Trang An tourism complex – A journey to earn UNESCO recognition

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Trang An tourism complex
Trang An tourism complex

Trang An Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh province was named on the UNESCO World Heritage List of Natural and Cultural Sites in June 2014, making it the country’s first site to earn the title.

The recognition is the outcome of a long process of compiling and defending the heritage dossier. The article below by Director of the site’s management board, Nguyen Duc Long, briefs the readers on the site’s journey to UNESCO recognition, as well as the province’s efforts during the process.

Compiling the heritage dossier: Every effort was made

In the first move to seek the UNESCO title, the steering committee board actively co-ordinated with the Vietnam National Committee for UNESCO to compile a dossier to be submitted to the UNESCO.

They also hosted a field trip to Trang An Landscape Complex for Professor Paul Dingwall from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in order to hear his advice. Many UNESCO leading experts were invited to Vietnam to help the province build a dossier in line with UNESCO standards.

In addition, an international workshop was held on July 24, 2012 to gather the opinions of domestic and international experts on identifying the outstanding universal value of the site. Based on scientific research and suggestions contributed by the participants, the compilation board decided to build the dossier focusing on the site’s three distinguished values: landscape, geology and culture.

A draft of the dossier was completed in September 2012 and it was then sent to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris for consultation. Based on the collected feedback, Ninh Binh provincial leaders ordered relevant agencies to supplement and complete the draft.

The final file on Trang An Landscape Complex was submitted to the Centre again on January 17, 2013, 15 days ahead of schedule.

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Defending the dossier: Facing challenges

Although the dossier was completed in less than a year, it was appreciated by UNESCO experts for being thoroughly prepared and meeting assigned requirements.

Seven months later, UNESCO sent a group of experts to Vietnam to evaluate integrity, management and protection of the site, its outstanding universal value, and tourism development. The working trip for the experts was well-organised and a left good impression on the delegates.

In their report assessing the Trang An Landscape Complex, consultancy agencies agreed that Trang An boats rich potential meeting UNESCO criteria on outstanding universal value. However, they postponed its nomination and asked for further information since the site had not yet ensured its integrity and the work of management and protection.

After acquiring the opinions, Vietnamese experts revised the dossier again in a bid to gather sufficient evidence and arguments to defend the dossier and convince the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to recognise Trang An as a world heritage site.

Regarding the experts’ suggestion on removing the culture feature from the dossier to make it easier to be approved, the Vietnamese working group consulted the ideas of international experts and decided to keep the criterion. They argued that the uniqueness of Trang An is the harmony between culture and nature —they are thus inseparable when evaluating the heritage.

Equipped with strong determination, Vietnamese delegates left for Qatar to attend the WHC 38th session held in Doha June 15-25, 2014.

On the sidelines of the event, the Vietnamese delegation also co-ordinated with the Cultural Heritage Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MoCST); the Vietnam National Committee for UNESCO; and the Vietnamese delegation to UNESCO to hold meetings and talks with delegations of WHC member countries to advertise the excellent cultural and natural value of the Trang An Landscape Complex.

After two-hours of defending the dossier on June 25, the Vietnamese delegates won UNESCO approval, recognising Trang An as a world cultural and natural heritage site.

Preparations to receive UNESCO’s certificate: Ninh Binh is ready

With the approval of the Prime Minister and the MoCST, Ninh Binh province will host a programme to mark the province’s receipt of UNESCO’s certificate honouring Trang An Landscape Complex, from January 22 to 24.

A grand ceremony will be staged at the Bai Dinh Pagoda on January 23 to receive the UNESCO certificate.

The programme will also feature a wide variety of cultural, arts and tourism activities, including an exhibition boasting Vietnam’s World Heritage Sites, a fair showcasing handicraft products of Ninh Binh, and a show introducing Vietnamese folk music such as Cheo (traditional opera) and Xam singing (an ancient folk art form performed by blind beggars).

An international symposium will also be held to discuss the work of management, preservation and promotion of the world heritages’ values.

A stamp set spotlighting the beauty of Trang An complex will be made public on the occasion.

Visitors will be able to join a ceremony praying for the peace of the world and the nation, and the prosperity of all people, at Bai Dinh Pagoda.

Taking part in the event, tourists will be invited to immerse themselves in a space where culture, history and spirituality are harmoniously combined together, the venue of outstanding universal value, and the meeting place of those sharing the same passion to discover the diversity of culture and nature.

Preparations for the programme have been completed. Ninh Binh locals are eager for the event and are ready to welcome visitors from Vietnam and abroad to province.