Vietnam is a country that wears many hats – there are bustling, industrializing cities, rural villages, sweeping landscapes, and a massive coastline. Not to mention a rich history, vibrant culture and incredible cuisine.
The downside of the rapid rate of industrialization – and the fact that it’s one of the largest manufacturers of textiles and garments in the world – is the overwhelming amount of pollution. The presence of excess waste and air pollution can be discouraging, but it should not discourage you from visiting Vietnam.
There are so many things to do in Vietnam that are eco-conscious and exemplify responsible tourism – you’ll have no problem putting together an eco-friendly itinerary!
Places To Visit In Vietnam as a Responsible Traveler
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We know what you’re thinking – how on earth can you visit the largest, most polluted city in Vietnam responsibly?! But trust us, there are good options for eco-friendly things to do in Ho Chi Minh City!
There are actually more green spaces within these city limits than there are in Hanoi – including our favourite, Tao Dun Park, and the city’s botanical gardens. Just walking around neighbourhoods like District 1 (where most of the major tourist spots are) and sightseeing is a great way to minimize your carbon footprint and cover a lot of ground.
If you’re looking to learn more about Vietnamese culture and history beyond museums, attend a show! The Saigon Opera House puts on incredible shows that encompass a range of genres. We recommend the AO Show – it’s like Vietnam’s version of Cirque de Soleil!
You can also easily take a tour of the Mekong River – the river running from Tibet all the way to the South China Sea – from Ho Chi Minh City. Mekong Eco Tours provide single- and multi-day tours that are jam-packed with food, fun and eco-friendly experiences.
Hanoi has been the capital of Vietnam for just over 70 years, but its incredible history stretches much farther back.
For most people, it is solely a gateway to Halong Bay and other typical Vietnam destinations in the north, but Hanoi deserves at least 3 days of your holiday to fully explore!
One of the easiest and most popular ways to make your time in Hanoi more responsible to do rent a bike and do a cycle tour of the Old Quarter. There are a number of places where you can simply rent a bike and be on your way.
If riding your own bike isn’t your thing – try a Cyclo! Hanoi Cyclo Tours offers not only cycling tours of the town but walking, food and combination tours, too!
Hanoi Eco Tours offers many different tour packages in the greater Hanoi region that give you a unique peek into Northern Vietnamese life and culture. They have a tour for every taste, duration and budget!
Bai Tu Long Bay – A Halong Bay Alternative
Halong Bay is at the top of pretty much every Vietnam travel itinerary to exist. And while there is no denying the unique beauty of the region, there is lots fo evidence of the detrimental impact that mass tourism has on this natural wonder of the world.
Fear not! You can still experience this region’s beauty without contributing to any irresponsible tourism practices by visiting Bai Tu Long Bay instead.
We went on a 3 day/2 night cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay and had an incredible time – knowing that their responsible business practices were helping protect the region!
Cat Ba National Park
Halong Bay is located in the region of Cat Ba. While in the area, you should absolutely spend a day in Cat Ba National Park! It is a protected area that is home to the largest system of mangroves in the country, expansive marine life, and one of the most endangered species in the world – the Vooc (white-faced monkey).
There are many ways to experience the park – from kayaking to rock climbing to trekking to extreme watersports – but it’s often overshadowed as a top Vietnam destination due to its proximity to Halong Bay.
Don’t miss out on the beauty of this national park!
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park
This national park is a UNESCO World Heritage site – and with good reason. It’s home to the largest cave in the world – the Son Doong! (Unfortunately, that cave is pretty hard to access. Only one company gives tours of the caves, and you cannot explore them freely on your own.)
Fret not – Phong Nha has plenty more to offer! There are mountains, rivers, jungles, and caves aplenty. The biodiversity here is off the charts, too! The limestone caves have formed over the last 400 million years – the mountain range running through the park is the oldest in all of Asia.
Because this national park is so massive – and so jam-packed with things to see and do – we recommend at least 3 days here.
If you’re wanting to squeeze a peek at the park into an already-packed itinerary, check out this 1-day tour from the nearby city of Hue.
Tra Su Melaleuca Forest
Located in the Giang province about 10km from the Cambodian border, the Tra Su forest is widely considered the most beautiful mangrove along the Mekong Delta. There are water ferns and water lilies floating atop the water as you float through it on a boat tour. You’ll have the opportunity to bird watch, row through the most beautiful parts of the forest, and visit a watchtower that gives an unparalleled view of the entire mangrove. Bonus: the tour guides are all locals who live inside the forest!
Top Eco-Conscious Activities in Vietnam
Most of the country of Vietnam is composed of incredible, diverse landscapes. An incredible way to connect with the unfamiliar nature surrounding you is to go on a trek – one of the most underrated things to do in Vietnam!
We went on a trek in Sapa which ended up being one of the most incredible travel experiences we had in Vietnam. It was an organized trek, and we hiked almost 20km each day!
- Vietnam Responsible Tourism offers guided treks of the Hoang Su Phi and Cao Bong regions
- Mr Linh’s Adventures offers extended treks through several different regions in Northern Vietnam
- Sapa Sisters is an incredible social enterprise that will take you through the Sapa region, and there are plenty of other tour operators out there with the perfect trek for you!
Take A Cooking Class
When compiling a list of what to do in Vietnam, trying Vietnamese cuisine is probably right up top. It’s known as one of the freshest, unique cuisines in the world!
Why not take that one step further – why not try your hand at cooking some of the most famous Vietnamese dishes? Taking a cooking class is one of the most fun ways to learn about the culture of the country you’re visiting because usually, the chef will teach you about the origin of the dishes, eating etiquette, and how to locally source the ingredients.
Check the prices and availability for this Cooking Class in Hoi An
A great option if you’re visiting Hoi An is the Hoi An Eco Cooking Tour – you’ll go on an eco-tour of the area to collect ingredients, and then dive into cooking right in the kitchen!
There are tours like this available in pretty much every major tourist area in the country, and each will teach you how to cook their local dishes.
Being a more responsible traveler regardless of where you visit in the world is more important now than it ever has been. Making small changes to your itinerary to opt for a responsible tour guide, or an eco-friendly hotel or a restaurant that has sustainable practices really do make a difference!
Which of these place and activities are you going to add to your itinerary to be a responsible traveler?
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