Vietnam has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in the world, thanks to the famous ‘banana pancake trail’ that put Southeast Asia on the map. Vietnam deserves all its recognition though and offers travelers thousands of miles of coastline, the best food in the region, mountains, rolling hills and other stunning natural sceneries. But there’s more to Vietnam than meets the eye. There’s lots of grassroots movements in the sustainable and responsible tourism that’s happening and social enterprises are starting to pop up and be established. If you’re concerned about sustainability and traveling in a more conscious and ethical way, continue reading to find the best enterprises in Vietnam.
Responsible travel in Vietnam
Before we dive in to the best enterprises in Vietnam, let’s go through how one can travel more responsibly. Although supporting a social enterprise is definitely one step towards the right direction, there’s still lots of things you can do in order to be a more responsible traveler.
Don’t support human trafficking or human tourism
Human trafficking is unfortunately evident in Vietnam and is still a big problem in the country. Therefore, it’s important to not support this business and to inform others about this issue. The same goes for human tourism though, which is when locals become human zoos. The northern parts of Vietnam is home to the hill tribes and has become one of the most fascinating places to visit in Vietnam. Although tourism there is quite established, there’s been problems in the neighboring country Thailand. The Karen women who wear rings around their necks are actually Burmese refugees who are stuck in Thailand, only serving as a photo op for tourists.
Riding elephants has not and will never be okay. But it’s not just the elephants who are a no no. Consider not supporting any wildlife tourism that seems unethical, such as riding any exotic wild animal or taking photos with them. Animals such as tigers are often sedated for the photos in order for tourists to take pictures with them. There’s a few wildlife sanctuaries as well, but always do proper research before going to one, especially if you’re going to volunteer. Many of the elephant sanctuaries are in fact doing more harm than good for the animals.
Don’t haggle too much
Although haggling is part of the culture in Vietnam, it’s important to not take it too far. So bargain in a respectful way because those few cents might not mean a lot to you, but it can mean the world to the vendors. Your sale also directly helps the local economy and supports the local communities.
There’s always more you can do in order to travel in a more ethical way, but these guidelines will definitely help you on your way of becoming a better traveler.
The best social enterprises in Vietnam
What is a social enterprise to begin with? It’s an enterprise that sells services or goods and uses a portion of the profits to reinvest in the local community by improving local’s quality of life, addressing social issues, protecting the environment and natural resources, conserving the community’s cultural integrity and much more. When the social enterprises does good, so does the local society. Therefore, if you visit a social enterprise and spend your money there, you will also support the local communities. Here’s a few of the best social enterprises in Vietnam:
- Hanoi Kids: This enterprise is run by student volunteers where they take you around Hanoi to visit the highlights of the city.
- KOTO Restaurant (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City): You can indulge in some Vietnamese sweets while supporting this social enterprise that trains street and disadvantage youth in the hospitality and food industries.
- La Maison De Tet (Hanoi): In this charming café, you can find local organic ingredients that is sourced from local farms and artisans. This enterprise helps and supports the local economy.
- Mekong Quilts (Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi): This social enterprise is actually run by an NGO which reinvests in local communities and provides micro-financing programs and scholarships for children. You can purchase beautiful and elegant quilts made by women from poor and rural areas across Southeast Asia.
- Joma Bakery (Hoan Kiem): Delicious coffee, pastries and sandwiches can be found in this bakery that also gives 2% of all proceeds to local grassroots projects. You can find this bakery in four different locations in Hanoi. Eating well and giving back – does it get any better?
- CBT Vietnam (Sapa): Opt for a homestay instead of a hotel when you go to the northern parts of Vietnam. Community based tourism directly links travelers to a local family that offers housing in their place. One could say it’s like AirBnB but in a more authentic and responsible way.
- Sozo Centre (Ho Chi Minh City): both a café, function space and caterer, this centre offers food from both the Vietnamese and Western kitchen. Sozo works with many underprivileged families to provide them with employment opportunities and help them break the cycle of debt.
- Reaching out tea house (Hoi An): One of the most charming and idyllic places in Hoi An to grab a cup of tea with a sweet on the side. This social enterprise employs both disabled and able-bodied locals where they’re aiming to create an equal environment.
- U Café Hoi An: A café that focuses on Vietnamese and Japanese food. They provide vocational training for disadvantaged youth in Da Nang and Hoi An, including language training in Esperanto, English and Japanese.
- STREETS Restaurant Café (Hoi An): This restaurant and café is linked to STREETS International, which supplies sustainable programs for disadvantaged youth and street kids in Southeast Asia. Here, you can find Vietnamese and international cuisine from all over the world.
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