Destroying nature and natural landscapes to exploit it an extremely short-sighted policy that will not serve the nation well, experts warn
|A building that spoils the natural beauty of Mui Ne Beach in Binh Thuan Province. Experts warn that Vietnam is steadily ruining its tourism destinations by replacing nature with concrete facilities and polluting the entire area.
One of the most infamous statements of the Vietnam War was made by an American military official who said they had to destroy a village in order to save it.
A free Vietnam is now freely deploying destruction in all its most beautiful areas in the name of development, especially tourism development.
Not so many people visiting the Pongour Falls in Lam Dong Province are aware that the waterfall dies at night.
Once hailed by King Bao Dai as the best cascade in the southern region, it has dried out often since 2008, when a hydropower plant was built upstream.
In 2011, the falls management decided to pump water from nearby streams into the waterfall flow but they had to find an alternative measure that was less costly.
"We had to built a reservoir to release water into the fall [during the day]," Truong Thi Dang, director of the Dat Nam Tourism Company, which manages the falls.
Located 50 kilometers south of Da Lat resort town, the once-imposing Pongour Falls used to stretch 100 meters wide and flow from 40 meters high via seven stories. The colonial French considered it Indochina's most majestic waterfall.
Reducing this natural boon and wonder to an artificial waterfall that only works during the day is shocking, but experts say many other waterfalls in the province have suffered an even worse fate they have died forever.
They also say that the death of the waterfalls is just one example of highly unsustainable development in Vietnam where many famous, natural tourism destinations are being exploited in a "destructive manner."
Pham Trung Luong, deputy director of the Tourism Development Institute, said the issue of degrading tourism destinations has been intensively discussed in many conferences.
"However, there have been no changes [for the better]. The situation is actually worsening," he said.
Luong pointed out a number of reasons for the dire predicament, including low awareness of protecting tourism destinations among tourists and tourism agents, ineffective management at local levels and no enforcement of relevant regulations.
In the mountains
Luong's criticism is well reflected in many popular tourism destinations in the country, especially in mountainous areas including the Central Highlands and Sa Pa Town in the north.
The Gougah and Lien Khuong waterfalls used to be famous destinations on the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Lat Town. However, both have dried out due to unsustainable development in the area.
An official of Lam Dong Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, who wanted to remain anonymous, said his agency has proposed to higher authorities that they revoke the certificate recognizing the two waterfalls as national tourism destinations.
"The waterfalls have disappeared because of deforestation, hydropower plants and the constructions in the area for services," he said. "The construction has affected the flow and interrupts the natural landscape of the falls."
In Da Lat, poor development policies and execution have seriously affected several tourism destinations.
Constructions in concrete have spoiled the natural beauty of Thung Lung Tinh Yeu (Love Valley) and Doi Mong Mo (Dream Hill).
At the Cam Ly Falls, a 2,000-seat stage and a large restaurant opened in 2010 and occupied a large area of the natural scene. Moreover, water pollution has been a headache for the waterfall management agency.
"Upstream water flows through residential areas in Da Lat and many people litter freely causing serious pollution," said Ta Hoang Giang, director of the Da Lat Tourism Company.
Sa Pa in the northwestern province of Lao Cai is being "destroyed" in a similar fashion.
Phan Dinh Hue, director of the HCMC-based Vong Tron Viet (Viet Circle) Tourism Agent, said he recently joined a field trip to Sa Pa with other foreign partners and found that it is about to lose its natural beauty.
"Trucks at some nearby hydropower plants under construction have damaged the roads. And the streams will disappear soon [after the dams are built]."
"People are exploiting Sa Pa like chopping down a tree to pick its fruits," he said.
On the beach
Unsustainable tourism develop-ment is even more visible on Vietnam's beaches.
With a long coastline of 3,260 kilometers and more than 4,000 islands Vietnam has rich sea tourism potential, but its beaches have also fallen victim to haphazard developments.
According to the Quang Ninh tourism department, only 40 out of every 100 European visitors to Vietnam visited Ha Long Bay in 2012. Recently christened a new natural world wonder, the bay's water is polluted by waste discharged from both tourism and cargo ships.
Ha The Tien, an engineer working on a ship in Ha Long said most vessels discharge waste, including from toilets, directly into the water.
"Each passenger boats discharge an average of 2,000-3,000 liters of waste every day. With 500 tourism boats, it's up to 1.5 million liters of untreated waste discharged into the bay," he said.
The Thien Cung and Dau Go caves are common destinations in Ha Long Bay. However, the decoration of color lights and pathway construction have spoiled the natural beauty of stalactites and damaged the limestone.
Meanwhile, rapid tourism development at Mui Ne a well known destination in the south central province of Binh Thuan has seriously spoiled its natural beauty.
Nguyen Van My, director of the HCMC-based Lua Viet Company, said Mui Ne tourism has developed at the fastest pace in Vietnam.
"We used to go from Phan Thiet Town along a natural beach. The coconut trees have been chopped down for the construction of resorts," he said.
Rapid, unsustainable development has destroyed the Hong Stream. It has dried out because of the construction of resorts in the vicinity, he added.
Tran Anh Tuan, director of Binh Thuan Department of Construction, said the province stipulates that a resort's constructions should not occupy more than 25 percent of its total area and should maintain a minimum distance of 50 meters from the sea.
However, it can be seen that both rules are violated with impunity by most resorts in the area.
Pollution is also a huge problem in Mui Ne.
A member of the environmental police force in Binh Thuan, who wanted to remain anonymous, said many resorts discharge untreated waste directly into the sea.
"We have to collect tons of garbage along the coastline everyday," he said.
"˜No sight for seeing'
Hue, director of Viet Circle, said a French tourist had told him that he would never return to Nha Trang after seeing concrete construction around a resort on an island in the bay there.
"He said tourists want to be in natural places but people have destroyed the nature there," he said.
Hue said investors and relevant authorities have not considered the impacts on natural environment when developing tourism.
Luong, deputy director of the Tourism Development Institute, admitted that tourism companies do not think that it is their responsibility to protect the environment.
"The natural landscape of many tourism destinations has been damaged and buildings have blocked the view. Besides, pollution and unhygienic toilets have been common problems in a lot of places," he said.
"It will happen soon that tourists coming to Vietnam will have nothing to see except for damaged nature."
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