In our travels so far, we have seen numerous huge modern engineering projects, buildings, and construction. Asia has 15 of the 20 tallest buildings in the world, the Three Gorges Dam in China is the largest dam in the world, the 50km (31 mile) long Hong Kong – Macau bridge and tunnel will open in 2017, the tallest building in Thailand is under construction right across the street from our current apartment in Bangkok. We discovered another large development project when we visited Ha Long City, Vietnam.
Ha Long City’s main attraction is the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay. Hundreds of small cruise ships ply the bay with tourists admiring the calm emerald seas and steep limestone islands. Take a look at Ha Long Bay Vietnam Cruise for our experience on a three day cruise of Ha Long Bay. Besides the main attraction of the natural beauty of the bay, major plans are underway to turn the city itself into a major tourist destination.
A large amusement park is under construction, there are dozens of 15 story plus high-rise hotels and condominiums planned. The artist’s renditions show a bustling vacation wonderland, although right now there are mostly just bulldozed fields with a few major roads in place. I had a hard time finding any information on the internet about the project plans, timeline, scope, etc. I did finally find “City Development Strategy for Halong” published in 2012. The vision statement is:
By the year 2020, Ha Long will be the city of tourism, seaport industry, commerce service, playing the role of the core urban in the Northern region of Vietnam, a place attracting investment and tourism in the world with a growing, dynamic, stable economy which is friendly with the environment. Ha Long city will become an urban developing harmoniously in Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site with the living environment equipped by technical and social infrastructure meeting international standard, an eco-urban typical for special heritage culture, ensuring high living standard for all the people.
(Please note: I copied the vision statement verbatim. It looks like the translation from Vietnamese to English left a few grammar errors, but you get the idea.)
If they even get close to the various posters and billboards I saw while walking around the neighborhood, it will be a pretty incredible place. The Sun World Ha Long Amusement Park is still under construction, but already holds two world records for the largest capacity cable car (230 persons) and the tallest cable car tower (189 meters, 620 feet tall).
I am not an expert on the subject of city development by any means, however, it does seem that there will be a number of challenges to the project.
- Transportation to Ha Long. The trip from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay is only about 100 miles, yet it took us almost 4 hours to get there by bus. To support this level of tourism, it seems that there would have to be major road upgrades or some other transportation link to Ha Long – rail, for example.
- Existing businesses seem to have few visitors and already many businesses have closed. This may be a chicken and egg situation – businesses won’t thrive until there are sufficient numbers of tourists and tourists won’t arrive until there are enough businesses and attractions to entice them to visit. For example, an arcade/children’s play area next to the movie theater recently closed after 13 months in business. When we wandered around the Little Vietnam area, there were only a few shops and restaurants open. Granted, it was not peak tourist season, however, we were not expecting a ghost town.
- Will tourists be attracted to Ha Long City? This might be my Western background and mindset, but does the natural beauty of UNESCO World Heritage Site mix with a vacation wonderland of amusement parks, Ferris wheels, shopping, and entertainment? To me, I wouldn’t think that a Disneyland park built next to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park would be a good combination. Will there be enough to attract people to Ha Long City? Will visitors attracted to the scenery of Ha Long Bay want to spend time in Ha Long City?
I couldn’t help but think of the dozens of uninhabited cities in China that have been built in the past decade. The government of China has financed the building of numerous large cities complete with high-rise apartments, roads, shopping areas, etc. in an effort to support their vision of 250 million people moving from the countryside to urban areas. However, many of these cities remain largely uninhabited, people just don’t want to move there. Could the Ha Long City project be a similar vision by the communist government of Vietnam? Are they building a tourist destination that tourists are not interested in?
Either way, I will keep my eyes on this project. It will be a pretty incredible development if it all happens as planned, especially if it happens by 2020 – three years from now. We definitely plan on visiting Ha Long Bay and the area again in the future.