Vietnam Travel Guide, Gap Year Volunteering and Tours
Vietnam is one of the most popular countries to visit in South-East Asia, expect friendly locals, spectacular tourist sights, thousands of miles of coastline, bustling cities, tasty local food and lots of authentic travel experiences. Vietnam has had a well-documented turbulent history, but tourism is going from strength to strength and now millions of people visit annually.
Vietnam Holidays, Gap Year Programs & Travel Ideas
Find travel inspiration for the best things to do if you would like to go travelling, backpacking or take a gap year in Vietnam.
Vietnam Travel Guide
Get essential information, tips, itineraries and inspiration for visiting Vietnam.
- Capital; Hanoi (population 4,500,000 approx)
- Currency: Dong
- International Calling Code: +66
- Area: 332,000 km2
- Population: 91,000,000 (approx)
- Language: Vietnamese + minority languages
- Religion: Majority Buddhism + others
How to Get to Vietnam
Vietnam is easily accessible from the outside world, you can catch international flights into Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Vietnam is central to the Far East and increasing numbers of airline operators are now offering discount flights from major airports in the region to facilitate travel between countries in the area, allowing you to experience other Asian cultures. International flights can be booked from most major destinations worldwide.
If you are from the UK or a selected number of countries you can get a tourist visa on arrival if you are flying into Vietnam and stay for 30 days. By entering Vietnam via land you will need to get a tourist visa prior to arrival, this can be done in the UK or in neighbouring countries. You will need a valid passport and you will have to pay a small fee.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
It is also a good idea to know what the weather will be like when you visit as it is important you choose the right month to suit your travel syle. Vietnam has a long hot season and also a wet season and deciding when the best time to go can be difficult due to the weather being different in the North and South, and also because it can be quite unpredictable.
Vietnam is busy during peak tourist season around November to March and if you are not a fan of intense heat you might want to avoid this time as temperatures can rise. If a beach break sounds appealing and you are looking for sunny weather in Vietnam we recommend visiting Phu Quoc and Con Dao located in Southern Vietnam inbetween November and June. Or if you would like to visit Nha Trang or Quy Nhon aim to be there around January to September time when you are usually guaranteed sun.
Travelling & Backpacking in Vietnam
Vietnam is incredible - expect amazing beaches, tasty cuisine, friendly locals and a lot of cultural places to visit and lots of activities and adventures available. Vietnam has a different vibe to some of its close neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia and while it's advised that travellers draw up their own list of must visit places and book a tour accordingly, there are a few must-see sights that every visitor should consider.
First stop for most visitors when exploring Vietnam is either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and these are where a lot of tours start. Masses of motorbikes whizz through the streets in their hundreds, and these must be carefully navigated when attempting to make your way from one side of the street to another. Buses, trucks and cars must also be avoided when crossing the city’s jam-packed streets. There is a real vibrancy and buzz surrounding the Vietnam's cities and visiting it is an opportunity not to be passed up. Trips to the Far East don't usually begin and end in Vietnam, with many travellers heading to nearby countries with an equally fascinating past and you might like to also view all of our Asia tours.
Taking a boat trip to Halong Bay is highly recommended whilst learning to scuba dive in the South China Sea is a thrilling experience. You can visit the war museum in Saigon, see ancient temples or just get lost in the backstreets of Hanoi. If you are travelling solo or would like to enjoy a fun / safe experience we recommend joining an overland trip to see as much of the country as possible. Na trang has a beautiful beach, visit the War Museum in Saigon, watch out for the moped drivers in Hanoi, do a trek to Sapa and visit the spectacular Ha Long Bay. Don't be afraid to barter for prices especially for clothes in Hoi Ann.
