If there’s one thing I love about travelling, it’s being able to tangibly discover the story of a nation first-hand. On my first trip to Vietnam, I found great delight experiencing traces of French influence everywhere I travelled. Today, Vietnam is fast developing into its own identity more than ever before. Aside from a plethora of business opportunities that a nation of almost 95 million people can bring, Vietnam is also known as a favourite destination for ecotourism. Here are some reasons why.
Dubbed as “one of the best coast roads in the world” on popular TV series Top Gear, the view on the Hai Van Pass is a true beauty to behold. This coastal road stretches over 21km, bordering Da Nang and Thua Thien Hue Province and is best experienced on the motorbike.
Another gorgeous scenic view can be found up north at Sapa, a little town with a hiking trail that gives you a ridiculously picturesque view of terraced rice fields in Muong Hoa Valley. Pack proper hiking attire suitable for the season you visit, preferably not during the winter months from December to February. It’s also important to choose the right tour for the most authentic experience so you won’t be hassled by throngs of persistent locals selling you handmade crafts throughout the hike.
If you’re in the southern region of Vietnam, make some time to appreciate nature at Tram Chim National Park. It is a massive 7,500-hectare area in Dong Thap province made of swamps, tall grass, and intertwined canals which is home to 130 different plants species and over 230 different birds including the rare red-headed crane. Opt for a solar-powered boat so you have a quieter ride that allows you to soak up the sounds and sights in the lowest part of the Mekong Delta.
Source: Topas EcoLodge
If you can’t get enough of the mountainous view and fresh air that Sapa has, Topas Eco Lodge is the place for you. Certified as a ‘Unique Lodge’ by National Geographic, Topas Eco Lodge is located atop two hills that overlook Sapa valley. Its 33 bungalows are built with raw materials from the Hoang Lien mountains and designed to give you a comfortable, tranquil experience without the distraction of Wifi. Go exploring on a bicycle and visit the ethnic minority villages in the area too. Your stay contributes to sustainable living practices of Sapa’s ecosystem as the lodge works with the villages to reuse waste and recycled items for farming practices and household use. They also provide education to children in the villages and jobs for adults at the lodge. Prices start at RM1,400 for a premium executive bungalow and the best visiting seasons are between March to May or September to mid-December for good weather.
Source: Mu Cang Cai Lodge
Another eco-lodge worth staying at is Mu Cang Chai EcoLodge. Located north-west of Vietnam, it offers a fantastic view of the countryside’s famed terraced rice fields and is best visited between late September and early October when the harvest is ready. Living up to its name, the lodge provides a variety of eco tours where travellers are able to learn about local agricultural and farming practices. Meals at the restaurant are cooked with locally farmed ingredients and room prices start around RM200 per night for two persons and varies according to season.
The unique village of Duong Lam is located about 55 km from Hanoi and recognised as a National Cultural - Historic Relic with houses that have been there for almost 200 years. It is also where Moon Garden Homestay is located, offering travellers an authentic Vietnamese experience in the countryside. The villas are designed following traditional Vietnamese architectural style with antique furniture and red tiled floors made from laetrile. There’s a bicycle tour around the village and you can even participate in the farming process. If you like cooking, sign up for a cooking class and learn to cook dishes that are unique to Hanoi. Then rejuvenate your body at a Yijinjing traditional exercise session and indulge in a steam bath of local herbs. There’s also a charming hall on the premises which used to be a cathedral, a remnant of Duong Lam’s Christian history. Prices start at RM385 for a Stilt house that fits two and can go up to around RM1,200 for more luxurious house for two or four.
If you’re interested in how F&B businesses can contribute back to the community, take a page from Reaching Out Tea House in Hoi An. The social enterprise supports the community of people with speech and hearing impairments, creating an inclusive environment for these locals to earn a good living. Naturally, noise levels are kept to a minimal here, giving you a peaceful afternoon tea time with local pastries and Vietnamese coffee. Communication is also easy because they provide little word blocks in English that you can use to order your food or ask for the bill. Dining at a thoughtful establishment such as this one gives you the opportunity to contribute to the community even as a tourist.
Source: Karma Waters
Another eco-conscious Vietnamese restaurant in Vietnam is Karma Waters which has a branch in Hoi An and Da Nang. Their menu is fully organic and includes vegan Vietnamese, Indian and international dishes including freshly baked gluten-free desserts. Karma Waters is more than a restaurant actually, it is a family-owned charity that was started in 2005 and together with their employees, the business sets a great example of sustainable living by doing food distribution at local hospitals so nothing goes to waste. They also conduct vegan tours around neighbouring farms. Both restaurants are more than happy to share their knowledge and passion for cooking hearty organic meals and you can also sign up for a vegan cooking class where you get to suggest which dish to learn. Classes can fit up to four people at their Hoi An location and up eight at Da Nang.
You can tell by now that Hanoi has plenty of ecotourism experiences to offer. Another gem is at Bat Trang Ceramic Village. It is a 14th-century pottery and porcelain village just a 40-minute drive from Hanoi’s centre in an area rich with natural resources to make quality clay. Ceramic trade is a big part of Hanoi’s history and being able to retain Vietnamese style of ceramic art even throughout the Chinese ruling era is something that local artisans take great pride in. At Bat Trang you can watch them in action, crafting and detailing beautiful ceramic pieces using a unique technique by screen printing on rice paper. You can also take a pottery-making workshop and create your own for less than RM100.
Vietnam is also known for its beautiful silks and a popular place to get authentic Vietnamese silk is at Van Phuc Silk Village. At one time, silk was reserved for royalty alone but today this delicate art of weaving silk contributes to the elegant Ao Dai, a traditional Vietnamese outfit for women. There are many silk villages around Vietnam but this is the most popular, exporting silk to some of the finest fashion labels in France since the 1930s. From raring hardworking silkworms to the final packaging, you’ll get to see the whole process of making silk at Van Phuc Silk Village. Don’t leave without tailoring your own Ao Dai. It’s a chance to contribute to the local economy while adding an exquisitely woven garment to your wardrobe. Tours to Van Phuc Silk Village depart from Hanoi with a price range of RM116 to about RM300 including transport.
So many eco-friendly activities for your next trip to Vietnam and yet we’re just scratching the surface! Book your flight with us and stay tuned for more ecotourism highlights that adventurous travellers would love.