A series of small islets of Phu Quoc Island off southern Vietnam, once praised for their primitive beauty comparable to that of The Maldives, is now a big let-down for visitors as their landscapes are being destroyed by rushed and unregulated construction.
The An Thoi archipelago, comprised of around 20 islets scattered across an area of 724 hectares in the Gulf of Thailand, was once a popular attraction in southern Vietnam with its sandy beaches and magnificent coral reefs.
Tourists visiting the famous Phu Quoc Island often took day trips to some of these islets to experience coral diving, fishing or swimming in the crystal-clear water.
However, the recent ‘land fever’ on Phu Quoc has not spared these remote islets from its quake, as people took advantage of authorities’ lack of oversight to destroy forests and erect buildings without permission.
On a tourist boat from Phu Quoc to Mong Tay Islet, dubbed ‘a Maldives paradise in Vietnam’ by local news site VietNamNet, passengers including foreign and Vietnamese nationals were shocked by what they saw as the vessel pulled closer to the islet.
Contrary to what they had imagined or read on the Internet about the place, what captured their eyes were not “wonders of nature” but a series of ugly makeshift huts offering catering services erected along the 50-meter beach.
Rocks used in the construction of nearby restaurants piled up on the coastline like “knife wounds on an angel’s face,” according to a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper journalist who was also aboard the boat.
None of the passengers wanted to disembark, insisting that the captain must have taken them to the wrong islet as it looked nothing like what they saw in photos online.
According to Duong Thanh Van, chairman of Hon Thom Commune that administers the archipelago, the physical distance of these islands poses a challenge for authorities to monitor the activities happening there.
Some residents have taken advantage of this to illegally erect houses on forest land on these islands in the hope that they will receive compensation when the area is cleared for tourism projects, Van said.
Vast swaths of forest the size of a football pitch have been chopped down for this purpose, leaving naked hills clearly observable from above.
A delegation of officials and rangers conducted an inspection in mid-October and found dozens of houses unlawfully built on forest land in the An Thoi archipelago.
Works have begun this week to remove these buildings, Van said. “Trees are spouting fast due to it being the rainy season so some may be fooled into thinking there is still some forest left, but in fact there is none,” said Ut, a tourist boat captain.