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Vietnam’s beloved Sa Pa might lose itself in tourism race: PM

By Lan Ha   December 7, 2017 | 09:31 am GMT+7
Vietnam’s beloved Sa Pa might lose itself in tourism race: PM
A village and rice terraces in Sa Pa. Photo by Minh Khuong

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said tourism development must not harm Sa Pa’s ‘green jungle or ethnic culture.’

The popular highlands town of Sa Pa has received new recognition as a national tourism zone, but Vietnam's prime minister has called for “careful development” to preserve its nature and culture.

The development of Sa Pa must not “mess it up”, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told leaders of Lao Cai Province, home to the resort town, on Wednesday.

He said that Sa Pa has all it takes to become an international tourism destination, as long as the town preserves its “green jungle and ethnic culture”.

“Local ethnic culture is very important. It can be a long-term attraction for Sa Pa,” he said.

The PM made the statement as Lao Cai officials revealed plans for construction projects in the next three years, including a new administrative center, a high-end service complex, a park and an urban center as it prepares to welcome 4 million visitors to Sa Pa in 2020, compared to an expected 2.5 million this year.

Phuc agreed with the plans, although he said that their execution must not harm anything ancient or original about the town, tangible or intangible.

Sa Pa, a cool town perched at 1,600 meters, or nearly one mile above sea level, is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. Late last year, it was named among the best destinations for 2017 by TripAdvisor travelers, who described it as a perfect oasis for travelers looking for a strenuous mountain trek or a rice paddy tour.

Popular tourist destinations include the Saturday night “love market”, which is a colorful exhibition of the local ethnic culture, the Gothic stone church at the town center built by French missionaries, Indochina’s peak Mount Fansipan, and endless terraced rice fields, which have been named one of the most magnificent scenes on Earth.

It’s a place one should visit while its “serene” nature is still intact.

Sa Pa is already under threat from commercial tourism development. Large portions of the town look like a construction site, and a cable car system now runs to the peak of Fansipan.

The curse of commercialization is creeping into Sa Pa as it has done in Ha Long, Da Lat and many other popular places in Vietnam, where shining beauty can easily be undermined by trash, crowds and construction.

U.S. travel site Thriller in July listed all these places as it urged people to visit Vietnam “before it’s too popular”.