Written by Jane Pham, a passionate travel writer at Vietnam Discovery, where travelers to the country can find A-Z guides and tips, as well as highly tailored responsible-travel tours. Check out their website or follow them on Facebook to see why Vietnam became “Asia’ Leading Destination”!
For many of us, the years between the age of 20 and 30 can be really daunting. We learn to survive as an adult, live independently with our income, get tangled up in love and struggle to find purpose in life.
If you’re struggling with roughly the same things, welcome to the ultimate eye-opening experience: a volunteer trip to Vietnam, the hidden gem of Southeast Asia.
“Small yet mighty” are the words frequently used to describe my beautiful nation. Suffering from the aftermaths of long-lasting wars and economic repression, Vietnam is arduously striving to restore its position worldwide. In this guide I will list all the reasons why a volunteer trip to Vietnam should be next on your adventure list, and everything you’ll need to know before heading to my beloved motherland.
8 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE AN OPPORTUNITY OF VOLUNTEERING IN VIETNAM
A beautiful country: Boasting two UNESCO-listed World Natural Heritages, this country’s beauty is beyond doubt (and certainly more on that later).
An array of volunteer opportunities: As a developing country with a traumatic history, Vietnam is in great need of assistance of all sorts, ranging from health care and human development, animal protection, to environmental conservation and a lot more.
A heaven on earth for foodies: Say no more. If hủ tiếu – just one of Vietnamese cuisine’s countless offerings captured the 16-Michelin-star Gordon Ramsay’s heart (check out this video on his own Youtube channel), then it would definitely capture yours too.
Warm and kind people: Vietnamese people are known to be among the warmest and kindest in Asia. Our heart is certainly as warm as our distinctive tropical climate.
The diversified vibrant culture: As the birthplace of five UNESCO-listed World Cultural Heritages, Vietnam’s culture features a good mix of 54 ethnic groups’ cultural identities, with positive influences from China, Southeast Asian and Western countries.
Home to mindful activities: Volunteering is often included in a quest to find your true self. Being the native land of the world’s leading Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnam is home to the art of meditation.
Utmost safety: Recently celebrating 20 years as UNESCO-titled “City for peace”, the capital city of Hanoi symbolizes the stable political conditions and public safety in Vietnam. The country remains a safe tourist destination, even through the horrific Coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Decent English proficiency: Most youngsters have decent command of English, especially those living in tourist attractions. The elderly, on the other hand, will gladly communicate with you even with signs.
Convinced yet? Read on to find out what you should get ready to embark on the journey.
PREPARING FOR THE TRIP
Located in the tropics, Vietnam has a heavily monsoon-influenced tropical climate, making it relatively cooler in comparison with neighboring Southeast Asian countries. The annual average temperature ranges from 22°C to 27°C year-round.
Spanning over 15 latitudes, Vietnam is separated into two main climatic regions: the North and the South. The North (areas to the north of the Hai Van Pass) has four distinct seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter), while the South experiences only two seasons (rainy and dry) throughout the year. Hence, while the North might undergo very cold winters (with lows approaching 0°C), the South enjoys a steady warmth all year round. Both regions enjoy tropical summers with highs reaching 40°C (watch out for that burning sun). Thus, packing is highly recommended to take account of the arrival time and location.
Also, please bear in mind these few basics before venturing off to Vietnam for a volunteer trip:
Currency: Vietnam Dong (VND). One US dollar is equivalent to roughly VND 23,000. The average cost of living is low and you won’t break the bank during your stay.
Language: Vietnamese, a combination of Latin letters and 6 different tones. It will definitely mess with your head at first but things will get better (hopefully). Aim for youngsters if you need directions or local guides, they are more likely to speak somewhat decent English.
Culture: you are subject to culture shocks, especially if you’re from the US or European countries. But the kindness and welcoming nature of locals will exceed all your expectations.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Travelers from 24 countries can enjoy visa exemptions. Unless you’re from the aforementioned countries, you are bound to have a valid visa to enter Vietnam.
A Vietnam tourist visa’s validity can range from 15 days to 3 months. For better understanding, please consult the Vietnamese national website on immigration.
MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS IN VIETNAM
Praised on The Lonely Planet as “a land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities”, Vietnam simply has too much to offer. From Son Doong Cave – the world’s largest cave, to the UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay complex, from the tranquil 300-year-old Ancient Town of Hoi An, to the bustling metropolitan of Ho Chi Minh City, the country without doubt has something for everyone.
