It’s been open to tourists for over 20 years now, but Vietnam remains shrouded in an air of mystery and danger. If you’re looking for a gap year destination that offers more than the pleasures of sun, sea and sand, this could be it. And, although coming to Vietnam and trying to avoid the war that decimated the country for almost 20 years up to the mid-70s would be crazy, there is a lot more here than battlefield memories.
Vietnam is still off the beaten track, and tourism of any sort is relatively new to the country, making it ideal for adventure travel. You can trek through jungle, staying at tribal villages along the way. And if the Vietnam War is your special interest, you can follow in the footsteps of Francis Ford Coppola up the Mekong, or explore the Viet Cong’s amazing tunnel network in Cu Chi.
You won’t find many countries more welcoming to the student traveller than Vietnam. Though the people are happy to cater for Western interest in the war, there’s much more to see. Hanoi has grand evidence of the French colonial past, while the ancient capital of Hué has palaces and pagodas from the 18th century Nguyen dynasty on the shores of the Perfume River. Don’t miss the Hindu ruins of My Son, dating back to the fourth century, or Mui Ne beach, where surf’s usually up whether Charlie is or not.
One of the most satisfying ways to get to know Vietnam is through volunteer work. There are many projects you can contribute to, particularly for disabled and disadvantaged children.