Eco Tourism in Vietnam

Vietnam is a place of incredible natural beauty, rich cultural and historical heritage, hard working people and tremendous agricultural and intellectual richness. The country is blessed with a 3,250 km coastline of mostly pristine beaches, beautiful lagoons and awe- inspiring Deltas. Biodiversity is rich with an estimated 12,000 plant, 275 mammal, 800 bird, 180 reptile, 2,470 fish and over 5,500 insect species.

Located some 30 miles from the Vietnamese mainland, in the Gulf of Thailand, at a length of 28 miles and slightly bigger than Singapore, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island. Beautiful beaches and one of the biggest virgin forests in Southern Vietnam make this a prime area for ecotourism. Bird life includes the puff throated babbler, stripe throated boo boo, green eared barbet, flower picker, and the lesser raquet tail drongo. There are over 50 species of butterfly and the list goes on.

Over the past three years, ambitious plans have been proposed to turn the island into a multi-use tourism destination, complete with golf courses, hundreds of hotels and resorts, and a new international airport capable of handling some 2.5 million passengers per year.(iv) There is an estimated 80,000 population currently living on Phu Quoc.

Three eco-resorts, Thang Loi, Bo Resort and Mango Bay, on the northwestern part of the island, are setting a different example of what could be done on the island. I visited Bo Resort and Mango Bay and discovered they are both low-density resorts using many common ecotourism concepts, including the use of solar power, replanting of endemic vegetation, and construction materials made from renewable sources such as earth, leaves, stone and bamboo. Mango Bay is taking ecotourism initiatives a step further by getting involved with large forest preservation projects, setting up a tourism school, and building a handicraft center for local communities.

Other nature based programs and ecotourism initiatives on the island include: developing eco-tourist maps and eco-tours that use existing park resources, eco-trails, documentation of local flora and fauna, and an analysis of ecotourism impacts on the environment. An NGO called Wild Life at Risk (WAR)(vi) is also working with the government of Kien Giang province on a new initiative that proposes establishing a trade group with codes of conduct for new hotel and resort projects on the island. These will include construction and beach policies, local community involvement, as well as marine and forest conservation.

Vietnam is at a difficult crossroads between economic development that will bring prosperity to its people and preservation initiatives that maintain the rich beauty and natural heritage of the country. On my last trip to Phu Quoc, I was pleased to learn of new initiatives that partner NGOs, local government and private businesses (mainly eco-resorts) working towards a more sustainable future – a positive development amid the distress the tourism boom is causing.