Trang An Landscape Complex
Situated near the southern margin of the Red River Delta, the Trang An Landscape Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. Exploration of caves at different altitudes has revealed archaeological traces of human activity over a continuous period of more than 30,000 years. They illustrate the occupation of these mountains by seasonal hunter-gatherers and how they adapted to major climatic and environmental changes, especially the repeated inundation of the landscape by the sea after the last ice age. The story of human occupation continues through the Neolithic and Bronze Ages to the historical era. Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Viet Nam, was strategically established here in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The property also contains temples, pagodas, paddy-fields and small villages.
2020 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Extraordinarily beautiful and awe-inspiring tower karst landscape
An exceptional geological site showcasing the final stages of tower karst landscape evolution in a humid tropical environment
Dredging was required to open a new route to ease the problem of overcrowding in 2016 (State Party of Vietnam, 2018) but there is no evidence of an EIA having been conducted.
There is potential for the goats to escape from where they are tolerated in the Multiple Use Zone into the Protected Natural Zone from which they will difficult to eradicate (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
The subsequent report submitted by the State Party included a revision of the Plan in the form of a Visitor Management Action Plan, which upon evaluation by the 2019 Reactive Monitoring Mission (RMM) was found to be an important management tool, but it does not achieve the desired outcome of establishing a justified maximum daily quota of visitors and it does not provide an assessment of the facilities and services required to address that quota. Importantly, it was discovered during the mission that the reported increase in visitation was severely flawed in that the baseline data was inaccurate and that what was being recorded was the total number of visits to the various visitor nodes of the Property and not the actual number of visitors. Further, the mission noted that while the nature of the tourism activities are passive (sight-seeing by boat) some, the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital for instance, do not require boats for access while other sites specifically include bird-watching activities and show-cave tours. Each of these areas require differentiated analyses of potential impacts of an ever-increasing number of visitors on scenic beauty, landscape appreciation, biodiversity values and visitor experience (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
The The State of Conservation (SoC) report (2018) notes that currently recreation activities are limited to sight-seeing, walking, hiking and cycling and there is no evidence of undesirable impacts on the OUV from these activities. It notes that while the Management Plan does provide for support other appropriate recreation activities there has been no demand for new activities and at this time the Management Board has no plans to introduce new recreational activities or to develop any additional recreation facilities anywhere in the property (State Party of Viet Nam, 2018).
Further to this the 2019 RMM report notes concern over multiple tools designed and implemented by different governmental authorities affecting management of the Property and calls for clarification of the importance of the Management Plan relative to decrees emanating from the national government, relevant provincial statutes, and the master plans relating to works within the Property and the buffer zone. It also notes a need for a mechanism of consultation within the Management Board and among all stakeholders to consider multiple needs for the preservation, presentation and promotion of the property.
Both issues potentially lead to misalignment of priorities and confusion in decision making as witnessed by the inappropriate construction of an inauthentic village related to a popular film within the Property and the illegal construction of a 1km long concrete staircase. While these developments have been removed in response to requests by the WH Committee they emphasize the Advisory Bodies’ concerns that “the greatest threat to the nominated property is from inadequately planned and managed tourism”. While the staircase was an unapproved development the management approval of the inauthentic village demonstrated that what constitutes appropriate use and development needs to be clarified in future iterations of the Management Plan (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
The Management Plan does not provide sufficient detail regarding the scope of activities provided and their potential impacts in regard to some of the tourism nodes within the property which are operated under concession arrangements.
There is a strong focus on visitor management on the Trang An and Tam Coc routes but little detail about what is happening in Sunshine Valley, Galaxy Grotto and Bird Valley other than noting their visitor levels and that the number of boats operating in these areas is projected to increase by 140% by 2030. The operators of these sites are mandated to deal with tourism activities and related infrastructure development under supervision by the Management Board. In view of the Show-cave development in some of these areas and the very high potential for negative impact of Show-cave operations on geodiversity and biodiversity values there is a need for closer scrutiny of the standards being applied to the management of these visitor nodes. The 2019 RMM report notes the need for individual management prescriptions and carrying capacity assessment for each of the 6 nodes rather than considering a carrying capacity for the property as a single unit (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
In its December 2015 response to the World Heritage Centre the State Party proposed minor boundary changes to resolve this concern and the proposed changes were approved by the Committee in Decision 40 COM 8B.36 (World Heritage Committee, 2016).
The 2015 Management Plan cites the population to be 17,000 within the Property and 27,300 in the buffer zone and notes the need to limit population growth by migration. A census of the population in 2020 is required to evaluate the measures taken to address the population trend.
