Distinctive Experience

Though travelling through Vietnam with a family will be anything but a typical holiday it’s nonetheless an outstanding destination.

By Augustus Roe on July 18,2018 10:46 AM

Distinctive Experience

Photos: Viet Tuan

VIETNAM HAS AN ENTIRE COASTLINE OF WONDERFUL BEACHES BUT DIFFERENT ONES MAY APPEAL TO DIFFERENT AGES.

We weave our way through the heaving throng of people in the pedestrian-only streets surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, the centre point of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.

The air is thick with the sounds of children. Young kids buzz around in battery-powered cars as parents chase behind, while teenagers jump between rows of bamboo poles while their friends beat the poles rhythmically on the ground in a traditional game of hopscotch. As my daughter and I venture forward through the crowds, everybody we pass is smiling or waving at her, and it dawns on me just how loved children here are.

Travelling in Vietnam with a family is likely to be a vastly different experience from your typical holiday. You will not find fast-food restaurants on every corner, and it is not likely to be the relaxing trip you may have on the beach of a resort, but for the more adventurous families it is an incredible destination for travel, to educate and to form great memories.

Vietnamese people love children, and most of the popular travel destinations host a range of activities to keep every member of the family entertained. From my time as an expat and parent in Vietnam, I consider the following to be among the most family-friendly things to do.

Distinctive Experience

Beaches

Vietnam has an entire coastline of wonderful beaches but different ones may appeal to different ages. For younger kids, the beaches around Hoi An are comfortable and set up to cater to tourists and there are all ranges of accommodation and restaurants, while activities like snorkelling and biking around the nearby old town can provide a more energy-consuming afternoon. Venturing out to Cham Island, which lies just off the coast, is a great excursion. A speedboat bumps you across the waves for 30 minutes before mooring at an idyllic beach with crystal-clear waters bursting with coral and tropical fish.

Further south, the city of Nha Trang is a busy tourist destination but provides plenty to do, from swimming and playing sports on the 6-km-long beach to taking the cable car over the bay to Vinpearl Amusement Park, which although expensive is all inclusive (everything except food is covered in the ticket cost). A theme park, an arcade, an aquarium, a cinema, a waterpark, and its own private beaches count among its attractions.

For families with older kids, Mui Ne, which lies around 330 km north of HCMC, provides less of a picturesque swimming beach but is great for sports. Wind and kite surfers fill the bay and just outside of town are huge sand dunes that are great fun for cruising around in an open-air jeep or sand-sledging.

Further south still and west into the Gulf of Thailand, the island of Phu Quoc offers beautiful beaches that range from densely-packed resort strips to isolated bays fringed by palm trees. The town itself offers the usual amenities, which makes it a good compromise for families travelling with children.

Nature

Vietnam has a great range of natural diversity, with thousands of unique species of flora and fauna. Some areas of the country, particularly those nearer large cities, undoubtedly provide an educational experience for youngsters on the importance of conservation and recycling. That said, there are some commendable conservation efforts that offer great family experiences.

These include the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary, which rescues and homes animals that have been raised for bile farming. You can see the bears up close and also hear their stories, which shed light on just how terrible the practice is. The sanctuary is only open on certain days and at certain times so be sure to check in advance.

Cuc Phuong National Park, 120 km south of Hanoi in Ninh Binh province, is the oldest protected reserve in the country and home to an array of endangered species. There is a primate and pangolin rescue/rehabilitation centre that animal enthusiasts rate highly. Accommodation is readily available in the park, which was developed from an old research facility in the jungle, as well as walking tours, kayaking, and homestays in ethnic Muong villages. A short drive from Cuc Phuong are the tourist areas of Tam Coc and Trang An, which offer boat trips down rivers that weave through the limestone caves and tunnels lining the valley.

In the far south of the country, the city of Can Tho is situated on one of the tributaries of the Mekong River and provides easy access to boat trips that journey through the winding mangroves of the Mekong Delta.

Travelling up and down the rural waterways and purchasing fruit from vendors at floating markets is great fun and offers an insightful and entertaining glance into how nature and people coexist in the wetlands of the south.

Culture

Personally, I consider Hanoi to have the most cultural offerings of all of Vietnam’s cities. Visiting the famous 36 streets of the Old Quarter offers many entertaining activities, like bartering for goods at the market or sampling the famous Trang Tien ice cream, with weird and wonderful flavours such as green bean and the infamous durian. Situated to the south of the Old Quarter is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which performs historical Vietnamese stories set to traditional music and with colourful costumes on a watery stage.

Hanoi is also home to the famous Hoa Lo Prison, known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton' which is educational but somewhat macabre experiences.

Hue in central Vietnam is home to the Imperial Citadel and a great day trip option from Hoi An. The citadel itself is a beautiful structure with plenty of outside space and often music, martial arts and cultural performances.

Down south, HCMC has a number of war museums in which guns, tanks, and fighter planes are all on display, as well as the Cu Chi Tunnels; a 121-km-long network used by the Viet Cong and presenting the opportunity to clamber down through the underground complex and experience what life would have been like during the American War.

The food culture in both Hanoi and HCMC offers something for everyone to enjoy. In the north you can test your mettle with the infamous bún đậu mắm tôm (tofu and fermented shrimp paste) or feast on barbecued bún chả (pork patties and rice noodles) in the narrow alleyways of the Old Quarter. In the south you can crunch through bánh xèo (Vietnamese fried pancakes) or slurp on the sweet post-dinner snack of chè, a concoction loaded with fruit, nuts, jellies and candies, at one of the thousands of vendors dotted around HCMC. 

TIPS

There are a few things you can do to make sure travelling with children in Vietnam is safe and manageable. These include:

- Carry sunscreen and/or long sleeved shirts and trousers.

- Avoid going out between 12 and 2pm, especially in central and southern Vietnam, when the heat can be overwhelming.

- Be wary of the traffic. Carry young children across streets or at least hold their hand, as the onslaught can be daunting and sometimes downright dangerous.

- Be understanding if people try to take photos of you and your kids. In Vietnam it is culturally acceptable, but if it troubles you decline politely.

- Keep an eye on the food. Hygiene standards are often lacking so anything that appears undercooked or unsanitary is definitely worth avoiding. Most restaurants are normally happy enough to prepare dishes that are thoroughly cooked or are less spicy for children.

- Always take a bottle of water when you go out, as it’s easy to become dehydrated.

- Bring child-friendly insect repellent with you, as it can be expensive to buy in Vietnam.

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