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Awakening the “Land of the Dragon”

The island district of Van Don is considered the “land of the dragon” because this area is related to the legend about the place where a mother dragon landed (Ha Long Bay) and her children flanked her (Bai Tu Long Bay). The district consists of 600 small and big islands mostly lying in Bai Tu Long Bay and partly in Ha Long Bay. That’s why the “land of the dragon” will become a special administrative - economic zone in the near future and is attracting the attention of people

The “land of the dragon” is moving


    Van Don District is situated in the east and southeast of Quang Ninh Province, about 50km from Ha Long City. It covers an area of 551.3km2 and has a population of about 40,000 people. It has one town named Cai Rong and 11 communes.

In 2006, Van Don, one of the largest island districts in Vietnam, was approved to develop into Van Don Economic Zone by the Prime Minister. Recently, the Politburo decided to develop it into Van Don Special Administrative–Economic Zone, and this northeastern “front post” has started to change rapidly.

More than 800 years ago, King Ly Anh Tong ordered workers to build Van Don into the first international trading port of Dai Viet (former name of Vietnam) in the 12th century and it became a centre for trading with other countries in East Asia and in the world, such as Japan, China, India, Thailand and Indonesia. However, it was not until the Tran Dynasty (13th century) that Van Don really flourished and became the largest port in the country with typical cultural features of the sea and islands in the northeast.

Van Don District has a lot of advantages in maritime, air and road transport. It is the hub of the economic corridor, including the Vietnam – China economic belt, the Nanning – Singapore economic corridor and the key economic zone in the north (HanoiHai PhongQuang Ninh). These are outstanding advantages of this island district.

In addition, it is endowed by nature with a source of sea food, rich in both quantity and variety. This source brings great revenue and creates a basis for the district to develop aquaculture, which is the district’s strength. Along the coast of Quan Lan and Minh Chau Communes there are silica sand beaches which are dozens of meters long. They serve as a source of materials exploited and provided for most the glass factories in the north by Van Hai Viglacera Company. So Van Don is called a “kingdom of white sand” in Vietnam.

With advantageous geography and natural resources Van Don has changed significantly in the past few years, especially after the Prime Minister decided to develop it into Van Don Economic Zone. It has continually received investment to upgrade infrastructures and material facilities with large-scale projects on “clearing the way” and “building the foundation”.

 Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong makes an inspection visit to Van Don Special Administrative-Economic Zone.
Photo: Tri Dung - VNA

Van Don Island District consists of 600 islands and places which are related to the legend of dragon. Photo: Trong Chinh

With thousands of hectares of water surface, Van Don has an advantage for developing aquaculture. Photo: Viet Cuong

Japan’s Taiheiyo Shinju Vietnam Co. Ltd invests in developing the farming of oysters for pearls in Van Don.
Photo: Trong Chinh

Pearls in Van Don are beautiful and have high economic value. Photo: Trong Chinh

Van Don is famous nationwide for many valuable species of seafood,
such as holothurian, peanut worms, cuttlefish, butterfish, codfish, snout otter clams and oysters. Photo: Trong Chinh

Since Van Don Bridge No.3 was put into operation, it has facilitated road traffic in the district. Photo: Viet Cuong

Silica sand on the island is the main material resource for glass production of companies in Northern Vietnam.
Photo: Trong Chinh

Cai Rong Wharf is an important wharf of Van Don. Photo: Viet Cuong

In Van Don, there are many important domestic sea routes and international maritime routes
between Vietnam and China, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. Photo: Viet Cuong

 The “Special Administrative –Economic Zone” Project has received much attention and close guidance of the Politburo. In April, 2013 Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong made an inspection visit to Van Don District to learn about and give directions for the optimal development of this important project. He expected that the project would be an effective and successful direction to build Van Don into a modern city, an economic nucleus in the Red River’s southern area and a gateway for international trade.
Four spearhead economic sectors of Van Don Special Administrative - Economic Zone:
  - High quality ecological and island tourism associated with high-grade entertainment services.
- High technology and clean technology.
- Trade and financial services, maritime transport.
- Sea economy.

To prepare for the special administrative–economic zone, a number of foundation-building projects have created dramatic changes for Van Don. Trinh Van Hong, Deputy Head of the Management Board of Quang Ninh Economic Zone told us that the project had specifically planned four spearhead economic sectors and nine functional sub-regions. These were the links of a chain to specify and create the foundation for the development of the economic zone.

The Management Board has been implementing some dynamic projects to pave the way for the functional sub-regions and for the investors to come into the economic zone. They include the Van Don Airport Area Project which has basically completed the ground clearance, the Cai Rong Urban Area Project which has completed ground leveling and is building the road, and the Resettlement Area Project which has completed 80% of housing infrastructure.

