My Gap Year in South East Asia

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Are you at the stage in life when the once seemingly infinite hours of study in college or university have done the unthinkable and ended, and you’re now thinking: “What’s next?”? Fear not. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you. BUNAC’s awesome team member Ellie embarked on an incredible gap year to South East Asia – check out her life changing experiences.

After finishing my A-levels I found myself in this exact position. After some research I decided that taking a gap year would allow me to live out my travelling dreams, whilst gaining valuable experiences and giving me time to decide what I wanted to do with my future. I chose to visit Thailand and Vietnam and was not disappointed. From glorious food, white-sand beaches and cities steeped in history, these countries provided an adventure far better than I imagined. I’ve rounded up just some of my most memorable places in these beautiful countries.


Up until Bangkok the furthest I’d travelled alone to was Scotland – it’s fair to say I was nervous. After stepping out of the airport I don’t know what was more of a shock, the humidity of the April afternoon or the bombardment of taxi drivers offering me the ‘best deals’ in Bangkok.

Once I had escaped the airport and reached Yan Nawa to meet a friend, I was greeted by a group of children throwing buckets of water over me. Another (this time freezing) culture shock, which I soon found out to be a part of the Songkran Festival (or Thai New Year’s), which is celebrated between 13-15th April and consists of three days and nights of street parties and water fights. That evening we walked around central Bangkok, this time prepared for the drenching, and up to Khaosan Road (famed for the night life, and rightly so). The overwhelming sights and smells of Bangkok in full festival swing confirmed that Thailand was the right decision for me. 

Ko Pha Ngan

After a long night bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani (where the one jumper I brought came in handy against the artic temperatures on the air-conditioned bus), we made our way over to the Don Sak Sakon Port to catch a ferry to Ko Pha Ngan. The bustling city of Bangkok became a distant memory as we docked the white sand beach and the diversity of experiences Thailand has to offer revealed itself to me for the first time.

We hired a jeep (after some price negotiating) and drove around the island to waterfalls and quieter hidden beaches to the north of the island. A paradise destination with endless chances to meet new people made Ko Pha Ngan one of my favourite locations. It’s a must-see for any visitors. 

Ko Phi Phi 

After island hopping to Ko Samui, we returned to the mainland and took another bus to Phuket and made our way to Ko Phi Phi. We booked a snorkelling trip, visiting Monkey Beach (a self-explanatory name), and followed in Leonardo DiCaprio’s footsteps to visit Maya Beach (from the movie ‘The Beach’). A seemingly more relaxed island than the buzz of Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phi Phi was the perfect place to relax and enjoy some amazing Thai food and Singha or Chang beer.

Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon)

We were thrown once again into the flux of urban life when we landed in Ho Chi Mihn City (renamed in 1975 but still often referred to as Saigon, especially by locals). This city offers plenty of enriching opportunities to delve into and learn about its history. From the War Remnants Museum to the Cu Chi tunnels, we were informed of Ho Chi Mihn’s harrowing past. The city is not defined by its past - the lively night markets with incredible street food and pulse-quickening motor bike taxis all contributed to this amazing experience. With the city also being a stone’s throw away from the enchanting Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Mihn is an incredibly mesmerising destination that should be on everyone’s gap year bucket lists.  

Phu Quoc Island 

Located at the south end of Cambodia - but still a part of Vietnam - sits Phu Quoc Island. You can arrive by air or sea, but either way you’ll be amazed at what you find. We hired mopeds and drove from beach to beach, taking in the palm trees, clear blue water and white sand beaches. You really feel like you’ve stepped into paradise in this natural wonderland.

This is simply a brief glimpse into the magical worlds waiting to be discovered in Thailand and Vietnam. Whether you are looking to discover hidden beaches or immerse yourself in history and traditional culture, these countries are the ideal gap year destinations.

Fancy embarking on your own gap year adventure? We have incredible programmes just for you, and you can make them yours by contacting the team on 0333 999 7516 or at

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BUNAC Travel Services
Priory House, 6 Wrights Lane
London, W8 6TA
Phone: 033 3999 7516


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