There is no fresher air anywhere than at Mau Son high in the mountains of Northern Viet Nam. Eight mountain peaks reach for the sky in the area, the highest rising 1,600 meters above sea level. Home of the Dao ethnic people it is also the location of Viet Nam’s most famous ghost towns: a French military base and resort now lying in ruins in the cool and inviting air.

At the turn of the centaury the French built a small military base here that overlooks China. The local ethnic peoples, especially the Dao, were relocated. Just 30 kilometers from Lang Son and 170 kilometers from Hanoi the area seemed a perfect place to escape the heat and humidity of the surrounding area. Dr. O Pflot, during an expedition on the mountains, visited the military base and decided a resort should be built for the wealthy; much like had been done at Sapa.

The area opened to French tourists in 1936 soon after he started construction. Getting building materials to the area required strength and ingenuity. Many of the buildings were constructed from local rock. Eventually a small winding road was built and houses, restaurants, and hotels started to rise. After seven years of constant work the resort was finally completed. Many people found the town, with cooler air and more magnificent views, more resplendent and opulent than Sapa, another resort town in the mountains. The difficulty getting there was always the road, a narrow dangerous path twisting like a squirming worm. Not until 1986 were motorbikes allowed to use the road. Although not much improved, the one-lane road, washed-out out in places and dimpled with potholes, presently handles cars and an occasional small bus dimpled with people curious about the resort and anxious to sample the succulent peaches, famous in the area, grown by the Dao, who have returned to reclaim their land.

Today the resort lies mostly abandoned but retains a magnificent site even in decay. The buildings reveal an elegance of days gone past and one can almost see the colonist French, dressed in elegant dresses and white summer suits, lounging over drinks on various balconies, smoking cigarettes in three-inch ivory holders, and being waited on by Vietnamese servants.

The road eventually spirals up the peak and circles the various buildings. A resort, complete with empty swimming pool, dominates the hill. Wide steps and ornamental lamps lead to the building. A brick and metal fence holds everything together.

The Hoa Hong hotel overlooks a lovely valley. Memories of opulence linger inside the hotel where rusted and ornate iron slats support the wooden stair railing. Floors and stairs are made of marble and the opulent lobby once held a restaurant and dance floor where jazz bands played into the night.

An observation post reveals deep valleys yawning to various hills where, looking north, China is seen in the distance.

Attempts are being made to revitalize the resort but so far no serious investors have stepped forward. When they do Mau Son will become one of the premier showcases of Viet Nam.

(The photographs were taken with a Panasonic  manipulated infared camera from Kolari Vision.) 


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