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Saturday in Halong Bay

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Halong Bay, VietnamIt’s been a few years since I’ve been out on a boat in Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

I’d heard from friends that things had gotten really crowded out there: too many tourist boats. Too much diesel fume in the air. Too much trash thrown into the water.

No doubt: Halong Bay is still beautiful. No wonder it’s Vietnam’s prime tourist attraction. But you can see how crowded the waters of the bay are in this little film I made.

UNESCO designated the bay with its hundreds of little islands a World Heritage Site in 1994. Rumor has it that UNESCO is considering withdrawing this title because of the damage that tourism is doing to the area. Not a pleasant thought. But then again: visiting the bay today, I was part of the problem. Oops.

According to Wikipedia,

Fuel and oil, along with tourist litter, have created pollution problems, which impact on both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem of the islands. Human waste from portable toilets erected for tourists, finds its way into the soil and water surrounding the islands, once more altering the ecosystem functioning, through increased nutrient flow.

and

The delicate limestone cave ecosystems are diminishing as tourists visiting the caves break off stalagmites and stalactites. Litter, including wine bottles, are dropped into cave streams. Visitors exhale carbon dioxide, which has a deleterious effect on the caves. The mouths of some caves have been widened to allow for tourist access. This increase in light has led to an imbalance in the delicate links between flora and fauna, and a decrease in the humidity of the caves.

What can you do if you still want to see Halong Bay?

I can’t recommend going out there on a one-day trip. On these short trips, the tour operators only take you to the most visited places. You get a glimpse of the bay, but you can’t really enjoy it because you’re always with a crowd.

Halong Bay, VietnamMaybe it’s better to invest in a longer trip with a more conscientious tour operator. One that takes tourists on eco-friendly cruises or one that goes off the beaten track.

I’ve heard that some operators like HanoiKultour don’t go with the pack of boats touring the bay every day. Instead, they travel on different routes, visit different islands within the bay. That way, the masses of tourists spread out a little.

And who knows – Mother Nature might even have a chance to deal with the damage they do and actually recover.

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Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

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