This article is based on qualitative field research carried out in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, in 2013 for an MA dissertation in Education and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education. It analyses interpretations of education for sustainable development (ESD) in Viet Nam, relating these to key debates around instrumental and democratic approaches. In order to understand and analyse ESD in the Vietnamese context, interviews were conducted in Ha Noi with university student volunteers who create and implement ESD activities. Students were part of NGO-led networks or universitybased clubs. Their activities targeted peers, children, and local communities. NGO staff working on youth-related ESD were also interviewed. The institutional structure in which these youth-led projects operate strongly determined their approach, revealing a focus on behaviour change. This links closely with core debates within the ESD canon on instrumental and participatory approaches. Youth activities generally align with the instrumental approach, however, participant experiences also contained elements associated with the participatory approach. These included critical thinking, personal development, and engagement with complex cross-cutting issues such as climate change. The research presents an example of ESD practice that combines the democratic and instrumental approaches within the unique cultural, social, and political context of Viet Nam.