This post is part of our family month – during which we’re exploring all the fantastic experiences for families across our destinations in Asia. For more inspiration, take a look at our dedicated family page.
Vietnam is a paradise for families. Whether your kids are still little or practically grown-up, there are so many exciting activities to get stuck into here that a two-week trip can feel like several holidays all rolled up into one. There are so many fantastic family experiences, in fact, that I could go on about them for thousands of words – so I’ll cut the prewaffle and jump right in.
Wherever you travel in the world, festivals are one of the best ways to really get to know the countries you visit. The decorations are out, music fills the streets, traditional games are played out in public and there are all kinds of delicious festive foods to try. Most importantly, however, everybody is in the mood to party – which means much more interaction with the locals than you might expect on an average day.
Hoi An Lantern Festival is a perennially popular choice, taking place on the full moon each month and seeing the ancient port town festooned with pretty paper lanterns. Hue Festival, which occurs every other year, is a bigger event – attracting performers from all over Vietnam and beyond for large-scale spectacles. But our favourite festival for families has to be Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, when the entire country engages in a gigantic water-fight and nobody is safe. Prepare to be soaked!
All good family holidays need to balance adventure with relaxation, and with 1,000 miles of coastline there are plenty of places to get a bit of R&R in Vietnam. A while you relax at a beautiful seaside resort, your little ones can blow off steam as they build sandcastles on the beach, swim in the clear blue sea and go on a snorkelling hunt for tropical marine life. Our favourite beach destinations in Vietnam are Mui Ne, Con Dao, Danang, Phu Quoc and Nha Trang. To read more about Vietnam’s best beaches, click here!
A great way to get to grips with Vietnamese culture (especially if your kids are super crafty, like I was as a child) is to search out some good craft workshops. Whether it’s lantern-making, kite-making or cloth-weaving, Vietnam is full of traditional crafts to try your hand at. At most workshops, you’ll get an introduction to the methods and watch one of the pros at work before getting the chance to craft your own creation to take home.
I recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, during which I spent three days in Phong Nha National Park in the centre of the country. It is – thus far – my absolute favourite place in Vietnam, and I can’t recommend it enough. Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave are truly spectacular, and easily accessible for those with children: the former is accessed by boat from Phong Nha town, and the latter is a relatively short walk uphill from the foot of the mountains.
For families with older children (over 16), there are some incredible adventurous treks taking you deeper into the park and its caves. I can highly recommend the overnight Tu Lan cave trek for very active families – but be warned, it’s pretty physically demanding! It’s worth every bit of the effort for the stunning views and deserted landscapes.
Vietnamese cuisine is justly lauded as some of the finest in Southeast Asia, but as any parent will know – that doesn’t mean your kids will eat it. Try to get unadventurous children more involved in the food with a cookery class. There are plenty of them across Vietnam, most of which will include a visit to the local market to buy produce (or, in some cases, to a local farm to pick vegetables) and a professional demonstration, before you get to have a go yourself. Getting involved in the production of their meal from start to finish has the potential to make even the fussiest of children more inclined to branch out – and if they still won’t eat it… well there’s more for you.
One of the greatest things about travelling with children is exposing them to different lifestyles and showing them that you don’t need all the mod cons to be happy. Many Western kids these days can’t imagine life without an iPad, but take them to Vietnam and they’ll realise that other children don’t have these luxuries – and moreover, that they don’t necessarily miss them.
There are all kinds of ways for families to immerse themselves in a simpler way of life in Vietnam, whether you go the whole hog with an overnight village homestay, or simply plump for a single experience – trying out traditional farming methods, for example. The best thing about it all is that by participating in these experiences, you’re helping to ensure the survival of traditional culture.
Walk on the wild side
Most children are delighted to meet exotic animals, but sadly wildlife experiences in Southeast Asia don’t always measure up in terms of animal welfare. But if you do your research properly and only use responsible, ethical experience providers, there’s no reason why a wildlife experience can’t be the highlight of your family holiday.
One of our favourite places to encounter animals in Vietnam is Nam Cat Tien National Park, a three-hour drive from Saigon, where you can visit a gibbon sanctuary to see rescued primates in the process of being rehabilitated. Combine this with a trek through the jungle to Crocodile Lake and you’ll have the chance to see some of the region’s Siamese crocs – as well as various other animals who use this lake as a watering hole.
Modes of transport
Sometimes it’s not the carefully planned and arranged experiences that have the biggest impact on your children. Sometimes it’s the simpler things – like transport. As adults we have a tendency to view transport as an unfortunate inconvenience (especially if, like me, you come from London), but in Vietnam it’s all part of the adventure. Cycling around Hanoi in the morning, taking a cyclo tour of Hue, zipping through Hoi An on the back of the Vespa, taking an overnight train across country, kayaking through Halong Bay, cruising on a boat in the Mekong Delta… there’s no end to the exciting modes of transport you can try out with your family.
OK, so history has a reputation for being a bit dry, and children and museums don’t always mix. We know that. But Vietnam’s fascinating history really comes to life when you’re crawling through underground passages at the Cu Chi or Vinh Moc Tunnels, or standing in the shadow of a tank in central Saigon. Surely every child has played soldiers in some shape or form – and here they can do so while (hopefully) absorbing a bit of real history at the same time.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to family holidays, and nobody knows your kids’ interests and temperaments better than you do. That’s why we tailor every holiday we make to your individual needs and preferences. Just get in touch with one of our Vietnam experts to find out what we could do for you.