Responsible Travel in Vietnam


Tourism can be a huge force for both good and bad. It can bring much needed income and development to an area but all to often a boom in tourism, particularly in developing countries, only lines the pockets of foreign investors. Unsustainable tourism is detrimental for the local people, environment and wildlife and erodes the culture you have travelled so far to experience.

Vietnam has endured a turbulent recent history which had a huge cultural and economic influence on the country. Even with all that it has faced the Vietnamese culture remains as vibrant and enticing as ever but a post war need for employment and development often takes priority over conservation and tourism here is expanding, without limits, into some of the most pristine parts of the country.

Animal welfare is frequently unchecked with many tourist attractions also offering some kind of animal performance or show and captive animals facing poor living conditions.

This being said there are a growing number of responsible travel initiatives that allow travellers to enjoy Vietnam in a responsible manner. Indeed there is still much to celebrate in this incredibly beautiful country and you can contribute to the conservation of its magnificent flora and fauna by travelling in a respectful way. Travelling responsibly also demonstrates that tourism in Vietnam can be carried out in a way that gives back to the environment and culture, rather than taking from it.

What to Avoid

Elephant Rides & Attractions

Elephant rides and attractions are not as prevalent in Vietnam as other counties in S E Asia but are still present and available. Do not support the phajan and the breaking of elephant’s spirits by taking part in elephant riding or any activity which involves elephants performing unnatural behaviour i.e. painting. If you want to spend time with elephants then do so at a sanctuary where the elephants welfare is the main priority. The best place to do this is in Thailand with some fantastic and well established sanctuaries. Unfortunately we are not aware of anything similar in Vietnam in this time.

Zoo's & Captive Animal 'Attractions'

Unfortunately animal welfare standards in Vietnam can be low and a large number of zoo’s and attractions with captive animals do not provide an adequate level of care. Generally avoid anything with the word ‘Zoo’ and instead visit some of Vietnam’s national parks or one of a few animal sanctuaries – you can find these listed under our responsible alternative and great causes list to the right.

Theme Parks & Water Parks with Animal Displays

Many theme parks and water parks in Vietnam also offer animal shows as entertainment. The animals perform unnatural, humanized behaviours which involve substantially more training and this can have serious animal welfare implications.

Before you visit any theme or water parks please check whether they also offer animal shows or attractions, if they do then look for an alternative. If you visit a park and come across animal cruelty you can inform the management of your disapproval, write a review on Trip Advisor’s to inform other potential visitors and report the park to the Born Free or Right Tourism organisations. Find out more about animal friendly travel…

Ostrich Rides

Ostrich riding is a fairly common activity available in Vietnam particularly in areas such as Mui Ne and Nha Trang. The Ostriches are often kept in poor conditions and are left in saddles for the majority of the day. Do you really need to ride an ostrich? Not really… this one’s best to be avoided.

Traditional Products Containing Animals

Avoid these not just for the animal’s sake but for your own personal safety. Products such as rice wine are widely available to buy with animals often used to make them. You will see many bottles of rice wine containing a variety of pickled animals from snakes, lizards and starfish amongst others.

The animals used can often be taken directly from the wild and are kept in poor conditions before they are killed and finally pickled. The rice wine containing the animals can be contaminated and can make you quite sick so it really is best to be avoided. If you want to try rice wine then try it fresh from a distillery and without any additional additives.

Responsible Alternatives & Great Causes

Wildlife at Risk Centre

The Wildlife at Risk Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station is one of only two animal sanctuaries in South Vietnam. Established in 2005 the sanctuary has rescued over 6000 animals and released over 5000 back into the wild. The rescue station is located around an hours drive from HCMC and sits between the two Cu Chi tunnel sites Ben Duoc and Ben Dien.

The rescue station houses endangered wildlife such as sun bears, moon bears, gibbons, pygmy loris, otters, pangolins, reptiles and hornbills.  The station also includes a new awareness centre to educate visitors on the problems facing native wildlife in Vietnam.

The station welcomes visitors however you must contact the station in advance to organise a visit. You can get in touch with the station manage, Le Xuan Lam by emailing him.

You can also book with a tour company in HCMC however, if you can, book direct as Cu Chi then receive all of the funds from your trip.


Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project

Cat Ba Langurs as the name suggests, can only be found on Cat Ba Island and are one of the rarest species of primate in the world. Their numbers are finally starting to rise again after a big conservation effort and even now there are only around 60 left in the wild.

Help support the wonderful conservation efforts of Cat Ba by donating equipment or purchase a ‘save the Cat Ba Langur’ and help raise awareness too!