Phu Quoc island is an amazing destination but prices for accommodation are really high, if you are on a budget try to avoid. The sun, sand and surf at Mui Ne make it one of the world’s premier kite surfing destinations. There are qualified instructors on every corner just waiting to teach you all they know, so beginners need not feel nervous – you’ll be in good (and experienced) hands. The resort itself is worth a few days. Rainfall is negligible, the beaches are some of the best in Vietnam and the nightlife at some of the beach bars could itself be classified as a whole different type of adventure!
Gap Year in Vietnam
A popular Asia destination, Vietnam is never far from any bucket list of travels. If you’re in search of a destination rich in culture, history and delicious food then make sure Vietnam is top of your list of places to visit on your gap year! If you are researching the best things to do in Vietnam our directory will help you book the ultimate experience.
Vietnam is blessed with stunning landscapes, many travellers venture west to the Mekong Delta; a watery landscape that's home to a variety of quaint villages and friendly locals. Most Vietnam adventures begin in Ho Chi Minch City (Saigon) or Hanoi, the capital, where travellers can visit the resting place of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's former president and leader of the Viet Cong. For a mixture of adventure and relaxation, it's advised to head to the beautiful Phu Quoc Island, which is as popular for its adventure excursions as it is for its white sandy beaches. Other places you should think about include Da Nang, Nha Trang, Hoi Ann, Sapa and Ha Long Bay.
With so much diversity you can trek through jungles, discover hidden villages, get to grips with history at the Cu Chi tunnels and taste some of the best Vietnamese food. The highlight though? Kayaking through the mystical Halong Bay. Made up of nearly 2,000 limestone islets, this is one UNESCO World Heritage Site not to be missed - Trust us!
If you are wondering if Vietnam is a safe destination, don't worry, the people are really welcoming and its a great country to be based in. Vietnam is a very cheap country especially compared to taking a gap year in Thailand for example, you can usually get accommodation and food for less than $10 a day! Restaurants in Vietnam serve a variety of food which is very tasty and cheap. You will probably spend around $5- $10 per day on food which is really cheap compared to nearby destinations. History will play a part on your Vietnam gap year, and so too will the country's geography.
Essential Things to Do in Vietnam
If you are planning a trip to Vietnam or are keen on the idea of going backpacking these tips from past travellers might help:
- "Eat everything and don't be afraid of street food - go to the non touristy markets. Talk to local people and when you cross the roads walk at a consistent pace because there are no lights so the motorbikes will go around you. You can also hire push bikes to get around, or you can contact local tour guides localted throughout the country. The Mekong is incredible!"
- "It's a beautiful country, and definitely do a tour which include a bike ride! They are the best! There is one tour on the coast from Da Lat to Nah Trang that is worth doing. Book in advance to make sure you get it set up"
- "Nah Trang is great and when you leave be sure to go via Da Lat, they are the opposites of each other. Have fun but be sure to have visa organised before you get to the border , if you don't you will need to go back to an embassy / consulate and wait a couple of days to get one."
- "My favorite places in Vietnam were Dalat, Hoi An, and Sapa! I did a village homestay in Sapa and it's gorgeous up there. Dalat family hostel is a blast and you should go canyoning. And then Hoi An is just an incredible gorgeous little town and it's where a lot of people get custom clothes made."
- "Watch your bag in Saigon in the tourist spots, there's motorbike muggers who snatch your stuff as they drive by"
- "The vietnamese rice wine is amazing, by so are some of their cheap local beers."
- "If you're getting a sleeper train, get bottom berth becuse top it is insanely hot"
- "Nah Trang has a good beach, and there's an awesome theme park called Vin Pearl that you have to go to."
- "Hoi An is a great place to get some clothes made but there's no party life. worth a visit, marble mountain is a short motorbike away"
- "Sapa has Hemp growing in the mountains, don't pick it and forget it in your bag and then realize when you're going through the singapore airport, like I did."
- "Vietnam's crazy traffic is the craziest. There's no break in the city traffic where you can cross, just walk super slowly int othe sea of motorbikes. Be extra careful at night time."
