HIDDEN AWAY: An old church on Cote 800, a popular stop for photos. Photo courtesy of Melia Hotel International
Spread out over more than 10,000ha, Ba Vì National Park, which is 60km to the west of Hà Nội’s city centre, offers amazing biodiversity, luxurious and eco-friendly tourist resorts, a selection of mysterious French architecture, and so much more.
Some 200 relics of French colonial buildings from a century ago have now become wonders for trekkers to discover.
Tree roots engulfing the ruined architecture creates a mystical scene. Some parts of the buildings remain intact, revealing the French architectural style in their stairs, floors, pillars, and walls.
While many villas and mansions of French officials were destroyed during wartime, many have been preserved and are interesting detours for visitors.
From Height 600m to Height 700m, a buggy tour delivers tourists to French relics hidden deep inside the jungle, including a church, a cannon emplacement, a ladies’ camp, a mansion of an army colonel, and other villas scattered nearby the modern Melia Ba Vì Mountain Retreat, which was built on the foundations of an old French resort.
The Melia has a unique location amid the natural beauty of Ba Vì Mountain Range, blending a perfect fusion of French colonial architecture and the traditional architecture of Việt Nam’s northern region.
Trekkers can discover various routes through the forests, such as the one traversing Ngọc Hoa Stream and bamboo forest.
Wild sunflowers, or dã quỳ, are scattered around from October to November. A rose myrtle species from Thailand blooms from the beginning of summer, with its purple colour representing love and loyalty. Meanwhile, golden shower trees bloom in early summer, giving tourists some great photos.
A conference on making the most use of the French architecture relics on Ba Vì Mountain was held recently in Hà Nội, with the aim of acknowledging the cultural and historical value of the remnants and identifying how to revive this “sleeping beauty” and develop the site in a sustainable manner.
Initiated by the Việt Nam Association of Architects (VNAA) in co-operation with Melia Hotels International Group, the conference took place in early September in Hà Nội, gathering together 150 Vietnamese and foreign experts in architecture, culture, preservation, art, history, and tourism.
Many documents regarding the resort town built by the French on Height 400m, Height 600m, and Height 1,000m were revealed for the first time at the conference. These are evidence of harmony between Eastern and Western cultures, between the French lifestyle and local natural spaces.
“Anyone who visits the French relics on Ba Vì Mountain will realise that the town should be revived and its story told,” said Nguyễn Tấn Vạn, chairman of the VNAA.
“It is necessary to promote the site, restore its old buildings, and spread Ba Vì’s historical and cultural stories, but development must go with preservation, which is a key strategy to boost local tourism.”
“Our task is to identify the right way to make investments, respect nature and the environment, restore the relics, and add to the site while preserving the harmony between the jungle and the buildings.”
“It would be of great regret if the century-old remnants were to be consumed by the jungle and completely disappear.”
RELIC: A demolished French villa, with only the recognisable floor tiles left.
Spanish architect Alvaro Paredes agreed with the VNAA chairman on making use of the French relics on Ba Vì Mountain.
“Reusing old buildings in a positive way is a solid strategy for protecting heritage for present and future generations,” he said.
“Ba Vì Mountain is like nowhere else in Việt Nam, with a French resort area built in harmony with nature and respectful of local culture. I support the idea of putting up new buildings on the foundations of old villas.
“The old architecture of the French is diverse and functional and includes villas, churches, libraries, kindergartens, and restaurants, so I would suggest highlighting them.”
Paredes added: “We can use eco-friendly materials, design new buildings in an old style to match the previous architecture, and create a comprehensive project wherein myths, history, nature, and luxury come together.
“Nestled amid Ba Vi Mountain Range and with fresh air and panoramic views of the plains, the site is the ideal getaway to relax and liven up your senses.”
ON THE TRAIL: Tourists take a bamboo and fern path on the Ngọc Hoa Stream trekking tour.
Painter Thành Chương, meanwhile, said he felt moved upon seeing hundreds of ruins on Ba Vì Mountain. Traces of villas hidden among trees are evidence of the splendour of the past. What belongs to culture must be protected, but we must still promote its value. If not, days of yore will simply be buried forever beneath the roots of ever-growing trees.
“Ba Vì National Park is a precious primary forest, of which there are only a few left in Việt Nam, and Ba Vì Mountain has an important place in terms of history, culture, and spiritual life for the Vietnamese people,” Chương said.
“So, whatever we do, we must respect and protect the forest. I believe the operation of the Melia Ba Vì Mountain Retreat will be done in a proper manner. New buildings don’t harm the jungle, as they are built on the grounds of the demolished French buildings.”
Chương also spoke of the lessons to be learned from overheated development at other mountainous tourism sites such as Tam Đảo, Đà Lạt, and Sa Pa.
According to Đặng Văn Bài, a member of the Việt Nam National Cultural Heritage Council, Ba Vì is like an oasis of relaxation. The French built villas that were suitable with the local climate and inspired by the beauty and simplicity of traditional Vietnamese wooden houses.
INSPIRED SETTING: Melia Ba Vì Mountain Retreat is a luxurious destination amid natural surroundings.
He suggested how best to promote the French relics as part of tourism in the national park.
"Such a project needs transparency in distributing the benefits between all parties and must be under the control of the local government and community. Ecological tourism should develop a sustainable local economy, with the exact impact on the environment determined beforehand," Bài said.
“Ba Vì National Park now offers a range of tourism products to meet the preferences of different people, so I think the restoration of French relics should target luxury tourism only."
The green mossy staircase to a French mansion gives tourists a panoramic view over Ba Vì Mountain Range and also the Đà River.
Villas blending into their surroundings help tourists experience Việt Nam’s exotic nature and understand more about its history.
As a saying goes, it’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times.
Tourists can visit Ba Vì National Park to free the soul, relax the mind, and enjoy a tranquil time away from the hustle and bustle of city life. VNS