The World Heritage Road, which promotes tourism in Central Vietnam, has welcomed UNESCO`s recognition of the…
The World Heritage Road, which promotes tourism in Central Vietnam, has welcomed UNESCO`s recognition of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park as a World Natural Heritage Site.
The giant mountain reserve which stretches to the border of Laos is most famous for the spectacular Phong Nha Caves, buried within Vietnam`s largest primeval jungle.
Phong Nha`s grottos and passages extend for 44.5 kilometres into a limestone mountain.
Discovered in 1935, the underground system was opened to tourists three years ago, with stalactite and stalagmite-adorned abysses romantically named `Roads to Hell` and `Roads to Heaven`.
Paul Stoll, Secretary General of World Heritage Road and general manager of the luxury Furama Danang Resort, which is a day-trip from the park, hailed UNESCO`s recognition as yet another feather in the cap for Vietnam tourism.
The reserve earmarked as the country`s next priority ecotourism project is Vietnam`s fifth world heritage site, joining the limestone pinnacles of Ha Long Bay, the ancient imperial city of Hue, the Cham temple ruins of the My Son Valley and the 15th century Silk Route town of Hoi An.
Along with Ha Long Bay, it is the second reserve in Vietnam granted natural heritage status, the other three being cultural and heritage sites.
Just 170 kms from Danang in western Quang Binh Province, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was created in 2001. Covering 10,000 sq kms, it contains the largest primeval forest in Vietnam and the biggest limestone mountain range on the planet. Caves are a major attraction, although of the 300 known underground systems only 20 have been surveyed.
The park has become a recent centre for scientific research. Surveys conducted by Vietnamese scientists with the World Wide Fund for Nature revealed it has the highest natural biodiversity of the country`s 29 national parks and reserves.
Amid crystal clear rivers winding through picturesque valleys beneath towering limestone cliffs rising to 1,000 metres, it is home to 876 animal and 568 plants species — including 26 animals threatened with extinction.
But with thousands of tourists already flocking daily to the park, promoting ecotourism while preserving the unique environment is a major challenge, said Mr Stoll.
One Hanoi developer is already seeking to invest VND 250 billion on hotels and golf courses in a buffer zone beside the reserve.
Provincial tourism chief Tran Tien Dung added: Profit is not the only target. It`s necessary to protect the environment, maintain the primeval ecosystem and protect the biodiversity of the forests.
Another priority is protecting the cultures of minority tribes in the park.
Dand Dong Ha, director of Phong Nha Tourism Centre, said ecotourism in the area would eventually extend to walks in primeval forests, mountain treks to ethnic villages and historical sites on what was formerly known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Halting illegal hunting and trapping of wildlife was a decisive element that won UNESCO recognition for the park, said Mr Stoll.
But with rich resources and great potential for ecotourism, the park can become one of the most wonderful tourist sites in Vietnam.
The new World Heritage site has been recognised as the government prepares to mount a special tourism promotion campaign for Central Vietnam with a year-long series of cultural festivals and unique spectacles in 2004.
Mr Stoll predicted: The national promotion campaign will make the travel trade aware of the cultural diversity and beautiful environment of Central Vietnam and contribute to a speedy recovery of tourism in the aftermath of SARS.
Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales. She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.