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Flights From Southern Vietnam, China Expected at Officially Approved Sapa Airport

It will be Vietnam's 23rd airport and based in a region already struggling with overtourism.

According to VnExpress, the 371-hectare Sapa Airport will have a capacity of three million passengers annually.

The facility will be built 80 kilometers outside of the town, with one runway able to handle narrow-body Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-700 aircraft, or similar planes. It will serve dual military and civilian purposes.

At the same time, a six-lane road will be built to connect the airport to the Hanoi-Lao Cai Expressway, which is currently one of the main ways to reach the popular mountain destination famed for its natural beauty.

Lao Cai Province officials have said they need US$133 million from the central government to build the airport, while the total cost currently sits at US$254 million. The news source reports that the province hopes to begin construction this year and complete the project in 2021. It would mainly serve flights from southern Vietnam and southwest China.

Amid an ongoing tourism-fuelled construction boom in Sapa, this will likely exacerbate concerns that the once-quaint town is losing its character. Nikkei Asian Review recently reported that Tuan Nguyen from MotoTours Asia, a Hanoi-based motorbike tour outfit, removed Sapa from their itineraries as far back as 2012, well before the massive changes of recent years.

Stuart McDonald, co-founder of the Southeast Asia online travel guide Travelfish, told the news source: "It's difficult to imagine a better example of the costs of unregulated development than Sapa. Thoughtlessly ugly towers, broken pavements, aggressive taxi drivers and near-endless shops selling identical souvenirs have combined to create an intolerable tourist pit, bereft of appeal."

The airport was first proposed in July 2018. The province greeted 4.2 million visitors in 2018, a 20% increase from 2017, 720,000 of whom were international tourists. Of Vietnam's 22 current airports, 10 offer international flights.

[Photo via Thanh Nien]