Resort overlooking world’s fourth-largest border waterfall in Vietnam a great source of pride

Resort overlooking world’s fourth-largest border waterfall in Vietnam a great source of pride

As the bus drew to a stop at Ban Gioc Border Guard Station, located in Trung Khanh District in the northern Vietnamese province of Cao Bang, on the border with China, the Tuoi Tre reporters were amazed at what was unfolding in front of them.

The four-star Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort, which leans against densely forested mountains, has taken the place of several shabby cottages that were still seen just a few years ago. 

The luxurious property faces the resplendent Ban Gioc Waterfall – the world’s fourth-largest waterfall on a border as well as Southeast Asia’s largest natural fall.

Spanning the border shared by Vietnam and China, the rapids boast three resplendent layers and create a picturesque spectacle in all kinds of weather.

Nestled on historically important land with benchmarks reiterating Vietnam’s sovereignty, the 31-hectare Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort, developed by Vietnamese travel firm Saigontourist, features 80 rooms as well as sports and entertainment areas in its first phase.

Tearful past, promising future

During their trip, the Tuoi Tre reporters also dropped by Phuong Cuu Restaurant, a beloved culinary venue in the area.

The restaurateur, Phuong Cuu, who previously worked as a commercial photographer at local scenic spots, has treasured a clutch of archival photos depicting Ban Gioc in its turbulent historical times.

Among them is a prized photo capturing tents along river banks which were annihilated by criminals back in the 1990s.  

During those years, the waterfall and its surroundings were soaked with residents’ sweat and tears while they fought hard to safeguard every inch of their land from intruders.

While it took a years-long battle of wits and will to demarcate the border in Ban Gioc, the sheer dedication and sacrifice to build such an opulent-looking resort along the remote borderline is clear for all to see.

The landscape in the vicinity of Ban Gioc Waterfall and Provincial Highway 206 leading to the rapids. Photo taken from a video clip of Ban Gioc Waterfall

Viet Dung, a Tuoi Tre photojournalist, took a striking photo, which depicts natives herding their buffaloes against the crestfallen background of the Ban Gioc cascade, with hotels towering in China on the other side of the boundary.

Cao Bang Tourism Co. fixed entrance fees to the imposing waterfall at a token VND15,000 (US$0.7) apiece. 

The situation took a turn for the better when it was announced that an investment of VND2.4 trillion ($105.5 million) would be poured into construction phases of the Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort from 2008 to 2020.

However, the plan remained on the blueprint until December 2014, when the first phase of the key structure was inaugurated.

A spectacular facility

The four-star Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort boasts simple yet tasteful décor and gorgeous views of the awe-inspiring Ban Gioc Waterfall and its environs.

According to Huynh Cong Hai, director of the Saigon-Ban Gioc Tourism Complex, such structures as restaurants and reception areas on a plot of land bordering Provincial Highway 206, as well as a concrete bridge leading to the resort, have recently cropped up.

What is special about the facility is that up to 95 percent of its employees are of Tay and Nung ethnicity who were born and grew up in the neighborhood.

All qualified candidates are trained in large hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.

Among them is Nong Thi Thanh, a young Tay woman who is working in the resort’s reception department.

Graduating in tourism from a college in Hanoi in 2010, she returned to her hometown but failed to land a good job until she applied for a post at the resort.

Another staffer, Nong Thi Thao, who is a university graduate in tourism culture, confided in the Tuoi Tre reporters about a memorable experience when she first worked at the facility.   

A French couple, who had left their iPad on a bus departing from the capital of Cao Bang Province, were desperately seeking help from non-English-speaking natives to find their lost item when Thao showed up and talked to them.

The two tourists burst into tears out of happiness.

Nong Thi Thanh, a young woman of Tay ethnicity, who currently works as a receptionist at the Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Potential-rich resort

When asked if the Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort would incur losses as local students and low-income backpackers make up the majority of tourist arrivals in the aera, Hai, the director of the Saigon-Ban Gioc Tourism Complex, said that the resort is expected to fully recoup its investment and start to yield profits in 10 years.

Though several of the resort’s structures remain incomplete and the resort has yet to be promoted on international websites as a result, its room capacity has reached nearly 23 percent on average over the past several months.

The facility has been packed with guests on several occasions since its inauguration one year ago, Hai added. “We have surveyed many local households and are planning to offer homestay services and others such as motorbike rental.”

“A group of German tourists suggested we offer mountaineering to make the best out of the magnificent mountains in the area,” he said.

Unlike most other hotels and resorts throughout Vietnam, the Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort’s management have made it a point to encourage their guests to partake in a national flag salutation ritual held every Monday morning at the facility to demonstrate their patriotism and national pride, as the area is of special sovereignty significance.

Leaders and staffers of the Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort are pictured during a flag salutation ritual. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Just like several other travel firms based in Ho Chi Minh City, Saigontourist has invested in a number of hotels and resorts in the country’s northwest region over the past several years, Tran Hung Viet, general director of Saigontourist told Tuoi Tre in a recent interview.

“Though the region is endowed with spectacular scenic beauty, we had envisioned numerous hurdles while weighing the investment possibility,” Viet stressed.

“However, patriotism encouraged us to invest in the region. We believe that each of us wishes to visit such a highly significant border area at least once in our lifetime and wants decent accommodation during our stay," Viet noted.

"We are sure we did the right thing after reading notes left by domestic tourists as well as Viet Kieu [overseas Vietnamese] who stayed at our Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort. They all feel proud," Viet added.

Saigontourist has opened its Saigon-Ha Long Hotel in the northern province of Quang Ninh, home to the UNESCO-recognized Ha Long Bay, as well as Majestic Mong Cai Hotel, also located in the province.

All these facilities meet four-star standards, and are capable of accommodating tourists for their long stays, thus allowing operators to launch more tours, Viet said.

The company is currently working on a project to build the Saigon-Ba Be Ecotourism Complex, nestled in the Ba Be National Park in Bac Kan Province, and is considering a joint venture to establish the Ham Rong Mountain Tourism Complex in the beloved Sa Pa resort town in Lao Cai Province.      

“These new structures are expected to add to the province’s untapped tourism appeal, contribute to the region’s sustainable economic growth and increase the number of tourists to the area each year while providing jobs for locals,” Viet noted.

The first pagoda on the border, the Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc Pagoda, which overlooks Ban Gioc Waterfall in one of its directions and leans against Phia Nham Mountain, also opened on the same day as the Saigon-Ban Gioc Resort late last year.

A spectacular view from the Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc Pagoda

The pagoda, which is rich in traditional Vietnamese religious architecture features, and boasts a bell tower and shrines to the Bodhisattva and a local hero, among other structures, costs nearly VND40 billion ($1.75 million) to build in its first phase.

The edifice, which offers appealing pilgrimage tourism services, will hopefully add to the area’s touristy allure.

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