Mountain pass hotel caught between rock and hard place

Ha Giang in the mountainous north of Vietnam has become a popular tourist attraction thanks to its majestic scenery and rugged natural beauty.

Imposing Ma Pi Leng Pass in northernmost mountain ranges
Famous pass Ma Pi Leng suffers graffiti
Photos: Conquering the legendary Ma Pi Leng Pass

Mountain pass hotel caught between rock and hard place
Ma Pi Leng Panorama.

But in recent days, it has become the focus of public criticism after news emerged that a seven-storey building allegedly built illegally has opened up as a hostel, restaurant and cafe.

Ma Pi Leng Panorama was built in 2018 above the Tu San Valley on the well-known Ma Pi Leng Pass about 20km from National Highway 4C connecting Dong Van and Meo Vac districts.

According to a report by the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, although it had been open since early 2019, Ma Pi Leng Panorama did not have an investment certificate and was not granted a construction licence by authorities.

The owner, Vu Ngoc Anh, disagreed, saying she had received the backing of local authorities.

"To start with, I just planned a simple building. Later, I decided to strengthen the house after it was damaged five times by storms."

"I wouldn't have built it if I knew this was going to happen," Anh told online newspaper

She also said that thanks to her property, residents in Meo Vac District had more places to sell vegetables, creating jobs for H’mông ethnic people.

"I just want the people in Ma Pi Leng to be happy. If I have to move from the area, I am sure the people and children here will be left hungry."

Mua Hong Sinh, vice chairwoman of Meo Vac District's People's Committee, told media that in March 2018, she had been instructed by Ha Giang Province's People's Committee to build a rest stop for visitors to enjoy.

At that time, the district called on investors to work on the project. Anh submitted a proposal to build Ma Pi Leng Panorama and received support from local authorities.

Sinh said she did not expect the building to be so big.

She also admitted the committee and the local government must take responsibility for the illegal construction.

According to Hoang A Chinh, director of Ha Giang Province’s Construction Department, the main responsibility lays with Meo Vac District.

The rest stop was necessary, but they should not have built a hostel with other services, Chinh said.

He said agencies would meet with the provincial People's Committee to find a reasonable solution taking all considerations into account.

Ma Pi Leng Pass was recognised as a national scenic spot in 2009, and the hotel lies within its buffer zone.

Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee Nguyen Van Son said the building had damaged the natural landscape, so it would need written evaluation from a State agency if it wanted to avoid being demolished.

The provincial Department of Construction has suggested that Meo Vac District should tear down the upper floors and turn the basement and first floor into a rest stop where visitors can enjoy the view.


Architect Hanh Nguyen told the reason people were building illegal projects in scenic spots without permission came down to a lack of awareness about planning laws.

This incident needs resolving to avoid similar violations in the future.

According to Pham Thanh Tung, head of the Vietnam Association of Architects, the building and its planning needed to be evaluated in accordance with the law.

"In other countries, they built rest stops and rescue routes on winding, rugged mountain roads like Ma Pi Leng Pass. I think we need a rest stop here.

“If local agencies had worked with architects and the community, it would have helped Ma Pi Leng's beauty more accessible.”

Tung said there were many architectural options to create views that harmonise with nature. It would be possible to renovate part of the building to make it environmentally friendly and safe.

Experts from UNESCO had previously advised authorities to turn the spot into a rest stop.

Ma Pi Leng is a must-see destination for tourists visiting Dong Van Karst Plateau, which was recognised by UNESCO in 2016 and could become a turning point for tourism in Ha Giang.

Tourism is a key economic sector for many localities.

The most visible challenge is promoting the image of the country and its people. Infrastructure and tourism services are improving, creating more jobs and income.

But spontaneous development and lack of planning are affecting the balance between sustainable development and protecting the natural landscape and environment.

Panaroma Hotel is not the only case. In recent days, controversial cafes along the railway line between Hanoi's Dien Bien Phu and Phung Hung streets have been told to shut down because they pose a high risk of accidents.

The Ministry of Transport has said Hanoi should close them, but tourism industry insiders say they should be left to serve tourism development.

Ha Giang remains a poor province, and the need for development is legitimate. Businesses investing in the locality should be welcomed.

Domestic and foreign tourists agree that Ha Giang should build more accommodation for guests, providing it does not affect the overall landscape.

Although Panaroma Hotel has partly affected the natural beauty of Ma Pi Leng Pass, it has attracted more tourists.

Visitors benefit the local community, contributing to socio-economic development as well as job creation.

The case of Panaroma is not over yet.

But developing a tourism economy should ensure sustainability and a balance between development and conservation. VNS

Thu Hang

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