|Island getaway: A view of the Bai Tu Long eco-tourism complex, which recently opened to tourists. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Dan
by Thanh Lam
The first gusts of summer wind have only just started to sweep through the country, but Le Thi Mai is already listing down possible destinations for her family's summer holiday.
Topping the travel list will be the family's age-old favourite, Van Don island district, which will kick off their travels before continuing their journey southward.
Van Don District stretches out over an area comprising over 600 islands of different sizes and sits about 50km from Ha Long City in Quang Ninh Province. The islands fill out the whole Bai Tu Long Bay, famous for being one of the three triangular peaks of the World Heritage site Ha Long Bay.
"We have spent three summer holidays in Van Don, and we all love passing our vacation time there so we will definitely be going back this summer," the Ha Noi-based mother of two sons said. Ha Long Bay used to be the destination of choice for her, her husband and two kids, but since she discovered the beauty of Van Don island district, she has not looked back.
"White sand, turquoise water and a perfectly blue sky! What more could we wish for?" Mai said, adding that last year she and two of her close friends all went there with their respective families for a joint holiday. "The complete tranquility is a real joy, especially since Ha Long Bay is always so full of tourists."
|Life on the sea: Tourists can visit floating villages off the coast of Van Don District. — VNA/VNS Photo Cam Binh
The beautifully wild Van Don will charm you with its stone and earth mountains, primeval forests, caves and long sandy beaches. It is said to accommodate the highest number of untouched beaches in the province.
Many travel agents often comment that it is rare to find a place on Ha Long Bay so full of aesthetic beauty, biodiversity, and culture as Bai Tu Long Bay – basically an outdoor museum where more than 340 million years of history is stored and conserved.
Built under the Ly Dynasty in 1149 and developed through the following Tran and Later Le Dynasties, the Van Don Port acted as the first point of contact for foreign trade in Viet Nam. Vestiges of the port can be found along the numerous islands including Cong Dong, Cong Hep, Cong Yen, Quan Lan, and Minh Chau.
Stunning natural landscapes like these give tourists the freedom to choose from spending time lazing by the beach or taking boat journeys around the islands.
There are even activities for those with an adventurous spirit who can entertain themselves by trekking through the mountains, forests and caves.
Van Don also gives tourists the option of discovering more about it through eco-tourism and spirit-oriented tours to Van Don Port, Bai Tu Long National Park, Cai Bau Pagoda, Quan Lan temple and pagoda complex, among many others.
This year, the island district has set its sights on attracting 620,000 tourists to the area and becoming a major hub for eco-marine tourism in the north.
During a conference to promote investment into Quang Ninh Province early last year, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked local authorities to prioritise marine economy and establish eco-tourism and leisure centres in Van Don District. Highlights of the project will be the construction of a casino and an international airport.
To prepare for this summer's tourist season, local authorities and travel agencies have spared no expense on advertising campaigns in addition to enhancing and developing tourism services to attract tourists.
According to Le Quang Thach, deputy chairman of Van Don District People's Committee, the roads in the district leading to the main beaches have been improved, and the fresh water and electricity supplies upgraded. The docks have also been rebuilt and a larger port to be use exclusively for tourism purposes constructed in the southern port of Cai Rong Town.
|Coasting along: Van Don is home to the highest number of beaches in Quang Ninh Province. — VNS Photo
The district has invested in training staff working in the tourism sector and encouraged local tourism companies to organise domestic and overseas classes for their employees.
Luu Thanh Vien, chairman of the People's Committee of Quan Lan Commune, one of the four communes in the district, said local authorities had promised to better manage services to ensure better holidays for tourists.
"To be well-prepared for this summer, local tourism service providers will offer many experimental travel packages to discover the sea like night fishing, or visiting aquaculture and pearl-cultivating farms," said Vien.
"Local households and tourism companies will also embark on a project to combine home-stays with activities that involve catching products of the sea."
And for the first time, the Quan Lan night market will be held, which will attempt to create a setting and sell products reflective of the local culture by selling local food and other specialties.
Van Don accommodates more than 1,200 rooms for rent, 29 per cent of which reached a 2-star standard.
The district aims to build on last year's tourist numbers of 540,000, which was up 13 per cent against 2011. — VNS