As many backpackers do, we constantly search for spots off the beaten path by tourism. Avoiding the hectic Unesco Heritage Site “Halong Bay” in Vietnam, its geographically identical twin “Lanh Ha Bay” sounded like a more appeasing option. Despite their identical nature, Halong Bay was chosen as the gold mine, and after a stamp from UNESCO an overwhelming influx of attention swept over the ironically “preserved” sight.

Upon further inspection, it seemed rather peculiar that the Lanh Ha Bay was inhabited by water villages, and Halong Bay was not. After kayaking through the bay, one of the tour guides (who happened to be an environmental activist) shared the legend behind both bays that were once united, and later separated by province. He illustrated the legend as follows: The bays housed the dragons who protected the Vietnamese villagers against the Chinese invaders.

I realized the irony in which a bay that had once protected its people is now the same cause of their displacement, as the UNESCO label kicked out those water villages in Halong Bay, justifying their actions with conservational implications. Now, Halong Bay mirrors a theme park in which individuals enjoy, absorb, snap, and leave. The absence of water villages wiped out by Unesco does not justify their excuse of conservational strides, but rather kick out cultures that have existed for centuries.

The legend in which the dragon protected their villagers only prevails until the corporate interest tidlewaves over. Despite the deceivingly presented environmental stance of UNESCO, it is solely one dimensional and completely self driven.

We must spread the world in regards to these untold stories by local people in lower developed countries. Hopefully one day, the remaining water villages in Lanh Ha bay will not even need to rely on the bays dragons for protection.