Vietnam Travel Tips
- General: Vietnam is a cheap destination to travel. During (Tet) which is in either January or February transport and accommodation can be booked up and prices are high during this period.
- Arrival: Make sure to have some paper money with you, best to have some VND exchanged before you get to Vietnam because you need to pay for your visa at the airport and you can only pay by cash.
- Budget & General Tips: We recommend using both US dollars and Vietnamese Dong when travelling in Vietnam. Don't exchange money on the border into Vietnam as the rates can be terrible. How much you spend really depends on what level of luxury you are seeking and also what you want to do. If you are willing to eat in cheap places and stay in budget hotels / hostels you can get by on about £10 ($15) per day. On a mid range budget you can get by on around £20 ($30) per day and if you are seeking the best experience possible you can easily spend over £100 per day ($150).
- Accommodation: An average hotel room in Vietnam costs around £3 ($5) but you can spend more and get air-con, tv, en-suite etc. Accommodation is fairly cheap and there is a lot of choice but it is difficult to find real bargains like you can in other countries in South-East Asia. To save money you can east street food and eat in local cafes / restaurants if you are on a budget, this will be very inexpensive and also tasty - just be open minded. Also try to spend or exchange all of your Dong before departing Vietnam as it can be difficult to exchange after, your best bet is find travelling who are heading into Vietnam and might want to change with you.
- Getting Around: Vietnam is very lucky to be based on the ocean and the whole coast is a magnificent to travel and see. There are lots of ways to travel overland via train, car, bus, bike, tour and there is also an extensive railway network which connects the whole country. The main train line runs from North to South making it easy to travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. You can also travel further North from Hanoi and prices vary depending what level of comfort you go for, we recommend going for the sleeper train option with a bed. Public transportation in cities is very cheap, getting around places like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will cost less than £1 ($1). If you get a local bike taxi agree a price in advance as some drivers will demand a huge sum at the end of the journey. Private transportation through a travel agency as if you go on public tranport they will charge you a lot more than local people and this can work out more expensive than private options. Jetstar also offer cheap flights.
- Food: Don't be afraid to eat local food including street food, this is very very cheap and usually very tasty. Prices for street food might seem cheap but a lot of the times because you are a tourist you will automatically get charged more. With street food there is a lot of choice and so if the vendor won't lower the price move on to the next stall. You can find great value cafes and restaurants throughout the country.
- Health & Safety: There is only one vaccination needed to enter Vietnam and that is Yellow Fever. You might need to produce proof you have had this vaccination especially if you have entered from a country which is in the Yellow Fever zone. To stay healthy in Vietnam drink lots of water especially during the hot season when the country is really humid. Take a first aid kit and relevant medication incase of illness, sometimes the local food might not go down well and so diarrhoea tablets are recommended. Vietnamese people are extremely friendly and are used to seeing tourists. Crime shouldn't be a problem during your stay but don't get into arguments with local people and if you ever feel threatened or intimidated its best to leave the situation. Always speak to other travellers with their recommendations and advice, its always good to get up to date information. Snatch and grab and petty theft is a small problem in places like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, try not to flash valuables on the street and also be aware of your bags and belongings.
View our Asia gap year guide.
Book a Tour of Vietnam
There are action packed trips that are full of life experiences but still offers the chance to slow down and soak up the beach vibe and take in some of the wonderful hospitality and knowledge of the incredible Vietnamese culture. There are so many tourist attractions you can visit including Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Sapa and the Mekong Delta. You'll have a tour leader with the group throughout who can help organise all your optional activities you wish to do. We have trips which include the best of the best locations with some of the most epic adventures available! Most tours start in the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, a metropolis that was the former capital of South Vietnam or in Hanoi in the far North of the country.
