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World's largest caves in Vietnam are not for everybody

By Michael Tatarski   August 29, 2017 | 10:43 am GMT+7
World's largest caves in Vietnam are not for everybody
A view of the campsite inside one of Hang En’s enormous chambers. Photo by Michael Tatarski

'Some day down the line people will realize what has been lost, and by then it will be far too late.'

     

VnExpress International introduces to you the first think-piece on The Cable Car Debate by Michael Tatarski.

 

As a writer who has reported on the environment in Vietnam for the last year and a half, the proposed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park cable car is maddening. 

Earlier this year I visited the park and hiked to Hang En Cave, which is apparently where the cable car may now reach if it is built, in order to see how thoughtful, sustainable tourism can benefit the area. The town of Phong Nha is booming thanks to the surrounding caves, and locals are working as porters and guides, jobs that offer far more money than farming or living off of local natural resources.

The park is also stunning, though its wildlife has been decimated by poaching - thankfully the foliage is still intact, and it's one of the only places I've been in my extensive travels through Vietnam that looks genuinely untouched for large stretches.

Hang En itself is staggering, and a major natural asset for Vietnam. I know Son Doong is supposed to be even grander, and the fact that anyone has even considered this cable car is incredible. 

Supporters say it will allow the elderly and less mobile to visit Hang En. This is a noble goal, but the harsh reality is that not everything needs to be visited by everybody. The best nature is untamed nature, and that's not suitable for all - just look at Mount Everest, or Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, or the Scottish Highlands. There are no cable cars there, and that's fine. Many people will never visit them, but you don't see proposals for cable cars or other eyesores to make them more accessible. 

Closer to home, all you have to do is look elsewhere in Vietnam to see what damage cable cars and other misguided tourism developments have done to Phu Quoc, Ha Long Bay, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Da Nang - the list goes on. Every week there is a new story about environmental degradation in one of these areas, often thanks to poorly planned tourism infrastructure construction.

Sure, grandma can now ride the cable car to the top of Mount Fansipan, Vietnam's tallest mountain, outside of Sa Pa, and take a selfie, but at what cost? Is obliterating Fansipan's wild peak really worth it?  

I have a hard time believing a cable car in Phong Nha-Ke Bang will be anything but a disaster in the long run. Vietnam has an awful track record when it comes to balancing the environment with tourism, and this park is one of the largest remaining undeveloped natural regions in the country. Some day down the line people will realize what has been lost, and by then it will be far too late.

More needs to be done to develop Quang Binh economically, but there are other ways to do this besides building a cable car into one of Vietnam's most astonishing regions.

     

Is mass tourism suitable for Phong Nha - Ke Bang? Let us know in the comments section or click here to submit your think-piece on this topic. The most interesting and constructive pieces will be published on VnExpress International.  

 

*Michael Tatarski is a freelance journalist and editor. The views expressed here are his own.