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Don’t try to ‘improve’ Vietnam's cave system. Learn to appreciate it instead

By Mila Le   August 30, 2017 | 12:52 am PT
Don’t try to ‘improve’ Vietnam's cave system. Learn to appreciate it instead
Cable cars leading to the peak of Yen Tu in northern Vietnam, where lies a namesake Buddhist Zen monastery. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do
'When nature is exploited for our comfort and need for instant gratification, we fail to see it for what it is.'

VnExpress International introduces to you the second think-piece on The Cable Car Debate by Mila Le. Click here to read why another reader thinks world's largest caves in Vietnam are not for everybody.


A lot has been said about the environmental repercussions of a cable car system across Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park. It goes against the concept of why national parks were introduced in the first place - protecting invaluable biodiversity from exploitative humans.

But it’s not just a matter of the classic environment versus economic growth trade off. In Vietnam, cable cars, along with luxury resorts, huge statues and other “quintessence of modernity”, have also come to represent the country’s obsession with becoming civilized (văn minh) through owning (làm chủ) nature.

Yet by trying to “improve” what we already have with imposing constructions, the effect has proven to be just the opposite.

When nature is exploited for our comfort and need for instant gratification, we fail to see it for what it is.

The caves may still look grand and beautiful, but no more memorable than a trip to the next picture-perfect destination. Many more people will have access to them, but few will be able to appreciate this gift of nature like a trekker who cools down in the crystal-clear water under the stalactites that have been forming for millions of years after a days-long trek through the wilderness.

With appreciation comes respect and preservation.

With ignorance and entitlement comes trash.

The government is right in wanting everyone, including the elderly and the disabled, to be able to see the wonders of Vietnam’s cave kingdom. But building a cable car is not the way.

Why would anyone want to turn a trip to Vietnam’s cave kingdom into something more or less the same as a trip to Ba Na or Fansipan, both already crisscrossed by cable cars? Common sense dictates you need to differentiate to attract visitors.

Make the already beautiful Phong Nha Botanical Garden and easily accessible Paradise and Phong Nha caves not just places to see but also places to learn. Imagine a live museum explaining to the average tourist just how nature has built such a magnificent cave system.

I’m not against mass tourism. I’m against ignorant tourism.

Because once we start to see our heritage for what it is, understand how it came to be and share it with the world with the respect it deserves, tourism and conservation may finally be able to coexist.


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.  


*Mila Le lives and works in Hanoi. The opinions expressed here are her own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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