Eco-Tourism in Vietnam: A Sustainable Adventure

Vietnam is a captivating destination for travelers seeking natural beauty and cultural experiences. 

And with a GDP contribution of over 6.4% in 2024, the sector of Tourism is one of the strongest of Vietnam’s Economy.

Even without Covid, the industry of tourism in Vietnam has had its ups and down, but considerable efforts and investments are made by governments & industry professionals alike to improve Vietnam’s infrastructures, welcome, and follow the latest trends.

One such trend that had an impact on world tourism is what we call Eco-Tourism, with a survey conducted in 2022 indicating that over 80% of global travelers consider sustainable tourism important, and that they are willing to engage in travel practices that support this mentality.

With this increasing trend of sustainable tourism, Vietnam’s tourist industry turns to eco-tourism for sustainable development, promoting responsible travel while preserving the environment. 

In this article, let’s delve into the world of eco-tourism in Vietnam.

 

What Is Eco-Tourism? Definition

Eco-tourism refers to responsible travel that focuses on:

  • conserving natural environments, 
  • supporting local communities, 
  • and minimizing negative impacts. 

In Vietnam, this approach is essential for maintaining the delicate balance between tourism and environmental preservation.

 

Why Eco-Tourism is for the best. The Pros.

The environmental benefits of ecotourism are manifold. 

First, It promotes responsible travel to natural areas, aiming to conserve the environment while improving the well-being of local people. For instance, according to The World Counts, in destinations where tourism is a major economic driver, ecotourism has helped ensure higher water quality and better protection of natural resources. 

Then, From a social perspective, ecotourism empowers local communities by providing them with control over how tourism develops in their area. It encourages the use of lands and resources in sustainable ways, which can lead to long-term economic benefits for the locals. 

Examples of successful ecotourism can be found across the globe. Guided tours through rainforests or coral reefs not only educate visitors on the unique flora and fauna but also highlight the role these ecosystems play in sustaining the environment. 

Diving in Vietnam

Guided tour of a coral reef in Phu Quoc, Vietnam. Source: Vietnam Tourism Board.

 

However, it is important to be aware of “greenwashing,” where some agencies loosely use the term “eco travel” without adhering to its principles. Thus, tourists are encouraged to research and choose genuine ecotourism experiences. It is recommended to look into tours or activities offered by nonprofit organization or charitable organizations to truly benefit the environment and local communities.

In short, ecotourism offers tourists the opportunity to explore the world responsibly, with the assurance that their travels contribute positively to the conservation of our planet and the prosperity of local populations. It’s a win-win for the environment, the economy, and the enlightened traveler seeking a deeper connection with the world.

 

The Rise of Eco-Tourism in Vietnam

Globally, there’s a growing interest in eco-tourism.  This shift in traveler preferences is reflected in the global market size of the ecotourism industry, which reached a staggering 172.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2022. Vietnam is no exception to this trend. The country recognizes the potential of sustainable tourism and actively promotes it through various initiatives.

In Vietnam, the collaboration between government policies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is crucial in promoting responsible tourism practices. Efforts include educating tourists on the importance of conservation, supporting local communities, and implementing eco-friendly accommodations.

For illustration, in Halong Bay, responsible tourism policies are in place to address issues like pollution and overcrowding, ensuring that the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site can be sustained for future generations. From September 1, 2019, the city has requested that businesses and individuals providing tourism services in Ha Long Bay stop using throwaway plastic goods. These actions demonstrate a commitment to ethical travel that respects the environment and enhances the well-being of local communities.

Now, let’s take a wander through Vietnam’s magnificent landscapes and discover why their eco-tourism is the new phenomenon!

 

Top Eco-Tourism Destinations in Vietnam

Northern Vietnam: Where Rice Terraces Meet the Clouds

Nestled in the highlands of Northern Vietnam, Sapa is a mosaic of green, with its terraced rice fields that seem to ascend to the heavens. Here, the Hmong and Dao people live in harmony with the land, offering a glimpse into their rich cultural tapestry through village tours and textile markets. Trekking through this vast land filled with nature and culture not only feeds the soul but also supports local communities.

Sapa Cable Car

A breathtaking cable car links Sapa to the summit of Mt. Fansipan. Source: Vietnam Tourism Board.

 

Further east, Ha Giang’s plateaus are a geologist’s dream, and the Ha Giang Loop is a motorbike journey unlike any other. The region’s homestays provide a unique opportunity to connect with local life while preserving the integrity of the environment.

Ha Giang Loop

Ride the Ha Giang Loop with a motorbike chauffeur. Source: Wander Vietnam.

