Tourist boats from two northern Vietnamese localities that share the same body of water home to the famous Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island are reportedly banned from directly entering the territorial waters of each other, causing complications in local tourism development.
Cat Ba Island is a popular travel destination administered by Hai Phong City, whereas Ha Long Bay is under the management of Ha Long, the capital of Quang Ninh Province.
Both of the destinations are located within the Gulf of Tokin, with Cat Ba Island lying at the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay and maintaining the dramatic and rugged features of the bay.
Cat Ba is commonly used as an overnight hotel stop on tours to Ha Long Bay run by travel agents from Hanoi.
However, many tourist boats have complained that they are not able to carry passengers straight to Ha Long Bay after touring Cat Ba.
Vu Thi Thom, head of the Cat Ba Tourist Boat Association, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that tourist boats from the island often have to undergo scrutiny by waterway authorities of Quang Ninh whenever they attempt to take customers to Ha Long Bay.
Visitors have no choice but to travel by land to Quang Ninh and board boats from there to get to Ha Long in order to explore the caves and islands in the renowned bay.
“The natural heritage does not merely belong to Ha Long, but a public tourist destination of Vietnam as a whole,” Thom complained.
Previously, boats departing from the Ben Beo Port in Hai Phong were still able to take tourists to Ha Long Bay.
“All we had to do then was buy tickets for our guests when we arrived at the bay,” she said.
“But we are now even ‘banned’ from admiring the bay from afar.
“As soon as a ship from Hai Phong reaches Ha Long waters, Quang Ninh authorities would appear and chase it away.”
|A corner of Cat Ba Island, northern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
It turns out that Quang Ninh authorities also prohibit boats departing from local ports from directly traveling to Cat Ba waters, according to some travel companies, which provide three-day-two-night packages in Ha Long Bay.
Such packages are originally designed to have holidaymakers spend the first night in Ha Long before going to Cat Ba the following morning.
However, in the wake of the ‘ban,’ tourists in fact have to return to the mainland in Quang Ninh and spend two hours on a passenger bus to Hai Phong, where they can board another ship to Cat Ba Island.
Nguyen Tien Tung, director of a tour operator in Cat Ba, said that the ‘ban’ was only put in place after Quang Ninh’s tourism authorities set a target of making at least VND600 billion (US$26.4 million) a year from selling tickets to Ha Long Bay.
Tung did not specify when the goal was set.
Pham Dinh Huynh, deputy head of the Ha Long Bay management board, told Tuoi Tre that the ban on ships traveling from Hai Phong to Ha Long Bay comply with regulations on waterway transport management.
Any boat wishing to travel from Hai Phong to Quang Ninh, and vice versa, has to obtain permission for that route from local port authorities, Huynh elaborated.
In a directive issued in 2015, the Quang Ninh administration also stipulated that only entities with a legal presence in the northern province would be allowed to offer tourist services in Ha Long Bay and the nearby Bai Tu Long Bay.
This means travel firms based in other localities must open a branch in Quang Ninh and pay tax to the provincial budget to comply with the rules.
|An aerial view of Ha Long Bay, northern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
“It is unreasonable because not all businesses have the capability to open a branch in Quang Ninh,” Tung complained.
But Ho Quang Huy, deputy chairman of Ha Long City, explained that the decision was meant to better oversee the operations of boats and ships in Ha Long Bay.
Addressing complaints that ships departing from Hai Phong would face scrutiny when reaching Quang Ninh waters, Huy said the province’s inspectors are authorized to stop boats for checks, and penalize the owners of vessels that do not meet technical standards.
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