During the September school holidays my husband and I enjoyed a family holiday in Vietnam with our nine- and 11-year-old children. Although Vietnam is a wonderful and vibrant destination it is hot and humid all year-round, which can be challenging for youngsters as well as adults. We found that by carefully selecting our sightseeing and not trying to pack too much in, everyone stayed refreshed and thoroughly enjoyed their trip.
Our holiday began in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with its distinctive smells and the constant buzz and toot of scooters. We stayed at the Caravelle Hotel, a lovely old centrally located hotel with good-sized rooms and high ceilings. The historic rooftop bar is a must to visit and a great place for enjoying the cooler temperatures in the evening and the breeze.
Everything, from local shopping malls to museums and churches and a great selection of restaurants, is in easy walking distance of the Caravelle and I must say that every meal during our stay was delicious – and economical. This is certainly a country that will awaken the sleepiest taste buds!
Vietnamese food is a delightful combination of sweet and savoury, with some of the most surprising combinations of both
One thing you need to be aware of in Ho Chi Minh City is scooters – they are everywhere! The city has a population of nine million people and 7.5 million scooters! They do not give way to people so always watch for them and walk slowly across the road so that they drive around you (don’t take on cars or buses though!). It takes a bit of getting used to when your instinct is to run out of the way when a scooter comes towards you.
Speaking of two wheels, a fun thing we did during our city stay was a cyclo city tour. This onehour ride is a must-do for getting amongst the excitement of the streets. The tour takes you through the markets and past the many French Colonial buildings, the Reunification Palace and Notre-Dame Cathedral. An important tip: do not flag down cyclo tour operators on the side of the road because there are many disreputable drivers. Book with helloworld Travel before you depart or with our local tour operator to ensure you are booked with an authorised company.
The famous Cú Chi Tunnels are a must-do excursion from Ho Chi Minh City. We took the half-day tour (8am to 1pm), which was plenty because the heat otherwise becomes too much for children. We also chose the private tour option which gave us extra flexibility and sped us past the tour groups. There are two ways to get to the Cú Chi Tunnels: by bus, which takes 1.5 hours each way, or by speedboat, one hour each way. We chose the latter which was more expensive but it was refreshing to be on the river and enjoying the sights of river life.
The Cú Chi Tunnels tour gives a fascinating insight into how the Viet Cong lived and fought the Americans from this amazing tunnel system during the war. You get to go in the small access hole, crawl through up to 100 metres of tunnels (which have been enlarged for tourists but still need hands and knees or duckwalking) and for a bit extra you can also get to fire M16 or AK47 machine guns at the firing range. After a busy few days in Ho Chi Minh we flew 845 kilometres north to the seaside city of Hoi An via Da Nang Airport. It proved to be a refreshing change from the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City and we chose to stay in the Palm Garden Resort & Spa at Cua Dai Beach. The Palm Garden Resort is a good 4-star resort with spacious and nicely appointed rooms and a huge swimming pool. It is an inexpensive ten-minute taxi ride into Hoi An’s Ancient Town, an exceptionally well preserved Southeast Asian trading port that dates from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
We visited the old town every evening to eat our way through the delicacies at the vast selection of restaurants, visit the shops and walk around enjoying the bright lanterns that light every street. The old town area is blocked off to scooters and cars so you can absorb this scenic location in relative peace.
One of the must-dos in Hoi An is a Food Walking Tour. There is a variety of options and we chose the dinner one which took us through the markets where we sampled savoury pancakes and traditional pork rolls. We then visited three restaurants for a different course at each and our local guide provided a detailed history of the region. All of the restaurants we visited were off the main street to ensure we had an authentic local dining experience.
Another fun activity we enjoyed was a motorbike sidecar tour. We were driven by locals and could sit as passengers on either the motorcycle or in the sidecar. The tour took us along country roads through the rice paddies and past small local farms.
We all left looking forward to visiting wonderful, vibrant Vietnam again. The trick to travelling with young children is to keep activities and tours to a manageable half-day so that you can refresh yourself in the pool or in the hotel air conditioning afterwards. It meant that we didn’t see every possible sight during our trip, but they are waiting for us next time!