It’s easier than ever to be a mindful traveller in the enchanting UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Hoi An Ancient Town. Responsible travel encompasses any aspect of tourism that can make a positive impact on the environment, people, places, and animals. Shopping, eating, and experiencing all that Hoi An has to offer with social enterprises will channel your money directly back into the local community. By supporting worthy causes with social missions in Hoi An, responsible travellers will help keep local cultural traditions alive, contribute to the sustainable development of community-based tourism experiences, and preserve natural wonders. Here are several ways you can make a positive impact in the delightful riverside town of Hoi An by contributing to local conservation efforts through your meals, activities, and souvenir shopping.
What responsible travellers will learn before visiting Hoi An
Being a responsible traveler begins with researching the history, culture, and traditions of Hoi An. Knowing what the local cultural norms are will help you behave in a way that isn’t insulting or disruptive and will help you interact in a thoughtful way with locals. Locals in Hoi An incredibly welcoming but the community is quite conservative and deeply rooted in Buddhist beliefs. Read up on the lasting effects of the Vietnam War, learn local laws, and familiarize yourself with the 50+ ethnic groups that live in Vietnam.
Responsible travellers will make an effort to attempt to speak a few words in the local language of the places they visit in order to be able to communicate with locals. While many vendors in the Hoi An ancient town can speak English, it isn’t a language spoken by all Vietnamese in Hoi An. Show appreciation for Vietnam and a desire to be able to converse by learning a few basics words.
Hello – Xin Chao (sin chow)
Goodbye – Tam Biet
Yes – Vang (vung)
No – Khong (khome)
Excuse me/Sorry – Xin loi (seen loy)
Thank you – Cam on (gahm un)
Vegetarian- An chay (ang chai)
How are you? – Ban co khoe khong? (ban co kwe khome?)
Can you help me? – Ban giup toi duoc khong? (ban zoop thoy duc khom?)
How much? – Bao nhieu? (bow (like how) new?)
Responsible travellers will shop local in Hoi An
Do your best to buy local in Hoi An to ensure that the money you spend allows the community to be able to benefit from your exploration of their town. Seek out restaurants, accommodation, tours, transportation, and souvenirs from locally owned businesses whenever possible.
How to be a responsible traveler in Hoi An’s Buddhist temples
Hoi An is home to a multitude of stunning Buddhist shrines, monuments, and temples. Responsible travellers will want to be considerate and dress modestly when entering Buddhist houses of worship. Although most temples don’t strictly regulate dress codes, it’s inappropriate to bare your shoulders, chest, stomach, or knees. At most Buddhist temples, you’ll be required to leave your shoes outside. Explore the temples as much as you’d like and heed any signs regarding photography and abide by rules on what not to photograph. Usually, it’s fine to take pictures in temples, but be sure not to use flash as it can damage ancient relics. When you’re inside the temple, remember not to point your feet directly at any Buddha images when you’re sitting or standing as this is seen as disrespectful.
The most eco-friendly way to explore Hoi An
Cycling is the best way to explore the ancient old town, serene rice terraces, and discover quiet stretches of beach along the cost in Hoi An. In the Hoi An Old Town, cars are never allowed, and motorbikes are banned from 3 p.m. every day. The Old Town streets do get busy at night, so it’s best to park your bike in a marked parking area with a lock and then stroll around Old Town on foot. Cycling is also the most eco-friendly way to get around. Most homestays and hotels have bicycles available for guests, or you can hire them by the day for around 20,000 VND (1 USD).
Responsible travellers refuse plastic water bottles in Hoi An
Vietnam generates the fourth largest amount of plastic waste that’s littered in the ocean. Responsible travellers will do what they can to avoid being a part of this crisis by avoiding single-use plastic. “No plastic straw” in Vietnamese is “khong ong hut nhua,” and “no plastic bag” is “khong tui nhua.” Bring your own eco-friendly reusable water bottle when you visit Hoi An. One refillable aluminium water bottle can last at least four years, which could replace over 5,000 single-use plastic water bottles.
While there aren’t any public refill stations in Hoi An, there are several businesses that are committed to offering their patrons potable drinking water and allow customers to refill their water bottles for free including Dingo Deli, Vietnam Sustainability Space, Rosie’s Cafe, and The Fisherman. Most of these venues also use reusable bamboo straws.
A trip to Hoi An wouldn’t be complete without a few lazy days on the beach. As you enjoy An Bang go for a stroll and pick up as much trash as you can or join in on the regularly scheduled beach cleanups at The Fisherman. Every Saturday morning, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., the Hoi An Clean Up nonprofit team goes out on kayaks to clean up the river banks. Travellers can volunteer three hours of their time to assist with the cleanup efforts. Contact Hoian Kayak on Facebook to reserve your spot and coordinate details.
