Illegal Souvenirs: How to Avoid

Buying souvenirs is a common practice for many travellers.  Still, have you thought about the impact of that seemingly insignificant activity on the environment and the destination? 

To be defined, a souvenir is something kept or serving as a reminder of a place, person, or occasion (Harcort, 2010). It could be a picture, a bracelet, or anything. The sky is the limit, however, it is your choice to pick a type of souvenir that would benefit the destination and does not cause any harmful impact on the environment. Besides, there are some souvenirs that are widely labelled as illegal or unrecommended in many countries, including Vietnam. Depending on each case, tourists might face a risk of paying a hefty fine or even jail sentences. 

1. Please say no to any products made from endangered plants or animals such as elephant ivory and wild animal skins or fur. Although we all might have heard or seen a campaign which aims to protect elephants, each year, there are about 33,000 elephants killed for their ivory. Some dealers would sell pieces of elephant ivory as a part of a jewellery. Stay alert and do not fall for their trick! 

2. Diving and witnessing colourful corals is an amazing experience but please do not buy or take any with you. That includes starfish and tortoiseshell. It takes decades for coral to grow, not to mention it is a vital element of the ecosystem and marine life. Coral is home to many different species and taking away their home is a crime. In Vietnam, coral reefs are protected in some areas such as Cham Island (Cu Lao Cham), Nha Trang, and Quy Nhon. 

3. Do not leave your autograph! Signing on an object, a wall or along the stairway of a visit site might be common at certain destinations. However, this act is not always welcomed. A sentence such as "A & B were here - 2018" would make us happy temporarily. However, it might cost a lot of money and human effort to restore the status quo. 

(Photo: Vitalk & Songmoi)

4. Do not pick up or take away any pieces which are parts of a historical sight! The little pieces of brick or rock at some sites, which were parts of a building or an ancient temple, seem to be a perfect souvenir for some tourists. However, taking them away would cause a certain damage to the site and is not sustainable in a long-term, especially the reservation of the site. 

5. Do not buy souvenirs that are sold or made by children under legal labour age. You might find children in some remote areas in Vietnam selling key holders, bags, or bracelets. It is natural as a human being to feel pity and want to help them by spending on a souvenir. However, it is not recommended because this would encourage these children to stay away from school and sell souvenirs instead. It could also be the case that these kids are hired by some illegal businesses. Indeed, the money we pay does not benefit these children, but the people behind this unethical business. 

(Photo: Phapluatplus)

So what can you do to be a responsible traveller when it comes to shopping souvenirs? Here are our tips:

- Buy locally made handicrafts! Visiting local communities is a great way to find unique souvenirs. It also helps the craftspeople to preserve their tradition. 
- Ignore unethical products 
- Negotiate the price in advance before accepting any offers
- If a street seller approaches you, remain calm and politely turning them away
- Shop thoughtfully: go for quality over quantity
- Consider buying products that can be recycled or reused
- Report wildlife crimes to EVN (Education for Nature) via their hotline at 1800 1522

Do you have other suggestions? Share with us your thoughts and tips to be a responsible traveller by leaving a comment below. Also, please feel free to share this article with your friends or family!

More tips on souvenirs shopping in Vietnam can be found HERE.


Author: Andy

Having been to over 20 countries, travelling is no longer a hobby but a passion for Andy, in which each journey is a process of self-exploration and integration of a human being into nature, culture and history.