To make the most of your experience, here are some compelling attractions you must not miss on your journey:
Hanoi: As a 1000-year-old capital city, Hanoi certainly has its own way to stand out from fellow Southeast Asian cities. Shiny skyscrapers manage to rise next to red-tile roof pagodas, showcasing a fascinating coexistence of past and future within the city. The best Hanoi has to offer is street food and French colonial architecture.
Ho Chi Minh City: Strange as can be, the economic hub of Vietnam is not its capital city. Ho Chi Minh City (also known endearingly as Saigon) owns the accolade. Humble houses nested next to luxurious towers and grand colonial mansions, depicting the cross-cultured chaotic life in the biggest city of Vietnam. Everything exists in Saigon, but not quite how you expect it’d be!
Hoi An: Known as one of the most charming and atmospheric towns of Vietnam, Hoi An is stunningly preserved with its once-bustling port town relics. A harmonizing fusion of both indigenous and foreign cultures can be found in Hoi An’s ancient houses, temples and bridges. This lantern-lit riverside town is by all means one of the most appealing destinations in Asia.
Ha Long Bay: Boasting nearly 2000 limestone islands and tiny islets in numerous shapes and sizes, Ha Long Bay certainly worths a try. It’s an ideal place to lose yourself into the sight of emerald water and panoramic sceneries of verdant islands and towering mountain tops. The complex undoubtedly earned its UNESCO World Natural Heritage title for a reason.
NAVIGATING VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES IN VIETNAM
With a few clicks on Google, you will effortlessly find multiple volunteer opportunities in Vietnam. However, to find the most accredited programs with transparent information disclosure, you are highly recommended to consult a reliable source.
Functioning as an online platform, GivingWay aims at connecting travelers with nonprofits worldwide for the purpose of volunteering. You can find loads of on-site volunteer opportunities in Vietnam here, as well as online volunteering offers here.
Before browsing through the opportunities, let’s sit down and take some time to answer these questions: What are your strengths and weaknesses? What positive changes do you want to bring to the world? Your answers will decide the type of organizations you should work with, which will fall into one of these three broad categories:
Aiming for health care and human development
Dominated by China for over 1000 years, Vietnam is heavily influenced by Chinese rigid cultural system. Gender justice has been long fought for both in rural and urban areas, aiming to raise awareness and settle a better gender equality in the country. Some organizations focus on poor and marginalized women, particularly women from ethnic groups and remote areas, to gain their power and take better control of their lives.
Underprivileged children, such as children from poor/broken families and children suffering from disabilities/mental issues or HIV also need your help. A large proportion of children living under the poverty line fail to get proper schooling, adequate health care and sex education, resulting in their vulnerability to diseases and crimes. Children are the future of a country, and helping a child means that you’re supporting a society.
Aiming for animal protection and environmental conservation
Are animals closer to your heart? No problem! Many organizations seek foreign volunteers all year round to help with raising awareness about and taking care of animals.
Another choice is to join hands to protect the ecosystem in Vietnam! Our verdant jungles, towering mountains and emerald beaches are at stake when economic benefits are prioritized. Volunteers can engage in all kinds of sustainable activities with organizations working to protect the environment.
TIPS FOR AN EPIC VOLUNTEER TRIP
Checking the validity of organizations: Make sure you understand clearly how your money will be spent and how your efforts will help the targeted community. Search for volunteers’ reviews to get a sense of how the organization works.
Immersing in the culture: Staying in a homestay is probably the fastest way to get to know the culture and blend in. Homestay hosts in Vietnam are more than happy to treat you with a home-cooked Vietnamese traditional meal, which will for sure blow your mind away. Some organizations will also offer accommodation if you decide to volunteer with them.
Supporting locals: Vietnamese sophisticated handicrafts are world-renowned, yet local artisans still struggle to make ends meet. A great way to support the community is to buy handmade souvenirs and cuisines made by local residents. Keep an eye for brocades and hand-woven products, you won’t find these exquisite items elsewhere.
Have you found everything you need? Are you ready for a journey to go back inside and find yourself in the service of helping others?
In summary, the rule of thumb is to always do your research about an organization before embarking on a volunteer trip. And equip yourself with the more information about the country the better. Vietnam is a beautiful country which welcomes volunteers from all nations and all walks of life, so don’t worry too much before the trip.
Nothing else compares to the experience of being miles away from your country, surrounded by people from a different culture, yet working your best to bring about positive changes. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Gandhi said. Come to Vietnam to make the change, and you’ll find a better version of yourself.
The views expressed in this guest post are solely those of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of GivingWay. The material and information contained on the GivingWay blog is for general information purposes only. GivingWay will not be liable for any false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information presented in the GivingWay blog.