Be a responsible traveler in Hoi An and go on community-based tours
Responsible travellers in Hoi An will avoid tours that exploit humans, animals, and places. The best way to ensure that the tours you book in Hoi An are ethical is to find authentic cultural experiences operated by local nonprofits.
The charitable Karma Waters was founded by a local family back in 2005 and have been making a major impact on the local community ever since. Karma Waters also operates an assortment of tourism experiences including their world-famous vegan cooking class in which you can learn how to prepare authentic Vietnamese cuisine and cycle through the picturesque Tra Que Organic Vegetable Village.
If you plan to explore the Cham islands while visiting Hoi An you can make the trip with Karma Waters and rest assured that the money you pay for the experience will be channelled back into the local community in a meaningful way. Karma Waters operates a homestay in collaboration with the Bai Huong Tourism Cooperative which supports the livelihood of local people and conservation of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. A local English-speaking guide will help you explore the village, take you snorkelling at Hon Tai island, lead you through a cooking class, and can help you connect with locals to volunteer a few hours of your time to tutor in English. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture in Hoi An than being welcomed into the home of locals for an authentic cultural exchange.
Enjoy delicious meals that give back in Hoi An
Hoi An has several social enterprise restaurants and training cafes that serve delicious traditional Hoianese dishes. Many of these eateries employ at-risk children or those with different abilities. In addition to eating meals that support local charities, responsible travellers can reduce their carbon footprint by indulging in a few vegan meals and by bringing their own plastic-free kit which should include a reusable water bottle, collapsible cup, bamboo straw, and cutlery.
Streets International Restaurant
STREETS Restaurant Café serves up delicious Vietnamese cuisine with a side of social enterprise in a historic shophouse in Hoi An’s Ancient Town. The beautiful cafe functions as a hands-on hospitality training program for disadvantaged local youth. The 18-month program equips trainees with an education in the culinary arts and various vocational skills free of charge in order to make a paradigm shift and set them on the path to a prosperous career. The program is internationally acclaimed and credentialed by the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. All revenue from STREETS benefits the training program which is fully operated by the beneficiaries, from cooking to serving.
The motto “good food helping good kids” goes beyond providing career development for vulnerable children, STREETS is also committed to reducing their single-use plastic waste and has substitute wasteful plastic straws for compostable grass straw alternatives.
The Karma Waters cafe is one of the best places in Hoi An to taste local delicacies prepared in a Buddhist vegan manner with organic locally-sourced produce. Devout Buddhists are strictly vegetarian, but most Vietnamese are only meatless during the new moon and full moon.
The Karma Waters Charitable Association operates a variety of projects that supply healthy food to disadvantaged people around central Vietnam. Karma Waters operates a vegan food program where they distribute dishes to hospitals in order to provide healthy meals to the sick and disabled. Through the association, Karma Waters raise funds to provide medical assistance to poor patients in order to help them pay for the medical bills for their life-saving treatments. The nutritional lunch program allows those in need to purchase a daily vegan meal for just 5,000 VND (0.25c USD), they even extend this offer to students.
Reaching Out is a social enterprise that operates two charitable businesses within the quarters of the ancient town–an artisanal goods shop and a tea house. Both were created in order to provide sustainable job opportunities for those who are differently abled.
In an ancient teakwood tea house, deaf and hearing-impaired staff members use written notes and gestures to provide a traditional Vietnamese tea service and locally sourced coffee to guests. Reaching Out has made it possible for these local people to have prosperous careers in a safe and nurturing environment.
Jack’s Cat Cafe
Make a reservation at Jack’s Cat Cafe for some furry cuddle time while you’re in Hoi An! The Vietnam Cat Welfare animal shelter welcomes guests to visit their cute inhabitants by reservation from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Jack was the first kitty at the shelter where there are now over 60 cats that have been rescued from the streets! The entry fee of 100,000 VND (5 USD) includes a drink and allows you to play with the cats for at least an hour! Children under 12 may visit for free as long as they’re accompanied by an adult. Jack’s Cat Cafe also offers healthy vegan meals.
Join workshops to learn about traditional Vietnamese crafts
Responsible travellers in Hoi An will be keen to learn about the local crafts heritage and have an abundance of options of providers who teach guests various art forms. Many of the fair trade shops in town also offer half-day courses where travellers can make their own lantern, jewellery, masks, and more. Read our full article on Craft Workshops in Hoi An.
Vietnam Sustainable Space
In the quiet neighbourhood that lives just behind the hectic Chua Cau Japanese Bridge is the Vietnam Sustainable Space. The community-based non-profit project was launched by two young Vietnamese who are passionate about sustainable development, conserving culture, and the environment. The Hoi An outpost functions as a meeting space, free-of-charge coworking cafe, and event space.
