TOURISM IN VIETNAM

TOURISM IN VIETNAM

Although many Americans still associate Vietnam with war and suffering, many others now see it as trendy vacation destination. Vietnam's attractions included rain forests, mountains, ethnic minorities and coasts with fine beaches and spectacular rock formations. A number of adventure sports can be enjoyed as well as fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Former Viet Cong commando work as tour guides in Khe Sanh and on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Cruise ships now stop in Da Nang and Club Med wants to open a resort 30 miles from Cam Ranh Bay. Vietnam National Administration of Tourism is following a long-term plan to diversify the tourism industry, which brings needed foreign exchange into the country.

In the early 2000s, the tourism industry in Vietnam employed 150,000 people and was a major source of foreign exchange. The increase in tourism in Vietnam has been impressive but in some respects has come at a high cost. A great deal of investment that went into Vietnam in the 1990s went into hotels. This created a hotel glut and a lot of empty rooms and angry investors.

The Vietnamese are generally very welcoming to tourists. This is sharp contrast to the old days when Communist-style dourness was the rule. In the 1997, the Vietnamese government launched a campaign in which people in the tourism business were encouraged to smile more when they were around foreign tourists. It has been said that Vietnamese expect foreigners to "redistribute their wealth in the form of tips, inflated prices and bribes."

Describing the Ministry of Defense Palace guest house in Hanoi in the 1990s, a Washington Post reporter wrote: "In the old section of the hotel designated VIP or VVIP" were "a tropical forest worth of uncomfortable chunky teak furniture. Thanks to what must be a Soviet switchboard, hooking a computer onto the phone requires an electrician’s expertise and a saint’s patience...Be careful when exploring the building’s cavernous hallways: Stern, military officers lurk in the dark and if you open the wrong door you may burst in on a gathering fo top brass."

There are a variety of adventure travel enterprises that sponsor trips and activities in Vietnam. In 2001, a 17-year-old British girl fell to her death after falling down a 500-meter-high cliff after she slipped on a root in the pouring rain while climbing Vietnam’s highest mountain, 3,143-meter-high Fan Si Pan. She was on "Challenge of a Life" trip for high-school-age kids.

According to a survey of expatriates living in Asia, India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong were regarded as the dirties countries in Asia, while Singapore, Japan and Malaysia were regarded as the cleanest. Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan were in the middle.

Foreign Tourists in Vietnam

In 2012, Vietnam received more than 6.8 million international arrivals, a 13 percent increase from 2011 and up from 2.1 million in the year 2000. In 2008, Vietnam received 4.218 million international passengers, in 2009 the number was 3.8 million, down 11 percent because of the global financial crisis. In 2011, Vietnam welcomed 6 million international visitors, which was up from about 4 million in 2010. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 2007, Vietnam received 4.2 million foreign visitors, up 18 percent on 2006. Chinese topped the list, with about 575,000 arrivals or 13.6 percent of the total, followed by South Korea, Japan and the United States. About 3.6 million foreigners visited Vietnam in 2005, a 22 percent increase over 2004. The India Times reported: Vietnam is also giving stress on medical tourism with many places suitable for convalescence like hot spas, beaches and mountain resorts.. "The country's earning from tourism, which contributes 4 to 5 percent to GDP, is expected to go up from $2.8 dollars in 2006 to $ 4.4 billion in 2007,” Tourism ministry officials said. [Source: Economic Times, India Times, July 2, 2007]

In 2004 Vietnam received 2.9 million international arrivals, up from 2.4 million the previous year. The annual increase represented a strong rebound from a slight decline in 2003 attributable to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Asia. From 1999 to 2004, tourism rose by 63 percent. Most of the visitors in 2004—27 percent—came from China, with 8–9 percent each coming from the United States, Japan, and South Korea. The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism is following a long-term plan to diversify the tourism industry, which brings needed foreign exchange into the country.

The first non-Communist travelers to Vietnam in the late 1980s needed special permits to travel anywhere and sometimes were waken up in the middle of the night by a knock on the door by Vietnamese police. At that time Vietnamese who chatted with foreign tourist worried they might get arrested. Between 1986 and 1994, the number of foreign visitors arriving in Vietnam jumped from 20,000 mostly Russians and East Europeans to 670,000 mostly West Europeans, North Americans and Asians. The number of foreign visitors to Japan was 2.3 million in 2001, 1.7 million in 1999 and 300,000 in 1991. Less than 600,000 foreign tourists visited Vietnam in 1998, down from 690,000 in 1997, a drop blamed on Asia’s economic crisis.

