Trang An – It wasn’t mist or fog

View the picture below.

I know the giant sperm is distracting (It’s really supposed to be a lotus blossom), but look to the horizon.  How far can you see?

Given a clear day, at sea level a person at sea level looking out should be able to see 2-3 miles (A little under 5 kilometers) (according to this site) given the curvature of the earth.  This picture is taken from about 400 feet above ground level.  How far can you see?  I’ll tell you the answer later.

“I wonder what it must have been like not having to worry about garbage.” Alyssa asked as we perused the archaeological museum. “I mean, in those times, people just chucked it and it didn’t matter.  Everything was compostable or came from earth.”

Well not any more.  Aside from burning leaf litter, trash was burned as well here. To be fair, not all trash is burned. Individuals dumpster dived and walked around perusing trash cans for reusable items (article here). When we asked our host what do to with our plastic bottles, they told us: “Put in in the trash can by the road, someone will pick it up.” They do. At times I saw people with carts of plastic bottles and can, metal, and other items they might find useful. I saw them more in the city and only twice in the Trang An complex. However, I did see a lot of burning.

Three burn piles in the evening.
Another burn pile roadside.

At 400 feet of elevation we should have been able to see 20-30 miles (30-50 KM).  Yet the haze created by burning throughout the valley greatly restricted visibility.   More than that, every day upon returning from our excursions our clothes smelled like a sweaty campfire.  The smell of burning plastic, paper, and grasses was strong and ever present.

A close up inspection of a burn pile

So what is being done?  Air quality monitoring stations exist to help people understand the air quality (Click Here).  The AQI (Air Quality Index) was over 150 during our visit.  Monitoring was one positive step.  In Hanoi they are experimenting with a different type of thermal solution to waste disposal —  Prolysis (Click here).  In Ho Chi Minh City they are investigating different methods in dealing with solid waste (Click here).

A great article outlining the depth of the Vietnam garbage problem (Click Here), argues that collections and the methods of relying on someone to pickup the plastic in the can are not working.  Vietnam is one of the top four ocean polluters.    There was local messaging in forward thinking cities like Hue where we signs saying: “Just say no to plastic”  however, every establishment offered to double wrap our purchase with plastic and every drink came with plastic straw.

Tourism is part of the problem and the solution.  Tourists flock to Vietnam with their water bottles, disposable items, and service demands greatly taxing a rural community with limited ability to process the extra waste.   I’ll admit, that even though we brought reusable water containers and a water filter, we bought more than our share of water in plastic bottles.   It was too easy and convenient to buy the water rather than bring our own at times.

Changing human behavior is hard.  We’ll be watching Vietnam to see if it can improve its waste management.

The answer to the question I started with:

The city of the Ninh Binh is four kilometers away.  Yet we cannot even see the outskirts of the city.  We should have been able to see the coast line 35 kilometers away.

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