National Parks

The rapid development of the tourism sector is Vietnam presents some major challenges for the conservation of the country’s unique natural heritage and wildlife. Despite issues surrounding conversation, Vietnam offers many national parks to explore. These protected areas offer access to a wide variety of flora and fauna.

A wide range of organisations including the WWF have been working closely with the Vietnamese government to further protect and preserve these unique habitats.

Of course when you visit a national park you have no guarantee that you will see anything but if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of Vietnam’s native species in the wild it’s an unforgettable experience.

Asia Outdoors

Are a highly responsible rock climbing and adventure company based on Cat Ba Island in the Ha Long Bay area. Established in 2006 as Slo Pony Adventures, Asia Outdoors offer an awesome range of climbing and adventure activities in one of the world’s most astounding geological areas.

Maintaining the highest standards, we promote dynamic rock climbing adventures in Vietnam while minimizing environmental impact and giving back in socially responsible ways. We are the information hub for climbers of all abilities who find their way to the Ha Long Bay area. – Asia Outdoors 2015

Asia Outdoors works closely with the Vietnamese locals, resulting in an exchange of cultures, languages and life experiences. Outings with the local high school and local beach clean-up days are a common manifestation of this dynamic relationship.

Asia Outdoors also work hand in hand with the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project in their efforts to save the critically endangered primate from extinction. Asia Outdoors have utilised their climbing skills to provide rope systems for National Park zoologists and veterinarians to access the hard to reach homes of the Langurs. With the help of Asia Outdoors, the Conservation Project can now tag, study and monitor these extremely rare monkeys in a way previously unthought of.

If you want to rock climb, kayak or explore less frequented parts of Ha Long Bay then Asia Outdoors is the place to go.


KOTO stands for ‘know one, teach one’ which quickly sums up what the organisation is about. KOTO operate vocational training programmes for disadvantaged youth in Vietnam with training centres in Hanoi and HCMC.

“KOTO takes a young person on a journey from the chaos of poverty to a world of entitlements, eligibilities and possibilities where they can to stand on his/her own two feet, to live a life with skills, dignity and pride and find positive place in the world.” – KOTO 2015 

The training equips young individuals with professional skills, to prepare them for opportunities to work in hotels and restaurants. Every six months KOTO recruits up to 30 youth, aged 16-22, from at-risk or disadvantaged backgrounds

How you can support KOTO:

Enjoy a great meal and contribute to the KOTO programme by eating at one of the KOTO restaurants. The flagship restaurant is located on Van Mieu in Hanoi, just a stone’s throw away from the Temple of Literature. The multi-level restaurant also includes the ‘Temple Bar’ and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7.30 am – 10.30 pm.  KOTO also have a second restaurant in HCMC located on the rooftop of The Link building in District 1.

Learn how to cook Vietnamese style and support KOTO by joining in one of their cooking classes. Available in both Hanoi and HCMH the KOTO cooking classes offer a hands on approach to learning how to cook and present Vietnamese cuisine.

KOTO rely on many supporters to achieve their objectives and are always in need of skilled volunteers. The minimum time commitment for volunteering, either at KOTO Hanoi or KOTO HCMC, is 3 months. Find out more about volunteering at KOTO and how to apply here.


Streets International

“STREETS International is an innovative social enterprise initiative with the purpose to develop and operate sustainable programs for street kids and disadvantaged youth in SE Asia and throughout the world.” –STREETS International 2015

Formed in 2007 STREETS prepares vulnerable, orphaned and other disadvantaged young people for careers in hospitality.

How you can support STREETS:

Dine out at the fabulous STREETS restaurant / cafe in the historic central district of Hoi An.  The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner and offers a superb tasting menu, giving diners a taste of the iconic dishes unique to Hoi An.

Spiral Shop

The SPIRAL Foundation has provided work for disabled and disadvantaged artisans in Vietnam since 2003.

“We currently employ 20 disabled artisans in Hue, providing them not only with work but also with medical insurance, housing, a daily sponsored meal, and a recreational allowance. The majority of our artisans are hearing-impaired, and receive training in tailoring, basket weaving, and other types of crafts.

Through employing disabled artisans with fair wages, we strive to empower the disabled to become proud, productive members of society.” – SPIRAL Foundation 2015

How you can support SPIRAL:

Visit the Healing the Wounded Heart shop in Hue, run by SPIRAL, and purchase some of the beautiful hand crafted products made by true artisans. Located on 23 Vo Thi Sau Street, the shop is open daily from 8am – 10pm (closed from lunch from 12 – 2pm)

Products made by the artists in Hue are also sold at SPIRAL Foundation fundraisers and retail outlets in the United States and in select hotels in Hue.