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US travel site urges tourists to explore Vietnam 'before it's too popular'

By Vi Vu   July 10, 2017 | 07:30 pm GMT+7
US travel site urges tourists to explore Vietnam 'before it's too popular'
A tourist watches cloudy mountains from a high road in Sa Pa in northern Vietnam. Photo by Ivivu

Pollution and construction are threatening to ruin tourist staples.

With Vietnam looking to develop tourism into a key driver for economic growth, a U.S. travel site is urging travelers to check out the best of the country before it's too late.

A new piece by Canadian writer Lewis Kelly published on New York-based travel site Thrillist named Vietnam as one of the destinations to visit “before it’s too popular”, while providing a list of the country's must-see sites.

It is potentially the perfect bucket list for first-timers to Vietnam, and includes the world famous Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hue’s royal tombs and temples, Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral and Hanoi’s Old Quarter, before gaining altitude to Sa Pa in the northern highlands and the lesser-visited Ban Gioc Waterfall at the Chinese border. Kelly also highlighted the country's famous coffee as a beverage not to be missed.  

Vietnam’s lawmakers last month established a new fund to boost tourism campaigns with new sources of money from visa fees and entrance tickets, besides the annual budget of $2.5 million that the government sets aside for tourism promotions every year.

The country raked in VND400 trillion ($17.6 billion) from tourism in 2016. With visa waiver policies for various big markets in Asia and Europe, as well as a new e-visa system, the industry hopes to welcome 17-20 million foreign visitors and make $35 billion per year by 2020, contributing 10 percent to the country’s economy compared to the current 7.5 percent.

Visitor numbers have already increased by 30 percent in the first half of this year to 6.2 million, and 2017 is on track to becoming the country's biggest ever year for tourism.

Kelly called the news “a mixed blessing”, picturing a scene where thousands of tourist boats dump untreated sewage into the beautiful waters of Ha Long Bay, and Starbucks drives traditional Vietnamese cafes away.

According to the writer, it might not be long before Vietnam’s stunning scenery is “overrun” by visitors, like in Thailand.

In Sa Pa, for example, large portions of the town already look like a construction site, but tourists can still visit the “serene” valleys and terraced rice hills if they step out into the countryside, he said.

Traveling is more fun when it takes an effort, not when everything is being comfortably taken care of, the writer suggested.

Tourists to Hanoi will find countless charming examples of daily life and some of the best food in Asia, if they manage to cross the busy, cramped roads unscathed, he said.

Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral, built with bricks imported from France, is also recommended as “a note of grace and calm to the intense hustle of the streets” in the country’s busiest city.

However, tourists will only be able to view the colonial construction from the outside for the next two years because it has been closed for renovation work.