How to support local communities while traveling in Vietnam

Want to travel in a more sustainable way? That’s great! The hot topic right now is the environment and as more and more people are traveling, the bigger the responsibility is to travel in a sustainable way. But traveling in a responsible and sustainable way doesn’t only include to be environmentally friendly. It’s also about the people and the economy. Tourism is one of the biggest incomes in Vietnam and especially rural areas depend on tourism. Therefore, it’s even more important to support the locals and their businesses. If you’re ready to start becoming a better traveler, here’s how to support local communities while traveling in Vietnam.

Hire local guides

If you’ve ever stayed in hostels, you might’ve come across the “free walking tours” that are usually led by foreigners. Although it’s good that these tours exists, they’re not doing a lot to the local economy. So next time you want to go on a tour, hire a local guide instead. Not only will they most likely have much more in depth information about the country, the neighborhoods and the culture, but you’ll also give back to the local community. It’s also a great way to interact with the locals.

Choose CBT or other local accommodation

CBT is community based tourism, which means that everything goes back to the locals. It’s becoming increasingly more popular, especially in the northern parts of Vietnam. You can go to a CBT office and ask for a place to stay. The people working in the office will then place you with a local family where you can stay for the night. They usually have different prices so you can choose whichever feels better for you. This provides jobs for the community and boosts their economy as well. Besides, you get an authentic experience living in a real Vietnamese household.

Buy locally made merchandise

If you’re looking to buy souvenirs, you should turn your eye to the locally made merchandise instead of the imported cheap Chinese goods. Although locally made tends to be more expensive, it’s usually made in a better and more sustainable way. There’s lots of local artisans that sell their products so next time you’re souvenir shopping, make sure to pass by one of the local artisans. Not only does it promote the local culture but it also keeps the businesses running.

Don’t buy any animal products

You’ve probably seen the snake wine or alcohol that you can purchase in certain stores in Vietnam. It’s one of the most popular souvenirs unfortunately. But what most travelers don’t know is that by buying certain animal products, you’re actually supporting a dirty business that threatens the livelihood of these animals and the wildlife they live in. If you want to protect the ecosystem, it’s important to say no to these products. The local communities will then have no choice but to start a business in something else.

Support social enterprises

There’s lots of social enterprises popping up all over Vietnam and it’s a great way to support the local community. There’s everything from cafés, restaurants, cooking classes, clothes made from local artisans, and more that you can purchase. These enterprises in turn support the local communities by giving back to them.

Here’s two extra tips on how you can be more sustainable while traveling in Vietnam:

Try to avoid plastic

It’s not easy traveling in Vietnam and avoiding plastic since everything is packaged in plastic. But there’s a few things you can do such as bring your own reusable bamboo straw, bring a reusable water bottle to fill it up and if you’re going to the supermarket, bring a bag you can use over and over again instead of getting the plastic bags to put your vegetables in. There’s so many things you can do in order to avoid the plastic and it’s usually the smallest contributions that counts.

If you’re going to volunteer, make sure it’s ethical

Volunteering has also increased in the past few years and more and more travelers are looking for ways to give back to the community while they’re journeying throughout Vietnam. However, what they don’t know is that volunteering can also be a dirty business. There’s even been cases in Cambodia where many of the orphanages has been exposed because the children were, in fact, not even orphanages, but taken from their families. Although this does not apply to every orphanage, it’s still good to be wary. It’s also important to keep in mind that when you go as a volunteer and stay with children for just a few days, it might make them more harm than good. The kids will get attached to you and then you have to leave – how will that affect them in the future? So if you really want to volunteer and support the community, try to stay for a longer time if you’re going to volunteer with kids and always do thorough research before you make up your mind on where to go volunteer.

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