On the first day you will meet your new travel companions and tour leader at a welcome meeting and optional dinner. You can join most tours weekly throughout the year, there is no best time to join. Some tour companies work with low overheads meaning they are able to pass the savings directly on to you with great prices and quality accommodation, transportation and tour leaders. You usually stay in hotels, hostels or local home stays, using private transport throughout, whilst visiting local NGO projects is usually included in most itineraries.
Overland Tours in Vietnam
There are budget, luxury family tours which range in price. Most tours start in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and then travel North or South, there are lots of overland tours in Asia where you can travel and visit more than one country too. Popular destinations to add to an itinerary include the villages and fields of Mekong Delta and the naturally beautiful Halong Bay, while many tourists also head to Phu Quoc Island to relax on stunning white beaches in the height of summer.
One of the benefits of travelling in Vietnam on a tour is getting to stay and eat at locally run places, you will get to sample the most authentic cuisine including rice, fish sauce and fresh seafood which this destination is famous for. Traveling by tour is one of the safest ways to experience Vietnam, you'll have an experienced tour leader with the group throughout who can help with any problems and organise all your optional activities you wish to do.
Tour staff can either be international or local people depending on the trip you join. A lot of overland cultural trips also include homestays as part of some itineraries, this is a great way to get full immersion in the culture and integrate with local communities. If you are seeking adventure trips you could learn to scuba dive in Vietnam or fire an Ak-47 gun at the Cu Chi tunnels. On your small group tour there will be between 4-16 people.
Cycling Tours of Vietnam
In Vietnam, it seems that two wheels can take you just about anywhere. Cycling tours in Vietnam are a great way to get up close and personal with your surroundings, be that as you cycle through jungle along pathways originally cleared for use by the US military, down the sides of mountains in the country’s Western Highlands and through terraced, emerald green paddy fields. If you aren’t averse to getting a little saddle-sore, you can join tours that last for as much as two weeks and take you through some of the country’s best sites. If however, you are worried that your skinny thighs just won’t cut the mustard – there are shorter, more chilled tours that you can embark on for a day or two, some of which involve staying overnight with local tribes. On cycling tours you will usually visit Hanoi, Tam Coc and the Cuc Phuong National Park. Average level of fitness needed.
Vietnam Motorbike Tours
Vietnam is a facsinating country to experience, there is also a good road system where you can travel through the country and experience the stunning coastline. A popular option for some travellers is to travel in Vietnam by motorbike, you don't need to have any previous experience to do this and there are lots of travel operators both international and local which offer these types of overland bike trips. There are lots of different routes and motorbike tours available which can take you to some spectacular destinations, this method of travel is also a good way to get off the tourist trail and see places off the beaten track.
Trekking Tours in Vietnam
The plush rainforests and mysterious and imposing limestone karsts make Vietnam a mecca for eager-trekkers! If you want to tackle the country’s highest peak, you can set off for the three days that it takes to reach the summit. There are exceptional views and you will journey through remote villages encountering friendly locals along the way. If you can, try and explore the wonders of Vietnam’s most famous nature reserve, Pu Long. Ha Giang is one of the most varied treks and it will take you keen ramblers through scenery that traverses rocky mountains, rivers, valleys and those famous paddy fields we’ve all heard so much about. Keep an eye out for the wildlife!
Ha Long Bay Tours
Experience the mystical and stunning Ha Long Bay on a cruise tour. Taking time to visit the spectacular Halong Bay will be something which will stay with you forever. Its beauty is highlighted with a series of naturally occurring limestone caverns with one, in particular, illuminated and enhanced by lovely coloured lighting, Here you can board a sailing junk boat where you get to relax with a nice cold drink on the deck and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes as we sail through the islands, visiting some of the impressive caves en route. Food is provided throughout the journey.
In the evening, have a lovely seafood dinner and last night with your group while the sunset closes on yet another perfect evening. Afterwards, get some sleep in your own private cabin. On these trips you will meet your group in Hanoi located in Northern Vietnam where this trip starts and finishes. You will sail through the famous limestone peaks, get to go swimming, taste local cuisine and also explore secluded areas of the Bay. These are usually small group trips with a maximum number of 12 people, Ha Long Bay is a popular destination so you will need to book in advance to secure a spot.
