Tourism in Vietnam: A Tale of Two Tastes?

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about tourism in Vietnam for a couple of reasons. First, I’m concerned about the lack of regard for the environment on which we all depend for survival, which often takes a back seat to (over)development and revenue generation. Secondly, I’m well aware how important it is to Vietnam’s economic well-being to the tune of 9% of the country’s GDP in 2019, the year before all hell broke loose with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having visited much of Vietnam, it’s abundantly and often painfully clear the extent to which the tastes of Vietnamese and foreigners diverge. What is kitschy or downright ugly to the foreign eye is fun and modern to most Vietnamese. (NOTE: I realize that some foreigners, especially from Asia, may share the locals’ fondness for kitsch.)

Photo by MAA

Let’s take Little Italy on the island of Phu Quoc as an example. Two separate areas were developed by two of the country’s largest real estate companies, Sun Group and Vingroup. It’s safe to say that most foreigners travel to Vietnam to see Vietnam, including its natural beauty, and to experience what is uniquely Vietnamese. If they wanted to see Italy, the would travel there. For the Vietnamese, most of whom will not travel to Italy, it’s a fascinating and fun experience.

Photo taken in early August 2022 in Phu Quoc. Guess what a chemical analysis of the water would reveal? (MAA)

The other issue is the local tolerance for environmental pollution, as if it’s perfectly normal to throw garbage anywhere and everywhere. This mindset is so pronounced that people will even swim in water with garbage on the beach and floating around them. Appalling to me and others, including enlightened and concerned Vietnamese, but just part of the scenery to those going for a dip or playing on the beach, such as it is.

I don’t have a crystal ball but the future is crystal clear. What’s the solution, I ask somewhat rhetorically?

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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