The Twelve Earthly Branches are actually symbols used to tell time in the Lunar Calendar.

Happy New Year! Today is New Year’s Day for people that celebrate the Lunar New Year, beginning the Year of the Dragon.

The Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches is located in the Ham Rong Mountains just outside the town of Sa Pa, Vietnam. Sa Pa is a small town in a mountainous area about 350 km northwest of Hanoi, near the Chinese border. The name “Ham Rong” translates to “Jaw of the Dragon” and the mountain ridge resembles a dragon’s jaw.

The three main features to enjoy in the Ham Rong Mountains are the natural beauty of the Ham Rong Mountain, the Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches and the flower garden which can all be seen in a single day.

Natural Beauty of the Ham Rong Mountains

Getting to the Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches is on a small trail through the natural forest of the Ham Rong Mountain. Getting to the garden is a short hike and reaching the top of the mountain only takes about an hour. The mountain has an altitude that ranges from 1,450 meters (4,750 ft.) to 1,850 meters (6,000 Ft.) and the normal temperature around 16 degrees C (60F).

Ham Rong Mountain is known for its rich biodiversity. A diverse range of green trees, flowers and other plants species can be seen while hiking along the trail but you may also encounter clouds and misty fog because of the altitude and cooler temperature.

Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches

The highlight of Ham Rong Mountain is the Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches. The garden consists statues of the twelve zodiac animals of the lunar calendar with the statues are spread out in various areas along a flagstone path. Each animal is positioned in a random place in the garden and it is surrounded by green trees and the natural foliage of the forest floor.

Probably the only thing that most people know about the Lunar Year is that each year is represented by a Zodiac Animal. There are 12 different Zodiac Animals in the Vietnamese Calendar and these animals cycle over a 12 year period. The Vietnamese animals are similar to the Chinese animals but there is one slight difference. The Vietnamese calendar use a Cat instead of the Chinese Rabbit.

All of the animal statues are created in an animated style giving the garden a playful feeling that both children and adults can enjoy. Photos of the 12 animal statues are shown below.

Mouse

Buffalo or Ox

Tiger

Cat

Dragon

Snake

Horse

Goat

Monkey

Rooster

Dog

Pig

Flower Garden

There is a small formal garden with many flowering plants to be enjoyed but there are also flowers around some of the animal statues and in the mountain forest. A sample of garden flowers are shown below.

The Dust on My Shoes

One of my favorite elements of traveling is discovering places that are off the beaten path, the Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches is way off the beaten path. Sa Pa is a small mountain town that is far removed from where most visitors to Vietnam travel and the garden itself is hidden in a wooded hillside outside of town. There is a good chance that most travelers to Vietnam has not heard of this garden, even if they have been to Sa Pa.

Most places that are off the beaten path are there because they are not the top places to see in their location but that doesn’t mean that they are not places worth visiting. I enjoyed visiting the Garden of the Twelve Earthly Branches because it combined natural beauty with culture along with a little bit of adventure. Anywhere with those three elements combined is my kind of place!

I understand why most people don’t venture far away from seeing the top tourist attractions. Most travelers are on short time limits and they want to see as many of the top attractions as they can within their limited time. I also know that many travelers spend unproductive travel time in their hotel rooms.

Never waist an hour or two of unscheduled time setting in your hotel room! Make the most of your travel time and see everything that you can even if it is not a top tourist attraction!

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