Volunteering in Vietnam

Discover volunteering opportunities in Vietnam, a nation of stunning natural beauty and rich, vibrant culture.

About Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, stretches along the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula, bordered by China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west.

The country’s population of 96.2 million represents 54 ethnic groups. The capital city is Hanoi (Ha Noi), the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam and largest city is Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon).

Climate change and environmental degradation pose significant risks to Vietnam, due to much of the population living in low-lying deltas.

A brief look at Vietnam’s history

For more than a thousand years, until the year 938, Vietnam was under Chinese rule. China exerted an influence on Vietnamese administration, law, education, literature, language and culture. From 1010 to 1527 sophisticated government and administrations were developed, with a new system of taxation imposed, a penal system established, and the foundation of the country’s first university.

In 1858, under the rule of Napoleon III, French troops invaded and took control of the provinces of Vietnam. The southern portion of Vietnam became a French protectorate known as Cochin China, where the Nguyen dynasty ruled. In the north, local governments were run by Vietnamese officials, ruled by a French governor.

In 1954, after declaring independence from the French, North Vietnam adopted a highly centralised Soviet-style legal system. In South Vietnam, the French legal system was supplemented when United States of America legal advisors arrived in the early 1960s.

Conflict wracked the nation from 1955 until 1975, after which time the north and south were reunified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Australian volunteers in Vietnam

Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in Vietnam to achieve their development goals since 1985.

Volunteering opportunities in Vietnam support communities across a range of development priorities, including:

  • Enabling and engaging the private sector for development
  • Assisting the development and employment of a highly-skilled workforce
  • Promoting women’s economic empowerment, including ethnic minorities
  • Supporting disability-inclusive development

Read about our impact in Vietnam in 2019-2020

Life as a volunteer in Vietnam

Culture and religion

The majority of Vietnamese people do not follow any organised religion, instead observing one or more Vietnamese folk religions. Folk religions were founded on cultural beliefs and were historically affected by Confucianism and Taoism from China, as well as by a long tradition of Buddhism.

These three teachings or tam giáo were later joined by Christianity, which has become a significant presence.

Language

Vietnamese is the primary language, and English is increasingly favored as a second language. Some people speak French. Australian volunteers will have the opportunity to learn Vietnamese.

Climate

Climate differs in the north and south of Vietnam.

In the north there are four seasons, with an annual temperature range from eight to 38°C.

In the south, the climate is tropical. The dry season lasts from November to April with an average temperature of 26°C. The rainy season begins in May and ends in October, and is characterised by sudden heavy rains, with an average temperature of 29°C.

Dress

In the office the dress code is semi-formal. Men usually wear collared shirts without ties. Women usually wear a shirt and pants or a dress.

Food and dining

Traditionally, Vietnamese cuisine is based around five fundamental taste elements: spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth). 

Common ingredients include: fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Vietnamese recipes also use lemongrass, ginger, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, cinnamon, bird's eye chilli, lime, and basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is known for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and reliance on herbs and vegetables.  

Vietnam has a strong street food culture. Many notable Vietnamese dishes such as bánh mì (salad roll), bánh cuốn (rice noodle roll), bún riêu (rice vermicelli soup) and phở noodles originated in the north and were introduced to central and southern Vietnam by northern migrants. Local foods in the north are often less spicy than southern dishes, as the colder northern climate limits the production and availability of spices.

Drinks in the south also are usually served cold with ice cubes, especially during the warmer weather, while in the north hot drinks are preferred. Vietnamese drinks include cà phê đá (Vietnamese iced coffee), cà phê trứng (egg coffee), chanh muối (salted pickled lime juice), cơm rượu (glutinous rice wine), nước mía (sugarcane juice) and trà sen (Vietnamese lotus tea).

Alcohol

Drinking is a large part of Vietnamese culture, and beer and rice wine are inexpensive.

Personal safety

If applying to take up volunteering opportunities in Vietnam, it is a requirement that you research your assignment location. Successful applicants may be required to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.

Accessibility

We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities. 

To support this, access and inclusion plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.

Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Vietnam, please do some further research on living in Vietnam and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer. 

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Street market in Vietnam. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
Nancy Vietnam
Australian volunteer social media and website officer Nancy Zhou at the Vietnamese Women's Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Le Bao Minh Hien
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Australian volunteer Elsie Giles. Photo: supplied