Illegal loggers in Vietnam have a chance for an honest living, thanks to an adventure tourism company.
Oxalis Adventure Tours has trained 250 former loggers to guide tourists through the jungles and caves of UNESCO-protected Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
Tour guide Ngoc Anh knows the jungle well. He used to illegally cut down the valuable trees that grew there to sell them as timber.
But, as extreme rains and floods devastated her community, Ngoc Anh began reading about climate and natural crises. He realized the value of preserving this environment.
“Before, whenever I saw a big tree, my head would calculate the height of the tree and how to cut it into logs of different sizes,” says Ngoc Anh.
“But now that I’m in the tourism business, when I see such a tree, I tell the tour group how precious this tree is because there aren’t many left.”
What is the impact of deforestation in Vietnam?
Vietnam lost about three million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2020, a decrease of 20%. Since 2007, the Vietnamese government has cracked down on illegal logging, which has helped slow the rate of deforestation.
The country has also joined a global commitment to end deforestation by 2030.
“Normally tourism is bad for conservation, but it’s the opposite here because we employed all the people who were involved in illegal activities,” says Howard Limbert, director of the British Cave and Research Association.
“We now see that there are a lot more animals in the jungle, they are more protected because of tourism.”
It’s unusual, he adds, but it seems to work well in this area.
Guides earn less than half of what they earned in the logging days, but hope to earn more as tourism and travel gradually resume.
What is there to do in central Vietnam?
The central province of Quang Binh in Vietnam is home to the Designated by UNESCO Phong-Nha Ke Bang National Park which borders the Hin Namno Reserve in Laos.
The park is riddled with hundreds of cave systems, underground rivers and the oldest karst mountains in Asia.
Above ground, visitors can trek through forests and ride mountain bikes, while gaining insight into the area’s wartime history.
Watch the video above to see the tour guides in action.