Vietnam With Kids

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Vacation in Vietnam

This is an account of our trip to Vietnam in August and September of 2009. We traveled the country from north to south, visiting Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Hue, Danang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Saigon and the Mekong Delta.

Age of kids during trip: 3 and 6.

HANOI

We flew with Delta Airlines from Seattle to Seoul and then Seoul to Hanoi arriving very late at night. We took a taxi into Hanoi, which took about 40 minutes and were dropped at the Hanoi Lake View Hotel, a place we had booked over the internet. As often happens with internet bookings the hotel assumed we were just 2 adults without children. And so they did what most hotels do in this situation: upgrade you to a family room at no extra charge. The room was great, with AC, 3 beds and a very large balcony overlooking the lake.

Hanoi was one of the highlights of our trip. Not so much for any one or collection of sights but more for the old asia of the Old Quarter. As you walk the city streets bouncing in and out of markets, up and down bustling alleys, you get that “This is why I travel” feel.

The shady playground at Lenin Park in Hanoi

Things We Did: Water Puppets. Daily performances are held at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s so hyped up I was preparing myself for a big let down, but definitely worth it. Both our kids were right into it (until they fell asleep anyways). Hanoi Water Park. A little ways out of town but a must for the kids. There are many water parks sprinkled throughout the country but if you get to only one, make it this one. It’s a little surreal climbing to the top level for the slides, looking around and seeing a collection of rice paddies. A little closer to the city center and much more low key and relaxing is the Army Hotel swimming pool. It’s open to non-guests for about $5 a person. It’s a huge deep pool with a small shallow area for kids. I read some fairly negative reviews of this place before we went but it seemed great to me.

Where We Stayed: Hanoi Lake View Hotel ($45). Nice clean room. Very nice staff. A little out of the way, so you do spend a bit of time and money on taxis, but it puts you right beside a lake ringed with a sidewalk. There’s often a market on the western and northern sides of the lake that is fun to browse through. You’re also not far from Lenin Park.  It features what was probably the nicest playground we saw in all Vietnam. A couple of nice climbing structures and some simple but entertaining rides. Very shady and relaxing too.

Market in Hanoi, Vietnam

Browsing for fish in a Hanoi market.

Royal1 Hotel ($30), in the heart of the old city, surrounded by bustle and excitement. Clean, functional and unmemorable.

Places To Eat: Mediterraneo. The best Italian food we had in Vietnam. Authentic and delicious. It’s situated in a very cool, trendy neighborhood that we hadn’t seen or explored until stopping here on our way to the train station.
Green Tangerine. Full disclosure: We didn’t eat here. But we so consistently heard great things about this place I have mention it. Probably worth checking out.

Getting Away: We had two departures from Hanoi. The original plan was to first go to Ninh Binh, about 60 miles south of Hanoi, stay a day or two then keep heading south on an overnight train. It turns out the sleeper train doesn’t stop in Ninh Binh which meant we had to retrace our steps north – hence the two different hotels in Hanoi – then catch the overnight train going to Hue.

The train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Arriving in Ninh Binh.

The kids were very excited to sleep on the train. It was something we had all talked about endlessly since first planning the trip, and for the most part, it didn’t fail to deliver. We had a private room with 4 sleepers in the typical arrangement – the bottom benches turning into beds and two bunks above. The kids roamed around the car for the first hour or two and then it was time for bed. The night was uneventful and we all had a fairly good sleep. The “dining car” was basically just a few tables with a big pot of pho cooking on the stove. That’s all they had – which was fine by us – so that’s what everyone had for breakfast. We were due to arrive in Hue at about 8am but didn’t get there until about 11:00. The last few hours did start to get a little long, but probably just because everyone was so hungry. Be sure to take plenty of snacks and fruit for any train ride.

NINH BINH (TAM COC and MUA CAVES)

This is a short 2 hour train ride from Hanoi. Saying the town is unremarkable is being generous. Dusty and busy with transport trucks it’s almost a little depressing. This isn’t why I travel. But it serves as the gateway to the incredible Tam Coc region. Dubbed an inland Halong Bay it was an incredible experience for both the kids and the adults. The owner of the hotel where we stayed arranged our visit to Tam Coc and surroundings. Probably the easiest and most efficient way to do a visit. We took a rowboat down the river and through the caves. I’ve heard horror stories about how busy the river can be at times, but when we were there it was peaceful and quiet with very few other western tourists around. We also did a visit to a couple of nearby sites, most memorably to Mua Cave and the karst that towers above it. Supposedly 500 steps to the top, the view is stunning and worth the hike. It was a long trek up for our youngest but he was determined to keep up with big brother and made it within a couple of steps of the peak. When you get to the top it’s rice paddies or the Ngo Dong River wherever you look and you can easily trace the path your boat took through Tam Coc.

Kids on boat at Tam Coc.

On a boat through Tam Coc.

Where we stayed: Thanhthuy’s Guest House. Clean and cheap with a nice little (very little) courtyard and restaurant. It was decent but not the character-ladened traveler hangout some of the guide books would imply.

HUE

We made a very quick 1 night stop in Hue and didn’t give it a fair opportunity to impress us. We did do a relaxing trip up and down the river and take a swim at the riverside pool of the Century Riverside Hotel.

Where We Stayed: Hue Sports 1 Hotel. Clean and cheap but almost totally lacking in character. If you do stay here, don’t eat here (besides the free breakfast). They get a lot of their menu delivered from neighboring restaurants, making the food a little more expensive and a lot colder than it would be otherwise.

Places To Eat: La Carambole. Good French food. Great coffee and espresso.

CHINA BEACH (DANANG)

Swimming at China Beach, Vietnam.

Our oldest boy swimming to meet the boats off China Beach.

We planned to stay a night or two at Hoa’s Place and like just about everyone else who stops here stayed longer. A great great great traveler hangout place. Family meals are had every night in the open air restaurant. It’s a really special place. The beach just down the road was the best one we saw in Vietnam. Clean and shallow, the kids loved it. And if you do get tired of the beach there is the Sandy Beach Resort a short walk south along the beach that has a pool open to non-guests for a $5 fee. Good pizza, beer and ice cream too. As well, there are a couple of beach shacks that do a pretty mean stir fry with fresh seafood, at much cheaper prices.

A short 1/2 mile walk from Hoa’s is Marble Mountain, which is definitely worth a visit if you can drag yourself away from the beach. It consists of 5 small mountains with cool pagodas and fascinating caves seemingly around every corner.

HOI AN

From China Beach it’s about a 45 minute drive to Hoi An. This is a fantastic place that you could easily spend a week in. We were there 5 nights and loved it all. Great food, great cafes and dessert shops. We – like many travelers – got clothes and shoes made here. Even the kids got in on the act as they had some shoes custom made for them. They had their feet measured, then got to pick the style, pattern and color of the shoes. We returned in a few days to pick them up. It was a lot of fun for them.

Custom made shoes in Hoi An.

Custom made shoes in Hoi An.

The market is fun to wander through and doing a boat ride on the river is easy to arrange and worth it.

Where We Stayed: Thanh Binh Hotel. Nice pool (as long as you don’t mind a little algae buildup along the pool walls, slime doesn’t kill you though does it?). A short walk from the center of town.

Places To Eat: Cargo Club – great food and desserts. The kids loved it. There’s an open air market style restuarant with long communal benches at the corner of Le Loi and Thai Hoc which is a lot fun. Each table has a different cook. We went with Ms An and were never disappointed. Streets – a restaurant the helps train local kids employable skills. Good food too. Casa Verde. Good Italian food and gelato.

Getting Away: It was either a 12 hour train ride to Nha Trang or 1 hour flight so we shed our hard core family traveler facade for the few moments it took to book the tickets on the Air Vietnam website.

In the Market in Hoi An, Vietnam.

My oldest boy took this in the Hoi An market.

