Are hmongs from Japan

Ethnic minorities like the Hmong are the biggest losers

Dear Vietnam, perhaps these lines are unfair, the judgment too sweeping, the impressions too selective. But why do so many tourists report similar experiences? A 2014 EU-funded study found that only six percent of all Vietnam travelers would vacation in the country again. The main reasons given by the respondents were: the dangerous road traffic, the poorly developed infrastructure and the business activities in the tourism industry.

You have had to endure a lot in your story. Almost a hundred years of French colonialism, the Japanese occupation of the Tenno-fascists and finally the division of the country that led to the Vietnam War. After centuries of being crushed between world powers, it may be presumptuous to nag a bitter tourist about you.

After all, you've achieved quite a bit. At the end of the 1990s, more than half of the population was still living below the national poverty line. Today this value is in the single digits.

But when the skyline of your bright metropolis gives way to the huts of the rural population in front of the bus window, it becomes clear: Outside the big cities, hardly anyone benefits from the promises of cosmopolitan life. This is especially true for ethnic minorities like the Hmong. They live near the Chinese border in northern Vietnam, and travelers come into contact with them mainly in the province of Lao Cai. Here is the small town of Sapa, which is built on the steep mountain slopes. Once built as a mountain station of the French colonial power, the place was only known to a few backpackers for a long time. But anyone who comes here today experiences all the contradictions of a country in a condensed form.

The mountain guides are no longer needed

As soon as the sliding doors of the minibuses release the first tired tourists into the streets of Sapa in the morning, a staccato from dozens of throats sets in: “Where you from? You want shopping? ”The Hmong women will accompany every tourist for the duration of their stay. They no longer advertise their traditional fabrics, they are junk items "Made in China".

The Hmong have lived at the foot of the imposing Fansipan for centuries. At 3,143 meters, it is the highest point in Vietnam and its conquest was once considered the culmination of a trip around Sapa. For the ascent you needed a regional mountain guide from the surrounding villages - it was almost always women who did the job - good equipment and three days. Today it only takes $ 25 and 15 minutes. The longest three-cable cable car in the world shovels up 2000 people per hour. At a great height, the tourists float over the heads of those mountain guides who are no longer needed.

Perhaps it is just the presumption of a Western European to see the destruction of dream beaches as the most pressing problem. Perhaps it is also a holdover from the colonial yearning for exotic promises. But from the outside it seems that those responsible still do not understand the importance of your unique environment for sustainable tourism.

You can't see the sand anymore because of the plastic garbage

The best example of this is Phu Quoc. The island off the southeast coast has developed from an insider tip to a main travel destination in Vietnam because of its beaches. If the foreign investors have their way, from 2020 two million tourists will be transported annually to the island, which is smaller than Berlin. On Phu Quoc one can observe what the spiritual father of the nation, Karl Marx, once called "original accumulation": the land acquisition of common property by private hands. Where no bulldozers are rolling across the beach, building boards announce the imminent transformation into a luxury resort. The coastline will be torn open, miles of aisles will be cut through the jungle and the sea view will be built with bed castles. And where the resorts stop, you can no longer see the sand for all the plastic waste. In the south of the island gigantic concrete struts soar into the sky. The supports, which are up to 160 meters high, show that gondolas will soon be floating here too. A safari park with giraffes from Africa has been set up in the north of the island. In places like this one can guess that in a few years Phu Quoc will be a kind of Vietnamese shooter. You don't long for mass tourism, you almost force it.

The lost island jewel in the Gulf of Thailand, the built-up mountain landscape of Sapa - they should be a warning about how the still young tourism is directed against people and nature. Still, dear Vietnam, you still have the chance to take a path of sustainability and preserve your rich cultural and natural heritage. Finally, there is a second stanza in your hymn. It says: “We will fight for a new age with united forces.” May the young Vietnam survive this too.

A traveler who loves you and who would like to count himself among the six percent of those who come back.

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