Foreign Tourists and Backpackers in Vietnam

Many of the first tourist to arrive in Vietnam in the 1990s were Asian businessmen who wanted a sea vacation. Then the backpackers began arriving in droves, Now it is a mix. In recent years large numbers of Asians from China, Japan and South Korea have been coming. In the early 2000s, Vietnam became the top Southeast Asian destination for German travelers.

The first American visitors to Vietnam were mainly expatriate Vietnamese and American veterans of the Vietnam War. During this period many of the Americans visiting Vietnam were mistaken for Russians, the most common type of white person running about before that time. These days, Vietnamese-Americans still make up a large number of the American visitors but they are now outnumbered by backpackers, yuppies and families.

Many of the Japanese tourists in Vietnam are young women on shopping trips. They are attracted by the variety of things to buy and the cheap prices. Many restaurants have Japanese-language menus. Airlines and travel agencies have upgraded their service to appeal t Japanese tourists

Lots of hippie-type backpackers and recent college graduates on there after-school trip abroad have discovered Vietnam. It is what Thailand was like 10 to 20 years ago. A local official in Hoi An complaining about how backpacker tourist spend so little money, lamented, "They spend money even more economically than the Vietnamese, so what good are they for us."

A survey by Saigontourist in 2007 showed that an American tourist spends $2,916 on a trip to Vietnam, including $1,405 on airfare, which means little spending on services while staying in Vietnam. Other travel firms also say that in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest commercial hub, foreign travellers spend $100 per day, a very low figure, because they do not have opportunities to spend money. [Source: Thanh Niên, October 2, 2007]

Tourists Rush to Vietnam after 2004 Tsunami in Thailand and Indonesian

In 2005, Xinhuanet reported: “Vietnam, which is not hit by tsunamislast month, has received more foreign tourists in the first days of 2005, according to the Vietnam National Administration for Tourism. After the disaster hit some regional countries, many foreigners, mainly from Europe, considered Vietnam, which has many beach resorts like Indonesia and Thailand, their safe destination for the time being. Tourists spent their winter holidays here also for warm weather. [Source: Xinhuanet, January 6, 2005]

Over 10,000 foreign visitors came to Vietnam in the first four days of this year. The number of back-packers arriving in the country via its international airports of Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhatin the first three days of January increased 30 percent against the last days of December 2004. Around 75 percent of rooms in big hotels here in the country's capital and Ho Chi Minh City, such as Daewoo, Melia, Sofitel Plazaand Caravelle, have been booked for this month. To meet the increasing demand, the local tourism sector has focused on improving services, upgrading hotels, and launching some promotional programs.

Foreign Travelers in Vietnam Complain of a Lack of Nightlife

In 2007, Thanh Niên reported: “Why do travellers have to go to bed early? Because they have nowhere to go in the evening. Putting the bottle of beer on the table at a restaurant on Pham Ngu Lao street in district 1, Ho Chi Minh City, the Canadian traveller, Steve, said: "Your country is really very nice, but I have nowhere to go in the evening in big cities. In Vietnam, I go to bed earlier than in other countries." I tried to show Steve several addresses of bars and shopping centers in Ho Chi Minh City, but Steve shook his head, saying: "I do not come to Vietnam to go to bars," then adding that he wanted something specific for Vietnam. "I know that Vietnam has water puppets. Where can I go see water puppet performances in Ho Chi Minh City?" he questioned. [Source: Thanh Niên, October 2, 2007 =]

“One time, I followed a city tour in Ho Chi Minh City, and the destinations were the Museum of War Evidence and Thong Nhat Meeting Hall. A guide said to me: "Not every traveller wants to visit the Museum of War Evidence, but where do we take them if not the museum?" Especially, travellers have nowhere to go in the evening, except walking in the central areas, or going to restaurants, and then… returning to hotels to go to bed. The night markets and shopping centers in Ho Chi Minh City have become old, thus not attracting visitors any more. "In our tours, Ho Chi Minh City is just a place where travellers stay before going to the east or west," said Managing Director of Global Holidays Nguyen Duc Hy. Mr Hy said that Ho Chi Minh City was seriously lacking entertainment services for travellers. Travel firms cannot find any attractive show or entertainment places to lead travellers to in the evening. =