NHA TRANG

This was probably our biggest (only?) disappointment of the trip. Nha Trang had a sleezy busy touristy feel. Like just about every place we go we still had fun but we were planning our departure from the minute we arrived. Vinpearl Land. I can’t really recommend this place. It’s a big American style amusement park. But if you are in Nha Trang and have some little ones with you, it would be hard to deny them some time at the water park. The aquarium is undeniably really cool, though it doesn’t take much more than 30 or 40 minutes to walk through at a leisurely pace. The tram ride over is fun too, especially if it’s a little windy as it was on the day we went. OK, now that I consider it a little more I guess Vinpearl was worth a visit but when you’re on the island you certainly aren’t in Vietnam which maybe for some families is the whole point.
Phu Dong Waterpark is right on the beach in Nha Trang and while nowhere near as elaborate as Vinpearl it’s one of the places you can’t help but have a lot of fun (maybe because there are very few rules enforced so it’s a bit of a free-for-all for the kids).

Where We Stayed: The Dream Hotel is no dream. But it is directly across from the beach and the Louisiane Brewhouse (see below) and very cheap ($25).

Places To Eat: Louisiane Brewhouse. A great place. Delicious beer. Good food, desserts, coffee. A nice deep swimming pool. And just a few steps from the beach. We spent a good deal of time hanging out here.

Getting Away: We then headed up into the hills to Dalat. This was a 5 or 6 hour drive in a hired car, much of it in hard driving rain. There was some pretty impressive scenery and fascinating little villages along the way even through the rain and the mist.

The kids exploring Crazy House (Hang Nga) in Dalat.

Exploring Crazy House in Dalat.

DALAT

I’m not sure which way to go on Dalat. It would be easy to dismiss it as overrun, busy, without much of interest. But there is some appeal mixed in there somewhere. It has an interesting layout as it’s spread out over a number of fairly steep hills. One highlight is the great value you get on accommodations. As for things to do right in town, the best is probably Crazy House. Designed by a local architect with some eccentricity to burn, the house is, well, crazy. Each room has a different theme, staircases, ladders, walkways and tunnels lead in, around and through many of the them. Tourists take over the place through the day but at night it transforms into a functioning hotel. Book well in advance if you want to stay here.

Where We Stayed: Dreams Hotel. Great rooms. Super friendly family. Incredible breakfasts. All for only $25.

Places To Eat: There are a couple of little Vietnamese places right across from Dreams that do some good pho and other good traditional dishes. Check ’em out.

The kids at a silk farm in Vietnam.

The boys learning how silk is made.

Getting Away: We booked a car with one of the Easy Riders taking us from Dalat to Mui Ne spread out over two days and a night. The Easy Riders are a loosely coalitioned group of guides who typically take people on motorbike through the Highlands of Vietnam – though they seem to be pretty much everywhere nowadays, even the Mekong. Having two kids we added a couple more wheels and did it with a car, but the idea is still the same. The guides take you to a collection of sites based on what you want to see, where you are heading and how long you have to do it. We saw: coffee, tea and silk farms, a couple waterfalls, a concrete factory, a pig and chicken farm that has seemingly branched off into wine making, and 2 or 3 minority villages along our route. The kids became best friends with both the guide and driver and we felt free to stop pretty much anywhere we saw something of interest. “What is that fruit growing there?” we’d ask as we saw something unique on the side of the road. And almost immediately the driver was hitting the brakes, we’d pile out of the car and the guide would give a quick talk about how and where it was grown. “Here have a taste.”

On an Easy Rider tour of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

The boys and our driver taking a break.

It cost about $200 which got us from Dalat to Mui Ne, of course, and included the car, driver, guide and gas, but no food or entry fees to any sites you might visit (e.g. the tram ride we took just outside Dalat).

MUI NE

A beach town without much of a beach (in spots) but a very laid back feel. Accommodations tend to be a bit on the pricey end compared to what we saw elsewhere in Vietnam. The town boasts two interesting sites nearby: The sand dunes which are pretty much what they sound like, a seemingly endless expanse of desert-like sand. And the Fairy Spring, basically a shallow creek that runs through the sand dunes. It’s a lot of fun – especially for kids – to walk up it for a few miles, the whole time splashing, jumping, rolling and frollicking in the cool water and its deliciously goopy sand.

The Fairy Stream in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

The Fairy Stream near Mui Ne.

Where We Stayed: Suoi Tien Mui Ne Resort. A nice clean place with a pool looking out on the beach. We paid about $60 for a fairly roomy bungalow – cheaper rooms are available.

Getting Away: We took a hired car from Mui Ne to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for about $60.

SAIGON (Ho Chi Minh City)

Our last stop on the trip – with a few side trips planned. If I had to do it again I would have spent this time exploring the Mekong more in depth. I was expecting a bigger version of Hanoi, but never really found the same ambience or sense of magic that so pervades Hanoi. We went bowling (fun), took in a water park (Dam Sen), went to a Vietnamese circus (fantastic) and toured through a couple of markets. It was enjoyable but lacked a little something when compared to the rest of our time in Vietnam.

Where We Stayed: Canadian Hotel 281. $40. Nice place, good location, decent clean rooms.

Places To Eat: Pho Quynh in the Pham Ngu Lao (Backpackers) area. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Anytime is a good time when the pho is this good. Mumtaz. We searched for good Indian food from Hanoi to Saigon and finally found it here. The butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are fantastic.

MEKONG DELTA

Touring the Mekong Delta near My Tho and Ben Tre.

On a canoe in the Mekong near Ben Tre.

We did a long day trip from Saigon down to the Mekong town of My Tho and a boat trip through neighboring Ben Tre island and the Mekong River itself. Though this could hardly count as an extensive exploration of the Delta, it was enough to give us a taste and made me wish we had devoted more time to the area. Numerous places offer package trips from Saigon, they all seemed pretty touristy so we stayed clear of these and arranged it ourselves, grabbing a taxi from Saigon and heading down to the riverside in My Tho to hire a boat. The boat trip included stops at farms, small villages and more touristy places like a coconut candy company (delicious, by the way). The next time we go we’ll definitely be heading farther afield to places like Cai Be, Can Tho, and Chau Doc.

Health:

The single biggest health consideration that stood out for me, was the fact that if we stayed away from the highlands, hugging the coast from Hanoi down to Saigon the kids wouldn’t have to take anti-malarials. This map of Vietnam shows where malaria risks are highest.

Staying healthy in Vietnam involves luck as much as anything. There are a number of different things you can do to stack the odds in your favor  – wash hands thoroughly before eating, brush your teeth with bottled water, ensure meat dishes are hot when served – but anyone that tells you they know the secrets to avoid illness is misinformed or dishonest.

Getting There:

We flew with Delta Airlines. It was about $675/person for our Seattle to Hanoi, Saigon to Seattle tickets, which I found through a pretty extensive search on Kayak.com. I have no great complaints or raves concerning Delta. As long as they get me there I rarely even notice whom I’m flying with. Flying through Seoul was a nice change as I’m usually going through Taipei, Hong Kong or Tokyo.

If you’re considering making Vietnam part of a larger tour of SE Asia take a look at Air Asia as they have incredible prices and fly from Hanoi to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

Getting Around:

We used primarily train, plane and hired car as we made our way from Hanoi down to Saigon. The train was our favorite. Easy to book and use, low stress, relaxing for the kids as they had the luxury of walking about the train cars and meeting people.  Check out Seat61 for great tips on train travel throughout Asia.

Air Vietnam is cheap and easy to book. Jetstar is even cheaper. These airlines can be an appealing option when confronting a long stretch of travel.

Costs:

Our daily expenses varied between $50 and $150 depending on where we were and how many meals, desserts and beers we had a day. Obviously being a family of 4 drastically changes your expenses. A single person spending modestly could get by on $30 or $40 pretty easily.

Weather:

We traveled through most of August and early September and our weather was great. The sea was calm and inviting, and everyday featured at least a few hours of sun. The only rain we got was when we ventured away from the coast (Hanoi, Saigon, Mekong Delta) and up into the hills (Dalat and the Central Highlands).

Tips:

It’s very common for hotels with a pool to allow non-guests to swim for a small fee (usually less than $5). If you’re a family of 4 or 5 this can obviously add up, but it’s still usually much less than the difference in room price between comparable hotels with and without a pool.

