Recognised global geopark title to become a driver for Cao Bang tourism: expert

Prof. Dr. Ta Hoa Phuong, Head of the Subject of Natural Resource Management and Development under the Faculty of Geology, VNU University of Science, held a talk with Nhan Dan on the Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark and gave several suggestions for Cao Bang to make the most of the geopark.

"Only concerning the area of geoheritage, the park luckily possesses dozens of unique destinations, which contain outstanding and premier values," said Prof. Dr. Phuong.

"Magnet" has yet to be exploited

Q: Non Nuoc Cao Bang is the second global geopark of Vietnam to be recognised by UNESCO but the name Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark remains unknown, even to Vietnamese people. Can you tell us more about the outstanding and special values of this geoheritage?

Non Nuoc Cao Bang Global Geopark is located in the north-eastern region of Vietnam. With a total area of over 3,000 km, the park covers the entire administrative boundaries of the six districts of Ha Quang, Tra Linh, Quang Uyen, Trung Khanh, Ha Lang, and Phuc Hoa and part of three districts of Hoa An, Nguyen Binh and Thach An. Like Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang province, before being recognised as a global geopark, Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark was developed as a provincial-level geopark. Perhaps because of inefficient communications, the title of the provincial geopark remains unknown.

Non Nuoc Cao Bang Global Geopark was formed over a vast period, having experienced the three Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. It is also home to the largest number of karst caverns and the most beautiful caverns, such as Nguom Ngao and Dong Doi, which were formed from the Givet limestone about 387-382 million years ago - the oldest type of limestone compared with other famous caves in Vietnam including Phong Nha - Ke Bang, Ha Long Bay, Dong Van Karst Plateau, and Trang An tourism site.

Non Nuoc Cao Bang also possesses a lot of geological and geomorphological heritages (also called geoheritage) - the most important type of heritage among natural heritages. These geoheritages meet all of the criteria set for a geoheritage including beautiful, unique and exceptional landscape; special geoheritage of scientific significance and national and international importance; the heritage needs to be protected from the threat of destruction by nature or humans; and heritage sites are meaningful for education and tourism development.

Q: Could you provide some specific examples?

The 3km Nguom Ngao cave is a good example with part of it having been opened for tourists. The cave is famous for its stalactites, which make up the Thap Vang (golden tower), Thap Bac (silver tower), and the magnificent Cay San Ho (coral tree). In particular, the cave also possesses a stalagmite in the shape of a perfect upside-down lotus which is said to be the most beautiful one compared with other caves in Vietnam.

The Dong Doi (Bat Cave) in Ha Lang district is also a very rare cave which includes three interconnected floors, in which the first floor is a river cave and the upper two floors are fossil caves. In addition to the diverse and unique stalactite system, this cave also possesses a tremendous amount of cave pearls. Moreover, the cave has Vietnam"s largest reef of marine organisms (which are mainly Stromatoporoidea, Coral and Brachiopoda fossils) with their remains on the wall and ceiling of the cave, stretching tens of metres. Such a beautiful three-storey karst cave with a unique stalactite system and a rare reef of marine creature is not seen anywhere else in Vietnam.

In addition, the Ghi Rang cave and the Thang Hen Lake system are also among the must-see destinations for visitors when exploring the Non Nuoc Cao Bang geopark. Ghi Rang is a fossil cave that is divided into two large chambers with stalactites in special shapes, while Thang Hen is the most beautiful and widest lake in the system of 36 interconnected lakes in the karst topography of Tra Linh district. The lakes are interconnected through a system of underground caves, cracks and siphons, which only occur in the karst topography.

Besides a few of the caves that have been opened for tourists, a large number of karst caves of the Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark have not been fully researched. However, only preliminary reviews can see the huge potential for exploration and adventure tourism.

It would be a mistake without mentioning Ban Gioc - the world"s fourth largest cross-border waterfall and also the largest and most beautiful natural waterfalls in Southeast Asia. The Quay Son River (Guichun River) originates in China and when it reaches Dam Thuy commune in Cao Bang province, it divides into many branches and lowers its flow by 35m to form the spectacular Ban Gioc waterfall.

After many years of remaining in the land of magnificent scenery and cultural and historical richness I now understand the magnetic attraction of the nature here that has featured in many famous folk-songs. Unfortunately, the pace of tourism development in Cao Bang has yet to meet its potential. If the locality knows how to make the most of the global values recognised by the UNESCO, Cao Bang would probably become a magnet for a large number of domestic and foreign visitors.

Practical suggestions

Q: "If the locality knows how to make the most of the global values" sounds simple but it is not easy to realise. With the view of a leading expert in the field of geological tourism, what should Cao Bang do "to make the most of the acclaimed global values"?

Being over 300 km from Hanoi to the natural heritage sites in Cao Bang is likely to be a significant obstacle as it takes visitors five to eight hours to travel from Hanoi to Cao Bang. Moreover, tours for visitors to Cao Bang are not designed reasonably, in the way that tourists travel from the central city of Cao Bang to tourist destinations in remote areas. Therefore, tourists do not spend the night at tourist sites, creating little opportunities for tourist spots to develop, thus not improving the economic conditions for the localities.

To overcome this shortcoming, Cao Bang should invest more in tourism infrastructure in its localities, especially roads and tourist accommodation and services at tourist sites. On this basis, tours should be reorganised in a more rational manner including tours connecting tourist sites.

The opening of tourist routes linking prominent tourist spots in a closed circle as proposed by Vu Van Ha and Dang Minh Tuan or the idea of building thematic tours based on the clusters of heritage or clusters of cultural - historical heritage as advised by other experts are also practical suggestions so that Cao Bang will develop more tourism products that are worthy of the recognised global geopark title.

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