There’s a lot that has to be said about taking vacations with the entire family in tow, especially if there are little ones in the mix. Stressful? Sure, from the time you start making arrangements for the trip, to the hours spent on the plane, to making sure that no one gets lost while out and about—yes, it can be stressful indeed. Costly? Probably, but what family doesn’t come away from a trip without shelling out some money for the experience? Fun? You bet it is, even after all the whining and complaints from overtired kids, somehow, you’ll know that it has been worth it once you hear their excited shrieks and giggles over the amazing things and experiences they’ll have on the trip.
This year, vacations to Southeast Asia have been highly recommended and proven to be very kid-friendly, and travel-savvy parents often claim that Vietnam is one of the top destinations for families. Vietnam, with its diverse culture and many attractions could be one of the most memorable places for your family.
Here are the top attractions and things to do for families while in Vietnam:
This is Vietnam’s capital and it’s more than 1,000 years old, which makes for a very interesting and culturally-rich city. The international airport is located here, so this will be your first and last stop for your adventures. Try to schedule your flight so that you’ll arrive at night, which will give you and your family time for a quick dinner before hitting the sheets for a very relaxing sleep before gadding about the next day. The Hanoi Lake View Hotel is a good choice for accommodations. The family rooms contain 3 beds, and balconies have a view of the lake.
The next day, go to the Hai Ba Trung area. There you’ll find century-old, European style villas, outdoor markets, and pagodas all smoky from incense. A reminder about crossing the streets in Vietnam, you may think that crossing a street is no big deal, but normal rules don’t apply here. You might have to look left and right at least 10 times before crossing, and when you do, cross in a straight line, keeping an even pace. The drivers will figure out your pace and will weave around you. Whatever you do, don’t stop until you get to the other side of the road. Carry little children as you cross, and hold older kids’ hands before you crossing. Remind them about the no-stopping rule while crossing. It might sound a little crazy, but when in Vietnam…
Then, go on to the Old Quarter, which might be a bit noisy and congested, but this is where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve really arrived in another country. There are all sorts of things for sale here, from the cute to the truly kitschy, so make sure that you have enough cash in small bills to pay for a trinket that your kid will insist that he absolutely has to have. On Hong Ma, or Votive Paper Sellers Street, they specialize in making vang ma, or paper replicas of money, eyeglasses, cell phones and other worldly goods that the Vietnamese burn up as an offering to their ancestors in the netherworld. You might want to get a few of these as souvenirs. If you want to indulge your kids, go to the Metropole, Hanoi’s century-old premier hotel where you can indulge in the chocolate buffet, a feast that would make Willy Wonka proud. You’ll find chocolate fondue, chocolate pastries, hot chocolate, and truffles among others.
By this time your kids will be energized from all that sugar, so take them to Lenin Park to burn off all that energy. Then, take a pedicab to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. The puppets scamper and frolic across a stage of waist-deep water, and it is very entertaining, even to the most jaded of tourists. For dinner, you can have some pho, a noodle dish that can be found all over Vietnam, or maybe some roast chicken if your kids are still at that stage when they turn up their nose at anything unfamiliar. By the time you head back to your hotel, everyone will be all set to continue the adventure the next day, in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City
Schedule an early morning flight to take you to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly called Saigon, you’ll find that it has transformed into less of a red light district and more of a fun tourist destination for all ages. Check in at the Caravelle Hotel, which has a range of amenities such as a free-form outdoor pool, spa, and high speed internet access. After having brunch, dress your kids in lightweight, comfortable clothes and head over to KidzCiti. This attraction has a very cool concept. The whole facility resembles a mini town where kids get to learn about the working world and pretend to be professionals like bakers, pilots, policemen, doctors, and so many others. It’s like playing dress-up, only on a much bigger scale. It costs about $17.00 per kid, and there’s an airconditioned café with free wifi for parents to sit in so they can catch up on email or just relax.
The Reunification Palace is another must-see, with lots of rooms and floors to explore. There’s an amazing park right behind the palace, so if your kids would rather play, you and your partner can take turns watching the kids play while the other takes a walk in the palace.
Another good exhibit is the War Remnants Museum. Be warned though, that the second floor exhibit is quite graphic and not appropriate for little kids, but the good thing is that there’s a play area at the third floor where adults can take turns visiting the second floor and watching the kids.
You can do a private tour of the Mekong Delta area so you could move at your own pace. Everyone can have fun exploring the river and markets, and you can enjoy a boat ride or learn how to fish. The kids can also learn to cook what they caught, make rice paper, and play with the docile animals. You can rent bikes and ride in single file by the river, which is always fun when the local kids wave at you and greet you as you pass by.
To escape the sweltering heat, go swimming at the Dam Sen Water Park. This place has plenty of water slides and rentable hammocks by the hour. Rates are $4.50 for adults, and $3.00 for kids.
The Saigon Zoo is a great place to visit for animal lovers. You’ll do a lot of walking in this place, so if you’ve got small kids or a toddler, that lightweight stroller you brought with you will prove to be indispensible. It’s one of the oldest zoos in the world, and it only costs a dollar to enter.
From Ho Chi Minh City, you can fly back to Hanoi, then take off for a 3-hour drive to Ha Long Bay. No tropical vacation is complete without a day, or several days spent at the beach! Most people are at a loss for words when attempting to describe Ha Long Bay—it’s just that magical. Many of the islands consist of rocky outcroppings covered with vegetation, and they rise majestically from the turquoise waters. The kids will have a blast building sand castles and playing on the beach, and parents will have an awesome time taking in the wonderful sights of the bay.
To really enjoy the full Vietnam experience, plan on staying at least 10 days. I promise you, this is one trip that you and your family will never forget.