120 questions and comments

  1. Helen

    Thanks- instilled great confidence in carrying on travelling but with kids.
    Funny what you worry about.
    Of course there are kids in Vietnam already!!!
    Thanks for the confidence boost

  2. Kruse

    Really great post Dave! It’s so helpful. I and my family had 12 wonderful days in Vietnam (3 days in Hoi An, 2 days in Danang, 4 day in Hanoi and Halong bay and just 2 days in Hochiminh city). The kids love visiting there so much. In Danang, my friends recommended some activities with kids. We did 10/11 things – so fun!

  3. Vietnam with Kids

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your post.

    I am seriously considering to bring my 3yr old boy to vietnam only for 9D 8N (including 1N sleeper train), as in just both of us without mummy!!! So far I only listed out Hanoi and Hoi An as a must stop location. Can you advise any other stop points for both of us? Appreciate your kind advice! 🙂

    – Raymond

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Those two places would be the highlights. With 9 days and a 3 year old I’d recommend leaving it at those, perhaps with a night train (from Hanoi to Danang) to make it interesting. Halong Bay is obviously a great overnight trip and Ninh Binh an alternative if you want something closer, shorter durations, and easier.

  4. How Long to go to Vietnam with Kids

    Hi Mr David.

    Can I know how many days was your trip to Vietnam?

  5. Mekong with Kids

    Hi David
    I am wondering if you could tell me if a trip to the Mekong Delta would be suitable with a 2 year old? My husband and I are looking at going to Vietnam in September with my best friend and her 6 year old.
    I would like to see the floating Markets, but I am unsure on it it would be a suitable day trip with a toddler.
    Kait

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Travel in the Mekong is slow but interesting. There are lots of boats (to cross rivers), markets, small towns, and rural life. As long as you know what you’re getting into I think it would be fine for a 2 year old.

  6. Is Vietnam Stroller Friendly

    Great post. Thanks for the info. Gearing up to visit real soon with little guy. Do you think Vietnam is stroller friendly? Besides the obvious beach & trekking spots. Thanks a ton. Pam

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Generally, no. Streets and sidewalks are uneven. And functional sidewalks are non-existent in the cities – you cross anywhere you can and often in a manner that doesn’t lend itself to pushing a stroller.

  7. Cherry

    Great post David 🙂 My family had wonderful time in Vietnam through Hoi An, Da Nang, Hochiminh city and Mekong Delta last May. It was really hot during this period. We love Danang most. My Khe beach (thought Vietnamese people prefer this name than China beach) was one of the best beach we’ve visited. Hoa’s place is awesome. He and his wife were very lovely and helpful :)). We also had chance to do a Home cooking class in Danang with Ms Tam. Good Job Dave, we are following up your post !!!

  8. Where To Go in December with Kids

    We really enjoy your blog and have found it to be a great resource as we traveled to Bangkok then to Krabi/Koh lanta. We are about to take another adventure and cant’ decide on Cambodia or Vietnam (or elsewhere). Our trip will be from December 27 or 28-January 2 or 3. It will be our family of 5 (kids ages 11, 8 and 4) along with my mother in law. We enjoy beach/pools but also enjoy engaging new culture, seeing different landscape. Do you have any suggestions for a short trip in busy season with kids? Thanks for your help!
    Deidra

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hoi An is my favorite town/city/area in that region. It’s wonderful over Christmas but weather is coolish – maybe no swimming. Phu Quoc has wonderful weather in December and January – great for snorkeling but not as much culture, crafts, shopping, great food as Hoi An. Cambodia has good weather too and many possible destinations.

  9. Vietnam Visa for Family

    Dave,

    I love your blog. My family and I are traveling to Vietnam in January and flying in to Ho Chi Minh and later on to Thailand. We are traveling back to Vietnam for our return flight. How did you get your visa to Vietnam? I’m traveling from the US and have read all sorts of mixed information on getting a visa. It seems that the best method would be paying a Vietnamese travel agency to issue a letter for us and our kids and then get the visa on arrival. The embassy charges $150 for each multiple entry visa and requires that we send them our passports via mail. I’m not really excited about that option. I also live too far away to travel to the embassy or a consulate in person.

    Thanks in advance!
    Bryan

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      There really are no good options for getting a Vietnam visa. All have their drawbacks. We sent it courier (and they couriered it back) to the embassy in Washington, DC. It all went fine but yes it is a little nerve racking until you get them back.

  10. Pre-book Trains in Vietnam

    Great post – appreciate it. Just one question – did you prebook train travel or did you wait until you arrived and booked it? I have found a few sites online, however it seems quite expensive compared to some of the budget airlines (Jetstart). Looking to go from Hanoi to Da Nang.
    Thanks
    Jo

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      We booked after we arrived (planes too) and it was never a problem. The train trip from Hanoi to Danang (specifically Hue to Danang) is the best in the country. The sleepers are on the left side of the train and have good views of the very beautiful coast line.

  11. Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh

    thank you for your awesome information. we have started to travel a little more adventurously over the last few years and with our kids too. quite often i will google info and your link pops up. we are now considering a quick 7 day trip (including business via singapore) and onto EITHER hanoi in april OR ho chi minh in july. we are working around business dates in these months. can you please offer me your opinion on which and why – it seems hanoi is edging ahead for me based on reading. we don’t want to do too much of what a travel agent would offer to families – theme parks etc (just a few to mix it up), and do want to experience the culture and lifestyle on a medium level (getting there!). would appreciate your thoughts! cheers 🙂 jay

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I much prefer Hanoi to HCMC and April usually has better weather for typical sightseeing.

  12. Good Boat Tour Company of Halong Bay

    Hi David
    Great info thank you. We have 2 weeks over Christmas (live in South Korea) to spend in Vietnam. Thinking Hanoi (Halong Bay Cruise), Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh then fly back to South Korea. Do you have any recommendations for cruises on Halong Bay? We have 2 girls aged 11 and 8.
    thank you,
    Kate Godfrey

  13. Vietnam with Kids for 5 Nights

    We are planning a side trip from Hong Kong to Vietnam for 5 nights (4 full days) in January. We are heading from NZ back to Berlin and the cold. Our children are 9 and 12. What would you recommend for that amount of time? We do like a pool/beach and good food. We are not super budget travelers so happy to go to a nice resort. We are well travelled so also like a bit of culture in the mix rather than staid dull travel. Any advice would be really appreciated. Thanks.
    Gabrielle

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I’d go to Hoi An – along with Hanoi the highlight of Vietnam (but Hanoi is much cooler in January). Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort is pretty amazing. DragonAir has direct flights from Hong Kong to Danang (a 45 minute drive from Hoi An).

  14. Sleeper Trains in Vietnam

    Good day

    Great info! We are heading to Vietnam March 2016 as a family of 5. 2 adults, 3 kids – 6, 11,12 yrs. I have a quick question about the sleeper trains. I see that some trains seem to only have compartments of 4 bed (soft-sleepers) and no 6 bed compartments (hard-sleepers). Am I right? So, rather than split the family into 2 compartments, would there be any objection to having the youngest share a berth with one of the 4 of us? I would assume we still have to buy 5 tickets, even if we were to share?

    Thank you
    Jan

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Yes, you have that right. There are 4 bed soft-sleepers and 6 bed hard sleepers but the differences are pretty subtle. I would book the 6 sleeper as I wouldn’t want to share a bed even with a 6 year old. They’re not huge. The 6 year old will pay half-fare.

    2. Andrea

      Hi Jan – we are planning Vietnam in Mar 2016 with our 6 and 11 year old boys. Perhaps we will cross paths.

  15. Rachael (Travelling Anyway)

    Such a comprehensive post Dave! After six weeks in Hoi An we’re going to make our way north next week (to Hue, Phong Nha and then Ninh Bin) – this will definitely help

    Safe travels!

