We're all going on a half-term holiday

It feels like Christmas was just here, but time flies by and (the joys of being a teacher) the half-term holidays are with us already. This time we are having a family break, and heading to Hoi An, Vietnam, with my mother-in-law, Rosemary, and my sister-in-law, Bekah. It’s been a great opportunity to put into practice some of my New Year resolutions, and to think more about how to holiday whilst minimising waste. I’m going to break this post down into three sections:

  1. Plastic is a big problem in Vietnam, and it’s currently ranked fourth in the world in terms of the amount of plastic waste produced, and for the mismanagement of its disposal. I’m also going to talk about the solutions we found local businesses were using, as well as some holiday tips about how you can help reduce your impact on your holidays.
  2. We’ve had an amazing week in Hoi An, and like most holidays I wish it would never end. I’m also going to talk briefly about what we’ve enjoyed the most about being here. There will be loads more things to do if you are visiting Hoi An, but if you are planning a trip then there are a few ideas to get you started.
  3. Finally, I spoke about how I was going to try to improve my packing, as part of my attempts to minimise my life generally ahead of our move to Australia in my recent blog here. I’m definitely getting better, and you can see below that I’m starting to get my packing list narrowed down!

Preventable plastic

I did not have high hopes for the plastic situation in Vietnam when we headed there. Vietnam makes up one of the six countries that is most responsible for plastic pollution in the oceans. That said, we have been pleasantly surprised. This could be because we have been visiting beautiful Hoi An, a UNESCO heritage site. Due to its outstanding beauty, Hoi An is something of a tourist Mecca, and as a result appears to enjoy a few more of the eco ‘home comforts’ that tourists are coming to expect.

A picture of a street in Hoi An, Vietnam, with lanterns everywhere      A building in the UNESCO heritage site, Hoi An, Vietnam

One of the big problems with being overseas is the uncertainty about drinking tap water. Now, there’s no perfect solution to this, as despite having had all the recommended shots, we are not prepared to risk the various water borne diseases which are a risk in south and southeast Asia. At this stage in our eco journey, it’s a given that we have our refillable bottles with us. But what do you do when you’ve drunk all your water? Water purifying tablets are one option, but it’s been a really pleasant surprise to see that companies are becoming aware of these problems and catering for a reduced plastic world. Karma Waters went as far as not selling plastic bottles. Instead they sold filtered water to put in your refillable bottle. Sometimes refills aren’t available, and this is one of the big challenges of holidaying and travelling in countries that do not yet have fully reliable sewage and water purification systems. That said, it’s encouraging how much awareness has changed since I first came to southeast Asia 12 years ago, and in the last three years in particular. That is thanks to people setting a positive example by seeking refillable alternatives, and educating others about their options.

Hoi An wasn’t quite as good with the plastic bags, and there were a number around, although compared to a lot of places we have visited the beaches were remarkably clean, and there was a lot less rubbish by the sides of the roads than there is in, say, Thailand. We saw several people collecting rubbish and taking it away to be disposed off efficiently, which was great to see. That said it makes you realise how much waste an individual can produce when you see the rubbish disposal people on their bicycles with all the plastic bottles tied together in a huge bundle, and this was happening several times a day.

Another problem, was the language barrier. It’s easy to say “no straw, thank you”, but that didn’t mean one didn’t come! After the first time Kat had the bright idea of getting out her straws, and saying the same thing. The effect looked a little like she was on a shopping channel, showing off the straws for the viewers at home, but I was the only one who thought so, and therefore the only one amused, and it worked in terms of us not getting plastic straws again! Then again, it did happen to me another time, but it’s important to remember that you can do your best and sometimes people will still make mistakes. While it’s important to try and make sure you don’t get a plastic straw, it still might happen until it becomes more and more common.

In addition to asking for no plastic straw, we found that some places were already on the ball. We saw bamboo straws for sale in the shops, which is a clear sign that people are starting to become more aware. Also, in Karma Waters, they did not serve any straws, which would have made drinking some of the lovely healthy smoothies that they had harder, were it not for our mixed bag of strawsWe also had a delicious meal following a yoga session at Annen vegetarian cafe, and were delighted to find out that they used metal straws with all of their cold drinks.

Eco Hoi An

We have had an incredible time in Hoi An. It’s always good to get away with family and I was particularly pleased that Bekah was there, as it meant Kat had a model to take pictures of, and I was spared my occasional photographer duties (artistically I am not the strongest, and I’m never really sure what I’m supposed to be doing with a camera in my hand)! We had a full week in Vietnam and after arriving last Saturday morning, we headed straight to our hotel, Emotion Villa.

Taking a bicycle out in Hoi An, Vietnam

We had already planned to cycle around the town, and the hotel provided us with free bikes to borrow. It goes without saying that bikes are an amazing, eco-friendly way to get around. The roads are full of them, and not just with tourists. Although motorbikes are also incredibly popular, bicycles are an affordable alternative, as well as having great health benefits. Having not cycled for about six months this took a little getting used to but it was great to be out in the fresh air, and during the day it also gave a nice cooling breeze to take the edge off the hot day! We cycled to the old town practically every night, and as far as the beach as well.