“Nguyen Van My, Director of Lua Viet Travel, complained about the monotony of entertainment points in Ho Chi Minh City. "Travellers do not like karaoke bars, they like dancing, while the city has many karaoke bars, markets and small restaurants," he said. Mr Hy said that splendid shows organized every night were what the city lacked to attract clients. Travellers not only need to eat Vietnamese cuisine, they also need dancing or trying their fortune at casinos or lucky draws. A representative of Ben Thanh Tourist said that no travel firm in the city developed night tours though the demand was very high. It is because of the lack of services. In fact, the city Tourism Department once planned to cooperate with the Culture and Information Department to organize cai luong (a kind of traditional opera) and water puppet shows to serve travellers. However, the plan remains just on paper. =

“Statistics show that 70 percent of tourists do not come back to Vietnam. Many reasons have been cited to explain this, including the lack of entertainment services. Beautiful landscapes are really the things that attract foreigners to Vietnam, but attractive services will make them come back. Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hoang Tuan Anh said on September 12 that he would propose that the government allow entertainment points in Ho Chi Minh City to open after midnight to provide more services to travellers. The regulations on banning entertainment services after midnight do not help stop social evils, while hinder the development of the tourism industry.” =

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List (date inscribed): Cultural: 1) Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi (2010); 2) Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (2011); 3) Complex of Hué Monuments (1993); 4) Hoi An Ancient Town (1999); 5) My Son Sanctuary (1999). Natural: 6) Ha Long Bay (1994); 7) Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (2003).

Properties submitted on the Tentative List: 1) Ba Be Lake (1997); 2) The Area of Old Carved Stone in Sapa (1997); 3) Huong Son Complex of Natural Beauty and Historical Monuments (1991); 4) Cat Tien National Park (2006); 5) Con Moong Cave (2006); 6) Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex (2011); 7) Cat Ba Archipelago (2011).

Activities: Complex of the Temple for the Worship of the Nguyen Emperors (Thé Mieu); Complex of the mausoleum of King Minh Mang; Complex of the Temple for the Worship of the Nine Nguyen Lords (Thai Mieu); Complex of the tomb of the King Tu Duc; Complex of the Celestial Lady (Thien Mu); Complex of the Palace of Audiences (Dien Can Chanh);

Tourism Threatening Ha Long Bay

In 2005 the Jakarta Post reported: “Professor Luc Hens is a senior human ecologist at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, who visits Vietnam several times every year for environmental studies. He recently visited Ha Long Bay (A Vietnamese World Heritage site) and is aghast at some of the things he saw. Ha Long Bay is seriously degraded, mostly due to unwise interventions by tourism developers and managers. The most obvious is by pollution due to coal mining wastes, which have blackened the watershed in this area; coal residues cover a large part of the hillsides. Ha Long Bay is dying from these hazardous wastes. [Source: The Jakarta Post - September 04, 2005 <>]

“Living coral is marketed to foreign tourists. This reflects terrible management of the marine resources by local authorities. Coral reefs are an exceptionally important element of the marine ecosystem, acting as a niche for other aquatic species and a kind of pollutant-eater purifying the sea. The natural environment here is being gradually replaced with artificial landscapes. The tourism developers have destroyed the mangroves which are very rich in biodiversity and typical of this unique place, replacing them with exotic species. Desilting lake bottoms has destroyed the benthic communities while connecting the islands with the mainland through a series of dams for canoes and other sports has damaged the water bodies. All these modifications are stressors impairing the natural ecosystems of this area. <>

“The heavy influence of Disneyland initiatives can also be seen here on tourism development concepts. The catch here is that a Disney-like entertainment area should never be developed in a natural heritage site. Although performances by dolphins and other sea mammals here attract a lot of visitors, surely they do not include foreign visitors. An "American" style is another ironical development concept here. Invaluable porcelain objects and extraordinary archaeological remains are exhibited in a building looking exactly like the US presidential residence, the White House, in Washington D.C.! A sophisticated traditional wooden house would be a much better place to exhibit them. And, the most spectacular karst caves have been lit up with colored lights, making them look like a highway and not the dark, damp, fascinating mystery they really are. <>