  16. Family Vacation to Thailand or Vietnam?

    Hi David,
    First of all love your blog, it’s really a fantastic service for would be travelers. It inspired me to take my two kids on a trip to Thailand a few years ago and we loved it. We want to go back to South East Asia, between Thailand and Vietnam which one would you choose. I hear so many stories of hassles in Vietnam, and just wanted to know how you would rate the differences in the two countries?
    Thanks again for taking the time to reply to all of us!!!
    David Viers

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Thailand is easier and has more activities that are kid-friendly in nature. Vietnam is more challenging but also more rewarding if you’re looking for a truly mind-blowing experience. As much as I love Thailand if I could only take my kids to one place/one time then it would be Vietnam.

  17. 1 Week in Vietnam

    Wow, David! How blessed your children are to have so many opportunities to travel! Thank you for your blog!!!! And thanks to all your followers who posted.

    We are making a last minute plan to head to Vietnam in about two and a half weeks, as friends are getting married in India. With only 7-8 days in Vietnam, what would you suggest for my family of five? Children are 9, 11, and 13. Thank you, in advance for your help!

    Susie

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I would do 2 nights in Hanoi, 1 or 2 nights on a boat in Halong Bay, back to Hanoi and then an overnight train to Danang and then 3 or 4 nights in Hoi An (close to Danang). Fly directly from Danang to wherever you’re going next.

  18. Matt

    +1 to Hoi An. One of our favorite spots in Vietnam. Nice quiet beaches and the town (a short drive from the beach) is fantastic. Nha Trang is over built up and not so nice.

    Phu Quoc is another option we liked. The “town” part isn’t much, but the beaches are really nice.

  19. Vietnam Beach Stay

    Hi, we are planning to head to vietnam next March and am looking at building in a beach stay. China beach looked great on your blog but I was considering nha trang, not what you suggest tho. Do you suggest hoi an or somewhere else which is not to remote with a smallish hotel?
    Thanks.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hoi An is a wonderful town with good nearby beaches (but they are out of town a bit so either have to stay at the beach and travel to town or stay in town and travel to the beach). Nha Trang is ok, nice beach, but just a little seedy/ugly. China Beach has the nicest beach but is far from anything.

  20. Peter Bryan

    Hi, thanks for a useful article.
    WE are taking the train from Hanoi to Hue, and are trying to avoid taking anti-malarials, so am wondering whether the railway line goes into the malarial areas – it’s hard to be clear from the maps. Do you have any ideas?

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I don’t believe it does. Risk is directly proportional to exposure time, so even if it did I doubt the risks of taking the anti-malarials are worth the very small benefit you’d get considering your very limited exposure time. (But I’m not a doctor so take that with a grain of salt.)

  21. Anna

    Hey,
    Thanks SOOOO much for all this great info. We are planning a trip to Vietnam with our 3 boys 2,5 & 6yrs in Dec! You have provided us with an excellent insight! Lots to think about!
    Cheers mate,
    Anna
    🙂

  22. Christine

    Hi Dave, we are thinking of doing a trip to Vietnam in Sep/Oct. Can you recommend a place to stay on Phu Quok? Can’t really make my mind up whether to do beach there or at Mue Ne or Hoi An at this time of the year. Thanks a bunch
    Christine

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Typically, the wet season (when you’ll be visiting) is more intense in central Vietnam than in the south – though both can get a lot of rain – so I’d probably do Phu Quoc.

      La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc is excellent. Right on the beach, nice pool with kids’ area, and large rooms.

      Good luck.

  23. Lesa

    Thanks heaps David, we have chosen the Saigon ( Mekong ) & Danang trip this time. Have you ever hired a car & driven yourself? Thinking this is a possibility in the Danang region, altough I can only find one with driver?? We have driven in Indo & Thailand before & like getting lost, adds to the adventure!! Thamks David Cheers Lesa

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I have not driven a car myself – always hired with driver. To drive in Vietnam you’ll need both a Vietnamese license and an International Drivers License so it will be more difficult than in other countries.

  24. Lesa

    Hi David, Great Blog, thanks
    I am going in April, fly in & out of Saigon via Singapore, unfortunately due to work only have very short time 8 full days, we are considering Mekong & maybe Hoi An, or go Hanoi for Halong & possibly Hue/Danang/ Hoi An. Travelling with twins age 5. Considering one way sleeper for fun/ flight back the other. Appreciate your comment.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Those sound like good options – now you just have to choose. The best routes for an overnight train trip are from Hanoi to Danang and Saigon to Danang. Other routes don’t work so well. They either leave too late or arrive in the middle of the night. So if you were doing the train plan it around either of those 2 routes. Other than that it sounds great.

  25. Lena

    Hi David
    Love your blog.
    I’m planning a trip with my 12 year old sone in July and August. We are still in the early stages of planning. But wanted to ask about choice of luggage.
    I notices on a photo that you all carried backpacks. How about travelling with suitcases and day packs for short trips? Will that be ok? Is there enough space on busses and trains for suitcases?
    Appreciate your answer.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Lena. Yes, we like backpacks – especially when traveling with younger kids. It’s nice to have your hands free. For example, when you’re crossing a busy street in Vietnam you inch your way across (as a group, all holding hands) and it would be harder if you were holding a suitcase. Your son is older so it would be different but still think backpacks would be easier.

      Suitcases have their advantages too (easier to pack, more room, easier to keep things folded and semi-nice). And room on trains and buses won’t be a problem.

      Hope that helps.

  26. Matt

    Did I see somewhere on your site that you had used PA Tours or Private Asia Tours? I’m using them to help plan our trip and I’d love to have confirmation that they’re a good operation. I had thought I found them through you, but can’t find it on your website again.
    Thanks!

  27. Kylie

    Hi David! Awesome blog, certainly has answered some of my questions / concerns.
    We are a family of 4 (2A,2K) traveling with friends (family of 5, 2A,3Kids) flying from Perth Australia to Vietnam for approx 2.5 weeks. Thinking to fly into Hanoi and then catch train or get a driver to Hoi An and Then perhaps to Ho Chi MinH City (via train or plane or ??) to catch plane to fly home. What are you thoughts / suggestions on this? The kids are 6,7,9, 10 and 14. Or would we better to miss Hanoi and start at Hoi An and head down to Ho Chi Minh ? Or go from Hanoi to Hoi An only and home from their (if international planes fly in and out of Hoi An that is. 🙂

    Cheers
    Kylie

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I would fly to Hanoi (great city), then take the train to Hoi An (Danang actually). It’s a nice overnight train with beautiful views. The timing of the trains from Danang to Ho Chi Minh doesn’t work nearly as well so for that section I would fly. The vast majority of flights will be in and out of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

  28. Sarah

    Hi David

    Great blog – it’s proving really useful planning our trip to to Vietnam in December with our 5 and 2 year old. This is probably a bit of a dull question given the previous comments but wondered what your thoughts were on taking a pushchair? We’ll be in the South – so HCMC, Hue, Danang, Hoi An – the plan gets a bit hazy after that – but were wondering if taking one might be useful or just laughable?
    Cheers
    Sarah

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Yeah, not much use in getting around. It wouldn’t be too bad in Hoi An but elsewhere not much help. One place where you might use it is restaurants as most places don’t have high chairs so you if they’re sleepy and/or dinner is a short walk from your hotel they can come in handy in that regard. Cheers.

  29. Jose Manuel Chicot

    Hello David,

    my message comes somewhat delayed but you know… better late than never.

    We traveled to Vietnam with our 3 boys (8, 7, 7) for two weeks in January. I found very interesting information in your article on your Vietnam trip, thank you very much.

    We did Hanoi-Halong Bay-Hanoi-night train to Hue-Hue-minivan to HoiAn- HoiAn(+MySon)-flew Danang to HCMC-HCMC-Mekong Delta and back for our flight back home. It was a wonderful trip, we took it easy and didn’t try to take in too much, even spent 5 days at the beach (HoiAn).

    After realising that the boys are now in a good age for travel, I can’t shed the wanderlust and I am already planning a family trip to Laos for the coming Christmas. Do you have any recommendations?

    Best,

    Jose.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Jose.

      Traveling from Bangkok to Singapore is a great way to see Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. It has a bit of everything: great attractions, great beaches, great food, good travel connections, and though it’s a popular route when you travel overland like this it’s easy to get away from the crowds at less touristy cities and beach towns.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      When to travel to Vietnam is a very tricky question to answer. The climate varies considerably between north and south, coast and mountains, so you have to consider where you’re going as much as when you’re going.

