The number of visitors to the Trang An limestone complex in northern Vietnam far exceeds UNESCO’s recommendation but local authorities deem it “acceptable.”
The tourism department of Ninh Binh Province, home to the complex, said early this week that UNESCO has issued a warning. The complex can allow a maximum of 3.5 million visitors a year, according to UNESCO’s heritage management plan, but the number was 7.4 million this year.
Given the National Tourism Year to be celebrated in Ninh Binh with a series of cultural events next year, the number of people visiting the UNESCO heritage site is likely to be even higher.
The Trang An limestone complex is famous for boat tours of caves and attracts millions of visitors every year.
However, local tourism officials dismissed the fears saying visitors mainly sit on boats for cave tours, and there are not many entertainment or eating options, which would affect the heritage site.
They claimed the tourist overload only happens during the Lunar New Year festival, or Tet, the biggest and most important holiday in Vietnam, while some tourist sites of the complex have yet to be overloaded.
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Truong Quang Tung has asked Ninh Binh authorities to control tourist numbers, citing holiday crowds a common sight at major tourist hotspots such as Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, Phu Quoc Island and Nha Trang.
UNESCO recognized Trang An, 95 km south of Hanoi, as a world heritage in 2014 for “a mixed cultural and natural property where archaeological traces of human activity over 30,000 years have been found.” It is also home to Hoa Lu, the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, temples, pagodas, paddy fields, and small villages.