Conquering Karioke mountain

Tam Dao Travel Blog

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MMMmmm Squyrril..........

Ohhh the joy of night trains. We were lulled to sleep by the sound of slamming doors and the dry gurggle of people hucking up lumps of phlegm. Occassionally our slumber would be disturbed by a women violonelty opening the doors trying to sell fruit, as if we would want an apple at 2am! We got into Hanoi at 4am and got into a taxi to Kim Ma bus station. Our Taxi driver had confidently nodded his head when we declared our destination, but after a few minites it was apparent he was lost, we drove around the deserted Kim Ma district and when I pointed out the bus station on the map I had in my bag for occassions such as this (complete with a bus logo on it) we still drove around in circles.

Lovely wine
We resorted to playing pictogram, trying at 4:30am but it was no good, purely by chance we drove past the station and we got the driver to stop. The station was deserted and we waited in the dark in the eerily quite streets with our lonely planet guidebook clutched in our hands, the book outlined our journey stating we could get to our destination by starting off at Kim Ma. Luckily we met a really nice teacher and she spoke some English. I thought it best to enquire about the bus and she asked around and got confused looks, we couldnt get a bus from here, bloody lonely planet had lead us up the wrong path again, not only is it full of misinformation but it also makes the planet less lonely!

Luckily the teacher found out where we could get a bus from and we were going to the same place so it was only a minor delay.

Potatoe frog
We were soon on the bus to Vinh Yen and we were treated with a video of rambo, the guts and blood was a bit much for 6am but the toddlers LOVED it. At Vinh Yen we took a taxi to Tam Dao national park. Our driver was crazy and jabbered on in Vietnamese to us at 100 miles an hour unbothered by our lack of reply. The road snaked up the mountain side through picturesque pine forest before entering montain rainforest, it was beautiful, untill we saw the town of Tam Dao, not the most attractive place. Huge delapidated concrete hotels dominated the mountainside ironically named things like lucky paradise and the green world.
Relaxing bear
We found our hotel a bit grimey but sufficeint for a night. After the long journey we had a power nap. We were rudely awakened by the sound of base and the slow mournful wail of an animal being slaughtered, KARIOKE! what at first was funny rapidly became unfunny and we soon realised we were sandwiched between two atrocious karioke bars.

Once we were up we decided to explore. We first needed to satisfy the rumble in our stomachs and made our way to one of the local restaraunts. The guideboook did say the food in Tam Dao was poor and credit where credit is due it was correct - for once. The menu resembled a recipe for a witches brew with sauted porcupine, casseroled fox and my favourate grilled sqwyrill! Tam Dao, once a naturalists paradise is now claimed to be one of the top five worst palces in Asia to see wildlife, no suprise as its all on the menu.

fighting bear!
Vietnam is crazy nearly every other shop contains some form of animal part whether it be part of an antelope or deer skull proudly nailed to the wall or bottles of snake wine with the giant geckos, scorpions and cobras arranged lovingly, the grimaces on the face of these animals was enough to put me well off. Other shops had badly stuffed animals for sale, our favourite were the mangy stuffed flying squirrels, teeth barred their arms held out in an obscene gesture somewhat resembling flight! Animal penises lay drying in the sun and Suz and I spent a happy half hour discussing which animal they came from, we didnt come to a conclusion and it was prbably for the best. Needless to say we didnt sample the wildlife from the national park, we settled for an egg.

Next stop was to be the highlight, the climb up the mounatin trail to a radio tower. I had been told that this would be a streamside stroll through some nice forest and good for bird watching, well the stream was dry, the path littered with rubbish, the 1000s of steps torture and the only bird we saw was a dead one bizzarrely wedged under a rock. Tam dao appeared to be party town (judging from the karioke bars) and more and more buses bringing university students from Hanoi were arriving by the minute. We passed hundreds of students climbing back down the mountain, they were really friendly and we said hello to nearly everyone of them, We were asked to pose for photos with some and others snapped us with telephoto lenses from afar, it was a bit daunting and I had to contain the urge to mooney them. The tranquility was marred by the booming karioke and screams from raucus drinking games echoing of the mountain slopes, not the mountain escape we had anticipated.

We finally climbed through a really nice bit of forest and began to enjoy the location untill we came to the sumit. A huge monstrous concrete and wrought iron radio tower blighted the mountain reaching up into the clouds, it was soooooo ugly yet scores of people posed in front of it ''one for the mantle piece'' suzan said under her breath. This juxtaposition is common across Vietnam although it still takes us by suprise, radio towers spoil mountain vistas, concrete factories crowd national parks and power stations dominate forested hill sides.  We climbed down and befriended a group of students who invited us to a party.

After dinner (fried potatoe), we prepared to go out into the forest and see if we could spot at least some wildlife. We had found one small stream and we spent half an hour photographing the few frogs we found there. On the way back to the hotel we heard loud quacks coming from a gulley. I scrambled down the litter filled slopes and into the stream, passing a stinking dead snake on the way. We found huge fat frogs calling from rocky crevices in the stream, they resembled the potatoes we had been eating earlier. They were really cool and I was well chuffed. Tam Dao wasnt so bad after all. The karioke had not abated and we tried to sleep but for some reason our room started to smell of sewage, not pleasant.

We checked out the following morning and took a taxi down the mountain to a bear resue center run by animals asia. We met with Chinh who was a great guide. He showed us round the amazing center with huge outdoor enclosures, vet facilities, quarantine, herbal gardens and most importantly showed us the bears. The center is home to two speacies of bear Sun bears and moon bears (moon bears are Asiatic black bears but called moon bears over here due to the crescent shaped white marking they have on their chests). All the bears looked healthy and snuffled through the grass, rolled logs, lounged in ponds and tussled playfully with each other. Who could believe that all of these animals have a sad past. They were all resuced from bear farms where they are kept in crates they can only just turn around in, they are fed gruel and once a month would have been drugged with ketamin, legs spread eagled and tied with ropes, an ultrasound used to find the gall bladder and a 4 inch needle used to extract the bile, worth $100 per cc. Many of the bears die due to infections as facilities are hardly state of the art and much of the bile is contaminated with puss and bacteria. The bears have broken or fractured teeth from gnawing at the bars and many have missing limbs from the snare traps they are caught in. The bear farm industry is illegal but roughly 3000 bears remain in farms in Vietnam alone. The center provides a safe retirment for these poor creatures who couldnt go back into the wild as there is no safe place to put them, many of the bears could not cope. The center has special units for blind and deaf bears or for those that cant be mixed with others. It provides education for school  kids and any other interested party and promotes herbal alternatives to bear bile, I must say it brought out the bunny hugger in me!

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MMMmmm Squyrril..........
MMMmmm Squyrril..........
Lovely wine
Lovely wine
Potatoe frog
Potatoe frog
Relaxing bear
Relaxing bear
fighting bear!
fighting bear!
Tam Dao
photo by: ben_suz