      Here are a few thoughts:

      –the north is cool to cold in the months from November to March, warm and storm prone from June until October.
      –the south is warm and dry from November to March, humid and wet from May through October.
      –the central coast (where most of the best beaches are) gets most of its rain from September to December.
      –the busiest months are July, August, and the weeks around Christmas and New Years.
      –the quietest months are May, June, and September
      –the best months to travel the entire country are (probably) April, May, and October
      –we traveled through August and early September and had great weather (except for some occasionally intense rain in the south and Mekong)
      –no month is a “terrible” time for visiting Vietnam, every period has its own pros and cons so don’t stress about finding the perfect time.

      Hope that helps a little. Good luck.

  30. Claude

    Excellent blog. Really useful. I have two kids, aged 6 and 1, and we’re considering Vietnam from July-September, but still not sure which region to visit. You make Hanoi stand out. We prefer to stay in places for longer periods rather than keep moving, but that’s just our preference. However, I will certainly consider a train journey after reading your account. Any thoughts on house/apartment rental?

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Claude.

      There are websites for rentals in Vietnam but a bit hard to find. You’ll find more rentals in Nha Trang and Hoi An than anywhere else. I’d go for Hoi An myself. Great town and close to the beach (but not right on it).

  31. Andrew

    Loved your blog!
    We are considering going to Vietnam in August with our 5 & 8 year old.
    We went to Thailand last August & it proved a great success after some trepidation about the weather and being in a “3rd world” environment with small children.

    My question are about the practicalities of travelling in Vietnam..
    Can you get taxis with seat belts? We could in Thailand but not always easy. We are keen our kids wear seat belts in cars.

    Is Western food widely available? Our kids didn’t “do” Thai food so Western food will be an absolute requirement?

    Was the weather very tolerable in August? Thailand’s August weather was very tolerable despite being the wet season.

    We’re mosquitoes a problem?

    Many thanks for your advice!

    Andrew

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi. Finding seatbelts are a problem. For longer trips I searched and searched and searched for cars that had seat belts. It wasn’t just walk out the door and grab the first taxi. But you can find them.

      Western food is widely available. Obviously out on the highways, bus stops, etc, it will be just Vietnamese food. But in the big cities and tourist towns, no problem.

      The weather was great. We got in some huge rain storms as we went up into the mountains but on the coast it was fine.

      No mosquitoes to speak of.

      Hope that helps.

  32. Robyn Richmond

    We are looking at a family holiday in Vietnam in January next year. We will have two teenagers and a 22 month old baby. Worried about suitable car restraints during our journey and interested in what other people have done; whether most vehicles have seatbelts and what would be good restraints that we could take with us. Not so worried about short taxi rides, more longer trips.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Robyn. Yes, it’s a tough one. Most cars don’t have working seat belts. You can search about for newer nicer cars for longer trips but it’s easier said than done. On one of our trips from Dalat to Mui Ne, I looked around for a truck that had 4 working seat belts and finally found one. I made it clear that I needed a vehicle with working seat belts. Then the next day when he showed up there were no working seat belts. So we either had to cancel the trip or go ahead, and we chose to go ahead. In any case, you’ll need your own car seats as those definitely won’t be available there. Good luck.

  33. Dori from R.I.

    While I find Dave’s information incredibly informative I must say that I’ve not read a word about what worries me the most about travelling to VN. I was there in 97′ and experienced no serious illnesses, however my husband and I are now considering travelling with our two 12 year old daughters and, while at first very excited about the idea (I loved my past travels through VN), my husband started to read about the possibility of the threat of Dengue fever and malaria to our children (-mainly). The more he read (-it has doubled in the last 10 years!)- the less enchanted we’ve become with this idea. While, surely this is a subjective matter that must ultimately be decided by the traveller, I wonder what anyone with experience might have to say on this very important issue. My husband has scared me enough to want to change our plans despite my burning desire to show them this wonderful part of the world.

    1. David

      Hi Dori. I looked through CDC health bulletins and the Dengue Fever outbreak map and didn’t see any particular mention of Vietnam: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/outbreak-notice/dengue-tropical-sub-tropical.htm. Malaria was our main health concern while traveling in Vietnam, but since it’s found mainly in the western and northern hill areas of the country we felt if we stuck to the coasts that we’d be OK. Dengue Fever – while certainly requiring medical attention – is not nearly as deadly as Malaria. The risks of acquiring either illness are proportional to your exposure to mosquitoes and time in the country. I’d be very surprised if you encountered any health issues related to these diseases, but I suppose there is always a risk. Your biggest risk in nearly every country is being in a car crash – just to put it in perspective.

  34. Brian

    Great blog, having a lot of fun reading it.

    One probably stupid question….when you say “hire a car” do you mean you pay someone to drive you somewhere or do you mean you rented a car and drove yourselves?

    Gracias!

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Brian. Yeah, I suppose that isn’t terribly clear. I meant pay someone to drive you somewhere. It’s often very cheap throughout southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Heck, we paid a taxi driver to drive us halfway across the Peloponnese in Greece and it wasn’t terribly much. The downside is you isolate yourself from the locals and miss out on meeting people as you would on the bus or train – so I wouldn’t over do it – but on occasion it can be worth it.

  35. Mark

    Great blog, cheers for the info. We are travelling in Vietnam with our two boys (7 and 10) and we are all having a great time, our boys really really enjoyed Cat Ba Island as we spent a few days rock climbing and swimming. One thing I have noticed about Vietnam is the large number of familys travelling with children, its great to see.
    Thanks again

  36. sarika

    Hi David,
    You are doing some great work with this blog. my husband and me are planning a trip to Vietnam mid august. How much trouble will the rains cause for us? We are from India and so used to the humidity and tropical climate. We intend to do halong bay, hoi an, nha trang, ho chi Minh and just the Angkor watt temples in Cambodia..

    One night in hanoi,Two nights for halong bay, one night for hoi an, 2 nights in nha trang, 1 night in ho chi minh and 2-3 days in Cambodia

    So is august so terrible that we should cancel the trip?

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      August is fine in Vietnam. You’ll definitely see some rain – and more as you move south – but the coasts always get a sunny stretch of hours through the day. One night is not enough for Hoi An. I’d skip Nha Trang and spend that time in Hoi An. Sounds like a great trip though. Have fun.

  37. Misah from Colorado

    Hi David,
    I just discovered your blog and am loving reading up on Vietnam with kids. My husband and I will be working in Hanoi for a month in the fall and then have some travel time (only 10 days – booo) afterwards. We’ll be traveling with the 2-foot lovable monster, Liam. He’ll be almost 2 years when we’re there. Any recs on what part of Hanoi to stay in? We’ve heard a lot about the old quarter — love to be close but it would also be great to be close to some open space where the little guy can run around, because he has a hard time being contained for very long! We’ll be looking for an apartment type place so we can have a little kitchen. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      The Old Quarter is great but you’re right it isn’t very kid friendly as there’s lots of traffic and hustle and bustle. There is the lake nearby though and that’s a nice place to walk and run. No place is perfect so I’d probably stay there or down around Lenin Park which has a nice playground and lots of room to run around. The pros and cons are like this: stay in the old quarter and everything is close and walkable but quite busy. Stay by Lenin Park where there’s lots of room to play but then you’ll be taking a taxi everywhere. The pool at the Army hotel is great. And the waterslides just north of the city are a lot of fun. Good ice cream in Hanoi too. Have fun.

      1. Misah from Colorado

        Great. Thanks, David. This is really helpful. We are hoping to spend 10 days in Thailand relaxing following our month of work in Hanoi, so I have been reading up on your suggestions on beaches. Thinking we’ll head to Samui– maybe to World Resort. Your blog is incredibly helpful for parents looking to travel with little kiddos. Thanks so much!

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Thanks Nikki. It’s hard to believe that we had a full month there and still ran out of time, but that’s pretty much it. Can’t go everywhere. Next time for sure. I’d love to visit the Sapa region.

