We are inside a glass box of a gondola, part of the longest passenger cable car in the world, flying silently along on a nearly 8km ride, and some 50 storeys above a sapphire sea just off the coast of Phu Quoc Island in southern Vietnam. On this bright afternoon, hundreds of colourful wooden fishing boats speckle the crystalline water below as we sail toward Hon Thom Island.
On the way back, as the 20-minute ride nears an end, Phu Quoc station and the newly built town around it come into view. The station looks like a full-scale, prefab section of the Roman Colosseum, and the town is an elaborate facsimile of a seaside Italian city complete with a hulking bell tower, mock baroque fountains in piazzas and pseudo Roman ruins. Fanning out all around are several hundred pastel – and almost entirely empty – terraced buildings lining streets named Venice, Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento.
“It looks like Disneyland,” said an amply tattooed Tomek Tabaka, 44, part of a foursome of Polish friends travelling together, “or maybe The Truman Show.”
This two-part tourism colossus, called Sun World Hon Thom and Sunset Town, is one of Vietnam’s most astounding human-made attractions (or abominations depending on your point of view).
That it is anchored by a cable car is on trend for Vietnam, which is in the middle of a cable car bonanza. The nation is home to four of the longest cable cars in the world, all built in the past decade, underscoring the stunning transformation of Vietnam’s economy and tourism sector.
Most of the growth in the global cable car industry is in the urban transit and tourism markets, and most of the action in the tourism sector is in Asia, said Steven Dale, founder of the Gondola Project, an industry tracking website. And in Asia, he said, one of the most prolific cable car developers is Vietnam.
“On a per-capita basis I would guess that Vietnam has more than any other Asian country,” said Dale, who is principal planner in the cable-propelled transit group SCJ Alliance, a Washington state-based consulting firm.
Some 26 cable car lines have been built in a dozen locations across Vietnam over the past two decades, according to data from cable car manufacturers. Of course, hundreds of ski lifts have been built in Europe over the same period. But Vietnam is remarkable in its rapid escalation of the installations for tourism.