Wandering around many big travel forums like Tripadvisor, I realize that even though there are many good reviews, people’s perceptions of dirty Halong Bay being filled with garbage and pollution is still a big critique. Environmental problems are a huge aspect that causes foreigners to hesitate visiting Vietnam in general and booking a cruise to explore Halong Bay, specifically.
Many reviewers have said that “Although there is garbage, Halong Bay is still worth visiting”. Personally as a Vietnamese person, I would not agree with this because it prevents Vietnamese people from realizing that they need to change their bad habits. The fact is simple, trash is trash and nothing can retain its beauty if it is filled with garbage.
Through this post, I want to prove to the world that Vietnamese people care and take action for nature and their environment. Vietnam is changing!
Dirty Halong Bay?
If you came to Halong Bay 6 months ago or longer, it was easy to see trash floating around. There are plastic containers, nylon tarps, Styrofoam boxes, etc. These items were littered for such a long time that the smells can disturb your whole trip. The worst area is Halong market, near Bai Tho Bridge, where the water is black and the smell is the worst.
When the tide rises, all the trash is washed ashore and when the tide is low, it floats into the Bay where travelers are enjoying the magnificent views. This means trash affects not only the tourism industry, but also the daily life and environment of the local people.
The local government has invested in cleaning Halong Bay, but it can be inefficient. There is a funny rule that trash beyond 700m from the shore is the responsibility of one unit, yet the area from the shore to 700m away is another unit’s responsibility. Yet trash keeps floating along the flow of the tide, therefore no unit is “responsible”. Trash keeps piling up and no one wants to clean it up.
If the local government is still trying to find the best solution for the pollution, it is time for the Vietnamese youth to rise up and take on the responsibility.
In June 2016, a clean-up day in Halong Bay was organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and a local cruise company. The event attracted over 100 Vietnamese and foreign volunteers. As a part of the USAID-funded Halong-Cat Ba Alliance project, implemented by IUCN, volunteers were trying to tackle the growing trash problem in “dirty Halong Bay”, one of Vietnam’s most valuable and unique destinations.
Participants came from different backgrounds including businesses, NGOs, and various media. However, the special aspect of this meetup is that young people and students made up most of the volunteers. Despite the differences, all of them participated with a common goal in mind: to help preserve the beauty and natural integrity of Ha Long Bay – a World Heritage Site that faces many environmental challenges.
The clean-up initiative did not only aim as a campaign to raise environmental awareness, but also intended to motivate local authorities and other cruise boat firms in Halong Bay to take up regular clean-up activities.
Darius Postma, CSR Foundation Director and co-organiser of the clean-up, emphasized the important role that young people will play in raising public awareness about the need for better environmental protections in Vietnam.
After that, participants were briefed on how to collect, classify, and report trash. Some groups were assigned to use kayaks to collect floating trash while others were responsible for collecting refuse on three beaches in Vung Ha.
In the afternoon on the 14th of June, the cleaning journey started with over 100 volunteers divided into 4 groups. They landed on islands many kilometers away, but trash was seen everywhere. “There is too much trash.” “Where does it all come from?” When would we clean all this stuff up”, All of these questions kept popping up in the volunteers heads.
However, with the determination and power of Vietnamese youth, after 5 hours of cleaning and collecting, many bags of trash were transferred to wasteland of the city to be dissolved. Although the amount of trash collected just accounted for a small part, it shows the effort of Vietnamese people in general and the youth specifically.
Cleaning Halong Bay is not a spontaneous or random event to help the public relations concerning the beauty of the heritage site. Before coming to Halong Bay, the event has occurred in 4 central provinces including Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien Hue. A total of over 70 hours has been spent cleaning up 7.5 km of coastline with the help of over 5000 students and more than 200 volunteers. This event will continue to get to the other 20 coastal provinces until 2019. It is believed to be very hard to perfectly clean up all the garbage. However, the main goal is to increase and change the awareness as well as the behavior of Vietnamese people so that we can change the perception of Vietnamese involvement in environmental issues.
Yes, trash and garbage has led to a dirty tourist site. However, throughout this post, I hope that travelers all around the world will understand that we are not looking away from the trouble but trying very hard to fight against it to make Vietnam, and Halong Bay in specific, a better place for visiting and relaxing.
Having more concerns about travelling Halong Bay? We have a whole article about concerns here, check it out!