In Vietnam, you can take a cable car up to the Colosseum

In Vietnam, you can take a cable car up to the Colosseum

We’re inside the glass box of a Gondola, part of the world’s longest passenger cable car, floating silently on a nearly five-mile ride, almost over the sapphire sea just off the coast of Phu Quoc Island in the southern There are 50 floors. Vietnam. On this bright March afternoon, as we headed towards Hoan Thom Island, hundreds of colorful wooden fishing boats glistened in the crystalline waters below.

On the way back, as the 20-minute journey was about to end, Phu Quoc station and the newly built city around it came into view. The station resembles a full-scale, prefab section of the Roman Colosseum, and the city is a detailed replica of the seaside Italian town, complete with a massive bell tower, simulated Baroque fountains in the piazza, and pseudo-Roman ruins. There are several hundred pastel – and almost entirely empty – terraced buildings dotted around the streets named Venice, Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento.

“It looks like Disneyland,” said Tomek Tabaka, 44, who was part of four Polish friends traveling together, “or maybe ‘The Truman Show’.”

This two-part tourism megastar is called Sun World Hon Thom And sunset cityOne of Vietnam’s most stunning man-made attractions (or disgusting depending on your perspective).

It is anchored by a cable car that is in trend for Vietnam, which is in the middle of a cable car bonanza. The country is home to four of the world’s longest cable cars, all built in the last decade, underscoring the stunning transformation of Vietnam’s economy and tourism sector.

Most of the growth in the global cable car industry is in the urban transit and tourism markets, and most of the activity in the tourism sector is in Asia, said Steven Dale, founder of Cable Car Inc. Gondola Project, an industry tracking website. And in Asia, he said, one of the most prolific cable car developers is Vietnam.

“On a per capita basis my estimate is that Vietnam has more than any other Asian country,” said Mr. Dale, who is a principal planner at a cable-powered transit group. SCJ AllianceA consulting firm based in Washington State.

According to data from cable car manufacturers, about 26 cable car lines have been built in a dozen locations across Vietnam over the past two decades. Of course, hundreds of ski lifts have been built in Europe over the same period. But Vietnam is notable for the rapid growth of establishments for tourism.

Most of Vietnam’s systems were built by? Doppelmayr Group of Austria, one of the two unions that dominate the industry Sun Group of Vietnam, one of the communist country’s largest real estate and tourism developers. The Sun Group founders made a lot of money selling instant noodles in Ukraine before returning to Vietnam in 2007 to create a tourism boom in the Ba Na Hills in Danang, starting with a 3.6-mile cable car to the top.

The company has added several more cable cars on the Ba Na Hills, including the world’s longest single-cable ropeway last year. Over time, it became a French hill station. Sun World Ba Na Hills, a European-style theme park featuring a mock French village and Gothic cathedral, underground amusement park, fairy-tale castle and a bridge held high by two giant hands that has become an online sensation. Sun Group leaders insist on record-breaking cable cars with each project, as if they are producing a patriotic mission world famous Tourism Projects in Vietnam.

Nine of the company’s six Sun World attractions are included with the cable cars. Guinness World Records, including: the longest three-cable ropeway on Phu Quoc (4.9 miles); The largest cable car cabin (230 passengers) on the Ha Long Tramway; Highest cable car tower (705 feet), along the line to Cat Ba Island; and the largest vertical climb to the top of Fansipan Mountain (4,626 feet). , The highest peak of Vietnam – in Sa Pa in the north.

Cable cars can be seen as amazing feats of engineering that provide easy access to remote locations, the height of transportation entertainment and a low carbon footprint. But they are usually part of large-scale tourism complexes, and some travelers, citizens, and environmental activists see them as scars on the landscape and symptoms of rampant overdevelopment by powerful groups.

Environmentalists are concerned about Sun Group’s on-again, off-again plans for neighboring Cat Ba island off famous Halong Bay in Vietnam’s north-east, which include a network of cable cars, a resort, a golf course and a cruise ship port – all . in the area specified by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve,

But in Vietnam’s northwest, near the summit of Fansipan Mountain, where Sun Group inaugurated a Buddhist-themed complex in 2018, Thai visitors Suwisa Vathananda and Patrick Tunhapong, both 44, have described the project as a conservation and development effort. Considered a good balance between.