Most tours use buses, planes and overnight trains to get to each destination. Sleeper trains are made up of cabins with two bunk beds (4 people per cabin.) Bedding is provided. The train is very comfortable with air-conditioning and western style toilets. Motorbikes and bicycles are the most popular form of transport, you can find bike tours and specalized trips throughout the country. The scenery along the way is absolutely magnificent - this really is a spectacular country! Accommodation can vary but generally you will stay in hostels, hotels and guest houses aswell as a local homestay. Most meals are usually included in the price you pay, snacks and extra drinks like alcohol usually need to be covered by yourself.
The price you pay really depends on where you visit, how long you want to join for and also which level of comfort you want. Sometimes you might need to pay an additional local payment to pay for tips and in-country staff. Also a part of the tour price includes a donation to local charities, you will need to check this.
Vietnam Tour Reviews
Have you ever been on a tour to Vietnam? Would you like to review a company or tour? Contact us today.
Guide to Volunteering in Vietnam
Volunteers have been attracted to Vietnam for decades and for good reason too, there is a spectacular coast, tasty food, friendly locals and also lots of rewarding ways to spend a little longer time working to help communities, wildlife and the environment.
Vietnam might be less touristy than going to volunteer in Thailand but this isn't a bad thing, less tourists mean a more natural experience where you can mix with local people, eat the local food and also help worthwhile causes. The Vietnam War ravaged this country from 1955 to 1975 and split Vietnam in two. Years after peace, Vietnam struggled to progress economically but this has improved due to international assistance and investment boosting the local economy and creating jobs. Large international charities, non-profits and also local NGO's have been working to help and international participants have been working on the ground to help with education, community development, healthcare and construction/building projects.
Vietnam is now a very safe and politically stable country, around 4 million people visit every year - start planning a volunteer break here today. Thousands of people choose to volunteer abroad in Vietnam every year, this is a very safe and interesting country to visit but one which has widespread poverty which is where the need for help comes in. Most volunteer programs are found in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Hanoi in the North of the country. If you would you love to do something different and help others browse our volunteer programs in Vietnam. There are so many ways you can give back and help and people are needed all year round to help. If you need any specific help please contact us and hopefully we can match your interests with a suitable area.
Vietnam: Country Facts - Why the Need for International Assistance
- Population: 83 million
- Life expectancy at birth: 70.8 years
- Adult literacy rate: 90.3%
- Access to improved water source: 85%
- Under 5 mortality rate: 23 per 1,000 live births
- Maternal mortality rate: 130 per 100,000 live births
- HIV prevalence: 0.5%
Source: UN Human Development Report 2007/2008
Location of Projects
We list volunteer organisations, non profits and NGO's which are based in various locations like Da Nang, Tam Ky, Tuy Hoa, Hue, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Programs are not restricted just to the large cities though, you can find programs in rural areas and its up to you where you would like to go. Vietnamese people are very friendly and you will experience a new culture, tasty cuisine and a totally new experience on volunteering projects in Vietnam. You might also want to combine experience and view our volunteer programs in Laos too.
Types of Volunteer Programs in Vietnam
Conservation & Volunteer with Animals in Vietnam
This country might not strike you as a possible destination to help conservation programs but there are some really great opportunities which operate under the radar. There are various beautiful locations in Vietnam with flora, fauna and animal species which need to be preserved. Due to the population in Vietnam and also the rise in the number tourists visiting every year there are eco tourism projects which have been set up to help.
You could find yourself helping in a spectacular location like the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay or somewhere like the river delta. One placement we have on our website is a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre which is accepting new participants and where you can help animals. Wildlife is not treated the same as in Western countries and education is a big part of programs, you can either work directly with animals or join initiatives with the aim of getting communities involved in conservation efforts.
