Photos of foreign tourists cleaning up beach lay bare Vietnam's littering problem

By Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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A Spanish tourist picks up trash on Cat Ba Beach in Hai Phong City on July 13, 2015. Photo: Pham Ngoc Long A Spanish tourist picks up trash on Cat Ba Beach in Hai Phong City on July 13, 2015. Photo: Pham Ngoc Long


Photos of two foreign tourists picking up trash on a beach in northern Vietnam have gone viral on the Internet recently, prompting criticism on the notoriously bad littering habit among many locals.
The photos show two women on Cat Ba Beach in Hai Phong City, with one down on her knees and another wading in the water to clean up the beach.
Many tourists are either swimming or relaxing on the background.
The photos have been shared online and attracted thousands of comments, at once appreciating the good deed of the foreigners and criticizing the littering habit of locals.
“What a shame when locals can't keep their beaches clean and foreigners need to help. I used to pick up trash on a beach in my hometown myself and people just stared at me like I was an alien,” a person identified only as Shamus wrote in a comment.
The photographer who took the pictures, Pham Ngoc Long, said he saw the foreign tourists when he was taking wedding photos for a couple on Cat Ba Beach on July 13.
“One of the women told me she's from Spain. She looked very sad when picking up the trash,” Long told Thanh Nien News.
The other woman was trying to collect beer cans, coconut shells and snack bags floating on the sea, he said.
“I felt really ashamed. Most tourists at the beach are locals, so I guess the trash was left behind by Vietnamese people, not foreigners.”
Long, a photographer from Ha Long, said he often take wedding photos on beaches like Cat Ba.
“Most of the time, we had to clean up the beach ourselves to have a good background for the wedding photos.
“The new photos of these two foreigners are good examples of the need to keep the environment clean. 
"Now that Vietnamese people have seen the pictures, I hope they will change their habit.”
Nationwide problem
Huynh Cong Men, director of the Ho Chi Minh City-based tourism company Sac Mau Cuoc Song (Colour Life Travel), said that all beaches in Vietnam have this problem.
A foreign tourist gathers trash in the water at Cat Ba Beach in Hai Phong City. Photo: Pham Ngoc Long
“Local tourists litter everywhere they go. We really don't know how to explain to our foreign clients about the problem,” he told Thanh Nien News.
Littering has become so common that a company in Ho Chi Minh City has invented a vehicle that can travel on sand and collect trash on the beach.
The invention does not help much, since the problem is apparently rooted in a lack of environmental awareness. 
In a recent move, Da Nang authorities announced an anti-littering campaign, pledging to fine tourists who are caught with leaving their trash on the city's beaches.
Under the campaign that will be launched on July 20, disposing of a cigarette butt for instance can be fined up to VND100,000 (US$4.6).
Other types of littering will face a double fine while public urination is subject to a fine of up to VND300,000.
Men from the travel company said that littering is a deeply ingrained habit among many Vietnamese people and the problem needs to be solved with strict measures.
“In Singapore, you can be fined for just a tiny piece of trash. It would be difficult to break this bad habit in Vietnam unless local authorities adopt similarly tough regulations.”
“Propaganda has proved ineffective and there should be stronger measures.”
He said that tourism firms are well aware of the problem, but they could not do anything.
“The question is whether policy makers are willing to introduce strict regulations to stop littering, because even some of them also have this bad habit.”

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