Xin chào tù Việt Nam,
Here’s an unreserved recommendation – from both of us – for a possible tourist destination: Bạch Mã National Park. Linda jagged this destination when she was selecting places on spec, when she admittedly “didn’t have any idea what [she] was doing” when filling up our itinerary. And we’ve stumbled upon a gem. (There are probably dozens of these hidden gems in Việt Nam.)
Bạch Mã is a densely vegetated mountain, 1450 metres above sea level, overlooking the South China Sea near Đà Nẵng. During the 1930s, the French colonisers built more than a hundred villas high on the mountain. Correction: the French colonisers had hundreds of coolies build the villas, along with the concrete road up the steep mountain and all of the other infrastructure, including thousands of steps down to the waterfalls and lakes.
The French masters, along with some of the locals granted status in the feudal system imposed by the French, holidayed or lived permanently up here in amid the rainforest. (Such privileged locals were native governors and some of their staff. They all took orders from the local French ruler known as the ‘Resident Superior’.) Their mode of transport up the mountain was sedan chairs. These were cushioned seats within wooden crates in which the holidaymakers would sit and be carried by four coolies, struggling in the tropical heat for five hours all the way up the steep hill from sea level. It makes one wonder what kind of deeply-ingrained racist streak would impel those individuals to treat their fellow men with such imperial disdain.
Bạch Mã offers a commanding view over the coastline. So, during wartime it afforded great strategic value. It stands very close to the infamous 17th parallel.
It was the French who signed a treaty with Japan which allowed the Japanese to station troops in the French colony so this area was occupied by the Japanese between 1941 and the end of World War 2. Later, during the American War – from 1966 – the Americans established an operational base, including heliport, at the summit. From there, they had control over the National Route 1, the railway link between north and south, the coastline and part of the South China Sea. Both Huế Airport and Đà Nẵng Airport are also visible from the summit.
After falling into long-term disuse, the villas are gradually being renovated for tourist use. In fact, the Bạch Mã National Park was gazetted in 1991 and the villas now attract visitors seeking to escape the muggy heat and enjoy the lush vegetation, the pristine waterways, the magnificent waterfalls and the spectacular views.
Please don’t expect luxury hotels.
The promotional blurb read, “Please don’t expect luxury hotels, karaoke rooms or souvenirs made from wild animals”. Linda regarded the built section as the renovator’s delight, envisioning the finished product with full occupancy, thereby proving that the profit motive is not the only driver of enterprise. She even considered, for a fleeting moment, my flippant suggestion that we buy the resort and spend six months here and six months in Australia. “I could have so much fun here,” she lamented wistfully.
The villas on Bạch Mã are a great destination. They have undergone a metamorphosis: from the privilege of the few to the estate of the nation. We’ll definitely be back here, especially since we don’t need the karaoke or the souvenirs made from wild animals. Prospective visitors to Việt Nam, put Bạch Mã on your list.
Hẹn gặp lại tù Bạch Mã