Trekking: A Dangerous, Critical Feature of VN Tourism

activities - Vietnam: yesterday

Before Trang Ho set out for her trekking expedition to Phan Dung, inland between Phan Thiet and Cam Ranh, in April, the tour operator Nobitrip offered some guidance.

The tour operator issued an extensive set of instructions including what kind of shoes Ho should wear during the trekking expedition and how she should cut her toenails before the expedition (down to the quick). Aside from wrapping all of her personal items in waterproof bags, Ho said that the tour operator explained that the trekking expedition would stop for heavy rains and the trip would traverse the area’s many streams.

A week of exercise was recommended. Nobitrip said that it would not be responsible for any health problems that arose during the trip, Ho said in written response to interview questions.

Proceeding with Caution

Nobitrip’s precautions only seem overprotective until you consider the fact that deaths while trekking, while not common, are nonetheless not a negligible risk in this type of travel. Ho said she weighed the risks, “but they did not affect my decision”.

“I just want to experience it, to see if it is really as beautiful as the articles say.

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Why do I want to go this way? I do not know how to say it. It's just youth that makes you desire to explore, wanting to venture into the experience and conquer it. This way is very normal for me”, Ho wrote.

Ho added that her risk-friendly lifestyle also played heavily in to her decision to pursue the trekking trip knowing the risks. She is a self-described road warrior who’s logged untold kilometres going from Saigon to Mui Ne and all points in between.

“So to me it’s just another experience,” she wrote.

Attraction, Though Fatal

Ho’s enthusiasm belies the very real dangers she overcame as a traveller in the area. During her journey she crossed a stream where a previous traveller had died.

Perhaps it’s the Phan Dung area’s stunning beauty that explains its lasting appeal to tourists despite the hazards. Nobitrip is one of a wealth of tour agencies that specialise in shepherding tourists through this area.

Video source: Hoa N Don

The most popular route is a 55-km-long path that stretches across three provinces northeast of Ho Chi Minh City: Lam Dong, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan. At its highest, it’s 1,100 metres above sea level and 500 metres at its lowest. The road features a seemingly endless expanse of rolling terrain with pristine streams and scenic mountains.

The beauty is a mismatch with the terrain’s extreme difficulty. A group documenting their trip for a trekking blog on “Inspitrip” reported that each of their three groups got lost on the first day. Throughout their trip, the group encountered difficulty finding water and following the trail as well as problems with cell service (Viettel is best, they later learned).

The month after Ho’s journey in April, Thi An Kien, a 24-year-old hiker, would die after getting lost during a hike in the area. Some combitionation of the same problems plagued Thi up to the fatal end of his trekking voyage.

At noon on May 12, the group travelling with Thi became aware that he had been separated from the group, according to reporting by Dantri news. At 9 p.m. that night, the group had activated local authorities and forest rangers to help search for their missing friend, a rescue effort that grew to 100 people by the next morning.

It would be nearly a week before Thi’s remains were located near the Phan Dung commune. He is the second person to die on this trail in as many years.

Always Almost There

Writing about the journey, Ho didn’t linger on the dangers. For her, the biggest feature of the trip was the beauty of the landscape.

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Nevertheless, the tour operator said the hikers were welcome to turn back at any point within the first 8 km in the 55-km path. Ho travelled with a 10-kg load on her back and four litres of water. As the group walked, Ho said the tour leader kept encouraging the group, cheerleading them and reminding them that the downhill portion is “almost coming”.

The last kilometre to her campsite on the first night featured an almost vertical climb, she said. This one stretch took almost two hours and included plenty of opportunities to slip and fall to a possible injury.

Ho said the first night she fell into the best sleep she’s ever had.

A Necessary Part of the Tourism Strategy

The traveller deaths, the unforgiving territory—these are obstacles Vietnam’s tourism authorities will need to confront as it seeks to grow its tourism sector and earn the 20 million foreign visitors expected by 2020. The country’s natural treasures and the hiking tours that have drawn travellers like Ho will be a big part of that strategy.

The country received just under 13 million international arrivals in 2017, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

Speaking about the objectives, Vietstar Airlines Deputy General Director Luong Hoai Nam said that Vietnam’s tourism was “good at some things but bad at many things” in remarks reported by online publication “Inquirer”.

Mr Luong said the country’s visas policy and technology friendliness could be updated. He said that airport infrastructure would need to be refreshed to make the tourism increase viable.

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He also suggested tourism companies look to the nation’s previously untapped historical assets in building new resources to support this goal. He speculated that the country might serve new visitors by offering “war tourism”, a journey through Vietnam’s countryside to visit important sites in the American War. Willing travellers might be able to hike through this kind of tour, Luong said.

But Nobitrip shows it’s possible to accommodate these types of tours in a safe, responsible manner.

Ho visited the site knowing it had claimed lives previously. Nevertheless, she said she’s planning a similar journey in another part of Vietnam in the near future.

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