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Vietnam: Red River cultural and eco-tourism

January 21, 2013 - Graham Land

FOR Vietnam’s tourism industry, 2013 is to be the year of the Red River Civilization, with the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism focusing on developing the potential of this unique region of northern Vietnam.

Fishing in the Red River near Hanoi. Pic: Maurice Koop (Flickr CC)

The Red River, or Song Hong in Vietnamese, enters Vietnam from southwest China, where it is known as the Yuan River. It then cuts a swathe through the north of Vietnam, including Hanoi, until it empties into the Gulf of Tonkin. The river gets its name from the silt that gives its waters a deep reddish tinge.

Every year Vietnam declares “National Tourism Year”, highlighting a different region of the country. 2012 featured the north-central coastal region. This year’s focus on the area around the Red River Delta aims to strengthen regional ties, connecting heritage sites and biosphere reserves as well as calling attention to the diversity and unique characteristics of the Delta.

From Vietnam Plus:

The Delta is a cradle of the wet rice civilisation and is proud of its outstanding cultural and historical value. Numerous significant architectural relics, traditional festivals and ancient villages have cemented the region’s unique and rich culture.

– Chairman of the Hai Phong City People’s Committee Duong Anh Dien

The Red River Delta, considered the “historic cradle of Vietnam”, is a densely populated area with a rich tradition of rice farming and craft making. Many famous “craft villages” are located in the region and are already popular tourist destinations. For more on community tourism in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, refer to this post I wrote back in November.

Rice farming in the Delta. Pic: Lon&Queta (Flickr CC).

The ecological importance of the Delta is not to be underestimated either. According to UNESCO, the Red River Delta biosphere reserve contains one of the remaining large tracts of mangrove forest in Vietnam, with between 30 and 50 mangrove species, as well as wetlands, salt mashes, estuaries and highly biodiverse beaches.

The wetlands are of global importance for breeding/stop-over during migration of birds, especially Black-face spoon bill, Anatidae Rallidae and Order Charidriformes, using the East-Asian or the Australian flyway route for migration listed as threatened by IUCN and/or Birdlife International. Charidriformes are known to be most threatened. 78 species of water birds have been recorded from the Red River Delta including 38 species of shorebirds.


In 1994 it was estimated that around 120,000 shorebirds used the Delta’s coastal area during their migration patterns.

Nice ways to enjoy the scenery along the Red River include boat tours, which can last from just one to 6 or more days and include excursions into villages and further journeys into Tu Long Bay and Hanoi. Or why not try a rugged but picturesque Red River bicycle tour?

Will all this development and investment spoil Vietnam’s historic cradle? When you look at the amount of money and effort being poured into the area and in what sectors, it’s difficult not to be a bit cynical. There has surely been significant pollution already. Yes, they created a large biosphere preserve, and are apparently taking some of the concerns of the locals and the environment seriously, including education and economic assistance, but this kind of development has a chequered past to say the least.

Rock formations. Pic: Quiltsalad (Flickr CC)

Vietnam: Red River cultural and eco-tourism
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