There’s One Problem With Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Focusing on the negatives sucks. But, in the case of Ho Chi Minh City, this is one negative that needs some attention.


I love Vietnam, I really do. The sticky heat, the afternoon downpours, the fresh foods, the friendly people – it’s easy to fall in love with this vibrant South East Asian Country. But like any good romance, there are things about the other half that really irk. With Ho Chi Minh City, it was the incredible amount of rubbish on the streets.

I can’t say I was surprised by the fact that Vietnam wasn’t squeaky clean; that was a fact I was well aware of before heading over. Though the pollution issues in Ho Chi Minh aren’t as well documented as the plastic covered beaches in Bali, research and previous travel experience gave me a general idea of what to expect when I got there.

Clearly, I wasn’t at all disillusioned as to the fact things might not be super clean; but that didn’t mean I wasn’t shocked by the amount waste and pollution I saw in Ho Chi Minh City. More so, the attitudes towards it.

People don’t really seem to care about living amongst trash

Everywhere you walk, you’re not only looking out for bikes and cars, but piles of rubbish too. It’s dirty.

Despite being a major city, Ho Chi Minh has a hugely underdeveloped waste disposal system. Supposedly, the sidewalk is the Saigonese rubbish bin, and all waste is collected from the pavement. The rubbish collectors come by with their hand-pushed carts after dark, picking up bags of waste from the sidewalk or out the front of homes. Unfortunately, a lot of locals don’t bother with the bags, and just use the gutter as their rubbish bin.

This poses many problems – not least the fact you have to watch where you step. It’s concerning to see the distinct lack of care this disposal system seems to harbour. People literally walk out of the shops to toss their used cups on the ground. Plus, when the skies open up each afternoon, whatever rubbish hasn’t been collected is washed away into the drains and water systems.

This issue was only further highlighted when we were out on the Mekong River.

On our quite little paddle through a side stream off the Mekong, I saw nappies, thongs, cartons, rice sacks, and more in the water. As someone who is actively trying to be a more conscious consumer and traveller, it was a tough pill to swallow. These quiet, overgrown little waterways were teeming with man-made products that shouldn’t be there.

Having our tour guide tell us that ‘the Mekong is not polluted’, was hard to get our heads around. Sure, the colour of the river comes from dirt being washed downstream. But, finding any credibility in her claims that the river wasn’t polluted was hard with so much plastic floating by.

What can we do about the issue?

It can feel redundant saying no to straws in places like Vietnam, when plastic cups are being tossed carelessly all over the sidewalk. Why say no to a straw, when others accept a plastic bag to carry their bubble tea in?

It isn’t redundant at all. Every little bit counts.

Vietnam is a country with a heavy reliance on plastic. They have up to 3 times more plastic waste than somewhere like Australia. You can see it on the sidewalks, in the shops, and at the markets. Plastic isn’t a packing choice, it is the packaging choice.

It’s hard to avoid plastic entirely while you are in Vietnam, but a few simple changes can help minimise the amount you use. A few simple behavioural changes can make you a more conscious consumer and traveller wherever you go.

  • Carry a backpack or tote bag when you shop, even at the fresh food markets.
  • If you’re eating street foods, carry your own reusable cutlery around
  • Use a refillable water bottle. You can’t fill up your water bottle from the tap in Vietnam, but you can cut down on the number of plastic bottles you buy. If you keep big bottles of filtered water in your hotel room, you can refill from there.
  • Talk about the problem. The more that’s being said about the issue, the more it forces people to do something about it.
  • Search for not-for-profits who are trying to clean-up the city – Zero Waste Saigon is just one of them – and get involved. Be it joining in on a clean up, or just spreading the word.
Ho Chi Minh City isn’t completely unaware of the waste issues that they face.

There are plenty of groups lobbying for the city to be cleaned up, and the government just recently pledged $1.2million to clean up their waterways. While you can’t personally do anything that monumental about the waste you see in Ho Chi Minh (or anywhere else for that matter), making small changes can, and will, help the overall problem. There’s still a long way to go in getting everyone in Vietnam to adopt better practices, but the changes have to start somewhere.

What do you do to be a more conscious traveller? Let me know below!

%d bloggers like this: