Travelling to Vietnam? Here’s how to do it responsibly. 

From bustling cities to epic hikes and UNESCO World Heritage sites, Vietnam has something for every traveller. 

However, Vietnam is still very much a country in recovery. The effects of war and economic sanctions still linger over the country and its people. 

While I’d encourage you to travel responsibly wherever you go, Vietnam is a country that you need to be particularly mindful with. 

Tourism is an important part of Vietnam’s economy and it’s travellers like you and me that can ensure that tourism has the most positive impact possible.

As well as the usual responsible travel practices, here are my top travel tips for Vietnam to make sure you have a great trip while travelling responsibly.  

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What is responsible travel and ecotourism? 

There are lots of reasons why you may want to travel to Vietnam. It’s beautiful, for a start, and its unique culture is captivating. And then, of course, there’s the incredible food. 

Whatever your reason for travelling to Vietnam, it’s worth thinking about the impact your trip will have – not just on you, but on the places, people and environments you visit, too.

Responsible tourism is being aware of the impact you have on the destination you’re visiting, and doing your best to make it as positive as possible. 

The good news is that it’s not hard to practice responsible tourism in Vietnam because Vietnam has a wealth of sustainable tourism initiatives and socially responsible experiences to enjoy. 


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Why is ecotourism in Vietnam important?

When a country has as much natural beauty as Vietnam does, it’s no surprise that travellers want to see it for themselves.

While this can be great news for the local economy, it’s not always good for the environment.

In the worst cases, tourism can lead to the complete destruction of the places that bring travellers to a destination.

Ecotourism in Vietnam focuses on ways to enjoy Vietnam’s natural wonders without destroying them. It’s kinder on the environment, helps preserve these places for future travellers and – most importantly of all – means that future generations can continue to welcome tourism.


typical Vietnamese landscape in spring with green vegetation

How to enjoy responsible travel in Vietnam 

The good news is that, with its stunning natural landscapes and numerous social initiatives, it’s not hard to travel responsibly in Vietnam. 

It’s not all good news, though. 

For all the eco-friendly travel experiences and responsible tour operators, Vietnam also has its fair share of not-so-responsible temptations. 

Here’s how to travel ethically, sustainably and responsibly during your trip to Vietnam. 


3 Ways to practice ecotourism in Vietnam 

Vietnam is a country that’s bursting with natural beauty – and we should keep it that way. 

Tourism has destroyed some of Vietnam’s neighbours, including in both Thailand and Bali, and it would be a shame to see history repeat itself. 

Here are the best ways to practice ecotourism in Vietnam and keep your environmental impact to a minimum. 

1 – Travel by land 

One of the easiest ways to travel sustainably is to reduce flying where possible. 

While you might need to fly to get to Vietnam – and that can’t be avoided – there’s no real need to fly once you arrive. 

Vietnam is a country that has fantastic land connections, so it’s often easier to travel by train or bus, rather than hopping on unnecessary international flights.

It’s usually much cheaper, too!

Bookaway covers all of Vietnam’s most popular – and not so popular! – travel routes. Covering trains, buses and ferries, you can find eco-friendly ways to travel all over the country. 

Vietnam destinations available include everything from Hanoi and Halong Bay to Hon Gai and Tuy Hoa, so there’s never any need to travel another way. 


Seascape of Ky Co Beach, Quy Nhon, Vietnam. In recent years, there has been a significant shift towards service industries and tourism in Quy Nhon.
Whether you head to the beach or the mountains, Bookaway can help you find an eco-friendly way to get there.

2 – Stay in eco resorts

Accommodation in Vietnam is super affordable compared to many destinations, but it’s worth spending a little more to make sure your money is going to a responsible business. 

Vietnam has plenty of eco resorts and hotels, and staying in one can be an easy way to travel more sustainably while you’re there. 

You’ll find everything from affordable eco hostels to luxury eco resorts in Vietnam, so there’s something for every type of traveller. 

In the north, Topas Ecolodge is one of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. You’ll pay a premium to stay there but, in my experience, it will be well worth it.

In Halong Bay, Cat Ba Eco Lodge Resort provides a sustainable stay at a very reasonable price. 

In the south, Dao Hoa Vang Villa’s simple and sustainable tents offer an affordable stay in a remote beach location.


3 – Choose your tours carefully

Hiring a local guide can be a great way to make sure your tourism money goes straight back into the local economy, but you’ll want to choose a company that operates responsibly. 

Halong Bay is a spot that’s beginning to suffer from overtourism. While I don’t recommend avoiding it – it’s beautiful! – you should book with an operator that disposes of waste responsibly and employs local staff. 

Vietnam Real Tour, Tucan Travel and Intrepid Travel all operate responsible and ethical tours in Vietnam.  


Two Vietnamese fishermen catching fish and dragging out a large yellow fishnet on a boat from the peaceful Song Nhu Y River in Hue, Vietnam

How to be a socially responsible tourist in Vietnam

Being a responsible tourist isn’t just about travelling sustainably. It’s also about being aware of the social impact your travels have.

Here are some of the easiest ways to be a socially responsible tourist in Vietnam:


Support social initiatives

Vietnam has plenty of social enterprises to help disadvantaged people support themselves.

By spending your tourism money here, you can help boost the local economy and the people who might otherwise be out of work. 

While there are lots of initiatives doing great work, they’re not always super easy to find. If you want to have a positive impact on local communities when you travel Vietnam, though, they’re well worth seeking out.

Here are a few worth checking out: 

In Hanoi, Joma Bakery is an American-style coffee shop with a mission

They work with several local NGOs and give 10% of all their profits to local charities, as well as providing employment and training for victims of human rights abuse – something that is, sadly, not uncommon in Vietnam.  

