As a relatively new vacation destination -- and a developing country, to boot -- Vietnam puts little pressure on the tourism industry to develop sustainable practices. There is virtually no backlash for hotels' and resorts' profligate energy usage. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm of international hotel chains and local developers has led to massive development of once-public, pristine beaches in Phan Thiet, Mui Ne, and Danang. The end result may well be ghettos of five-star resorts and golf courses guzzling large quantities of energy.
For individual travelers, cranking up the air-conditioning is a knee-jerk reaction when vacationing in Vietnam. Sure, there are some cool respites in the north and central parts of the country, but for the most part, your vacation is going to be a hot one. But bear in mind that it takes massive amounts of energy to keep hotel rooms and indoor areas cool. To make your Vietnam vacation a little bit greener, take the initiative and turn down the air-conditioning when staying at high-end hotels -- these places often keep rooms at a chilly 66°F (19°C).
A few notable outfits are also making conscious efforts to reduce their impact on the surrounding environs. The guys at Vietnam Vespa Adventure use biodiesel made from refined vegetable oil waste to run their multiday tours on vintage Vespa scooters. Over in Phnom Penh, the Quay bills itself as a "carbon-friendly" boutique hotel, buying carbon credits to offset the hotel's emissions.
Finally, when traveling to far-flung places, be mindful of local customs. Be very cautious about taking photographs among Vietnam's ethnic hilltribe minorities in the far north and Central Highlands. Ask first, respect an answer of "no" (true anywhere), and avoid photographing sacred shrines of hilltribe people.
General Resources for Green Travel
In addition to the resources for Vietnam listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel. For a list of even more sustainable resources, as well as tips and explanations on how to travel greener, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
- Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
- In the U.K., Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO; www.aito.co.uk) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making holidays sustainable.
- In Canada, www.greenlivingonline.com offers extensive content on how to travel sustainably, including a travel and transport section and profiles of the best green shops and services in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
- In Australia, the national body which sets guidelines and standards for eco-tourism is Ecotourism Australia (www.ecotourism.org.au). The Green Directory (www.thegreendirectory.com.au), Green Pages (www.thegreenpages.com.au), and Eco Directory (www.ecodirectory.com.au) offer sustainable travel tips and directories of green businesses.
- Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide info on "carbon offsetting," or offsetting the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
- Greenhotels (www.greenhotels.com) recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. Environmentally Friendly Hotels (www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com) offers more green accommodations ratings. The Hotel Association of Canada (www.hacgreenhotels.com) has a Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which audits the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
- Sustain Lane (www.sustainlane.com) lists sustainable eating and drinking choices around the U.S.; also visit www.eatwellguide.org for tips on eating sustainably in the U.S. and Canada.
- For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org). For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org).
- Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and nature of a volunteer program. For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.volunteerabroad.org and www.idealist.org.