  38. Lorraine Abu Dhabi

    I can also recommend the Cua Dai hotel in Hoi An. Very nice hotel with a great pool.
    We are setting off to Vietnam for the second time in a few months, just a short visit of a week to Hanoi to see our friends and are very excited.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Awesome. Thanks Lorraine for the tip. Hoi An was one of our favorite places in Vietnam. Have fun!

  39. Karen

    Hi David,

    I contacted you back in May last year via your ‘travel with kids – do it now’ blog as I was about to embark on a 2 month journey to Vietnam and Cambodia. As a single mum with a 10 and 8 year old I was a bit worried about the trip and found your blog really helped me to get over any slight ‘fears’ that I had.
    I just thought I’d post this for the benefit of people who, like me, chanced upon this blog. I can honestly say Vietnam is the best place to take children! We had no problems with anything at all while we travelled..we went by bus and train from North to South and found the country to be absolutely incredible. The people were amazing and would go out of their way to make sure we were ok. The kids loved every minute of the trip – particular highlights were trekking in Sapa and kayaking at Halong Bay, they (and I!) also fell in love with Hoi An.
    I would thoroughly recommend Vietnam to anyone travelling with children.
    We then went onto Cambodia and, much as we loved Vietnam and this blog is about Vietnam, I have to say we completely fell in love with Siem Reap! We helped in a community project (SHCC Cambodia) just outside Siem Reap – we did proper voluntary work (as in we were not required to pay a fee) and what an experience for the children! So much so that we are heading back next June – this time we are going via Thailand. And now that I know just how safe, easy and absolutely fantastic travelling with kids in Asia is, we are not planning any of our journey before hand – we’ll just turn up in Bangkok and see what happens in the following 7 weeks!
    Anyway…for anyone who has looked at this blog because they are thinking about travelling with children or have bought the tickets and now getting the ‘oh.my.god. what am I doing?’ thoughts..don’t worry! It really will be the most amazing experience!!

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      That’s a great tale and great comment. Thanks Karen. I’d love to hear more details of your trip. Email me some photos and travel stories if you have the time.

      Take care,
      David

    2. Tracy Hirst

      Karen.

      I have just come across your blog about Vietnam, and mentioned you are a single mum with kids- Thank you sooo much for what you wrote.
      I am also a Single mum, and i will be travelling to Vietnam and Cambodia next Easter break for 18 days with two boys 11/13. I am sooo nervous. I have booked flights and am in the process of organising a route north to south, and have arranged flights from HCMC into Siem Reap and back for a couple of days, would you mind giving me some advise on visas, injections and anything which may sound daft…its would be very appreciated.

      1. Louise

        Hi Tracy,
        Have you already done your Vietnam journey? I am also a single mum travelling in April with my 13yr old daughter. Any advice?

  40. Jane

    We are following a similar route with our small children in september. Noticed that you had nothing mentioned about rabies. did you get your vacs for this? did you feel there was a high risk with all the dogs around? would like to avoid these vacs if possible. After reading your bog I am hoping we have given ourselves enough time in Hanoi! thank you for sharing. We too are doing the easy riders from delat to Mui ne but doing it in one day…. will we still be able stop and see enough, thought it was a 3-4 hour drive if going direct. Once again thanks

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Jane. We did not get the rabies vaccine but it is something to consider.

      – For a great overview of vaccines take a look at this post travel vaccinations for kids.
      – For a take on our experiences with rabies shots in Bali read trips to the hospital while traveling.

      Great to hear you’re doing the Easy Riders. It’s a lot of fun. You will of course have less time, but I think you’ll be able to take in the highlights. One suggestion is to leave the Sand Dunes and Fairy Stream (both near Mui Ne) to visit on your own, so you don’t take time away from other attractions along the road.

      Have fun.

  41. Emily Perth

    What a fantastic blog …thankyou so much for sharing. We are 2 families travelling to Vietnam in Oct – one family has 2 children and our family has 3 children (all aged between 7 – 12 ) We have been looking at one week up the top one week in the middle and then one in HCM. After reading your blog we now may reconsider the Nha Trang stay ( we were thinking that would be our relax by the pool resort bit ) what do you think ?? Also did you pre book hotels ? we are finding that with the 3 children we will have to book 2 rooms. So if you have any other suggestions with children then I would love to hear from you. Thankyou so much ……

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Emily. That sounds like a great trip you’ve got planned.

      We booked a hotel for our first 2 nights in Hanoi and then booked or found the rest as we made our way south. In October I imagine you’ll have no trouble finding rooms so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. There are so many hotels in towns like Hoi An, Hue, Nha Trang and Mui Ne – if one parent parks themselves at a cafe with the kids while the other one hunts for accommodations you’ll find something quickly. It’s typically how you get the best deal too.

      As for Nha Trang, that’s just my take – it seemed to lack something compared to the other places we saw. But we ran into another family (before we had visited Nha Trang) who was moving south to north and they raved about it – or at least quite liked it. They found there was lots to do there (ie kids attractions) that other places lacked.

      That’s one plus about not booking. If you don’t like a place you can just move on. But if you’ve booked 5 nights at a hotel it makes it very difficult – or costly – to just pack up and take off to the next town.

      That’s what happened to us. We arrived in Nha Trang, found a hotel, had a look around and said to each other “When can we leave?” We went to the water park in town that afternoon, spent the night at the Louisiane Brewhouse (highly recommended: great beer, good food and a nice pool to lounge around), the next morning at Vinpearl Land and then hired a car to Dalat and were there late that night.

      Hope that helps. Good luck.

      1. Emily Perth

        yes that does help …..once again thanks for your time, all really fantastic advice. I am now about to read “travel vaccinations for kids ” ………a thankyou in advance for that.
        Thanks

  42. Ben

    Hello,
    I found your blog from Lonely Planet. Great pics and it looks like you have been to some pretty amazing places! I have never been to Vietnam, I’m living in Korea and want to travel there. I went to the Vietnam Embassy here in Korea and found out to my surprise that a Vietnamese visa was $120 USD! So, paid the fee reluctantly and received my passport back with my Vietnamese visa and a receipt from my payment. Well, just after I got home I got a call from the guy at the embassy saying I need to pay ANOTHER $120 (which he forgot) and he said (I quote) “Just transfer the money to my personal account and then I will send the money for you to the embassy!” I can’t help but feel that this guy is just trying to take me for a ride and steal my money. I am not planning to pay anymore as I have the visa AND a receipt, but I didn’t know if in your years of travel you have ever had a problem like this. If I get to Vietnam and this guy has somehow canceled my visa (if he can) what are my options? I feel helpless here…don’t want to pay, but don’t want my vacation ruined either. I didn’t know if in your travels you have ever had an issue like this, or if you can think of some alternatives just in case!
    Anyway…thank you for reading this and please offer any ideas or tips you might have!

    Thanks, Ben

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Wow, that’s quite a story. I don’t know if I’ve heard of such a brazen attempt to scam someone – I’ve certainly never encountered it myself. A visa for Vietnam should cost in the $40-$80 range. A business visa for multiple entry into Vietnam can be more, I’m assuming you weren’t applying for one of these.

      What would I do? This might say a fair bit about how I deal with life problems in general – but I’d just ignore it. Play dumb if they ask you anything at the airport. You’ve got the visa in your passport and the receipt, I can’t see it being an issue. Could the guy cancel it? Well, I suppose he could do just about anything – IF he had the authority but I’m sure he doesn’t.

      A different kind of person – one of those guys who fights for justice and fairness and gets their face put on a postage stamp – would probably make a big fuss, lodge an official complaint and try to get this guy fired. Or at least get to the bottom of it.

      A middle of the road route might be to return to the embassy – make sure you talk to someone different and just confirm that your visa is valid.