Currently, the economic zone has 78 registered projects which are awaiting the approval for implementation. For the Van Don Airport Project, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (owned by the Canadian Government) has had a firm argument for its investment plan on the airport area with the BOT (build – operate – transfer) mode.

Van Don District has started to build the projects on an airport area and a park complex because these are two dynamic projects of an economic zone which takes high-quality eco-resort tourism as its key development. Hong said: “When these dynamic projects operate they will promote other projects to work and serve as an impetus for the economic zone to develop.”

“Heaven” on the coast

Apart from the terrain which brings Van Don the differences that no other coastal economic zones in the country have, natural flavours also provide it with a special advantage to develop high-grade sea tourism.

    The Politburo has a plan to build three Special Administrative - Economic Zones in the country, including the Van Don (Quang Ninh Province in the north), the Van Phong (Khanh Hoa Province in the central region) and the Phu Quoc (Kien Giang Province in the south).

Talking about the tourist advantages, Le Quang Thach, Vice Chairman of Van Don District People’s Committee said: “Van Don has a special characteristic that no other areas have, i.e., the mixture of limestone mountains and dirt islands. It is the terrain with sea and forests, very favourable for the development of eco-health resorts of high quality. All of the five communes of the district have the piers and inter-commune roads.”

Cai Rong Pier in the centre of the district which is the hub of the maritime transport for local people and tourists is always crowded. Everyday there are dozens of high-speed boats and wooden boats going in and out, facilitating travel to the island communes. From this pier, it takes visitors about 45 minutes’ ride by high-speed boat to reach the pristine white sand beaches in Quan Lan and Minh Chau Communes. These well-known beaches have become popular and left impressions on every visitor to Van Don Island.

Luu Thanh Vien, Chairman of Quan Lan Commune told us that tourist activities in Quan Lan Commune was not as developed as at the beaches in Nha Trang, Cua Lo and Do Son, but every year the commune received hundreds of thousands of domestic and foreign visitors. A lot of high-grade eco-health resorts have been built, typically Van Hai Viglacera Resort on Quan Lan coast. It has a 3km-long sand beach and a system of wooden houses-on-stilts which are spacious, beautiful, well-furnished and environmentally friendly. They are all situated in the green casuarinas forests and face the sea to get fresh ocean breezes.

Van Don has five white sandy beaches with turquoise water, including Dai, Quan Lan, Minh Chau, Son Hao and Ngoc Vung.
Photo: Trong Chinh

Discovering the pristine and peaceful beauty of Quan Lan. Photo: Trong Chinh

David Steward, a tourist from Spain, with his family select Minh Chau Beach for their summer vacation in Vietnam.
Photo: Viet Cuong

Minh Chau Beach is one of the pristine and beautiful beaches in Van Don. Photo: Trong Chinh

Van Hai Viglacera Resort on Quan Lan Beach. Photo: Viet Cuong

Tourists participate in a tug of war on Minh Chau Beach. Photo: Trong Chinh

Tuktuk is major means of transport of tourists to visit beautiful landscapes in Quan Lan and Minh Chau.
Photo: Viet Cuong

A camp-fire on Quan Lan Beach. Photo: Trong Chinh

In addition to Quan Lan Beach, Son Hao Beach stretching three kilometers is also pristine and beautiful with the blue sea, big waves, white sand and forests of green pandanus and casuarinas. It fascinates visitors who love big waves and adventures. Visitors to Quan Lan can also visit well-known sites, such as the a relic area of pagodas, temples and shrines with historical, architectural and artistic values, full of cultural characteristics of the islanders.

While the Quan Lan sea is a favourite of the people who love adventures, the beaches in the adjacent Minh Chau Commune have clear blue water and white smooth sand, suitable for those who like the calm and peacefulness.

We met the family of David Stewart from Spain while they were enjoying an interesting summer vacation on Minh Chau Beach. All members of his family said the beach had a pristine and stunning beauty. David Stewart’s daughter, Montse Stewart, excitedly said: “I have visited many beaches in the world but none of them is as fascinating and beautiful as Minh Chau Beach.” His wife, Alexandra shared her feelings: “It is great to swim in the sea, relax in the simple thatched hut, eat fresh seafood and meet friendly fishermen.”

The advantages endowed by nature and the existing “leverages” of Van Don Island make all visitors believe that in the near future it will become a special administrative - economic zone on the northeastern coast of the country.
Story: Thao Vy - Photos: Trong Chinh, Viet Cuong
Source: Vietnam Pictorial

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