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Gap year guide to Asia

Asia is the ultimate backpacking continent. It’s a region of striking contrasts that’s big on adventure and full of jaw-dropping sights. From futuristic cities to breathtaking natural wonders and lots of history to boot, Asia couldn’t be more perfect for the (long) trip of a lifetime – your options in terms of where to go and what to do are literally endless.

To answer all your questions regarding gap year options in Asia – and you probably have many – we’ve put together this handy guide. (Not sure you want to go to Asia? Check out our gap year guides for the US and Australia and New Zealand.)

Satisfy your wanderlust – From beaches to megacities

Whether you desire beaches, mountains, jungles or booming cities – Asia will more than satisfy your taste for adventure. It may be impossible to experience everything the continent has to offer in a year (or less), but you can’t fail to fall in love with wherever you go.

Exploring Southeast Asia by moped is a classic gap year activity; you can ride, for example, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City and discover Vietnam’s hidden gems along the way. Biking through Thailand allows you to sample everything from bustling Bangkok to wild full moon parties and picture-perfect beaches. If weaving through Asian traffic isn’t appealing, ditch the moped or bike and boat along the famous Mekong River to see more of Vietnam and Thailand as well as the very best of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Further south, you can experience Malaysia’s thriving capital city, Kuala Lumpur, before heading to Borneo’s wild jungles or checking out Singapore while you’re in the neigborhood. From there, island hop your way around Indonesia’s archipelago and explore over 17,500 islands, including the ever-popular Bali.

You also shouldn’t leave Asia without wandering around ancient sites such as Angkor Wat, The Great Wall of China and Bagan in Myanmar – they’re all truly unmissable sights. Also unmissable, but for totally different reasons, are the ultra modern metropolises of Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore – nowhere does hi-tech quite like these three. Taking a Japanese bullet train is a super speedy way to get around the country and see sights like Mt Fuji and Kyoto (and it’s actually quite affordable with the Japanese Rail Pass). Plus, it’ll get you to nomtastic sushi stops in record times!

If you end up visiting both Japan and India on your gap year in Asia, you’ll experience two very different styles of train travel. The Indian railway has its own charm and is a fantastic way to soak up the country’s unique culture at a very low cost. You could easily spend a whole gap year in India and the subcontinent – and it wouldn’t be a waste. India has everything you could ever want – treat your senses at food markets in crazy cities, watch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, hike in the Himalayas, relax on Goa’s beautiful beaches – the choice is yours.

The list of places to see goes on and on – we haven’t even begun to mention the dreamy Maldives or the adventure that awaits in Mongolia and China’s vast lands beyond the big cities mentioned before…. But it’s a start and should get those wanderlust juices flowing!

Teach and learn, learn and teach

Teaching in Asia is one of the most popular and rewarding gap year activities if you’re looking for something beyond just travel. There’s a constant demand for English teachers who hold a TEFL, TESOL or TESL qualification. It looks great on your CV, and it’s a truly rewarding experience knowing you’ve made a positive difference to people who often come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s not just in Asia’s vast cities where teachers are needed, teaching in remote communities across the continent is a great way to both explore and help lesser-visited regions. You might be the teacher, but there are no limits to what you’ll learn from such a diverse range of students. Pay, benefits, and vacation varies across the region with teachers in Japan and South Korea usually paid the best, while relatively low wages in Vietnam, Cambodia and China are in line with living costs.

Alternatively, learning a language such as Japanese and Mandarin is a great way to delve a little deeper into a new culture and a new way of life. It’s also one of the best ways of using a gap year to stand out from the crowd when applying for universities, searching for jobs or advancing your career. Plus, the likes of Tokyo and Beijing are two of the most exciting cities in the world and ready-made for study abroad students. If learning Japanese and Mandarin seems daunting, fear not as you can further your English skills in an international hub like Singapore as well – you’ll be surprised just how many doors this opens in your professional life.

Volunteer your time

There are countless volunteering opportunities for you to undertake in Asia – including wildlife protection, habitat conservation, and community development. Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in Asia and despite rapid development, beyond the skyscrapers and skytrains, vast numbers of communities need help rising out of poverty. Volunteers can help build and improve essential infrastructures such as schools and homes, for example. You can also spend time assisting in orphanages, healthcare projects, and disaster relief initiatives.

Asia is rich in wildlife but, like many places, habitats are under attack from poachers, climate change, and urban development. If you have a passion for nature, there are few more rewarding places to spend a gap year than the wilds of Asia: You can help protect pandas in China or tigers in India’s Kanha National Park, or you can head to the rainforests of Borneo to help with orangutan protection. In the idyllic Maldives, you can assist with coral and marine conservation while in Thailand, Sri Lanka and a host of other countries you can assist in the protection of elephants. All of this is just the tip of the volunteering iceberg – whatever your passion, you’ll find it in Asia.

A note on practicalities: Visas

Visas can seem the arch nemesis of travelers. But fear not as all it takes is patience, prior planning and, sometimes, a bit of luck. The visa process here varies from country to country. For example, the time one takes to process can vary from around a month to just a few days and, in several cases, you can purchase them at border crossings. The visa may come with certain restrictions, such as the primary reason for travel must be for vacation or temporary work only. Some visas demand you have travel insurance while others only recommend it. The length of your stay is also a big variant with some Asian countries allowing you to stay for up to a year while others have a maximum 30-day stay; however, this can usually be extended. If you’re applying for visas while traveling, it’s all about conducting research and having a flexible Plan B.

Image by Kaisa Schreck Danielsson, All rights reserved.

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