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Vietnam’s beloved Sa Pa might lose itself in tourism race: PM

After the popular highlands town Sa Pa received new recognition as national tourism zone, the country’s leader has called for “careful development” to preserve its nature and culture.

The development of Sa Pa must not “mess it up,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told leaders of northern Lao Cai Province, home to the resort town, on Wednesday.

He said that Sa Pa has all it takes to become an international tourism destination, as long as the town preserves its “jungle green and ethnic culture.”

“The culture of local ethnic tribes is very important. It will be a long-time attraction of Sa Pa,” he said.

The PM made the statement as Lao Cai officials revealed plans for construction projects in the next three years, including a new administrative center, a high-end service complex, a park and an urban center as it prepares to welcome 4 million visitors to Sa Pa in 2020, compared to an expected 2.5 million this year.

Phuc agreed with the plans, although he said that their execution must not harm anything ancient and original about the town, tangible or intangible.

Sa Pa, a cool town sitting at 1,600 meters or nearly one mile above sea level, is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. Late last year, it was named among the best destinations for 2017 by TripAdvisor travelers, who described it as a perfect oasis for travelers looking for a strenuous mountain trek or a rice paddy tour.

Favorite places among tourists are Saturday night “love market” which is a colorful exhibition of the local ethnic culture, the Gothic stone church at the town center which is the reminder of the French missionary influence, Indochina’s peak Fansipan, and local terraced rice fields, which have been considered one of the most magnificent scenes on earth.

It’s a place one should visit, when the “serene” nature is still there.

Sa Pa is already under the threat of commercial tourism development. Large portions of the town look like a construction site, and a cable car system is now running up Fansipan.

The curse of commercialization is getting to it like it has in Ha Long, Da Lat and many other popular places in Vietnam, whose shining beauty can easily be undermined by trash, crowds and constructions.

The U.S. travel site Thriller in July listed all these places as it urged people to visit Vietnam “before it’s too popular.”