Huw Watkin wrote in the South China Morning Post, “ Environment officials claim the impact of nearby coal mining on Halong Bay has been significantly reduced but warn the World Heritage site remains in peril from increasing human activity. Halong in the Gulf of Tonkin is a 1,500-square-km area studded with more than 3,000 limestone islands rising abruptly from the sea. Effluent and dust containing heavy metals from extensive coal mining in adjacent Quang Ninh province is suffocating and poisoning coral reefs and marine life. Vu Van Thanh, director of Quang Ninh's Science, Technology and Environment Department, said the area had suffered significant damage but that coal miners were now taking measures to reduce their impact on the bay. [Source: Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, March 1, 2000 ><]

"The coal-mining companies have begun to take their responsibilities seriously and they now reserve part of their profit to limit waste discharge." He said the coal-mining companies were now building settling dams instead of discharging effluent into rivers that drain into the bay. Local authorities had also imposed zoning regulations to prevent haphazard mining. Mr Thanh said large-scale tree-planting had reduced the amount of coal dust from mine sites. The combined total of coal dust and water-borne material deposited in the bay is estimated at 900 million tonnes. The Nha Trang Institute of Oceanology said recently the damage would be long-lasting. Institute vice-director Nguyen Chu Hoi said at least 50 percent of the coral reefs lying off Vietnam's north and northeast coast had been killed by coal mine dust and effluent, and high lead concentrations were inhibiting regrowth. ><

"But our biggest concern is that fishermen may soon encroach deeper into areas of beauty like Halong Bay as catches diminish elsewhere," the Vietnam Economic Times quoted him as saying. Halong's natural beauty has been compared to Guilin in China and Krabi in southern Thailand. But its magnificent scenery has drawn an increasing number of tourists, creating a host of other environmental pressures. Entrepreneurs harvest coral for sale to tourists and the bay's once pristine waters are now plied by an increasing number of diesel-powered vessels that pollute the water.

Charity Scam Against Foreign Visitors in Vietnam

In 2012, VietNamNet reported: “Seeing several foreigners walking on the street, a young man stopped his motorcycle to drop the woman who sat behind him. The woman approached the foreign visitors to show them a card and a sheet of paper and asked them to donate money for charity. After a period of time following a group of people who impersonated members of the Vietnam Red Cross to cheat foreign visitors at the Lenin monument, the gate of the Vietnam Military History Museum and the Hoan Kiem Lake (Hanoi), reporters of an online newswire discovered their trick. They often "worked" in pairs. Whenever seeing foreigners walking on a quiet street, the young man stopped his motorcycle to drop the woman sitting behind him. The woman approached to the visitors to show her card and an A4 sheet of paper and invited the foreign visitors to buy toothpicks or to donate money for charity. Many visitors refused, but many gave her cash and signed into a notebook.After filming their acts, the reporters informed the local police of the scam. [Source: VietNamNet, May 10, 2013]

At 10am on May 8, while soliciting several foreign visitors at the Lenin monument, a man and a woman were arrested. The woman immediately threw her Vietnam Red Cross membership card to a bush. At the police station of Dien Bien Ward, Dang Van Dang and Nguyen Thi Thuy declared to be husband and wife, from Gia Loc district of Hai Duong province. They confessed to join a group of people who used faked membership cards of the Vietnam Red Cross to cheat foreign visitors. They compiled a document, which was translated into six languages, to call for foreign visitors to buy toothpicks or donate for charity. Whenever seeing foreign tourists, they showed the document and solicited them for purchasing toothpicks or donating money for the Vietnam Red Cross.

Thuy said she did this for about seven months. Every day, she, her husband and their group drove motorbikes from Hai Duong to Hanoi on the morning to "work" and returned home in late afternoon. They earned about VND300,000-VND400,000 ($15-20) per day each. However, when the police searched Thuy’s bag, they found a notebook noting the amount of money donated by foreign visitors, with their signatures. There are over ten pages in the notebook full of the names and the signatures of donators. Some people donated VND500,000 and even $100.

Ferry Accidents in Vietnam

In February 2007, Associated Press reported: “Two Chinese tourists and one South Korean tourist were killed when a hydrofoil ferry hit a cargo ship in northern Vietnam, an investigator said Saturday. The hydrofoil ferry was carrying about 25 passengers, mostly Vietnamese. It was travelling from Halong Bay, the famed UN World Heritage site, to Mong Cai near the Chinese border on Friday when it hit a cargo ship. [Source” Associated Press, February 9, 2007]

"The three foreign tourists were killed instantly and four Vietnamese passengers were seriously injured when the front part of the hydrofoil was crushed," said Trinh Quoc Dung, deputy head of the investigation department of Quang Ninh province, 150 kilometers east of Hanoi. The captain of the hydrofoil, Hoang Quoc Tinh, suffered a serious head injury. "We are investigating to find out the cause of the accident," the investigator said. Thick fog was present when the accident happened, he said.

Xinhua reported: “The collision happened near Mong Cai town of Quang Ninh province morning when a hydrofoil with 30 people on board, including five crew members, which had set out from the province's Ha Long City, hit a stationary cargo ship in conditions of poor visibility. Two Chinese tourists and one tourist from the Republic of Korea were killed in the accident, and 18 others were injured, including nine severely. Dongxing City and Mong Cai town are separated by a river.[Source: Xinhua - February 11, 2007]

Forty Dead in Vietnam River Boat Accident

In January 2009, AFP reported: “At least 40 people have drowned in a river boat accident in Vietnam after a crowded vessel sank while taking people to a market, a senior provincial official said. The wooden boat sank amid strong currents and cold winds 20 meters from shore on the Gianh River in central Quang Binh province when passengers scrambled to get off before it reached the pier, the official said. [Source: AFP, January 25, 2009 |:|]

Provincial Communist Party chief Luong Ngoc Binh said the boat was licensed to carry 20 people, but more than 80 people were on board. "We have recovered 40 bodies and we will continue to search until we have found the last body," he said. "About 36 people have been rescued." At least two or three people remained missing and were feared dead hours after the accident on the river south of Vinh city, he said. |:|

"We have mobilised soldiers, fishermen, anyone who has experience on the river, to join the rescue effort," Mr Binh said. "The survivors are now back at home or in local clinics." The tragedy happened on the eve of the Tet lunar New Year, the biggest annual festival in Vietnam, when extended families reunite for traditional feasts and to pray for good luck in the year ahead. |:|

"The passengers didn't obey the law, and they rushed to shop for Tet, to buy new clothes and goods," Mr Binh said. "That's the reason the accident happened. "The waves on the river were big, the wind was strong and it was cold, so it was very difficult for people to survive. "We have used dozens of fishing nets to recover bodies and find the missing, but we are afraid that the two or three people who are still missing are dead already." Mr Binh said there were some life buoys on the boat, but the accident happened so quickly that the buoys were not of any use. |:|

26 Bodies Recovered from Boat Accident; Two Dozen Still Missing

In May 2004, Associated Press reported: “Rescuers searched for about two dozen people still missing after a boat carrying some 150 passengers, mostly high school students, capsized off the coast of southern Vietnam. Searchers have recovered the bodies of 26 victims - 20 females and six males - and rescued 102 other people since Friday's accident, officials said. Soldiers, police and fishermen fanned out in more than 30 boats to search for the missing passengers. [Source: Associated Press, May 2, 2004 /*/]

"We are not giving up hope,'' said police officer Phan Thanh An of Ngoc Hien district in southern Ca Mau province. Most of those on board were high school students who had organized a holiday trip, An said. Friday was Vietnam's national Liberation Day, a holiday commemorating the defeat of the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam by the Communists in 1975. /*/

Police said they now believe the boat was carrying 152 people to the nearby tourist island of Hon Khoai when it sank Friday afternoon about six kilometers (3.5 miles) off Ca Mau, Vietnam's southernmost tip. Earlier, they had estimated about 130 people were on board. The exact number of passengers wasn't immediately known because tickets were sold on the boat. Authorities said their new estimate was based on reports of missing people from local towns and rescued passengers. The owner of the fishing boat and the pilot turned themselves in to police Saturday for questioning. Police suspect a broken pump was responsible for the boat's sinking. /*/

Tourist Boat Sinks in Halong Bay, Killing 12 People from Nine Countries

An overnight boat packed with sleeping tourists sank in Vietnam's scenic Ha Long Bay, killing 12 people from nine countries—including the U.S., Britain, Australia, Japan, Russia, France, Sweden and Switzerland— and their Vietnamese guide. It Vietnam’s deadliest tour boat accident since opening up to foreign visitors in the mid 1980s. The bay has had at least three fatal boat sinkings in the previous decade. Storms or windy conditions were blamed for sinkings in 2009, 2006 and 2002 that killed at least a dozen people in all.

