Are you thinking about travelling to Vietnam with the whole family? There are quite a lot of considerations to be taken into account when you plan a trip to Vietnam. I have put together a list of tips for you based on our experience of touring the country over three weeks in the summer, especially if you travel by making your own itinerary, as we prefer to do. I hope this will make your life easier and your vacation a more enjoyable journey for all, including kids of all ages.
General Advice on Travelling with Kids in Vietnam
Some parents might worry about taking their children to Vietnam, because of safety and the necessary preventative vaccines – although be aware there has been much progress and thankfully the country has had few cases of Malaria in most tourist areas in recent years. It is always worth checking with your travel clinic before you go to see what jabs might be needed. If you plan on discovering more remote areas it is certainly advisable to at least have the standard vaccinations before setting out on your travels. The country is vibrant and exotic and there are some jabs recommended by most health authorities, including tetanus, polio and hepatitis A. Some people assume that Malaria tablets need to be taken as a precautionary measure but we were ensured that the risk is very low unless you venture into very remote areas. In fact we did not need to take any, and we barely got any mosquito bites at all, but this might vary on where you venture in Vietnam and the time of year of course. The far south river deltas and the mountains inland are more at risk than the coasts and cities.
Vietnam is Safe:
In Vietnam we also found there is no need to worry about safety – apart from crossing the road, but more on that below. From our experience walking around the streets and villages, even at night, no one approached us and we never once felt uncomfortable. We saw plenty of families everywhere we ventured, even with the smallest of children and babies during our stay there. We never felt that anything more than normal city travel precautions were necessary.
You might be wary and have heard of scams and over charging being a common thing in Vietnam, especially towards foreign travellers, however we can assure you that if you are well prepared, know your Vietnamese bank notes, learn some basic Vietnamese words and are not afraid to haggle then you should be on the safe side. You always have to consider that the amount of money a typical western tourist has can seem like a huge fortune. When shopping in the markets or ordering a taxi just make sure you know what the normal price is and/or what you are prepared to pay, check in advance and if unsure move on – there are always other options. When booking travel locally steer towards the agents with good ratings and references.
Planning your Itinerary:
Vietnam is not a large country in terms of area, however it stretches a long way from the North, where it borders with China to the Southern end, next to Cambodia. Travelling around the country is not as easy and fast as it is in Europe or the US. Allow at least double the time to get between places by road or rail. Bear in mind from end to end the country is over 2000km long and the maximum speed we saw was about 70-80 km/h, traffic is often half that.
From our experience it makes more sense to concentrate your visit in Vietnam to a few places and therefore limit the time you spend on trains, planes and cars or buses. No kid enjoys spending hours constrained into a vehicle to get from one place to another, and less so day after day. Even the shortest distance can take hours due to large number of traffic and/or bad conditions of roads and lack of motorways. We saw too many families trying to squeeze in too many places in a week or two, a balance with time to explore locally is much less stress and pays back in terms of getting the feel for the localities.
Choose your destinations with care, I recommend splitting the time you spend touring the larger cities with some time exploring the countryside and also allow for some fun on the beach. Most people either move North from Ho Chi Minh or South from Hanoi with stops in the mountains. I would suggest that trying to cover the north and south in one trip with children is too much. Consider moving from one end towards Hoi An or Hue, these make great destinations as the an ending point for a tour through Vietnam as they are located in the middle of the country and conveniently near the major central Da Nang airport and have good train links. Both are exciting to visit with varied local sights and close to many beaches. Have a look at our itinerary for some inspiration.
Vietnam is tropical hot, and whilst it is cooler in the winter a little, it is still hot and sticky all year round. If you stick to exploring the lowlands and the beach areas you can certainly survive with summer clothes most of the time. Be prepared to get very sweaty, make sure you and the children are always drinking and staying hydrated. I would consider buying a cone hat to keep the sun off – if you can get the children to decorate their hats for fun, you will find this possible at some tourist sites. Rain is a hazard at anytime of the year so take a fold up mac in your backpack when out and some plastic bags to cover cameras etc.
If you are heading up into the mountains be prepared for a big temperature drop, you will then need additional long sleeved and long legged clothes plus warmer fleeces or jackets.
One huge advantage compared to pretty much any other country on the planet is that Vietnam is still one of the cheaper places to visit and explore. Accommodation, food and travel can be obtained for an unbeatable value, especially if you stick to booking everything yourself rather than using a travel agency. We found prices to be half or even a third of what we would have paid at other holiday destinations.
I can highly recommend all the hotels we stayed in, staff was excellent and helpful, the rooms spacious and the food delicious. Most importantly, every hotel during our Vietnam trip was very child friendly.
Hanoi: The Lapis Hotel
Ha Long Bay Cruise: Indochina Junk on board of Dragon’s Pearl
Cai Tau Lagoon near Hue: Vedana Lagoon
Hoi An: Atlas Hotel
Between Hoi An and An Bang Beach: Allamanda Estate
Where else in the world can a family of three have a good basic lunch or dinner including a drink for 5USD? Ok I admit not in a fancy restaurant but definitely enjoying an authentic Vietnamese meal. Luxury is certainly affordable in Vietnam, maybe not for the entire stay but should be considered as a special treat for the entire family at some point.
It is impossible as a foreigner to hire a car, and while moped hire is available to foreigners everywhere, I believe it is far too dangerous and is not actually legal without a Vietnamese driver’s license which means I cannot even suggest it. Be aware that the roads are full, really full (!), of mopeds that have no respect for traffic flow or rules. In the cities be very careful crossing the roads, a red light means nothing – the traffic will still flow, and expect bikes heading both ways across all lanes when on the roads. This makes crossing the road maybe the riskiest part of travel to the country!
Having said that we cycled on normal push bikes many times and many kilometres there and by careful choice of routes and using side roads we had no issues at all. Cycle hire is common and many hotels offer them as part of the stay either for free or a small charge. I recommend considering cycling despite the heat as maybe the best way to explore locally. Most places will have some child seat and bike options for younger ones.
For longer travel it is possible to hire a car with a driver at very reasonable costs, typically around US$40-50 for a day, but always agree the route and plans plus cost in advance. I would avoid the moped taxis that exist in cities for the same reasons as hiring mopeds – the roads are manic and dangerous.
Trains and Planes:
Train travel is a part of the Vietnam experience. The rail system is slow but runs the length of the country, a journey from Hanoi in the North to Ho Ch Minh in the south is up to 36 hours full on travel. Sleeper services are a common way to get between the major centres. As a family I would recommend booking in advance, and also booking (if needed) the extra bed or beds in the cabin at the small extra ticket cost to ensure you have the space to yourselves. The train is a great experience and cheaper than flights.
Due to the poor ground transport there are many internal flights between the cities, and this by far the quickest way around – if not so cheap.
Please feel free to message or email me if you have any questions about travelling through Vietnam with kids. Read more in my posts in the coming days for ideas.