      I hope that helps,
      David

      1. Ben

        David,
        Thanks for the quick reply! Yeah, I met my buddy tonight and we thought about doing just what you said…that is just playing dumb and going on. I told my buddy if that guy calls again just don’t answer. I have NO IDEA how he thinks he can do this. The thing that bugs me the most is that even on the receipt he gave my buddy, there was nothing but his writing. When my friend went there he asked “what are we paying for” and the guy basically just hummed and hawed about “well, this fee, that fee, etc.” Frankly I’m really pissed off and when I get back from Vietnam I’m planning to lodge a formal complaint AND try and get this guy busted.
        I’m a teacher in Korea and I’m sure there are a fair amount of teachers going to Vietnam from time to time. It burns me up really…I feel a little trapped, like there’s not much I can do. My buddy said the embassy here was so primitive there weren’t even computers in there and the prices weren’t even listed anywhere (unlike the Cambodian Embassy, which clearly had the prices posted at $20 USD)

        Thank you for your help…and quick reply. Great blog by the way…I think it’s great!
        Have a great day!
        Ben

        1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

          Great. Have a good trip. I hope it all works out. I’m confident it will.

          Take care,
          David

          1. Ben

            Hey David…
            One other quick question (thanks for your previous advice, the guy from the embassy DIDN’T call back again, so I’m hoping the visas will be good tomorrow) I’ve read all kinds of mixed reviews on currency to use in Vietnam/Cambodia and was curious your take on it. As I said before, I’m in Korea, so I don’t want to exchange too many times, should I take some USD and some Dong, or just take USD or just take Dong? I forgot the Cambodian currency name, but same question. If it’s pennies I’ll lose, no biggie…just don’t want to lose substantial money.
            Thanks,
            Ben

          2. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

            You don’t need a lot of Vietnamese Dong when you arrive – but sometimes it’s nice to have a little – especially if you’re arriving late at night. US dollars are widely accepted and that’s how we carried most of our currency around the country. (Also used ATMs to get Dong at the best rate possible – money changers take a pretty big chunk, especially at the airports.) Most hotels will accept dollars. I’m pretty sure it’s the same in Cambodia, with both the Cambodian Riel and the US dollar being in wide circulation.

            Not sure if I answered your question but I hope I helped a little. Have a great trip!
            David

  43. mother1

    Hi, my partner and I travelled quiet a bit but now we have a 10 mnths old baby and are planning to go to Vietnam. I am raher apprehensive because people always say – what about diappers, the food is full of salt and spice and she can’t eat all the foods yet, and the water and cows milk isn’t easily bought and it is not fare to carry her around all day and buggies/prams can’t be used because of the path ways being blocked with vendors and overnight trains are not good etc. In fact nothing really positive which makes me want to go more. Can you advise what your perception would be with travelling with a then 14 month old baby.

    Thanks

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      I think it’ll be great. I say do it. (Of course I’m gonna say that right?) There will be some challenges, but manageable challenges. I wouldn’t worry about the food too much. Expose her to some Vietnamese food before you go, there are always lots of western option available if you end up needing them. At truly Vietnamese restaurants it’s just Vietnamese food, but if you frequent the tourist restaurants that are present in all the big cities – Hoi An, Hue, Dalat, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Hanoi, Saigon and Sapa – then you’ll have lots of choices for kid friendly food. Lots of fruit that kids will love too.

      As for getting around with a baby – once again, challenging yes, impossible no. The train is simple and easy, especially the overnight trains because you get so much room. When you’re stuck in a seat on the day trains, it’s slighty more difficult to keep toddlers amused.

      Cow’s milk will be difficult to find – just so you know. The streets will be difficult to navigate with a buggy/pram/stroller – I might advise taking a carrier instead of a stroller. Depending on here size – she might be a little too big – something you’ll have to consider as the trip grows closer.

      Be sure to read essential gear to take when traveling with kids – I cover many of these same ideas in much more detail.

      And lastly – it’s all about attitude. Be patient. Be ready for trying situations and try to remember that the most demanding times often make for the best memories.

      Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions.

      David

  44. Sue from Australia

    Thanks for the advice David. And yes I have just read your post about (un)safe travel and it made me laugh… We’re reasonably relaxed too: it’s just deep, dark water that worries me. Our kids are going to love the seatbelt-less cars in Vietnam and hey, we’re not travelling at western speeds. Thanks Sue.

  45. Sue from Australia

    Also I’m so glad to see your pic in the Meekong with the life jackets on. Our kids (14, 8 and 5) can swim but I had been worrying a little about whether life jackets would be available. Sue

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      One section of the trip – the portion across the actual Mekong river – was very rough, so yes we were glad to have life jackets as well.

      Not sure if you saw this post on (un)safe travel. We’re a little less than perfect with our safety precautions.

      All the best,
      David

  46. Sue from Australia

    HI David,

    Your blog makes great reading and is v helpful to us as we are travelling to Vietnam in July August 2010. I have a question about your train trip – did you travel in a state carriage in the soft car sleeper or were you in a Livitrain carriage (privately owned and attached to the back of the state trains). We are planning to travel by train to Sapa (Lao Cai) and to Danang by train and I cannot decide whether to go state-owned or pay a litle more and go private. Any advice?

    Thanks Sue

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Sue. We did the regular soft sleeper car. Livitrans sure look attractive though. The pictures on the web site look great and as you walk past the Livitrans carriages on your way to the regular sleepers, you’re inevitably thinking, “Oh man, we should have reserved those.”

      That said – it is the same train. The Livitrans cars are attached to the regualar train, make the same stops, have the same delays etc. The food car is the same for both, with very little choice beyond instant noodle pho – pretty good mind you – so in either case be sure to take food with you.

      The regular trains are a little more “traveling Vietnam” – the livitrans feel a bit removed from the life around you. We had no complaints with the soft sleepers so if you’re looking to save some money they’re obviously a cheaper choice.

      One minor point might be that since they don’t have the same ticket offices at the train station as the state owned train – contacting Livitrans can be a little more difficult. If you had to change your dates for your trip I think it would be easier with the state owned.

      David

  47. A.

    Hello, firstly thanks so much for your blog! We really love it! We have a 2 year old we have taken to thailand and on deciding where to go next we stumbled on your blog and decided vietnam.

    I have read it over and over deciding what to do while there!

    My main concern is rain as we are going in Sept and i have a friend in Saigon who says the weather in September is very heavy rain, but did i read u went in sept???

    thanks any advice would be great!
    We are in sydney australia btw!
    See you.

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hello. Thanks. Yes, we were there about August 10 to September 10, and in Ho Chi Minh in early September. And yes again, if you look at the climate charts it is the rainiest month. That said it didn’t affect our trip very much. You could usually see the storms approaching and plan accordingly. Also, if you’re planning to go to the coast (Mui Ne or Nha Trang) or Phu Quoc down south, it doesn’t seem to rain as much there. We had no problem swimming and supposedly, though there is less rain in the winter months of December, January and February, the sea tends to be rougher and the water choppy making swimming a little less attractive.

      Finally, if you’re planning to go into the north of the country it can be quite cool in the winter months so September is definitely better to explore north of Hanoi.

      Hope that gets you started. Let me know if you have any more questions. Vietnam is a great country. It makes me think of what Thailand must have been like about 25 years ago. It’s not undiscovered but its tourist infrastructure is certainly in its infancy.

      David

  48. Allison Stephenson

    Great information. My husband and I live in Asia, don’t have kids…but your travel tips and info are very helpful! Thanks and happy travelling!

  49. Amy

    I’ve found this site to be so helpful as we plan our trip in July/Aug for 19 days with my 11yr old daughter.

    Mercy, David & others, any advice you can offer on route directions would be greatly appreciated. We intend to travel to Cambodia (family in Phnom Penh), Bangkok and Vietnam (stop in Nha Trang/VinPearlland for my daughter) flying from round trip from Toronto to Phnom Penh as it is the cheapest flight we could find (Evaair at $4950 cdn.
    Due to the short visit, we want to minimize traveling in circles and are willing to take overnight trains etc. (as we intend to do from Ho Chi Min to Nha trang).

    Thanks so much.
    Amy

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Be sure to check out Kayak.com for long haul international flights, Air Asia for flights within Southeast Asia and Air Vietnam and Jetstar for flights within Vietnam. Seat61 is great for help with the Vietnam train schedule. I’d try finding a flight from Phnom Penh to Saigon, train to Nha Trang and then flight back to Cambodia for your return home. I suppose I would need to know the routes of the flights you’ve already purchased to offer more detailed advice.

