Through a child’s eyes

Vietnam doesnt lack for entertainment to keep kids occupied.

By DON WILLS on August 18,2017 10:41 AM

Through a child’s eyes

Photos: KIM CUONG

Touring Vietnam with a child or children in tow is not the ordeal some people may imagine. It’s a pleasure; a rewarding experience for the parents and even more so for the little ones, who are getting first-hand exposure to a foreign culture and a valuable educational experience at the same time.

Children are treated like VIPs in Vietnam. People’s fondness for children isn’t just limited to their own kids. Foreign kids tend to love it here because of the inordinate amount of attention they receive. Everyone wants to ogle them, tickle them under the chin, and pinch their cheeks. It’s not as if the Vietnamese aren’t used to having kids around; 14.3% of males and 13.4% of females in the country are under 16 years of age. It’s just that Western or half-Western children are objects of fascination to be cooed over and pampered by all and sundry. And it works both ways - Westerners think Vietnamese kids are the cutest things on earth.

When our daughter was small, still a babe in arms, we’d go to a restaurant and be welcomed with open arms. Literally. A bevy of cooing waitresses would immediately gather round. One would reach out and gently extract the baby from my wife’s arms and jog her up and down and croon baby songs to her, while another would take over and cradle the baby and make funny faces at her, then another would reach out and … Customers wanting a little service would just have to wait. The waitresses had something much more interesting to do.

Vietnam is a family-friendly country. There’s never any shortage of ways to entertain your children, regardless of their age. Parks, playgrounds, beaches, amusement parks, water parks … all healthy outdoor fun and doubly rewarding because they don’t rely on any electronic hand-held devices to strain the eyes and blinker the senses.

Through a child’s eyes

Getting from place to place can be fun for kids too. Taxis, buses and motorbikes hold no appeal, but put your kid on a boat, train, jeep, cyclo, or three-wheeled taxi and just watch his or her eyes light up. Train travel is ideal for children, especially on overnight trips. They’re not bound to their seats for the journey; they can move out into the corridor or take a little excursion with you to the dining car. And a night spent in a sleeping compartment is an adventure in itself.

Hanoi is a fun city for kids. The water puppet show is a must. Kids are wowed by the lacquered wooden puppets depicting people, animals, and mythical creatures as they literally dance across the water to the accompaniment of a small orchestra and special sound effects, including bells, gongs, and fireworks. At the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake there are daily performances starting in mid-afternoon plus an extra show at 9.30am on Sundays.

Five kilometres north of the Old Quarter is Ho Tay Water Park, acclaimed as the best water park in Vietnam. It has pools, water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, water pipes, a Tibetan suspension bridge, swinging ropes, pedal boats, and small inflatable dinghies. There’s a quieter area suitable for babies and toddlers. In the unlikely event of your kids tiring of water sports, you can go next door to Moon Park where you’ll find a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, mini-golf course, bumper cars, and a miniature railway.

Lenin Park, or Thong Nhat Park as it’s known locally, is not all that big (just 50 ha) but it’s worth taking the kids to. It’s in Hai Ba Trung district, 2 km from Hoan Kiem Lake. A good place for people-watching, you’ll see local people engaged in roller blading, break dancing, skate boarding, aerobics, and tai chi workouts. But the main attraction for children is the circus at the edge of the park. This is a good old-fashioned circus, with acrobats, clowns, tight-rope walkers, trapeze artists, performing lions, tigers, dogs, horses, elephants and bears (the bears riding bicycles around the ring are a show-stopper). Performances are at 8pm every day except Monday.

Through a child’s eyes

HCMC has just as many places where children can run, splash, swim, shout, scream, play, be entertained, and generally let off steam. It may be exhausting for you to watch them, but at least they’ll sleep soundly tonight.

The Bee Bee Activity Centre is a real hit. There are two Bee Bees: one at 21 Tran Nao Street in District 2 and one at 491 An Duong Vuong Street in Binh Tan district. Bee Bee has a not-too-scary rock-climbing wall ideal for six to 14-year-olds and a toddlers’ playground. There’s another slightly more demanding rock-climbing wall at Tini World, close to Reunification Palace, along with a jungle gym, fishing, and handcraft activities.

KizCiti (Khanh Hoi Park, Hoang Dieu Street, District 5) has a novel approach to keeping children entertained. It’s essentially a playhouse where kids can dress up as bakers, firemen, policemen, pilots, doctors, or soccer stars and roleplay the activities of their chosen profession. It’s really well done: the would-be pilots have their very own plane (a small one mind you) to act out their roles in, the doctors have a mini medical centre, and the firemen get their own hoses to aim at a realistic looking burning building.

Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park is a bit further out of town, in Thu Duc District, a 40-minute drive from downtown HCMC. The drive is well worth it; it’s the biggest and most impressive theme park around. It has imposing oriental architecture, a giant water park, enchanted forest, roller coaster, house of horrors, air bicycles, a 4-D movie theatre, and a pool with 1,500 live crocodiles. And if all that doesn’t bowl your kids over, nothing will.

Two new venues for children’s entertainment were recently opened in HCMC. There are now puppet shows at Tran Huu Trang Theatre at 136 Tran Hung Dao Street in District 1 at 9.30am on Saturdays and Sundays and a circus at Children’s House, 169 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 3 at 9.30am on Saturdays and Sundays and also 7.30pm on Saturdays.

Dam Sen Park at 3D Hoa Binh in District 11 is another theme park to knock the socks off your kids. Its landscaped gardens have pagodas, lakes, caves, waterfalls, a bird park, a dinosaur park, an ice-block wonderland, antique castle, bowling area, puppet show, elephant rides, roller coaster, and monorail. The water park section has everything you’d expect of a water park: a wave pool, kiddies pool, kamikaze water slide, a wandering river, and a wild river.

If the hectic round of waterparks and theme parks is all getting too much, Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens at 2B Nguyen Binh Khiem Street in District 1 offers a more laid-back, relaxing half-day experience. The botanical garden has thousands of trees and plants, including 20 species of orchids and 34 species of bonsai trees. The zoo’s 590 animals include monkeys, elephants, bears, crocodiles, rhinos, hippos, lions, and a small pride of rare white Bengal tigers.

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