As the popularity of Thailand explodes to near epidemic measures, many backpackers are looking for a new corner of South-East Asia to explore. And, for many, that new corner is Vietnam. When backpackers arrive for their gap year in Vietnam, what they find takes their breath away – from the paddy fields of rural Vietnam through to the sprawling urban cityscapes of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam has a new surprise around every corner, and memories that last for a lifetime.
Something you’ll never escape in Vietnam is its history, particularly that of the Vietnam War, fought between 1955 and 1975 – leading to the deaths of up to 1.1 million Vietnamese. The scars of the war are still clear to see, however Vietnam is still a safe country for travellers and much has changed since these turbulent years. Every backpacker must take in some of the history though, and a visit to the battlefields and war museums are a sobering experience. Nowadays though, there’s far more to Vietnam than the remnants of its warring past though…
The two largest cities in Vietnam are Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and the classic backpacker trail will take you from one to the other, via many spectacular places along the way. National parks – including spectacular wildlife like tigers, elephants and rhinos – are found along the route, and spectacular coastal scenes adorn much of the route. Don’t drive straight through, but instead take you time to explore the different areas you pass through, as the less-explored trail is the path to discovering the real Vietnam – a side to the country that not many people bother to search for.
Working in Vietnam
Working in Vietnam is tough and, aside for some cash in hand jobs in places like dive centres – which we wouldn’t recommend – there aren’t many opportunities. The only real option is to teach English, however this is often done on a voluntary basis. In fact, volunteering is the best option open to you when on a gap year in Vietnam, and there are loads of different programmes to choose from. They will really open your eyes to the real way life in Vietnam works, and also allow you to make a difference in this country still suffering from poverty in many areas.
While you are in South-East Asia, you should not miss the chance to explore more of the region. The popular backpacker trail will also see you taking in the countries of Thailand and Cambodia, while Indonesia and Malaysia are also within reach. But how about some other less-travelled countries? There’s the beautiful Philippines and mystical Burma to visit, for starters, as well as Laos just over the border. Then you can jump on a plane and head onwards, with most people making their way to either Australia or India for some brand new adventures…