We are stripping Vietnam of its 'hidden charms'

By Do Anh Tuan   February 13, 2022 | 06:52 pm PT
We are stripping Vietnam of its 'hidden charms'
Swarms of tourists flood the streets of Da Lat during the Tet holiday, February 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Dinh
While countries seek to preserve and restore their signature features to promote tourism, Vietnam fails at it spectacularly. Our muddled urbanization approach will rob the country of its unique beauty.

To answer the question of where our tourism industry should go from here, we must truly understand what makes places like Sa Pa or Da Lat so attractive to tourists. We should ask why so many people travel to ancient villages in China or Denmark? Why do they visit Italy to see a tower that seems it can fall at any moment? Why do they go to such "ordinary" places to see relics of the past?

There are no malls or supermarkets or movie theaters in such places, but they have the strongest tug on our heartstrings. We should ask ourselves why people keep going back to such places, year after year.

About a decade ago, Da Lat and Sa Pa were ideal destinations. Their misty, primeval beauty, with endless swathes of forests and peaks of white clouds were images that stayed with hundreds and thousands of visitors.

But, with the current rate of urbanization, I am not sure if Da Lat and Sa Pa would still be top choices for tourists 10 or 50 years from now.

When I travel, I would either choose a place with its ancient features intact or a place that has all the modern conveniences one could ever need. I don't want a place that's half-heartedly developed with the aim of snatching more cash from stray tourists.

The Da Lat of today has lost its charm of the past. For a town that has always been regarded as having a cool, temperate climate year-round, harsh sunlight is already present from 9 a.m. onwards. Pine forests have been flattened underneath the foundations of high-end resorts and hotels, and buildings with historic architectural features have been dismantled and demolished to make room for skyscrapers and malls. If we don't preserve the past we have, what will we build our tourism future upon? Glitzy, tacky malls or similar establishments that destroy any idea that Vietnamese scenery is stunning and unique.

China, Europe and Africa all have towns and cities that could be thousands of years old, and allowed to remain as they are, preserving history and extraordinary beauty. Such places can never be compensated with amusement parks and other modern contraptions, ever. They don't try to catch up with the times or subscribe themselves to the capitalistic pursuit of profit, because they know exactly what makes them special in the first place.

Of course, no one is opposed to the drive for development and modernization, but this must be done properly and sensibly, not sacrificing what is unique and original about our culture, landscape and history.

We should improve infrastructure because it directly serves to improve lives in any region. But this doesn't mean corporations are allowed to cut down forests, destroy paddy fields and other valuable resources to build shiny new resorts, golf courses and what not, with no thought given to what this country will look like in the future, and what ramifications such "developments" will have.

If the unique features and signature beauty of a place is gone, who would come visit them? What's Da Lat without its quiet woods and misty mornings and idyllic lakes? What good is a Hoi An full of cars and modern houses?

Vietnam doesn't need to look too far to see what other countries have been doing right: there's the Leaning Tower of Italy, the Colosseum of Rome, the ancient villages of the Netherlands, Switzerland and China... all preserved and restored to spearhead their tourism industry. That's what Vietnam should do.

Instead, it's a shame to see authorities having no long-term vision for our tourism industry, focusing only on quick cash and immediate results through ungainly man-made creations at the cost of our natural environment.

It's a shame that we ourselves are destroying the very things that make us special in the first place.

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