Recently, I had the fortune of visiting both Hang En Cave and Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, but with drastically disparate experiences.
My Hang En group consisted of ten amicable people and we were the only ones allowed to enter, and sleep, in the cave that day and night. Not a trace of garbage was in the cave and it was almost as if we were the first people to discover the subterranean paradise. The tour company staff were very pleasant and genuine people, while the expedition equipment provided was more than adequate. And the food … was excellent! In short, a memorable experience.
In Ha Long Bay, while my boat had sixteen people, we saw approximately twenty other boats during the day and at night three of them were parked next to ours (including a party boat). The limestone islands and sunset/sunrise were impressive, and the kayaking was as serene as it gets, but the polluted green water was a massive turnoff. The boat staff were stingy with the subpar food and flat out rude at times. Maintenance problems plagued many of the rooms and bathrooms. In short, not the most memorable of experiences.
Generally, there are two ways to handle a tourism experience. One way is to charge a low entrance fee and profit from the masses. Alternatively, employ a high cost and target wealthier clients. Both strategies can be successful, but only one guarantees the preservation of the area in question, along with a more noteworthy memory. The more a person pays for a product/service, the more serious he/she takes the purchase since the price hits the wallet (and psyche) harder.
So the next time you decide to explore a beautiful park, or ancient structure, do some research on the above avenues. Saving money is good, but not at the expense of an irreplaceable piece of history, Mother Earth or your own personal experience.
Tourism done right.
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