 

Wildlife viewing in the North of Vietnam is also an experience unlike any other. The dense forests of Cuc Phuong National Park are home to an astonishing variety of flora and fauna, including the critically endangered Delacour’s langur

Butterfly Season Vietnam

Cuc Phuong National Park during the butterfly season. Source: Mia.vn.

 

Central Vietnam: Caves, Culture, and Cuisine

Moving to central Vietnam, the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a testament to nature’s artistry, with its ancient limestone karsts and colossal cave systems, including the awe-inspiring Son Doong Cave. This colossal natural wonder boasts a cross-section believed to be the largest in the world, and twice that of its nearest rival, Deer Cave in Malaysia.

Eco-friendly tours here are designed to protect this UNESCO World Heritage Site while providing visitors with the thrill of exploration. A typical expedition lasts 4 days and 3 nights, and prices start from around $3,000. Participants must be over 18, in good physical health, and able to swim 25 meters. A moderate level of fitness is also required, as the trek involves significant walking, climbing, and swimming in cave rivers. This adventure is not for the faint of heart, but it is worth every penny.

Caves Vietnam

The captivating beauty of Phong Nha-Ke Bang’s caves. Source: Quang Binh Travel.

 

Delving into the cultural side of Central Vietnam, Hoi An, with its lantern-lit streets and vibrant history, is a model for sustainable tourism. The town’s commitment to preserving its UNESCO-listed architecture while promoting organic farming and community-based tourism is a blueprint for others to follow.

Hoi An Countryside

A coffee shop in the middle of paddy fields in Hoi An. Photo by Duy Hau. Source: VnExpress.

 

Southern Vietnam: Rivers and Beaches

The Mekong Delta, known as the ‘Nine Dragon river delta’ or ‘Đồng Bằng Sông Cửu Long’ in Vietnamese, is a rich and vibrant region in southwestern Vietnam. It is where the mighty Mekong River concludes its journey, spreading out into numerous tributaries before emptying into the East Vietnam Sea. 

Here, Mekong Plus has been actively involved in sustainable development projects. One of our NGO’s notable contributions to ecotourism is through Mekong Bikes, which offers eco-friendly bike tours that allow participants to explore the region’s rich cultural and natural heritage. 

These tours not only serve as a source of funding for the organization’s projects but also aim to raise awareness and encourage community participation in sustainable practices. You can make your donation here to support their cause and actions!

Mekong Bikes Tour

Mekong Bikes tour on bamboo bikes by Mekong Plus.

 

Down south, the Con Dao Islands are a sanctuary for marine life. The archipelago’s clear waters are home to vibrant coral reefs and are a nesting ground for sea turtles. Participating in conservation efforts and beach cleanups here does not just leave the beaches cleaner; it leaves the soul fuller.

Con Dao Beach Cleaning

A beach cleanup in Con Dao organized by NGO Trash2Art and Bar200 with volunteers. Source: Condao.com.vn.

 

Eco-tourism Activities to Try in Vietnam

 

Trekking

If trekking through breathtaking landscapes is what you seek, Vietnam’s northern highlands are your playground. Here, visitors are greeted with emerald rice fields, tranquil villages, and the warm hospitality of the ethnic minority people. Homestays in stilt houses offer a unique cultural immersion, while the act of trekking promotes health and leaves a minimal environmental footprint. Many call this a serene escape from the bustling city life. 

Trekking in Sapa

A Sapa trekking tour guided by the locals. Source: GetvisaVietnam.com.

 

Bird Watching

Vietnam is a heaven for bird watchers, boasting over 900 species, including more than a dozen endemics, the largest number in mainland Southeast Asia. The country’s diverse habitats, from tropical forests to wetlands, provide a rich environment for a variety of birds. For those planning a bird watching trip, the best time to visit is from November to April, when the weather is dry and birds are most active. Key locations include Cat Tien National Park, Da Lat, Bach Ma, Cuc Phuong, Xuan Thuy, and Sapa, each offering a unique birding experience.

 

Homestay Stays

One of the most authentic ways to experience Vietnam’s culture is through homestay stays. Visitors can live with local families, share authentic homemade meals, and learn about traditional ways of life. This intimate experience fosters cultural exchange and supports local economies. By choosing homestays over conventional hotels, travelers help reduce the carbon footprint associated with large-scale tourism.

 

Canoeing in Mangroves

The mangrove forests of Vietnam are not only stunning but also vital to the ecosystem. These serene waterways are home to a diverse range of wildlife, including monkeys, birds, and fiddler crabs. Adventurers can navigate through the intricate network of mangrove roots, which act as a natural barrier protecting the land from erosion and storms. Tours often include local guides who provide insights into the ecological significance of mangroves and the efforts to preserve them. For those looking to explore these natural wonders, Can Gio Biosphere Reserve is a spot renowned for mangrove canoeing, promising an immersive experience in one of nature’s most fascinating environments.

