the hot summer days but I was really glad that inside the big room he had a fireplace. Here we sat getting warm, getting used to the silence and getting Hanoi out of our minds.

Behind the main room is a subterranean courtyard, complete with a koi pond and fire pit. While we waited for another friend, Duc ordered a chicken and we did what men do best. We roasted the chicken in the fire pit, having it as a late lunch/early dinner.

A couple of phone calls and a couple of hours later Dutch arrived on his bike after having ridden 11 hours. Dutch, as David is known, has spent many a days traveling up down the roads of northern Vietnam. A constant traveler, he only works enough so that he can travel. And being based out of Bangkok as an information system consultant, he comes to Vietnam regularly. I was amazed about how much he new of this country and got some great tips on where else I can go to explore.

So the rest of the night and the next day we spent talking about trips taken and places still to visit. Duc expressed that he's finally found a place to call home for a while. Frank is trying to make his way back, saying he is working way too hard and missing Vietnam tremendously. Dutch said all he has to do is check his email when he's back in Hanoi to know if he can stay "in country" a while longer. As for me, if my first days are spent with great friends in a great place like this getting all kinds of special inspirations, I know it's going to be a great year.

Here's a video I shot of our experience.

Tam Dao from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.
For more about Duc's place, check out this New York Times article.


  1. Nice campsite! Where can I book reservation? :)

  2. Actually, Duc does rent out to artists in residence. So, you too can stay there if you promise to do some art while you're visiting!