HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – A plan to build a cable car in central Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, where the world’s largest cave and a filming location of the latest King Kong movie franchise is located, has led to an opposition from thousands over fear that mass tourism could have a negative impact on the environment.
More than 47,000 people have signed an online petition against the construction of the cable car line, measuring 5.2 kilometers (3.2 miles), in the National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.
The project, which was approved in August by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, will transport tourists to Hang En cave, the third largest cave in the world.
The latest proposal replaced another, more ambitious, transportation project announced three years ago reaching Son Doong, the largest known cave in the world with a length of 5 km, breadth of 200 meters (656 feet) and 150 meters in height.
Criticism over the environmental impact and the feedback from UNESCO led to the project being rolled back by the authorities in Quang Binh province, for whom the caves represent an economic opportunity.
“We succeeded in stopping that project because they saw that many people spoke about it and criticized it. They realized they could end up projecting a bad image and damaging the economy,” Le Nguyen Thien Huong, founder of the campaign Save Son Doong, told EFE.
Quang Binh – a province surrounded by mountains that make agriculture difficult, devastated by war and often hit by typhoons and storms – sees in mass tourism a means to escape poverty.
Filming of blockbusters such as “Pan” (2015) and more recently “Kong: Skull Island” (2016) in the area has served to attract thousands of tourists from around the world.
Phong Nha village, which earlier relied on agriculture and timber harvesting, is currently replete with posters advertising pizzas, hamburgers, hotels and exploration tours to the jungle and the caves.
However, for Huong, the construction of the cable car would not improve the lives of the residents, but would do just the opposite.
“The guides and the more than 400 porters for the adventure tours would lose their jobs,” she said, adding that souvenir sellers are the only ones to benefit from the cable car project.
The 47,000 signatures collected are significant in a country where citizens are commonly hesitant to raise their voice over fear of reprisals from the Communist government.
UNESCO represents hope for the campaigners as the organization has asked the Vietnamese authorities to abandon the project.
In May, it warned that the building of the cable car in Son Doong would potentially have negative effects and advised the government to cancel the construction plans.
“UNESCO will have the last word and if the plans go ahead, they could take back recognition as a heritage as well as the funding that it entails,” Huong explained.
Huong is not sure if her efforts can help suspend the project; however, she is satisfied to see thousands of people raising their voice for the protection of environment.
“Before our campaign, it mattered to very few people. We have succeeded in making more people aware that we should preserve our natural environment,” she concluded.