Sapa, Vietnam feels the burden of too many tourists
It’s no secret that Sapa Town is one of the country’s most beloved tourist destinations for local and international travellers but as traffic increases, so does the burden on the town’s service industry.
It is thus heartening to hear that authorities in Sapa town in Lao Cai Province are planning to open more tourism sites and facilities to attract and accommodate those who flock here. Last year, the town saw 320,000 tourists stay in the 20,000 rooms currently available in this idillyic location 300km northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam.
At the moment the most popular site is Cat Cat Village, 3km from Sapa centre with its stunning landscapes and treks; it is also home to the Mong people. Other popular locales are the ancient stone field in Ta Van Village, Ta Phin Village (home to the Dao ethnic people), Silver Fall and Dragon Jaw mountain.
While Sapa undoubtedly has a lot to offer first-time visitors, it is unlikely to draw them back as it has nothing new to offer returning visitors.
At least this was the assessment of the 12 tourist companies which visited Sapa town and northeast provinces of Ha Giang, Bac Can and Tuyen Quang. They were there to survey existing conditions and discover ways to create new avenues to enhance tourism in the future. They believe that this would ease the burden on Sapa’s overcrowded situation.
"We are worried that tourists may refuse to return as they would have seen all the old tourist sites," said the director of the Green Sapa Tour company, Dao Van Phong.
"The limitation in sight-seeing opportunities is another reason tourists only stay a short while in town," Phong said.
So far this year, the town has hosted over 165,000 tourists, of which 50,000 were foreigners.
"We plan to open more tourism routes between Sapa town and Bac Ha town and Muong Khuong District in Lao Cai as well as [create] adventure tours in Ha Giang and Tuyen Quang provinces," said Ha Quoc Trung, director of the Tourism and Information Centre of Sapa Town.
"We also encouraging businesses to invest in the hotel sector to meet the increasing demand of tourists," said Trung.
Menace of vendors
Vendors often converge in Cau May Street, near Sapa market which is the town’s centre. Vendors can be seen rushing out whenever a bus pulls up with tourists, offering them all kinds of wares and creating a cluster of chaos, much to the annoyance of many people hoping to be left alone.
Sapa is filled with enterprising ethnic groups whose names match their colourful costumes: Red Dao, Flower Mong, Black Mong, who often trail tourists, goading them into buying their handmade products. Vendors, who are mostly from the Mong and Dao communities, and live nearby, can always be found in town, especially on weekends, selling their wares.
"It’s creates a bad image on the locals. I feel awkward watching street vendors chasing visitors, trying to get them to buy their products," said Hoang Thi Huong, a resident who lives in Fansipan Street.
"The town should arrange a certain and convenient location where souvenirs can be sold and bought. This way tourists won’t feel so trapped when visiting," Huong said.
"We are not at all against vendors. Their selling souvenirs forms part of the package of a tourist destination but it needs to be done in an orderly manner," said Phong.
"We will support them all the way in finding an ideal and peaceful spot where they can sell souvenirs but such a decision has to come from the local administration."
According to Phong, the town needs to avail of other sites that will be of immense interest to visitors.
"There are still some villages northeast of town, where people have fiercely clung on to their traditionals like Nam Sai, Nam Sang, Ban Khoang and Ta Giang Phin." He believes these would attract many tourists and convince them to stay longer.
(Source: Viet Nam News, URL: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/travel/2008/07/794356/)
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