The Old Town is a big recommendation, either during the day or at night. We parked our bikes up and walked around, and you can see why this town is a heritage site. The buildings are beautifully constructed, with vibrant colours during the day, and rows of lanterns illuminated during the evening. The shops are open most of the day and there are so many eateries, coffee houses and restaurants. As a fully fledged caffeineaholic it was great to taste all the different variations, from the famous drip coffee to the sweetened egg coffee, as well as all the iced variants.

Joe, the author, drinking traditional Vietnamese coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam

Another great thing that we spotted in town was that a lot of restaurants had moved away from having disposable towels to dry your hands with. There were either towels or, the more hygienic rolled up individual towels for drying your hands. Add this to the ubiquitous bum guns and you have a big reduction in the amount of waste paper at home. Kat has made us napkins at home for the kitchen, as well as producing some gorgeous reusable makeup wipes, and we always have a hand towel in the bathroom, but it’s great to see companies moving away from waste.

Hand towels instead of paper towels as an eco friendly alternative in public bathrooms

The beach was gorgeous, even if the half hour cycle ride left me a little sore… Again it was good to see less plastic than I’ve seen on a beach for a while, although it is always hard to tell if this is because there is a reduction in the amount in the ocean or if someone has cleaned it up that morning. Either way, if tourists are encouraging businesses to keep their beaches clean then it is great news.

Hoi An was so relaxing that it was sometimes hard to remember to keep active. Being on holiday with the in-laws helped with that as we sought out a couple of Hatha Yoga sessions at Annen cafe. Rosemary, my mother-in-law, is a yoga teacher and Kat and Bekah are both fairly expert. I’d probably rate myself as an intermediate after trying (and failing) to do 30 days of yoga in January. I made it to 20, and although I couldn’t keep it up everyday, it is now a part of my exercise regimen.

The classes were relaxing but challenging, and the massages we found in town were also amazing. In combination they set us up and then helped us recover from afternoons walking the streets of the Old Town, checking out sites like the Japanese Bridge, and enjoying the additional decorations in place for the Lunar New Year.

Finally, I can’t speak highly enough about the food. From fresh spring rolls, to various types of pho, banh mi, cao lau and mi quang, everything was gorgeous. We did a tour of the small farms on the outskirts of the city on one of our days, seeing how all the vegetables were grown organically. The freshness of the flavours has given me yet another self-improvement ambition (growing all my own veggies). We were also shown how to make our own rice noodles, as well as doing some non-food related things which haven’t stuck in my head as well!

Organic farm in Hoi An, Vietnam

I can’t recommend Hoi An highly enough. The weather was beautiful, the food was amazing, and the atmosphere was so positive and friendly. We saw some great sites and have returned home tired, but mentally refreshed, which is how I feel every holiday should end!

Perfect packing

So, I thought I would finish on a little update on my ongoing task to minimise my packing, to make me more aware of other areas in which I can slim down my life. Since coming back from Christmas, Vietnam was the second opportunity to practice packing, after a school trip the week before.  I’m learning through trial and error and, pleasingly, I’ve noticed a big improvement in how I’ve planned for my weeks away.

I started off by preparing to pack for both trips simultaneously. I arrived back home the night before we flew to Vietnam, so although I could put my dirty clothes to wash, they wouldn’t be dry in time for the early morning departure. Kat has always been a strong proponent of making lists, and while I’m not exactly against it, I also find that I’m not very consistent with it and often forget. This was one of the occasions where I forgot, but looking back now it could have been so much easier. My packing was made easier by having just reorganised my cupboards (attempting to KonMari my life), and I started with things that were essential for each trip.

We generally like to keep active on holiday so I organised my clothes into exercise and leisure wear. This is where the problems started, as I put the leisure wear pile for my school trip in my Vietnam pile… I realised and then had to manage with only four tops for the entire week away (I won’t buy new clothes this year)!  

This cock up made me all the more determined to get Vietnam right (cue smug face)...

And get it right I have! I’m writing this blog as we prepare to head back to the airport, and I have one unworn top ready to go! The only thing I packed that I haven’t used this holiday is my running shoes (I managed to injure myself on the second day of the trip so it’s been flip flops all the way).

Now obviously trips away can vary hugely, and if you have washing facilities that can make a big difference. Going to two hot and sweaty countries means I’ve maybe packed a few more tops than I would otherwise, but let me know if I’ve missed anything off. Clothes are obviously a must as well but as people’s requirements can vary so much I’ve left this to you! One thing that I did find massively helped as well was using the KonMari method of folding. It brings items to fairly standard sizes which means you can fit a lot more in!

Eco-holiday essentials

  • Refillable bottle 
  • Refillable cup
  • Reusable stainless steel Kalleco metal straws 
  • Bamboo Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Bar of soap
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sun Cream (I’ve yet to find a plastic free option. Any tips please!!!!!)
  • Laptop
  • Books
  • Bum bag and organic cotton tote

1 comment

  • Wonderful memories Joe

    Rosemary Amiri

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