The China Daily reported: “Nine foreign tourists and six locals were rescued from the chilly water by other tour boats anchored nearby. They were rushed to a hospital as teams scoured the area for more survivors. Those rescued reported seeing a plank of the wooden live-aboard ship ripping away, followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it down around 5 am near Titov Island, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province. "Crew members tried to stop the water from coming in and alerted the tourists who were sleeping, but the water came in and the boat sank quickly," he said. "All of the 12 people who died were in the cabins." [Source: China Daily, February 18, 2011 +++]

“There were 27 people on the boat, including six crew members, Thin said. It was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats, and weather conditions were calm at the time of the incident. Twelve bodies have been found, including those of tourists from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay's management board. The body of a Vietnamese tour guide was also recovered, and all of the dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that one Japanese was among the dead. +++

Dinh Tran Trung Hau of Associated Press wrote: “There were 27 people, including six crew members, aboard the boat and all have been accounted for, Thin said. The vessel, which is owned by Truong Hai Co., was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats and weather conditions were calm at the time of the sinking. The dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification, where survivors received treatment for minor injuries, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay's management board. The official Vietnam News Agency published the victims' names and ages, most of them aged 20 to 25, seven were women. They include a Briton, two Americans, one Japanese, one French, two Swedes, two Russians, one Swiss and one person of Vietnamese origin living in Australia, according to the government. Divers worked to free the bodies still inside. Several feet of the masts were still visible, and Thin said crews were working to bring in a crane to pull the boat out. [Source: Dinh Tran Trung Hau, AP, February 17, 2011]

Survivors of the Tourist Boat That Sunk in Halong Bay

Dinh Tran Trung Hau of Associated Press wrote: “Italian traveler Stefano Corda felt an ominous tilt as dinner was served, but his tour boat crew assured him everything was fine. A few hours later, Corda and his friend jumped for their lives into Vietnam's famed Ha Long Bay as water raced inside the wooden vessel, sucking it down. All were sleeping on the overnight ship, named Bien Mo or Dream of the Ocean, which was anchored in about 30 feet (10 meters) of water near a small island. Nine foreigners and six Vietnamese survived only by flinging themselves overboard and swimming to other tour boats anchored nearby. [Source: Dinh Tran Trung Hau, AP, February 17, 2011 \+\]

"We woke up at 5, and the boat took one minute to sink," Corda, 35, of Palermo, Italy, told Associated Press Television News. "We went to the exit and the boat was almost vertical. I grabbed my friend, we went out, and it was so fast." Corda's friend, Stefano Sacconi, 33, of Rome, was in the bathroom just before the disaster struck. He thought he felt the boat buckling on its right side and soon realized they needed to get out. And fast. "We started to hear tables and glasses falling from the top of the restaurant," he said. "After that, my friend went out. He called me, 'Come up! Come up! Something's wrong here! The boat is going down!'" They jumped and swam to another nearby ship. \+\

“Other survivors reported seeing a wooden plank ripping away from the ship around 5 a.m., followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it under near Titov island, about an hour from mainland's shore, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province. The boat was still anchored from the night when it sank. One American was Samantha Kay Taylor, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was overseas teaching in China and traveling. Her boyfriend, George Fosmire, 23, a University of Colorado at Boulder student, was traveling with her, and after the accident, went to the morgue to help identify the bodies of his girlfriend and their good friend, said Fosmire's father, William Fosmire of Golden, Colo., in an Associated Press interview. \+\

“Vietnam's foreign ministry confirmed the survivors as two Danes, one German, two Italians, one American, one Australian, one French and one Swiss. "This is a very rare and very unfortunate accident," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga. She said tour companies should improve safety measures in Ha Long Bay. \+\

Captain of Tourist Boat That Sunk in Halong Bay Had a Bad Record

Dinh Tran Trung Hau of Associated Press wrote: “Police are investigating what caused the accident, and a Vietnamese official called for checks on safety of the more than 100 tour boats that ply the bay. The boat captain and crew were summoned for questioning, said Le Thanh Binh, a spokesman of Quang Ninh police. The Transport newspaper, published by the government, reported that the boat was put into operation in November 2008 and licensed to provide overnight services. It passed its last safety check four months ago and was 28.7 meters (94 feet) long and 7 meters (23 feet) wide. It was equipped to carry 30 passengers, including 20 passengers for its 10 cabins, it said. [Source: Dinh Tran Trung Hau, AP, February 17, 2011]

In February 2012, AFP reported that the tour boat that sank in Halong Bay, killing 12 tourists, is owned by a company linked to another deadly accident two years before, police say. Vu Tuan Hung, of the Quang Ninh water police, confirmed media reports that the boat owner, Truong Hai Co, was involved in another deadly accident in September 2009 when it operated under a different name. In the previous incident a boat of the company's sank during heavy rain, killing three foreign tourists and a local guide, Thanh Nien newspaper reported this weekend. [Source: AFP, February 20, 2011 <=>]

At the time Thanh Nien said the boat, which was new, had breached several regulations, prompting authorities to pledge stricter enforcement of seaworthiness standards and registration rules. Hung said officials planned to announce on Monday the results of their probe into the latest sinking to foreign ambassadors and families of the victims. The crew have been questioned but no one has been arrested. Initial information from the sailors suggested that the boat, Dream Voyage, sank because of a break in the lower hull, police said. It took on water so fast that sleeping passengers had almost no time to escape the torrent that filled their cabins. <=>

In May 2011, Thanh Nien News reported: “The accident was later identified as having been caused by human error — the valve that allows water to come into the boat to cool the engine wasn’t closed properly before the crew went to bed. The tragedy prompted local authorities to launch inspections into boats operating in the bay. The operations of the company that organized the tour and the one that owned the boat were both suspended.[Source: Thanh Nien News, May 9, 2011]

More Tourist Boat Accident at Halong Bay

In September 2009, a packed tourist boat carrying 25 passengers capsized in Halong Bay during heavy rain, killing three foreign tourists and two Vietnamese. Simone Whey of The Guardian wrote: “Two British tourists, believed to be in their 20s, drowned after a packed boat carrying 25 passengers and seven crew capsized in choppy seas in Halong Bay, a popular Vietnamese holiday spot, the Foreign Office said. A French man and two Vietnamese were also killed. The boat sank in the evening as it was returning to port, when heavy rains and strong winds tore through Halong Bay. Other passengers were treated in hospital for shock and hypothermia after the incident, according to reports. Pham Dinh Hoa, a disaster official, said the bodies of a Vietnamese crew member and a local guide were recovered over the weekend, bringing the toll to five. [Source: Simone Whey, The Guardian, September 28, 2009 ~*~]

“Hoa said the vessel was carrying 24 passengers and a six-member crew when it sank. Sunny Bui, manager of Cruise Halong, one of the tour operators that run boat trips to Halong Bay, said an accident of this scale was almost unheard of in the area. "It never happened like this before. There was no warning. [Tour operators] usually hear of typhoons and strong winds in the weather forecast, but this was a whirlwind that only lasted for 15 or 20 minutes, and nobody knew about it." ~*~

In May 2011, Thanh Nien News reported: “A boat with nearly 30 tourists on board sank after another boat crashed into it in Ha Long Bay, but no casualties were reported. The accident happened at around 3 p.m. when the boat, belonging to the Hai Long Company, was anchored some 300 meters from the Ti Top Island. Witnesses said a boat carrying water then crashed into it and the boat with tourists soon began to sink. The victims were saved by people on other tourist boats anchored nearby. [Source: Thanh Nien News, May 9, 2011]

“According to Tuoi Tre, 28 French tourists, a tour guide and 12 Vietnamese crew members were on board when the accident took place. It quoted Dang Huy Hau, vice chairman of Quang Ninh Province’s People’s Committee, as saying that local agencies will salvage the boat to identify the cause.

In August 2000, Reuters reported: “At least six people were killed, two of them Indian tourists, and several reported missing, including a Thai tourist, after tropical storm Kaemi lashed Vietnam's coast, police and officials said. Police said the two Indian tourists drowned after a whirlwind capsized two tour boats in Halong Bay. An officer told Reuters two Vietnamese women and a female Thai tourist were still missing, but 16 other people had been rescued from the boats. [Source: Reuters, August 23, 2000]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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