In this blog post, I’ve collated all the best hints, tips and tit-bits from our team of family holiday experts across Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. For more information on planning a family trip, get in touch or take a look at our dedicated family page.
Family holidays. Where do I even begin? Though they’re usually lumped together in the same section of any travel company’s brochure/website/window, family holidays are incredibly many and varied – precisely because families are so many and varied.
How do we, as a tour operator, give advice to ‘families’ when there might be one child or six; when there might be babies and toddlers or teens and adult children (or a mixture of the lot); when there might be grandparents; there might be family friends; there might be fussy eaters, thrill-seekers, video game enthusiasts and sport obsessives … there is no one-size-fits-all.
This makes writing a blog post about planning a fantastic family holiday rather tricky, as I’m sure you can imagine – but with the advice of our family specialists behind me I’ll give it a shot.
For the purposes of the tips below, my imaginary family has at least one child under the age of 12.
1) Small Group Tour or tailored trip?
The pros and cons for independent versus group travel are many – and deserving of a blog post in their own right really. On a group tour you’ll have a dedicated tour leader with you at all times, helping to translate, explain, and recommend throughout the trip – so you can really relax and leave all the hard work to them. On the other hand, an independent trip will allow you to spend as much or as little time in each destination as you need, tailoring activities to your family’s specific interests.
For more advice on which style of travel would suit your family best, one of our experts can help. It’s worth remembering that our group tours are available to children aged six and up, and have a maximum occupancy of 14-16 passengers.
2) Keep it simple
When you’re flying all the way around the world, it’s tempting to try to pack as much as humanly possible into your one- or two-week holiday. You might never visit these countries again, after all!
But don’t give into the temptation. You won’t see as much, for sure, but you’ll have a much better time if you keep your itinerary to two or three key destinations and really give yourself time to relax and enjoy them. Don’t forget that you just can’t do as much with young’uns in tow: where you might once have spent a full day sightseeing in the city, for instance, you could instead take a morning tour and leave the afternoon free for downtime around the pool. Over-ambitiousness is the enemy of the family traveller.
3) Keep journeys short
OK – so there will be at least two very long journeys if you’re taking your children to Indochina, that much is unavoidable. But that’s all the more reason to keep your in-country transfers as short as you possibly can. Choose your destinations wisely – don’t go for three cities at opposite corners of the country. Even the most biddable child is likely to get rather irritable by the third or fourth five-hour bus ride across bumpy Vietnamese countryside, and they’re unlikely to be placated by the promise of yet another hotel check-in at the end of it.
Wherever you do need to transfer between destinations, we recommend pre-arranging a private car, where you can be sure that there are seatbelts and can order a child seat in advance.
4) Avoid one-night stays
Tip #4 goes hand-in-hand with tips #2 and #3 really – but in our opinion, families travelling with children should avoid one-night stays. It’s all just a bit too ambitious to expect that you’ll be able to travel, check in, eat, sleep, eat again, check out and get back on the road – AND do a bit of sightseeing in between – without ending up rather fraught at the end of it.
5) Choose your hotels wisely
On the whole, it’s pretty easy to find family-friendly hotels in Indochina – but it’s still true that the more expensive the hotel, the easier it will be to book connecting rooms, multi-room suites, and family rooms. Generally speaking, if you’re looking at a four-to-five-star budget, you won’t have any trouble finding the configurations to suit you.
If you’re looking at a three-star budget, you might find it trickier to find hotels with family room configurations, but most places will be able to add an additional bed in a double room on request. Children can usually share a room with their parents until the age of 12 in hotels across Indochina. If you need a cot/crib for a baby, be sure to ask your hotel in advance as not all places can provide one.
Another consideration you should take into account is hotel location – you don’t want to find yourself walking miles into town every day, and your chosen hotel might not have a shuttle service. It’s also a good idea to find out whether the hotel has a babysitting service, whether there’s a kid’s club or activities, and if there’s a swimming pool whether it’s available to children under 12.
Inside Vietnam Tours have worked with many hotels across Indochina, and can give you plenty of advice on which are best-suited to your brood.
6) Don’t worry too much about fussy eaters
If your littluns are very little – or if they’re just fussy – foreign food can be a scary thought. For babies and toddlers, we recommend bringing some food from home just in case they won’t eat the local stuff, but you’ll actually find it quite easy to find Western-style fare to please older, unadventurous palates. White rice is ubiquitous and inoffensive, there is excellent choice of banh mi baguettes, and any well-touristed destination will have an array of pizza, burger and pasta dishes available – so nobody’s going to starve.
7) Add cultural experiences
We’ve covered all the boring old logistics – now for the fun part! Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are practically awash with experiences guaranteed to delight children and adults alike, and your younglings will find themselves being introduced to different cultures without ever realising that they’re getting an education. Our website has some awesome ideas for activities – such as cooking lessons, local homestays, cycling tours, farming experiences and much more.
8) Free time is your friend!
It’s easy to be afraid of a blank space in your itinerary, but don’t be! Especially when you’re travelling with toddlers and very young children, just having time to spend with Mum and Dad is enough to keep them well entertained – and as I’ve mentioned already, it’s pointless to try and fit too much in. Your kids will be tried and grumpy, and you’ll end up stressed. Trust to your Inside Vietnam Info-Pack to fill any spare moments, and embrace your free time!
We particularly recommend planning for a free day at the start of your holiday, to give you and your kids a chance to settle in, get over your jet-lag, and acclimatise to the new destination.
As I mentioned before, one cannot generalise about family travel – but hopefully this has given you some useful food for thought. For more specific advice on travelling with your family, just get in touch with us!