During the 2019 RMM it was noted that residents are concerned that the World Heritage inscription is impacting their ability to maintain and upgrade their homes without onerous consent processes. This is creating local resentment towards the World Heritage listing and needs to be addressed through ongoing and transparent consultation with relevant national authorities and community stakeholders (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
In the Evaluation report, IUCN raised concern in regard to the delegation of management responsibility in the context of tourism development through the granting of a 70 year private sector lease over the 3,000 hectare Trang An – Tam Coc – Bich Dong Scenic Landscape. There are three additional 49 year leases over the areas known as Bird Valley (34 hectares), Galaxy Grotto (25 hectares) and Sunshine Valley (35 hectares). The leases are for the management of protection, conservation, tourist and promotional activities and delegates the management of the tourism services to these private sector interests. Concerns stem from this poorly defined protection regime and the latitude afforded by current laws in permitting tourism and other infrastructure development (IUCN, 2013; World Heritage Committee, 2014).
The 2019 RMM report notes that lease holders are allowed to operate and construct any facilities which are permitted in their license (or approved project). For any new development they are must submit a proposal to the Provincial authority through the Management Board.
Discussion about visitor management and potential impact of increasing visitation in the management plan is largely focused on the 3,000 hectare Trang An – Tam Coc – Bich Dong Scenic Landscape and the only discussion concerning the three smaller sites is presentation of some visitor statistics and a notation that the number of boats operating at each site will increase significantly in the coming years. Upon arrival at the gateways to these sites there is no attempt at presentation of the property’s OUV or evidence that the area is part of the World Heritage property.
The mission noted that the revised 2021-2026 Management Plan should include policy about private-public partnerships which applies to the distinctive tourist zones to develop a genuine spirit of partnership in sustaining the OUV of the property. The mission also learned (but did not directly observe the management practices being applied) of commercial show-cave and bird-watching activities at some of these sites and noted the need to establish a systematic monitoring programme to detect changes to the environment including the proliferation of lampenflora in the Show-caves and the impact of tourism on wildlife, such as bat and bird populations exposed to human activities (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
In general, enforcement is not a significant issue for management of the property although staff are positioned at strategic points in order to rapidly respond to potential incidents of inappropriate behavior by tourists and in the event of illegal acts (e.g. the walkway construction) by commercial interests in the property, the Board has taken the appropriate action (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
Regular law enforcement patrols are undertaken to detect any infringements against regulations in a timely manner (State Party of Viet Nam, 2020).
In 2016 the Committee noted the change made to the boundary but again expressed its concern about the revised plans provisions for tourism management.
The State Party provided State of Conservation reports for 2017 and again for 2019 providing extensive detail of the steps it has taken to address the further concerns of the Committee expressed in Decision 40 COM 7B.67. The 2019 RMM report notes the progress made in addressing some of these concerns including the timely response to rectifying illegal and inappropriate tourism related developments within the property. It further commends to Board for initiating the study (2019-2021) to establish the property's carrying capacity and identification of the facilities and services required to simultaneously provide for the use and enjoyment by visitors while protecting and presenting the its OUV. The RMM provides numerous recommendations for consideration by the Board in the preparation of the 2021-2026 Management Plan (State Party of Viet Nam, 2018, 2020; WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
Upon examination of this report (State Party of Viet Nam, 2018) the Committee noted the advice that there was no plan to build a university in the buffer zone but again noted concern in regard to the sustainable use of the property and the State Party was asked to:
- continue the studies to understand impacts from visitation and to establish a limit to visitation to ensure it does not exceed the carrying capacity of the property;
- further strengthen the regulations for tourism facilities;
- establish a consultation mechanism within the Management Board and among stakeholders to provide a balance between tourism, heritage management and nature conservation and to apply a clearer reporting protocol concerning development within the property, ensuring the necessary prior consultation of the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies.
- undertake further assessment of the facilities and services required to service visitation needs.
- invite a Reactive Monitoring Mission (RMM) to provide advice for the implementation and revision of the Management Plan.
- submit an updated report on the SoC and implementation of the above for examination by the Committee in 2020.
The subsequent SoC report addresses the Committee's requests and maintains that there are no negative impacts from visitation. It presents details of the services and facilities citing the number of boats operating, the number of car parks (but not the number of parking spaces), the number of ticket offices, retail outlets, toilets (but not the number of stalls) and the number of information displays. It takes the position that what exists is adequate and will be added to as required (State Party of Viet Nam, 2020). It is of concern to note that while retail outlets number 239 the number of information displays is 2 and that the statistics provided do not include details of accommodation facilities. The 2019 RMM report reiterates concerns about tourism but notes the study to determine a carrying capacity and identify the services and facilities required to service that capacity, and notes that a management plan for the period 2021–2026 is in production.