      Bangkok is the hub of many airlines in Southeast Asia and seems to have flights to all the major cities in the region, so that could also be an option.

      Let me know if you have any more questions.

      Good Luck.
      David

      1. Amy

        David, thanks for your feedback.
        We’ve revised our flights (now with China Airlines -potentially unfortunate based on airline reviews) we fly into Phnom Penh and home from Saigon, which I think will help us some, what with the short trip, and we will no longer be going to Thailand.

        Considering this, we were hoping to fly from Siem Reap to Saigon with approx. 8 days remaining in our trip. We definitely plan to go to Nha Trang, but what are your thoughts on hiring a driver to take us from Saigon through Dalatand/or Mui Ne and then on to Nha Trang (or do this on the way back to Saigon)?
        As this is high season for Aussie/Asian vacationers, would you suggest purchasing plane and/or overnight train (to/from Nha Trang) ahead of time or is it ok to take our chances?

        Any advice on where to ride an elephant for more than 20 minutes between Saigon and Nha Trang? We would like to build this into our vacation as a day trip along with waterfalls visit or similar.

        Thanks so much!
        Amy

        1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

          Hi Amy,

          Not sure if you read my review of our trip with the Easy Riders: Vietnam with the Easy Riders. I think they’d work really well for a Saigon-Dalat-Nha Trang trip. Ask at your hotel or a reputable travel agent about finding the Easy Riders in Saigon.

          Personally I’d do the hired car (with the Easy Riders) one way and train the other direction. A slight problem is that the rail journey between Saigon and Nha Trang is just long enough to take up a whole day (about 7 hours) but too short to work well with an overnight train. For the overnight trains: the SE4 on the Reunification Express leaves Saigon at 23:00 and arrives in Nha Trang at 5:38. The SE3 departs Nha Trang at 21:47 and gets to Saigon at 4:30. Not perfect, but doable, I suppose.

          If you want to fly check out Vietnam Airlines – they have 4 flights a day between Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City.

          We were there in August as well and had no trouble booking tickets, but that could obviously be different this summer. It’s definitely a hassle booking anything other than plane tickets from outside the country. If you do the train on the way back from Nha Trang then it’s not a problem as you can book this in Saigon when you first arrive.

          No idea on the Elephant rides, sorry.

          Take care,
          David

    2. Madeline

      Hi Amy,

      I’m a Vietnamese American. My husband and I have been to Vietnam 4 times. We find that hands down, the best airfare deals to Vietnam/Cambodia etc. is through a Vietnamese travel agency. Their prices are much much cheaper than anything you can get online. Three months ago I bought tickets for my parents to go to Vietnam. I checked kayak.com, orbitz, etc. and found prices for about $1600-$1800.

      Called the Vietnamese travel agency in Santa Ana, CA. and they sold it to me for $950 each on Cathay Pacific. This is always the case and that’s why overseas Vietnamese always buy from these agents. They buy blocks of seats and sell them cheap. Also they can get all the Visa’s, paperwork etc for you at no extra cost. They also got tickets for us within Vietnam on Vietnam Air.

      Hope this helps.

      Madeline

  50. Bodie

    Great blog! I had a couple questions. Did you have any concerns about degnue while you were in Vietnam? We’re looking at returning to Asia (Vietnam, Bali or Malaysia) in September with our daughter who will be nearly two then and I’m not sure how to process the risks.

    Also – what camera are you using? Your pics are great!

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      Hi Bodie. We were more concerned with malaria than dengue fever, which led us to stay on the coast, in the big cities and away from the more rural places. Dengue fever is similar to malaria in that it’s transmitted by mosquito (I imagine you know that already) but is different in that travelers are at greatest risk in urban areas. So there’s a different calculation at work.

      The best prevention for both however, is not to get bit. Wear loose clothing that covers most of the body and apply a mosquito repellent with 20%-30% deet. I imagine you’ll be staying in an air conditioned hotel which helps as well, as mosquitoes don’t really like A/C.

      As for the pictures, the ones that are mine were taken with either a Canon Powershot SD1000 or SD600. Both small pocket sized cameras. But, I imagine many (all?) of the pictures you find so impressive are from photographers that submit to different web sites (usually flickr). You’ll see links to their work at the bottom of the post. i.e “Photos by:”

      Let me know if you have any more questions.

      David

  51. Mercy

    Hi,

    Thanks for your post, very helpful and nice to know travel with small children is possible.
    We’re planning our Vietnam trip with kids, ages 5 and 6 in April.
    You didn’t mention any illness acquired on the trip, was there no stomach aches etc from kids?

    How long did you travel? We only have 21/2 wks to travel.
    Any advice for us?

    1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

      My oldest boy did have a stomach bug that lasted a day or two. Not sure what caused it. The rest of us were fine. We were there for a month and still felt like we ran out of time. For 2 1/2 weeks I’d probably stick more to the north – Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ninh Binh – and then either north to Sapa or south to Hue, Hoi An and Danang.

      1. Madeline

        Hi David,

        I’m Vietnamese and moved to Hawaii when I was 5 years old. My husband is a Caucasian American guy. We both love to travel and have been all over the world, including 4 trips to Vietnam. Since my kids have been born, Eric 6 and Lauren 2 1/2 we have not taken them anywhere off the beaten bath, only tamer places in Europe.

        I really want to take the kids to Vietnam as we have expat Russian friends living in Saigon and relatives to visit in Lang Co (near Da Nang after the Hai Van Pass) and so on.

        My husband is worried about traveling to a developing country with the kids. Did you need any shots/medicines for the kids? Was the trip hard for them?

        Thanks.

        1. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

          Hi Madeline. In some ways Vietnam can be a little more demanding with kids than Europe or western countries. You need to look a little harder for things to do that will amuse your toddler and 6 year old. There are some safety issues – crossing the street for example can be a challenge at first.

          But in some ways it’s easier as well. The way of life in SE Asia is much more relaxed and less formal. So restaurants and hotels don’t seem quite so intimidating. And of course everyone is very friendly and welcoming to kids – babies especially.

          The challenges and differences are what makes the experience so rewarding. I might have mentioned this in another post, but before we left for Vietnam I can remember reading about how to cross a busy street that doesn’t have any traffic lights or cross walks: essentially you just start to cross and as long as you don’t move quickly, cars and motorbikes will weave around you and you’ll slowly make your way across the road. And I thought Ya right, with 2 kids? But once you’re there you have to do it the way it’s done (or not cross any streets) and pretty soon you find yourself out in the middle of 4 or 5 lanes of traffic holding 2 kids by the hands as cars and bikes steer around you – and that’s the way it is.

          As for shots, they did receive a couple but it wasn’t a big deal. Not sure if you read: Going to the hospital in Southeast Asia. Be prepared for everything I guess.

          We stayed to the coast of Vietnam (for the most part) so the kids didn’t require anti-malarial medication. Talk to your doctor and see what he or she recommends. You can also read this post which covers Required vaccinations for traveling in Southeast Asia.

    2. kasia

      Hey
      did you make it in April?
      we’re planning a similar trip with our 4&6 year old kids in April.
      I’m curious what destinations you picked and what was the weather like?
      Greetings
      Kasia

      1. Dori

        Hi Kasia-
        Sorry to report that we decided instead on travelling to Nepal. (We will be leaving in early Feb.) Maybe next year to Vietnam. My husband scared the bejesus out of me in terms of the dangers of dengue and malaria but we’ve since read more and come to realize that taking the proper precautions should assure a safe trip. Maybe next year.
        Good luck,
        it’s a gorgeous country (-was there myself in 97)
        Dori

  52. Jeremy

    Hey David –

    Sounds like a really great trip! Thanks for your comment on my Hanoi article on Gadling. I think we both agree it’s a must-see. I’ve visited many of the same sights in Vietnam so it was great to read your impressions.

    – Jeremy

  53. DavidDavid My Little Nomads

    Thanks Adam. It was a great trip and a lot of fun revisiting it when I wrote the post. Just working on a Pt. 2 right now with a bit more of an overview.

    Thanks again,
    David

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