Can Gio Mangrove

Canoeing in Can Gio’s mangroves. Photo by Pham Thanh Son.

 

Volunteering in Conservation Projects

For those looking to leave a positive impact, volunteering in conservation projects is a rewarding option. Whether it’s helping with wildlife surveys or tree planting, these activities allow tourists to contribute directly to the preservation of Vietnam’s natural heritage. Such initiatives often support research and conservation efforts that are crucial for sustainable development.

For example, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife offers a short-term volunteer program where you can work with some of the rarest species in the world. Participants get hands-on experience in rescuing and rehabilitating confiscated carnivores and pangolins from illegal hunting and wildlife trade. You’ll learn basic husbandry skills, gain insights into conservation issues faced in Vietnam, and contribute directly to wildlife preservation.

 

Sustainable Cruises

Mekong Plus offers a unique experience with our Mekong Cruise, blending travel luxury with social consciousness. 

Our journey begins in the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, taking travelers through a tapestry of vibrant markets and historical landmarks. The expedition comes to an end in Siem Raep, after the visit to the grandeur of Angkor Wat, creating a profound connection with the heart of Southeast Asia. Cruising with us, guests enjoy intimate accommodations with a touch of old-world charm, complemented by modern amenities. 

The cruise is not just a voyage; it’s a culinary adventure, offering a taste of local Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisines. More than just sightseeing, this cruise invites passengers to engage with local communities, participating in Mekong Plus’s sustainable development projects. From agricultural training to educational programs, travelers witness firsthand the positive impact of their journey. 

Our solidarity cruise, scheduled from February 26 to March 8, 2025, promises an immersive experience that goes beyond the typical tourist path, creating a deep connection between visitors and the vibrant cultures of the Mekong Delta.

Contact us today to book your seat!

Mekong River Market

A woman preparing a bowl of Pho on the Mekong river

 

Tips for Responsible Eco-Travel in Vietnam

Here’s an enthusiastic guide to making your Vietnamese adventure not only unforgettable but also kind to our planet.

 

Pack Light and Wise

Embarking on your Vietnamese journey with a lighter suitcase is not just about ease of travel; it’s about reducing waste and environmental impact. Opt for essentials and reusable items that serve multiple purposes. For instance, pack long but airy clothes that can protect you from the sun and free you from the heat, while also letting you in spiritual spots such as temples or historic landmarks. Packing light also means less fuel consumption during your travels, a small but significant step towards eco-consciousness.

 

Stay Hydrated Sustainably

Vietnam’s tropical climate calls for constant hydration, but this doesn’t have to mean contributing to plastic waste. Using refillable water bottles is a simple yet powerful way to minimize your environmental footprint. Many hotels and tour operators now offer water refill stations, making it easier than ever to stay hydrated without the plastic guilt.

 

Support the Heartbeat of Vietnam: Local Businesses

When you choose locally owned accommodations, dine at family-run restaurants, and shop from local artisans, you’re doing more than just enjoying an authentic experience; you’re directly supporting the community’s economy. This practice helps ensure that the benefits of your travel extend beyond your memories and into the lives of those who make Vietnam so vibrant. 

You can also choose to support initiatives by local NGOs or charity organizations like Mekong Plus or our fabric-work-focused sister – Mekong Quilts, as the profit will go to the greater goods of local communities.

Mekong Quilts is a social enterprise that empowers women in rural areas of Vietnam and Cambodia. We provide training and employment opportunities for local women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. These women learn the art of quilting and create beautiful, handcrafted quilts, bags, and accessories. Next time you’re in Vietnam, consider visiting Mekong Quilts’ shops or exploring our online store!

 

Cultural Respect: The Soul of Eco-Travel

Understanding and respecting local customs and traditions is the cornerstone of responsible travel. In Vietnam, this could mean dressing modestly, especially in rural areas and when visiting religious sites. It also involves engaging with the community in a way that honors their way of life. Take the time to learn a few phrases in Vietnamese—it’s a gesture of goodwill that can open doors to heartwarming interactions.

 

Conclusion: A Pledge to Planet-Friendly Travel

As we wander through the enchanting streets of Hanoi or bask in the tranquility of the Mekong Delta, let’s make a pledge to travel responsibly.

By adopting these eco-travel tips, we contribute to preserving Vietnam’s natural charm and cultural heritage for generations to come. So pack your bags, fill your water bottle, and set forth on an eco-conscious journey that celebrates the spirit of Vietnam and the essence of sustainable travel.

Embrace the adventure, the culture, and the spirit of sustainability that Vietnam offers. It’s an experience that will leave you enriched, inspired, and hopeful for the future of our planet.

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