At the time of nomination it was stated that the majority of residents were gardeners and fishers who had no detrimental impact on the values of the property. During the mission it was noted that the cultural landscape of the Trang An route has changed because the gardeners and fishers are now working in the tourism sector and are less dependent on farming and fishing, only growing 1 rice crop rather than 2 per year. The main gateways have developed very rapidly from dusty tracks with basic facilities to large and quite sophisticated villages comprising residences, retail outlets and a large number of accommodation facilities. The policy of limiting population growth in the property and buffer zone to natural, organic growth by restricting migration is noted, however, it would be very important to reassess the size of the population in/around the property and its impact on the values of the property (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Incomplete data in available reports indicate that in 2019 the Board had a staff comprising an executive of 3, administration support of 8, a technical and researcher division of 7, a foreign affairs and public relations division of 7, an environment and landscape management division of 13, 140 rangers and security staff and 95 guides. It is unclear where the role of project management and infrastructure maintenance has been placed (State Party of Viet Nam, 2020; WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
The plan provides for staff training and capacity building but focuses specifically on cultural heritage management along with educational programs and interpretation. It does not mention any need for training in regard to geodiversity and /or karst management, biodiversity or, significantly given the forecast growth in visitation, tourism management.
The plan acknowledges that there would be much to be gained from the ability of the Board to call on support and expert advice from external sources and it proposes to establish a Management and Scientific Advisory Committee (State Party of Viet Nam, 2015).
In Decision 42 COM 7B.62 the Committee requested the State Party to further develop the sections within the Management Plan concerning archaeological heritage, in particular staff training and capacity building, so that the national human resources are continuously provided to ensure a long term and successful management of the archaeological heritage of the property. In response the State Party notes that the Board supports its employees to conduct research and take part in professional training courses to enhance their knowledge and expertise. The Board holds conferences and training courses for its employees, and Board members also take part in management and conservation workshops which are held by domestic and international organizations. Close cooperation with national and internal universities and research institutes also help the Board’s employees enhance their skills and expertise (State Party of Viet Nam, 2020).
The 2019 RMM noted the efforts undertaken by the Board to provide a variety of training and development opportunities to its staff and that the staff had a variety of qualifications and areas of expertise. The mission notes that future challenges for management of the property will relate to documentation, museum management, exhibition design and artifact curation. Town planning and urban design matters will be significant challenges as the rural character of the buffer zone will face enormous challenges as development pressures increase. It further noted that while maintenance and conservation of cultural assets are generally undertaken by the local community, the physical conservation of cultural values is a highly specialised activity requiring tertiary qualifications and considerable practical experience. It is desirable that the Scientific Advisory Committee includes at least one practitioner with skills in cultural heritage conservation to advise on the management of the historic sites and monuments. The RMM observed that the revision of the Management Plan indicates a positive attitude to upskilling, and a balanced approach to tourism planning and preservation activities and suggested that staff specialized in heritage conservation be included in decision-making processes (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
In response to Committee’s request in 2018 that heritage promotion and marketing undertaken within the property be consistent with interpretation of its OUV the State Party advised the Committee that an archaeological display of artifacts' retrieved from excavations present the story of prehistoric human inhabitation of the property was completed in the Trang An Visitor Center. It further advises that the Board is in the process of establishing an archaeological exhibition on the of site replica film set which had been inappropriately developed to promote tourism and subsequently removed. The exhibition is intended to demonstrate the story of pre-historic life in Trang An, the principal element of the cultural OUV of the property (State Party of Viet Nam, 2020).
Although the State Party contends that this is in full accordance with the request by the Committee that heritage promotion and marketing be consistent with interpretation of the OUV the 2019 RMM indicates that this plan should be reviewed to determined that this location is the most appropriate for such a facility. If not the proposal should be abandoned and all remnants of the film set including toilets, pathways, grass huts, an iron ship - cum – bridge be removed and the island should be replanted with native vegetation to restore the aesthetic values of this area. In the absence of any evidence that the proposed interpretation plan is being developed the mission reiterated the important need to develop such a plan and noted that the plan should include individual plans for each of the 6 visitor nodes within the property (WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN, 2019).
The lack of progress on preparing an interpretation plan in the past 5 years, despite the management plan acknowledging the importance of such a plan, the issue that there only 2 interpretive displays in the property and that while there are guides employed in the property there is no requirement for visitors to be accompanied by a guide is serious concern.
