My first trip to Ha Long Bay was 26 years ago this June. I had traveled to Viet Nam, the second time that year, to look in on a summer study abroad program I created. I went with a group of US students and two program staff. I remember the students complaining about how long the trip was and how bumpy the roads were. This was in spite of the fact that our hosts in Hanoi went to great lengths to find a new, air-conditioned Toyota van.
I joked to the program coordinator that he should ask his government to kindly pave new roads for the poor students. Fast forward to 2022 and the trip now takes about two hours, depending upon weather and traffic. In addition to the quality of the roads, they didn’t like the family hotel we chose for them, opting instead for what was then the best hotel in the city at a pricey $50 a night. My staff and I stayed in the former.
Viet Nam was still a poor country with the foreign direct investment spigot just beginning to flow, first into Hanoi and HCMC, and then other cities. Ha Long was unspoiled and relatively clean before the consumer economy kicked into high gear and generated the wealth that you see today.
It’s still a beautiful place but overdeveloped with too many hotels and too much environment degradation. The pièce de résistance is the “Queen cable car” system that connects Ba Deo Hill with the Sun World Coastal Amusement Park, an eyesore and blight on the natural scenic beauty that is Ha Long.
While out on the water, I kept an eye out for garbage. The reason I saw only a piece of styrofoam, a face mask, and a plastic bottle floating by is because the tourists have yet to return in droves. COVID-19 has provided a brief respite for our natural world.
Shalom (שלום), MAA