I have collected some general information and practical tips that should help you on your travels through Vietnam with babies and kids:
I would always advise to bring an amount of baby food with you, at least for the first 48 hours, until you have settled and found the closest supermarkets. Local corner shops and convenience stores will most certainly not have any baby food as they only sell drinks, crisps and other basic food. Larger supermarkets are the only place to buy baby food but do not expect the same brands or tastes that you are used to back home. Most Vietnamese parents feed their babies a mixture of rice porridge with vegetables and meat as they do not have the means to afford readymade baby foods. Ask your hotel for help if you cannot locate any or why not consider going local and mashing up plain rice or noodles with fruit and vegetables. Keep in mind that you will not have access to baby food in remote areas so this maybe the best option. When travelling in Asia when Jerome was very young we found he soon got used to mashed rice and noodles and still loves them today in their normal form.
Milk and Breastfeeding:
Being a woman and being a mother in Vietnam is very respected. As far as breastfeeding goes, most of the older generation will consider breastfeeding as the best way to physically nurture your child and they also recognize the other social and developmental benefits. The younger generation however are more inclined to opt for convenience and use formula if they can afford it. We did see on one occasion near Hue in a small village a mother with a small child who discreetly breastfed her baby. I think you should take the same approach, find a quiet corner in a café or park and cover yourself to avoid any stares. Carrying a large scarf has always been my saviour for breastfeeding in public. Also be aware that most public toilets will not have changing facilities, neither do most restaurants.
Again, like baby food the same brand of formula most likely is not be available so if your baby is really fussy about what it drinks bring your own. Enfamil and Similac are available in pharmacies throughout the country. Always use bottled or cooled boiled water for the formula or baby drinks, as the tap water is not safe for babies!
Drinks for Babies and Children:
Vietnamese love sugary drinks. We found most of the cafes, restaurants and some shops sold fresh pressed juices, although they love to add sugar to even the sweetest of juices, so make sure to ask for it without any added sugar when ordering. In tourist centres bottled water is mostly used for ice, but elsewhere there is some risk it is from tap water although we took ice in drinks with no problems anywhere. The tap water is treated but most tourists and locals avoid drinking it.
Food for Older Children:
Most parents would consider Vietnamese food to be too exotic for their little ones. However there are plenty of options for children of all ages and few dishes are spicy. Pho, a soup with rice noodles with added vegetables and meat is a tasty simple option. Kids also will love the Vietnamese take on of the French baguette, Banh Mi, which can be filled with various toppings, vegetarian and meat options are usually available. Jerome also loved the many rice dishes and of course spring and summer rolls with delicious fillings. Restaurants in most towns and larger hotels will of course cater to Western taste with burgers, pasta and other common dishes. In more rural areas and smaller villages the only options for eating out are small street side stalls, some of them can be shockingly basic and if you are really worried about hygiene it might be better to stay away from them, although most are clean. Having said that, we ate in many street stalls during our travels and did not get any stomach upsets during our entire stay in Vietnam.
Fresh fruit can be bought from the many women selling their goods on the streets for little money. They sell anything from bananas to more alien fruits like rambutan, sour lychees and even the foul smelling durian, which is considered the king of fruits in many Asian countries. Kids will love to try the many different fruits available.
Nappies and Other Baby Essentials:
I would advise you to take enough of a supply of nappies etc. with you to last at least two or three days. Nappies and other baby essentials, like wipes, can be found at pharmacies and larger supermarkets in Vietnam so you should have no trouble finding what you need when in the main centres, although brands are different. Many local babies did not seem to be wearing any disposable nappies at all, I guess the costs are too high.
Public toilets are an uncommon sight in Vietnam, locals typically will take a coffee or drink as a way to access a café facilities. Saying that, at almost all the tourist sights you will find toilets. We found these to be clean most of the time, if a bit basic, and no worse than many public facilities across all countries. I would always carry some tissue paper with you in case you need it. On the beaches, depending on where you are you might/or might not find toilets in one of the restaurants.
Baby Changing Facilities:
Do not expect any baby rooms at any of the sights or places to visit. It will be useful to bring a travel-changing mat alongside your changing bag and all your changing things.
Should you Take a Pushchair or Baby Carrier?
Navigating the narrow and uneven pavements of Vietnams cities and villages might prove a bit harder with a pushchair than you are used to. Most of the time they are used as parking spaces for motorbikes and scooters and make any walk on the pavements a maze. The constant need to be in the roadside makes a push chair almost a more dangerous option – so unless you are planning to be out for most of the day and need the push chair to allow your baby to sleep it would be better to rely on a child carrier backpack or sling.
I would never recommend taking a pushchair to the beach or some of the temples and tombs as they are hard to get around. A baby sling/carrier or backpack carrier is therefore always useful to have and my recommendation for travel with very little ones. In the past I found a backpack carrier the best option – it was great at the airport avoiding the need to check in a pushchair, and best when visiting any of sights, exploring the towns and villages and/or other sights that might have a lot of steps or narrow roads.
Entry to Sights and Travel Tickets with Children:
In many places and on most transport young children and school students will get free or reduced entry/tickets. Depending on the age children mostly get free or reduced entry to the sights.
Where to Stay in Vietnam with Kids:
Finding the right accommodation for families, especially in the cities and larger towns is easy. Family rooms are a standard at most hotels and hostels and thanks to the low prices adding additional rooms and extra beds (sometimes at a cost) should not break the bank. A large number of hotels will also include breakfast in their overnight rate and we found these to offer a vast selection of food for everyone.
Homestays and apartment rentals are another popular option, while Airbnb (or similar) can be found in larger populated areas, a stay with local families is a possible option in more remote areas, like Sapa. Homestays come with the additional benefit of a real insight to local life, however, beware that some of these accommodations are as basic as it gets and might be a shock to your and the children’s system! On the other hand it might teach them some real life and appreciate how lucky and easy their life back home is.
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
Do not forget to bring some mosquito and insect repellent, while most parts of Vietnam are Malaria free, the little suckers still come and bite anyone with delicious blood. We were lucky and did not get bitten at all but it is always advisable to carry some with you on your journey throughout the country. I recommend using a natural mosquito repellent, we found it to be just as effective as one containing containing deet or other toxic chemicals.
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.