The project was deemed illegal from the start but local authorities failed to stop it from going ahead.
A limestone landscape dubbed a world heritage site in northern Vietnam will hopefully be returning to its natural status quo now that the culture ministry has ordered a 2,000-step concrete stairway to be removed.
The private firm that built the stairway at the top of the Trang An limestone complex in Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Hanoi, will have to remove the structure or else authorities in Ninh Binh will do it, the ministry has decided.
Individuals and organizations involved in the building and operation of the project will receive official warnings or be punished depending on their violations.
The entire project at the UNESCO Heritage Site was deemed illegal from the start, but instead of taking strong measures to halt its construction, authorities in Hoa Lu District simply sent a letter to the Trang An Travel Joint Stock Company asking it to cancel the project and return the site to its original state.
Between August and December last year, construction carried on regardless and the project was opened to tourists at the start of this year.
Ninh Binh’s provincial tourism department said it had written to authorities in Hoa Lu four times saying the project should be scrapped immediately, but received no feedback from the district.
Hoa Lu authorities have since admitted they had been negligent to allow the violation to take place under their noses.
UNESCO recognized Trang An as a World Heritage for “a mixed cultural and natural property where archaeological traces of human activity over 30,000 years have been found” in 2014.
The karst landscape is prized for being a “superb geological property” and “a rarity in Southeast Asia.”
This is not the first time a natural treasure has been threatened by the tourism boom in Vietnam.
Last year, authorities ordered a halt to the construction of a 40-villa complex on the Son Tra Peninsula in the central city of Da Nang, home to the country’s largest population of red-shanked douc langurs, after photos of illegal construction were posted on Facebook.