External visitor ban desolates once-busy Ha Long Bay

 Though Quang Ninh Province has reopened tourism activities and offered free entry tickets, world-famous Ha Long Bay has been left virtually empty as visitors from outside are prohibited.

A woman rides past the deserted Ha Long international passenger port in the eponymous town.

After more than a month without new cases, Quang Ninh lifted the swimming ban and reopened tourist destinations, relics, historical sites, and golf courses on June 8, but imposed a ban on visitors from outside.

Provincial authorities, who had earlier cut Ha Long Bay entry ticket prices by 50 percent, last week decided to make it free until the year-end to stimulate domestic tourism. Before the pandemic, tickets to Ha Long Bay used to cost VND250,000 ($10.86) a person.

Inside the passenger terminal, port staff sit in the absence of visitors.

The passenger terminal entered commercial operation in 2018.

Souvenir shops remain open though there are no buyers.

The disembarkation area has no tourists. Many cruise ships are still not ready to resume operations due to slow travel demand.

A security officer is on duty at the port.

Tuan Chau Wharf, where all Ha Long Bay cruise ships and boats dock, is left deserted during the supposed peak summer holiday season.

"Currently, the province bans receiving visitors from outside, so it’s common to see crowds vanish from popular tourist attractions across Ha Long," said Tuan, a local.

The two-kilometer-long road from National Highway 18 to Tuan Chau Wharf is virtually deserted.

Since its recognition as a UNESCO natural world heritage in 1994, Ha Long Bay has found a spot on the global tourism map, with travel bloggers and filmmakers hailing its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone pillars topped by rainforests.

The bay helped Quang Ninh welcome 14 million tourists, including 5.7 million foreigners, in 2019, an increase of 14 percent from the previous year.

Inside the terminal, some ship owners take a nap. According to Ha Long Bay Management Board, in recent days, the bay only received about 30-50 passengers per day.

At Bai Chay tourist area, some restaurants have resumed operation but there are almost no customers.

Without tourists, hundreds of cruise ships have remained anchored. Last week, the owners of 500 cruise ships submitted a petition to the government for support, stating they are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Before the pandemic, ship owners brought a major tax contribution to Quang Ninh and created jobs for 5,000 workers. As debtors, they still have to bear expenses like employee salaries, maintenance and berthing.

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