They rode to the top in a gondola surrounded by thick clouds, as if trapped in a soap bubble surrounded by smoke, before finally bursting clear into the sky near the summit two miles away. There, densely forested ranges perch on a shelf of cotton clouds, offering views of a mountain peak complex modeled after a 16th-century Vietnamese pagoda, featuring a 10-story clock tower, a network of stone stairs, and a vast sitting Buddha is included. No amusement rides, no hotels, no replicas of European landmarks.

“They say this mountain is sacred to the Vietnamese people, so you expect temples and a big Buddha statue,” said Mr. Tunhapong, who helps Ms. Vathananda run. Chiangmai of the NorthHistorical tours in that popular Thai city in the northern hills. “My grandmother can come here and if I am fit and young I can also hike here. It’s a small thing to add to the landscape compared to having a big tourist trap all the way here. This is a good compromise.”

At the foot of the mountain in the town of Sa Pa, reviews were more mixed. Before an expressway from Hanoi was built in 2014 and a cable car opened in 2016, Sa Pa hosted only 65,000 tourists in 2010. According to the Sa Pa government, by 2019, the number of visitors had increased to 3.3 million, and reached 2.5 million last year. In the post-pandemic rebound.

Wu Han, 26, who came for her mother’s 60th birthday, likes how the cable car makes the mountain more accessible, but she’s not a fan of the city’s unbridled development.

“I see their lives getting better and tourism developing the province,” said Ms Vu, who works for a non-governmental health care and education organization in Ho Chi Minh City. “But I still see a lot of buildings, a lot of huge hotels ruining the scenery. And I have seen a lot of children asking for money.”

Roads and schools have improved significantly over the past 20 years, said Phil Houlihan, who runs the ethos Tours in Sa Pa lead treks through terraced rice fields and hill tribe villages with Hmong guides; The Hmong are a marginalized ethnic group in the region. An unexpected advantage of the cable car, he said, is that, because there are thousands of tourists every day at the top of the mountain, they “aren’t crawling everywhere and the villages actually remain traditional.”

Some Hmong residents certainly see the downside, noting that many of the porters and guides who used to lead hikes up to Fansipan are out of work. And they complain that most visitor dollars go to big companies like Sun Group while the prices of land, accommodation and food soar.

Sun Group Chairman Dang Minh Truong, in a written response to questions, highlighted the thousands of jobs created by Sun World properties and how the projects “help strengthen communities and contribute to the enrichment of society.” He also noted the company’s desire to help Vietnamese access their country’s “endless natural wonders” and “to mark Vietnam as a ‘must-see destination’ on the global tourism map.”

Vietnam’s topography, with its abundance of mountains, forests and islands, is a natural fit for cable cars, which can be built faster, cheaper and with less environmental damage than roads, said Mr. Dale, the cable car expert.

They also matter to a developing country of about 100 million people with a rapidly growing middle class who can’t easily afford a trip to Rome or Paris, but want a $25 to $45 round-trip for a taste of ersatz Europe. Trip can manage cable car tickets. ,

Le Tran, 34, who taught hospitality at Ho Chi Minh City University before moving to Portugal to study for a doctorate in tourism, was visiting Hon Thom with her Portuguese partner – a small, private island owned by Sun Group where Phu Quoc Hai cable car leads to a huge water park. The company plans to add two more amusement parks, three resorts, a futuristic skyscraper and hundreds of villas. The couple were relaxing in a palm-shaded coffee shop while their tour companions frolicked on giant, colorful water slides.

Vietnamese appreciate that tourism complexes like Sun World are well-organized and clean, Ms. Tran said. And cable cars don’t make sense, he said, because Vietnamese tourists approach sightseeing differently than Westerners.

“When you see Westerners going sightseeing, they will be wearing sports shoes and clothes,” he said. “But if you look at the Vietnamese, they’re usually in long dresses and sandals or high heels. They want to look beautiful for the photo shoot.

For Frank Ngo, 41, a physical therapist from Anaheim, California, whose parents fled Vietnam in 1978 after the war, the cable car offered an unexpected perspective. He and his wife, Karen Do, 34, on their first trip to Vietnam since adolescence, marveled at the progress in the country and the ease of travel to Phu Quoc in a gondola.

“It’s crazy to see the ocean like this. My parents were boatmen. They stayed there for about five days in the open ocean,” Mr. Ngo said, as we stepped into the Colosseum-esque station. “I was imagining they were on a boat; I’m trying to wrap my head around that.

Patrick Scott writes frequently for travel. Follow him on Instagram: @patrickrobertscott

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