The community cafe is built on the honour policy, you can DIY your own herbal tea and slip 20,000 VND (1 USD) into the antique chest that serves as a makeshift cash register. In the bohemian outdoor garden, there’s a filter that taps into the water supply to sterilize water in order to make it healthy to drink. Anyone can stop by at any time and fill up their reusable water bottle absolutely for free. Vietnam Sustainable Space hopes this technology will catch on in Hoi An and more businesses will offer potable water to tourist in order to cut down on the ominous sales of plastic water bottles, and ultimately litter of said bottles in the precious Thu Bon River and East Vietnam Sea.
At Vietnam Sustainability Space local volunteers take shifts enlightening guests about environmental issues in Hoi An and selling ethically produced products that will make the perfect souvenir or gift. All proceeds from the beautiful product offering which includes locally sourced rose tea, hand painted straw bags, beautiful indigo fabrics benefits the Khu Kho Hoc Foundation which empowers disadvantaged children living in rural areas through education programs. If you’ve yet to pick up a bamboo straw, reusable water bottle, or set of eco-friendly utensils this is the place to do so in Hoi An!
Weekly pay-as-you-wish workshops are held on the weekends at Vietnam Sustainability Space. The courses teach locals and tourists to craft various sustainable products such as plant-based shampoo from local herbs, all-natural toothpaste, and handmade notebooks created from upcycled fabrics tossed aside by Hoi An tailors. Participation is always free but donations are strongly encouraged. Check the Vietnam Sustainable Space Facebook page to see if there any unique events on during your trip to Hoi An. The dreamy space is welcoming to all and encouraging that a more sustainable tomorrow is on the horizon.
Xu Dang Trong
Xu Dang Trong, otherwise known as Hoi An Traditional Handicraft, is a fair trade shop located in a 200-year-old house that once belonged to a Chinese merchant. At 3:15 p.m. each afternoon, local musicians gather to perform traditional Vietnamese music at the boutique with heartfelt performances. From Monday to Saturday at 10:15 a.m., various artisan workshops are held where you can witness the age-old craft behind many of these beautiful creations. Some of the most popular events are lantern making and Vietnamese opera mask painting. Don’t miss the Mehndi painting every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 noon to get your own wearable art.
Address: 9 Nguyen Thai Hoc
Where to shop for ethically-sourced souvenirs in Hoi An
In Hoi An, there are several fair trade boutiques and workshops that offer a beautiful assortment of meaningful souvenirs. While haggling is part of the procedure of buying goods in Vietnam, it’s not appropriate to bargain over the equivalent of a few dollars when purchasing handcrafted artisan goods, especially not when the funds support a charity. Be respectful when you’re negotiating a price, and keep in mind that your purchase will be directly infused in the local tourism economy. If a shop has a sign that reads fixed prices, and the items are simply out of your budget, then take your spending elsewhere.
Xu Dang Trong
Along with the craft workshops already mentioned, The ancient teakwood interior of Xu Dang Trong is brought to life with a colourful offering of traditional Vietnamese handicrafts that make for the perfect keepsake souvenir or gift for loved ones back home. Local artisans have crafted various goods such as intricate ceramics, handwoven silk scarves, and dashing lacquer bracelets. Xu Dang Trong supports sustainable economic development for ethnic minorities in Vietnam by directly sourcing handicrafts and paying artisans a fair wage for their talents.
Address: 9 Nguyen Thai Hoc
The national fair trade boutique, Mekong Creations has a darling artisan shop within the lantern-lined alleyways of Hoi An ancient town. Everyone can find a meaningful gift here as the assortment is quite extensive, including everything from handwoven rugs, colourful home decor items, and even bamboo bicycles. All items sold at Mekong Creations are made of locally sourced materials and produced by artisans living in disadvantaged areas of Vietnam and Cambodia in partnership with the NGO Mekong+.
Villagecraft Planet works with ethnic minority artisans to create sustainable, ethical, and handmade clothing, home décor, and accessories. All of the stylish designs sold in the shop have been responsibly-sourced and designed with the principal idea of maintaining traditional textile methods alive. Their ethos, “a new way to look good, while doing good,” is something we can seriously get behind. Villagecraft Planet is a bit more luxurious than other fair trade shops in Hoi An but the quality is worth the cost.
If you’re looking to source an avant garde clothing item head to the beautiful Chula boutique. The colorful brand pays tribute to Vietnamese culture through clever designs and references. The fashion collection of wearable art is handcrafted by Vietnamese people with physical disabilities. Chula is fashion at it’s best–thoughtful clothing that honor heritage and supports the livelihood of local people.
Reaching Out also operates an artisanal goods shop in addition to the tea house. At the arts and crafts store employees handcraft various goods at the Reaching Out workshop and invite guests to learn about the craft as silversmiths make unique pieces of jewelry and weavers create beautiful rugs. The lovely handicrafts are available for purchase and all proceeds go towards supporting people living with different abilities in Vietnam.