A tourism company is facing closure after government inspectors concluded on Tuesday it had built an illegal stairway at a UNESCO Heritage Complex in Vietnam’s northern province of Ninh Binh.
Trang An Tourism JSC built a 2,000-step stairway to the top of a mountain in the namesake landscape complex known for its boat cave tours.
This stairway was a serious violation of Vietnam’s Cultural Heritage Law, according to inspectors from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and it will be dismantled.
Inspectors also uncovered other violations committed by Trang An Tourism, including using unqualified tour guides, untrained boat drivers, selling tickets without a permit and distributing DVDs to promote Trang An without a license.
Tourists have been climbing up the illegal stairway since the Lunar New Year holiday. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Quan
Truong Yen commune authorities asked the company to stop the construction of the stairway five times between August and December last year, and they weren’t the only ones.
The provincial tourism department also sent similar requests in writing four times to Hoa Lu District, which manages the heritage site.
However, district authorities did not respond to the letters. They admitted to inspectors that they had not been monitoring the company closely enough, which resulted in the violations.
Trang An Tourism JSC remained defiant.
CEO of Trang An Nguyen Van Son claimed to have obtained all the documents required to build the stairway, which involved having hundreds of cement pillars drilled into the rugged landscape. The one-kilometer (0.62-mile) stairway climbs up the mountain and connects to the next one, and toilets have been installed along the route.
“I didn’t build this stairway to attract tourists, I haven’t taken a dime from any of them,” said Son.
He explained that the stairway is meant to provide a safe path to the peak, where an altar has been in place since the 17th century.
Son wants to invite representatives from the culture ministry and experts to inspect the stairway once it is completed, and plans to organize science seminars there.
Trang An Landscape Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site a two-hour drive south of Hanoi. It is known for its limestone peaks and valleys, many of which are partly submerged and surrounded by almost vertical cliffs.
The complex is also home to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The area also boasts temples, pagodas, paddy fields and small villages.