Vietnam is a country with much to offer, with throbbing, modern metropolises of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, old world charm, glorious beaches and an intriguing and rich cultural history. Those travelling to Vietnam as part of a gap year or for an extended holiday or period of volunteering are in for a treat.
Vietnam has developed a great deal over the past 20 years. Indeed, it is now one of the VARP economies (Vietnam, Argentina, Romania and Pakistan) set to follow the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in experiencing rapid fiscal growth.
Prospective travellers will be delighted to hear that despite the rising GDP and social development in Vietnam, it remains one of the most affordable gap year options. That’s the economics lesson over, now on to the many great experiences you can have in this South East Asian haven.
There are a large number of charities and NGOs working in Vietnam which means that opportunities for volunteering are plentiful. As with many of the countries we focus on, teaching English, conservation projects and medical placements are all possible.
Vietnam has a number of orphanages which welcome volunteers looking to work with children. Some lesser known alternatives are sports coaching, with football and basketball the two main options, journalism and helping with the formation of social enterprises.
Whether you are volunteering or simply travelling in Vietnam in your gap year, there are some fabulous places to visit and excursions to take. The imperial wonder of Hue, the ancient city of Hoi An (a great place to get a tailor made suit) or the French colonial charm of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) are all highlights.
Vietnam has a long coastline with numerous stunning islands and beaches, whilst the impressive limestone karsts and emerald waters of Ha Long Bay near Hanoi feature on many a bucket list. Here you can also explore the World Heritage Site of the Cát Bà National Park, home to the white-headed langur, one of the rarest primates in the world.
Vietnam’s stunning food will also be a high point of any trip. If you develop a real passion for the super-fresh, herb-heavy cuisine, then a cookery class is another brilliant way to spend time in this wonderful country. Travelling is hungry work, but a few tasty Gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese spring rolls) picked up from one of the many street stalls will keep you going.
For full and official advice on visa requirements and any current health and safety risks please check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office page for Vietnam.
That said, it’s worth noting that at the time of writing UK passport holders can visit Vietnam for up to 15 days without a visa, although that process is under review. Longer stays will require either an online e-visa or full visa (depending on the length and purpose of your visit).
In common with much of South East Asia there are parts of Vietnam where the risk of mosquito- borne viruses and diseases such as malaria and dengue fever is high. These risks are greater during the wettest months but whenever you go, visiting your doctor or local travel clinic is advised Vietnam is a tolerant and progressive society but as with any foreign culture, sensitivity to local values and customs is sensible, as well as being just good manners.
In terms of travel within Vietnam, your options are plentiful, with a very cheap internal flight network which is brilliant for those short on time. There is also a reasonable rail network, as well as regular coaches and buses of various standards. A river boat journey down the Mekong, the 12 th longest river in the world, is also a wonderful way to see a different side to the country.