Thursday 24 January 2019

VIETNAM: Ha Long Bay Choking With Tourists And Waste

Ha Long Bay’s postcard-perfect karst islets have long attracted travellers to its Unesco-approved seascape. In 2017, the destination, in northern Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province, welcomed almost 7 million international and domestic visitors, according to website Halong Bay Tourism.

The region’s tourism department hopes to receive up to 16 million tourists by the end of next year, and to rake in VND30-40 trillion (US$1.3-1.7 billion) in revenue, it states, on its website.

Taking a major step towards achieving that goal, on December 30, Vietnam opened Van Don International Airport, which considerably cuts travel time to Ha Long Bay for overseas visitors.

What was once an eight-hour round trip from Hanoi is now just over an hour from an airport that, when fully operational, will connect the bay with 35 cities, including Hong Kong, Macau and 10 in mainland China.

The airport was unveiled alongside a new 60km highway, which reduces the drive time between Hanoi and Van Don to two hours and 30 minutes, and an international cruise port capable of simultaneously accommodating two liners with a combined carrying capacity of 8,460 passengers and crew.

If that isn’t a recipe for disastrous overtourism, Destinations Known doesn’t know what is.

As far back as August 2012, travel journalist Mary O’Brien wrote in Australian publication Traveller, the reality behind the picture-postcard views is worrying.

When I visited our boat was surrounded by container vessels, she continued. The beaches near docks and piers are often strewn with rubbish and travel sites have noted complaints from visitors about pollution.

In the years since, similar observations have been made countless times across social-media platforms and on web forums. Tourists complain of being shepherded to the same overcrowded sights – Surprise Cave seems to earn its name more for its hordes and gaudy illuminations than its rock formations – and about the amounts of debris in the sea.

Last summer, volunteers collected 741kg of waste from Coc Cheo and Ang Du beaches, in Ha Long Bay.

And it is not just the visible waste that is a concern. According to English-language online newspaper VietNamNet Bridge, in July last year as much as 80 per cent of local domestic waste water was being released, untreated, into the sea, which does not make an attractive bay.

In the same month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) hired consultants to advise on tourism and waste management at the Unesco site.

Their findings, published on January 5, conclude that rapid increases in visitor numbers and pollution have damaged the reputation of Ha Long Bay, especially in the eyes of foreigners.

Unless the custodians of the destination clean up their act, and quickly, the engine of growth the country is counting on – tourism revenue – risks stalling. Unlike the planes, buses and cruise ships currently bearing down on Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam. The name Hạ Long means descending dragon. Administratively, the bay belongs to Ha Long City, Cam Pha City, and is a part of Van Don District.

The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. Ha Long Bay is a center of a larger zone which includes Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast, and Cat Ba Island to the southwest. These larger zones share a similar geological, geographical, geomorphological, climate, and cultural characters.

Ha Long Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2, including 1,960–2,000 islets, most of which are limestone. The core of the bay has an area of 334 km2 with a high density of 775 islets. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments.

The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in the area has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem, oceanic and sea shore biosystem.

Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.

Historical research surveys have shown the presence of prehistoric human beings in this area tens of thousands years ago. The successive ancient cultures are the Soi Nhu culture around 18,000–7000 BC, the Cai Beo culture 7000–5000 BC and the Ha Long culture 5,000–3,500 years ago.

Ha Long Bay also marked important events in the history of Vietnam with many artifacts found in Bai Tho Mountain, Dau Go Cave, Bai Chay.

Tourism Observer

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