If you are travelling with kids, the first thing you will notice about Vietnam is that the locals are obsessed with Western babies and your little ones will become instant rock stars. Now it’s not hard to see that Jack is a handsome boy, but we have been very surprised about the over the top reaction to him. Sometimes it is overwhelming for him and us, but I can see why people recommend Vietnam as a destination for family. Before leaving Australia we asked ourselves, “is Vietnam kid friendly?” We needn’t have worried, Jack had a blast! Here’s my review on the places we travelled to and how they fared when it comes to the little people.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh is a bustling, dirty, noisy city. It’s footpaths are narrow, poorly constructed and usually congested with parked bikes or street food traders. Not great for a pram, but it is possible and for babies and toddlers it is almost a must unless you are carrying them on your back. The roads are busy with motorbike traffic and the beeping is non stop.
We stayed and spent most of our time in District 1 where amongst all the chaos is a long park running for several blocks. It is here you will find a kids paradise with playgrounds dotted throughout the park. These playgrounds are pretty impressive. Not only do they have some cool equipment for various sized little people, but they have lots of the same item so there will be no pushing and shoving of who gets a turn on the swing.
There are several baby shops with clothing, toys, furniture, baby food and supplies. Some shops more expensive than others, so it’s worth shopping around if you are purchasing items such as a pram. A lot of the smaller convenience stores stock nappies, wipes and formula which are everywhere and sometimes cheaper. We also saw several shop specialising in milk products only where you can purchase cows and soy milk, but no almond milk (our favourite) unfortunately. They also have a wide variety of yoghurt on offer.
Lucky for us, Jack eats mostly what we eat, but a lot of the street traders were happy to prepare a little bowl with a few plainer things for him. For those with fussy eaters, there are plenty of Western restaurants around and you can purchase a lot of fresh food and vegetables and the market.
There are several museums to visit including the War Museum which is a must especially for little boys interested in plans, helicopters and trucks! When they get tired or disinterested, there is a small play area to keep them occupied.
Ho Chi Minh overall is chaotic, fast and packed with people on bikes. It’s not an ideal family vacation destination but perfect for a few days of exploring.
nha Trang is a beach side city thriving on tourism. It’s certainly quieter than Ho Chi Minh City, but the noise is replaced by the hoards of tourists (yes, I know, we were one of them!). There seemed to be more Westernised restaurants then authentic Vietnamese places, so again perfect for fussy eaters.
The beach is great for kids. You can set yourself up with a few lounges under an umbrella and last all day there if you can keep the rug rats entertained! The only playground we came across was a metal slide just off the beach on the boulevard. Totally impractical in the 30 degree heat! Further down along the beach there is a pool perfect for older kids and an old carousel and ferris wheel next door. This wasn’t operating at the time we went and I am not sure if it is in working order, but looks like fun.
In the evenings, local kids gather on the boulevard of the beach and fly their kites. It’s a lovely sight and there are lots of places selling kites if you or your kids want to get involved. Just opposite there is a night market with several stalls selling kids toys and clothes. Prepare to bargain as many things are more expensive then those in the shops on the street. It’s a great atmosphere for kids and perfect for the little ones to safely walk around as there are no bikes screaming through.
One of the main features of nha Trang is the cable cars heading to Vinpearl, which claims to be the Vietnamese version of Disneyland. We didn’t venture across, but are told there are rides, games and a water park so plenty of things to amuse the kids if theme parks are your thing. There are also several boat cruise options which can take you to islands and beaches off the mainland. Be prepared to pay entry to the islands and for the lounges you use on top of your cruise costs. Nothing is free in Vietnam!
nha Trang is simply a beach resort with a lot of people and motorbikes. Although it doesn’t specifically appeal to families, there are several kid friendly activities in amongst the chaos.
The old world city of Hoi An is certainly a magical destination to visit and one we recommend with or without kids. There isn’t a lot to do in the old town that is specifically designed for children, especially the younger ones, but it is still an exciting place for them. We stayed at a hotel with a pool which was excellent and we utilised it at least twice a day and would highly recommend this especially if its hot season.
We hired a couple of bikes that come with a kids seat for the littlies. It is a great way to see the town and the nearby sites and the kids love it. For the older kids, most bikes have a cushioned seat pad where they can sit behind you.
The only park dedicated to children we found close to the old town was a disused carnival area. We were told, many of the public spaces with playgrounds no longer exist as they don’t get maintained and soon become areas people would rather not go.
The local beach a few km’s from the town is a worth a visit. The long stretch of beach is the perfect place for kids to run around and enjoy the water. You will be greeted by ladies renting the sun lounges which most claim they are free. Warning – they are only free if you purchase food from the restaurant. The prices for meals and drinks are reasonable, so if you are going to stay for an extended period of time it is well worth it.
Hoi An doesn’t have many kids activities but it is a small and reasonably quite place to spend time in. The streets within the old town are motorbike free some of the time making it a safer place for the littles ones to walk. In the evenings they are lit up with lanterns and the place comes alive. The local kids are usually playing in the street and are always keen to play with foreign kids, so your children will have new friends in no time.
Hanoi is just like Ho Chi Minh City – organised chaos although maybe reduced slightly. The traffic is still just as busy, the footpaths are just as useless and the foot is just the same. The streets though are a little narrower, the buildings thinner and the people are not as friendly.
There are several lakes dotted around Hanoi which are great spots for kids to run around as the paths are wide and well paved. West lake takes two hours to walk around and there are plenty of grassy areas to plan in. They as have swans you can paddle around the lake in for those up for a bit more adventure!
Not far from West Lake are the Water Puppet Shows which play regularly throughout the day and last for about 45mins. Jack doesn’t have that attention span so we gave it a miss, but it would be perfect for kids a little older.
We searched high and low for a park within the vicinity of our hotel and the Old Quarter. With no luck we walked the generous distance to the Reunification Park down near the Hanoi Circus. The park surrounds another large lake and takes about an hour to walk around with plenty to do. Although everything is very run down and the play equipment is covered in graffiti. A lot of the rides are no longer operating and those that do, they charge you to use on top of the entry fee into the park. Needless to say we weren’t impressed and Jack was a little disappointed.
Our overnight stay in Halong Bay was great, especially the visit to the beach, and the kayaking was one of Jack’s favourites. We would highly recommend it, but brace yourself for the crowds if it is holiday season.
So is Vietnam kid friendly? Overall it is definitely a kid friendly destination due to the experience of the cities alone, especially for those up for a little more adventure than a fancy beachside resort. There are many more things you can do with kids in addition to the above list including visiting museums, temples and parks. The locals are so affectionate to children and there is so much going on in the streets, your kids should be entertained. The only downside I would say is I have felt Jack has been a little trapped in the pram as most of the time we are walking on the busy roadside. If he was a little older and had some street sense it would be much safer and I would be a little less nervous!