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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where have all the colours of Halong Bay gone?

Picture by Fathzer
White is now the colour of all the boats on Halong Bay. The traditional brown colour of the wooden junks has gone.

Where has the old beauty and charm of Halong Bay suddenly gone? "When we look out over the bay, we saw hundreds of cruise boats, all of them painted white and in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint", write neilandjackie. "Flanked by high-end condominium developments, the port today looked so sanitized, so developed, a bit Disney-esque, in fact. Exotic no more", complain Traveling Soulmates. "All the boats where white, wooden and in noticeable disrepair. I’m starting to guess that paint is more expensive than gold in Vietnam, since no one seems to have used any in the last 30 year", comments Here Comes The Planet. Where have the old times gone, when exotic traditional junk boats in brown, read and black were sailing the bay?

It was on January 5 in 2012, when the provincial People’s Committee of Quang Ninh issued a suprising decision: All tourist boats on Halong Bay, except dragon boats, should be white with brown sails. Boats which fail to follow the decision by April 30 would have their licenses revoked. Boats with dragon heads are permitted to paint the dragon heads by traditional colour. "The move aimed to tighten government control over tourist transport, especially the boats providing over-night accommodations in Ha Long Bay", wrote Thanh Nien News. More than 500 boats were affected by this decision. A letter sent to the authorities by the Association for Ha Long Tourist Boats expressing disagreement had no effect. Pham Van Hoa, director of Bai Tho Transport Co., said the change was unnecessary, because tourists tend to like the traditional brown of Ha Long Bay’s wooden boats. He was not heard. Doan Van Dung, chief of the tourist boat association, said by painting all boats white, Ha Long Bay would lose an endearing characteristic – the traditional brown of Asian culture. He was not heard. “Foreign tourists have been always impressed with the brown and black colours of the boats on the bay, which are imbued with Vietnamese cultural identity,” said the deputy director of the Vietsky Travel Company, Dao Hong Thuong. “That’s why we shouldn’t copy foreign cruise ships and require the boats to be white.” He was not heard.

It is not clear, what really lead to the decision of painting all the boats in white. Some rumours say, the officials wanted to copy the white of the yachts seen in the ports of Sydney in Australia or Greece in Europe. Some say, the idea was to attract more tourists to Halong Bay. Bu this seems to be backfiring more and more: "What we found really upsetting was the rubbish floating around everywhere. No way I would go swimming there! Having lived in New Zealand for five years where nature is very well looked after coming here was a real disappointment. From what we were told the majority of boats do not have sewage tanks so everything goes straight into the water", observes flauschipoohbear on tripadvisor.com. "It smelled horrible from the pollution in the bay. Such a shame. we saw raw sewage being dumped and it was common to see toilet paper that had not broken down yet, trash and oil floating on the surface", adds travelswithmimi.

In Halong Bay you can see today, that Vietnam is in danger of committing tourism hara-kiri. On March 24 in 2013 Thanh Nien News has published an alarming report about distructure of nature and natural landscapes also by tourism. Ha The Tien, an engineer working on a ship in Ha Long says most vessels discharge waste, including from toilets, directly into the water. “Each passenger boats discharge an average of 2,000-3,000 liters of waste every day. With 500 tourism boats, it’s up to 1.5 million liters of untreated waste discharged into the bay." Such a report by a newspaper which is owned by the Vietnam National Youth Federation and has become one of the most influential newspapers in Vietnam, shows, that the Vietnamese authorities start to recognise the problems created by uncontrolled tourism development. May be the white colour of all the boats on Halong Bay does not stand just for whitewashing.

Read earlier stories:
How to choose the right junk for Halong Bay
How the dream turned into a nightmare on Halong Bay

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