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Outcry over ‘eyesore’ building on majestic Vietnam mountain pass

Saturday, October 05, 2019, 09:42 GMT+7
Outcry over ‘eyesore’ building on majestic Vietnam mountain pass
A panoramic view of the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam with the "Ma Pi Leng Panorama" building spotted in the upper-left corner. Photo: Bao Anh / Tuoi Tre News

Social media users in Vietnam are up in arms over a seven-story hotel and restaurant illegally built on a vantage point overlooking one of the most magnificent mountain passes of the country’s northwestern region, but local authorities said they plan to legitimize the building.

Ma Pi Leng is a 20-kilometer mountain pass that connects Ha Giang City, Dong Van District, and Meo Vac District in the northwestern province of Ha Giang.

At an elevation of 1,200 meters, the pass was built in six years between 1959 and 1965 and snakes through the scenic Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang.

It is widely regarded by travelers as one of the 'Great Four' mountain passes of northwestern Vietnam for its hair-raising bends and magnificent landscape. The other three are O Quy Ho Pass in Lai Chau Province, Khau Pha Pass in Yen Bai Province, and Pha Din Pass in Son La Province.

View of the canyon and Nho Que River from the Ma Pi Leng moutain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tran Phuong / Tuoi Tre
View of the canyon and Nho Que River from the Ma Pi Leng moutain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tran Phuong / Tuoi Tre

The name of Ma Pi Leng literally means “bridge of a horse’s nose” in the native Hmong language, referring to the road’s steep slopes.

Building the pass took over two million days worth of labor by thousands of youths from 16 ethnic minorities in the mountainous region. Some of them spent nearly a year hanging from ropes to carve out the road inch by inch.

The result was what would become one of the most scenic and breathtaking roads in northwestern Vietnam that has charmed generations of thrill-seeking travelers.

'Eyesore'

In late 2018, construction began on a seven-story building, called “Ma Pi Leng Panorama”, situated on the highest point of the mountain pass that offered the most complete vantage point for the landscape and jade-colored Nho Que River that flows below.

The structure was finished in early 2019, serving as hotel, restaurant, and café that sticks out of the mountainside like a sore thumb.

Ma Pi Leng Panorama during construction. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre
Ma Pi Leng Panorama during construction. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

In a piece published on Vietnamese news site Dan Viet on Tuesday, author Nguyen Quy equated the building to a “concrete thorn” that “deforms” and “destroys” the majestic landscape of the Dong Van Karst Plateau.

“As the building towers over the most prime spot on the Ma Pi Leng peak, the panoramic view of the area has been completely ruined,” Quy wrote.

The article generated a call for boycotting Ma Pi Leng Panorama in Vietnam, with Facebook user Tran Dang Tuan leading the charge through a now-viral post on Thursday.

“If you use the services offered by this hotel-restaurant, you will be accelerating the clock that ticks toward a day when there’s no more beautiful Ma Pi Leng landscape to enjoy,” Tuan wrote.

A seven-floor building called 'Ma Pi Leng Panorama' sticks out on the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Cong Hoan / Booking.com
A seven-floor building called 'Ma Pi Leng Panorama' sticks out on the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Cong Hoan / Booking.com

“If you really love Ma Pi Leng, don’t give those who destroy Ma Pi Leng any chance to make money off of it,” the former Vietnam Television deputy general director added.

The post has been shared over 6,000 times and garnered more than 14,000 “reactions” on the social network as of Friday.

Illegal building

Ma Pi Leng Panorama is the first-ever privately invested project developed on the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass after many calls for investment by the administration of Meo Vac District, its chairman Nguyen Cao Cuong told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday.

The building’s owner and developer is a family from Ha Giang City, Cuong said.

Cuong confirms that the building is erected on agricultural land and has not been granted a construction permit, making it an illegal structure in pursuant with laws in Vietnam.

A traveler takes photos of the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam with the 'Ma Pi Leng Panorama building spotted in the background. Photo: Tran Phuong / Tuoi Tre
A traveler takes photos of the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam with the 'Ma Pi Leng Panorama building spotted in the background. Photo: Tran Phuong / Tuoi Tre

However, the chairman said his administration has plans to help legitimize Ma Pi Leng Panorama by requesting a change of land-use purpose for the piece of land on which the building sits, which is required to issue a construction permit.

The plan has received full support from district leaders, who are rolling out the red carpet for investors, he said.

“The district has wanted to invest in such an observation deck for a long time but we were short on cash,” Cuong said, adding that the building provides a great spot for visitors to view the canyon and Nho Que River.

“That’s why when a private investor showed interest in the project, we wanted to be as welcoming as we could and didn’t have time to go through with all the paperwork,” the chairman explained.

A panoramic view of the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam with the Ma Pi Leng Panorama building spotted in the far upper-right corner. Photo: Tuan Son / Tuoi Tre News
A panoramic view of the Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang Province, Vietnam with the 'Ma Pi Leng Panorama' building spotted in the far upper-right corner. Photo: Tuan Son / Tuoi Tre News

Ma Pi Leng Panorama is located within the buffer zone of an area recognized since 2009 as a national scenic spot. This means its construction requires approval from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, which the building also lacks.

A leader of Ha Giang Province told Tuoi Tre on Friday the province has sent officials to inspect the structure after media reports.

Hoang A Chinh, director of Ha Giang’s Department of Construction, said authorities will begin by reviewing the process and procedures related to the building’s construction as well as evaluating the impact it has on the natural landscape before proposing a solution.

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