The property has two very distinct types of visitors; those who come to enjoy the spectacular scenery and observe the local culture and those, the vast majority of visitors, who visit the site as religious pilgrims. A challenge for management is meeting the very different needs and expectations of each group. The management plan presented in the nomination process projects an increase in visitation from 1 to 2 million by 2020 and concern regarding the capacity of management to cope with this increase resulted in the State Party being requested to submit a revised plan for consideration by the Committee in 2016. Noting some weakness in regard to visitor management the State Party was asked to further review sections of it (World Heritage Committee, 2016).
In 2018 a review was presented in the form of a Visitor Management Action Plan which revised the projected increase to 3.5 million by 2020 and while the original plan capped the total number of boats operating in the property at 3,000 by 2020 the Action Plan provides for an increase to 3,865 by 2020 and that even more will be added as required. It notes that 70% of visitors arrive during the 1st quarter of the year (the festival season) and cites other important strategies to avoid crowding in the peak visitor season as follows:
- Increasing the number of trips per boat from 2 to 3 per day
- Suspending ticket sales if all boats are operating
- Opening a new route from the Trang An boat wharf during the peak season
- Encouraging visitors to select less busy arrival times, less crowded sites, and alternative destinations outside the property
- Improved parking/ticketing arrangements at the gateways.
The Action Plan did not include an assessment of facilities and services needed to meet the needs of the increasing visitation but states that there is no negative impact from visitation and that the management authority has the capacity to manage the projected visitation simply by adding more boats and more facilities. Upon review of the Action Plan the Committee reiterated the need to establish a justified limit to the number of visitors and to undertake an assessment of the facilities and services needed to service such visitors and protect the OUV. It also asked that a Reactive Monitoring Mission be invited to the property during 2019 to provide advice for the implementation and revision of the Management Plan. The subsequent mission noted that while management of visitation have been reactive rather than proactive, many sound strategies are being applied and that proactive measures are being initiated to reduce crowding. Despite these initiatives, forward planning for managing visitation is simply seen as a matter of increasing the number of boats available to carry visitors and increasing the infrastructure to support the increasing number of people. The mission noted that a study had been initiated to establish a carrying capacity for the site and reiterated the need for an assessment of facilities and services required. In 2020 the SOC report by the SP confirms that while a carrying capacity study has been initiated it maintains the stance that visitation is having no negative impacts and the Board has the capacity to manage the threat of overcrowding. It provides a schedule of services and facilities (except for accommodation facilities) which exist at present and notes the Board will increase these as required (State Party of Viet Nam, 2020).
There is no information provided in regard to human waste treatment capacity either within the property or its buffer zone where accommodation facilities are dramatically expanding.
Goats pose a risk to biodiversity values if they were to escape from the Multiple Use Zone to the Protected Natural Zone.
With the knowledge that there is a policy of restricting immigration to the area to allow organic population growth only, it can only be assumed that there has been a moderate increase in these populations, which, given that the number of visitors has increased three-fold, must be enjoying a considerable leap in economic benefit from the property.
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IUCN (2013) Evaluation Mission Trang An Landscape Complex IUCN Gland, Switzerland
IUCN (2014) Evaluation Report. Trang An Landscape Complex IUCN Gland, Switzerland
IUCN Consultation (2020). IUCN Confidential Consultation - Trang An Landscape Complex, Viet Nam.
State Party of Viet Nam (2013) Trang An Landscape Complex Nomination Submitted to 38 COM
State Party of Viet Nam (2014) Trang An Landscape Complex Nomination Supplementary Report Submitted to 38 COM
State Party of Viet Nam (2015) The Management Plan for Trang An Landscape Complex, Ninh Bình Province, Viet Nam
State Party of Viet Nam. (2018). Report of the State Party to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of the Trang An Landscape Complex
State Party of Viet Nam. (2020). Report of the State Party to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of the Trang An Landscape Complex
UNESCO (2014) Statement of Outstanding Universal Value Trang An Landscape Complex http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1438 Accessed August 2014
UNESCO. (2018). Report on the State of Conservation of Trang An Landscape Complex, Viet Nam. State of Conservation Information System of the World Heritage Centre
WHC/ICOMOS/IUCN (2019). Report on the joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission to the UNESCO World Heritage property “Trang An Landscape Complex” in Viet Nam
World Heritage Committee (2016). Decision 40 COM 7B.67 Istanbul, Turkey
World Heritage Committee (2016). Decision 40 COM 8B.36 Istanbul, Turkey
World Heritage Committee (2014). Decision 38 COM 8B.14 Doha, Qatar