Community Development Programs in Vietnam
Vietnam’s economic growth is among the fastest in the world and the country is improving all the time but still around 35% of the population live in poverty. There are various initiatives where you can work on the ground to help build infrastructure in remote regions on the country. You might want to learn Vietnamese words and phrases for these roles especially when working with local people.
Orphanage Work in Vietnam
People are needed to help at outreach centres and at orphanages in cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Working at an orphanage or community centre is a very emotional but rewarding experience and local people will make you feel very welcomed. These institutions need caring and compassionate people all year round. Sometimes you might get to help disabled, ill and abandoned children which can be very eye opening, please research these types of projects to see if they are right for you. Tasks can include preparing food, helping with daily routines, making fun arts, crafts and music. If you are going to apply we recommend you stay at least 2 weeks, it can have a negative impact volunteers just staying for a week or two then departing.
Education & Teaching Volunteer Programs in Vietnam
Schools are state run in Vietnam and parents need to pay for their children to attend higher education. This creates problems for poorer members of society who do not have the money available for structured education at colleges and universities. There are though locally run programs available which help local disadvantaged children and these places recruit and accept volunteer English teachers all year round. Most placements are voluntary but there are paid placements available if you have specific qualifications e.g. a TEFL course and teaching experience.
Human Rights Placements in Vietnam
In 2000 a law was passed in Vietnam which granted women have the same rights as men, but there is still a lot of work to be done helping victims of discrimination and abuse. In rural areas women face many problems like being forced into marriages at an early age and also not being given the same chances of a proper education than boys. As a human rights volunteer in Vietnam you will get to help both women, girls and other members of society overcome the hardships they face in daily life. There is lots of really inspiring work being done by local NGOs working on women's right and you can do your part too. If you have any previous law or human rights skills you might be able to offer advice to people and help poorer members of society get legal representation.
Medicine & Healthcare Volunteer Programs in Vietnam
Vietnam has a good public health system compared to other countries in Asia and the average life expectancy for Vietnam is around 70-80 years of age which is very good. There are applications accepted for international participants to work in hospitals, clinics and outreach centres. There are options for all skill levels and abilities - you could help local doctors, nurses and other staff with admin, patient help and also directly working with people. You might also get to work in rural communities proving information on hygiene, giving talks and distributing medication. HIV and AIDS are also an issue in this country and you can help stop the spread of the disease.
Depending on your nationality and visa eligibility you should be able to volunteer in Vietnam. This is an extremely safe country to live and volunteer in and so don't be put off by images of war in the past. Most organisations in Vietnam will require you to be aged 18+ and don't worry if you don't have any previous experience in the volunteers field of work, you should receive help from local staff and training will be provided on arrival.
Health & Safety
The biggest dangers in Vietnam don't come from people, but include crossing roads in the big cities - traffic can be chaos and sometimes it is risky walking in front of cars, bikes and other vehicles. You will need to check what vaccinations are needed at your local healthcare provider before departing, try to visit at least 3 months prior to departure. We recommend cover for hepatitis A/B, cholera, diphtheria and typhoid. Tuberculosis is an issue in Vietnam with around 600 people dying every year whilst if you are joining programs with animals you might want to get a rabies jab. Malaria is more of an issue in more rural areas of neighbouring countries.
Start Dates & How to Apply
Programs are operated throughout the year and you can sign up to volunteer today and join projects at a later date. If you apply through a large sending organisation you might need to pay a fee which includes a structure placement with accommodation, meals, transfers and support. If you apply direct to a local NGO you will get need to be independent booking travel and everything by yourself, sometimes you might need to pay a donation to participate too. There are also summer and group volunteer projects in Vietnam which are popular but you will need to apply early to avoid places filling up. Experiences can last anything from a few days to a few months, its best to stay around a month at least to give you time to settle into a placement so you can get to know the people and really help.