Or, if you’re going to get a massage – something I highly recommend! – then why not get one at Omamori Spa? All of the staff here are blind or visually impaired. 

If Hoi An in on your Vietnam itinerary, Reaching Out Teahouse is a must-visit. The teahouse was set up by a group of friends with disabilities and all of the waiting staff are deaf/mute, so silence is encouraged.

Even if you don’t  stop for tea, the teapots and other artisan gifts are a great way to support the cause and bring your travels home with you.


Rural road at sunrise in Dalat, Vietnam. Dalat is located in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Respect local laws and customs 

Vietnamese culture is unique. That means that, wherever you’re travelling from, there will be laws and customs that are unfamiliar to you. 

Not knowing the laws of a country – particularly those that affect tourists – can land you in big trouble. It can cause tension in the places you visit and, if you’re not careful, could even land you in jail. 

Being aware of local laws is important, but customs are equally crucial. 

In Vietnam, it’s incredibly disrespectful to touch someone’s head and outright offensive to show someone the soles of your feet. 

These are things you may have never considered before.

Get to know a little bit about Vietnamese culture before you arrive so you can travel respectfully and ethically. 


Learn about the history 

Unfortunately, Vietnam is a country that has been shaped by its difficult modern history. 

Even if you’re not a history buff, learning a little about Vietnam’s complex past will help you understand and appreciate the culture much more while you’re there.

There are plenty of places to learn more about the history while you’re in Vietnam, and I recommend doing so. 

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is an uncomfortable experience, but one I would recommend to every visitor in Vietnam. 


A woman buying fruit at a market in Hanoi, Vietnam

Take photos respectfully 

With epic landscapes and bustling street life, Vietnam is a travel photographer’s dream

Vietnam is also a fairly conservative country.

If you want to take photos in Vietnam, make sure you’re being respectful. 

That means asking permission if you want to photograph people – and accepting the ‘no’ you’re likely to hear – and making sure you don’t photograph anything that’s off limits, such as military property. 


Dress appropriately

Temples and religious sites are a standard part of travel in Southeast Asia. Like almost anywhere, you should dress conservatively and cover your shoulders and knees when visiting them. 

It’s not just here that you’ll want to dress modestly, though. 

Vietnam is more conservative than many of its neighbours and it’s best to always dress accordingly. 

Save the shorts for the beach and dress in loose, long clothing to avoid any uncomfortable situations. 


Sun setting over the mountains in Ha Long Bay

The best places for ecotourism in Vietnam

Vietnam is a deceptively large country and, given its geography, boasts varied and unique landscapes. 

If you’re looking for a nature-fuelled visit, here are some of the best ecotourism spots in Vietnam. 

Cat Tien National Park

A short journey from Ho Chi Minh City, Cát Tiên National Park is home to some of Vietnam’s most enchanting wildlife. 

Here, you can spot animals such as snakes, tropical birds, gibbons and civets, as well as a mix of forests. 

Guided treks often have a focus on environmental awareness and conservation, so it’s the perfect hiking spot for nature lovers. 

This private tour includes overnight accommodation, meals and an English speaking guide.


Cat Ba Island

The largest is the largest island in Halong Bay and a great way to see the popular area in an eco-friendly way. 

Cat Ba National Park, which covers most of the island, is home to a number of endangered primates, including the endemic white-faced monkey.

The park also protects Vietnam’s most abundant mangrove system, helping to protect the marine life off the area’s coast. 

If you only add one island to your Vietnam itinerary, make it this one. If you want to hike in the park, this tour is a great option for wildlife lovers.


Ban Gioc Waterfall Thac Ban Gioc Cao Bang
Cao Bang’s waterfalls are just as impressive as the waterfalls in Chiapas, Mexico.

Cao Bang Geopark 

Many travellers head to the picturesque town of Sapa in Vietnam’s Lao Cai region.

Just to the east, though, is a lesser known area known as Cao Bang. 

This remote region has everything that attracts travellers to Sapa, including waterfalls, rice terraces and rivers. 

In my opinion, though, Cao Bang Geopark’s waterfalls are even more impressive and its landscapes equally incredible. The fact that there are far fewer tourists just makes it even more special. 


Things to avoid in Vietnam 

Like anywhere, Vietnam isn’t without its share of scams and tourist traps. 

On the one hand, you can’t really blame people for trying to make a living. However, by avoiding unethical situations and supporting responsible businesses, travellers can help change the landscape.

As well as supporting sustainable and ethical practices, being a responsible traveller also means respecting local culture. 

After all, creating tensions with locals and giving a bad name to tourism can be just as damaging to the places you visit.  

Here are some things to avoid in Vietnam.


Public displays of affection

As a conservative country, PDAs are generally frowned upon in Vietnam. 

If you’re travelling with a member of the opposite sex, avoid touching them in public.


Giving money to street beggars 

While it’s great to support local communities economically, make sure you do it in a responsible way. 

If you want to give back, buy from street vendors, local vendors and social initiatives like the ones mentioned above. 


Women selling fruit at a market in Hoi An, Vietnam

Taking photos without permission 

Nobody likes having their privacy invaded. Vietnamese people are generally quite reserved, so please don’t make them uncomfortable by shoving a camera in their face.


Pointing

Like in much of Southeast Asia, it’s rude to point with just your finger in Vietnam.

It can be a hard habit to break, but try to always use your whole hand when you want to point to something, even if you’re talking to another tourist. 


Riding elephants

Sadly, Vietnam is one place where it’s still to ride elephants. This cruel practice will only continue as long as tourists pay for it, so please, please spend your money somewhere else.


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