Vietnam Travel Advice: Travelling as a family through Vietnam was not a traditional family holiday!!! We wanted to get out of our individual comfort zones and it certainly did this for us.
Vietnam Travel Itinerary
- Day 1 – Arrive Vietnam Hanoi – check in at hotel. Local walk and evening meal.
- Day 2 – Hanoi City Tour – Hanoi ‘Hilton’ Prison, Ho Chi Min Memorial, one legged pagoda, Buddhist temple, cyclo tour, shopping & water puppet show.
- Day 3 – Travelled from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay by bus. Transported to our junk by smaller boat. Traveled out to the bay. Visited Sung Sot Caves (the caves of surprises), Ti Top beach and kayaking in a lagoon. Over night on the junk boat.
- Day 4 – Ha Long Bay bus to Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi. Flight to Dan Nang. Bus to Hoi An – check in hotel.
- Day 5 – Hoi An walking tour of the old town. Visited a Heritage House & a Chinese school. Free time to explore and to get measured for hand made dresses. Cookery class in the evening.
- Day 6 – Bike ride from Hoi An to An Bang beach. Sea swimming. Back to Hoi An to collect dresses, buy local chilli sauces & evening meal. Check out hotel before bus to Dan Nang train station for overnight sleeper train to Nha Trang.
- Day 7 – Arrive Nha Trang. Bus and then boat to Hòn Ông (Whale Island Resort). Check in. Relaxing time swimming.
- Day 8 – Boat trip for snorkelling off Hon Long island. Relaxing time
- Day 9 – Check out. Boat transfer back to mainland. Bus to Tuy Hoa airport. Flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Bus to hotel. Check in.
- Day 10 – Cu Chi Viet Cong tunnels. Walking tour of Saigon – Palace, Old Post Office, Ben Thanh market.
- Day 11 – Check out hotel. Bus to Cai Be with the Mekong Delta. Transfer to boat. Visit fruit farm. Arrive at Homestay in Vinh Long. Afternoon visit to local popped rice & coconut sweet factory.
- Day 12 – Check out. Boat back to Cai Be. Sampan boat ride in local waterway. Bus back to Ho Chi Minh City with a stop at Cai Be Cao Dai Temple. Check in hotel.
- Day 13 – Visit to War Remnants Museum. Free time for shopping.
- Day 14 – Check out. Cab to Ho Chi Minh City Airport. Flight to Phu Quoc. Cab to Thanh Kieu Beach Resort.
- Days 15 to 20 – relaxing time. Visit Phu Quoc Night Market. Scuba diving at Kim Quy island. Explore local area on scooter.
- Day 21 – Check out. Flight Phu Quoc to Hanoi & depart Vietnam for Singapore.
It is hard to summarise what we enjoyed the most about this trip, so we’ve listed our top 7 thing we loved about Vietnam here…
1. We (mostly) loved Vietnamese food
As a family we are fairly adventurous with our food choices and in the UK there are many opportunities to eat food from all over the world. We also love fresh and very spicy food. We’d eaten at various Vietnamese restaurants over the years and thought we had a good idea about what Vietnamese food would be like.
There are many opportunities to eat in Vietnam. There are an abundances of cafes and restaurants and street food is everywhere. It often seems that people just set up their cooking area at any spot on the roadside and start preparing food.
Some of the street food set ups look looked very dubious and certainly would not meet Western food hygiene standards. You really do take your life into your own hands if you buy from some street sellers. You can though eat very, very cheaply.
We enjoyed eating Banh Mi (french baguettes filled with hot Vietnamese fillings), satays, pho, elephant ear fish, snapper, ice cream rolls, lemongrass skewered beef, fresh mangosteens from fruit sellers amongst many other dishes.
Whilst the food was fresh, we were often surprised about that lack of spice and we often had to ask for extra chillies (especially in the north of Vietnam)!
One item we certainly avoided though was the snake wine in the Mekong Delta! And yes … an upset tummy was experienced by each of us at some point during the trip. So be prepared with travel medicines.
2. The Vietnamese people were very friendly
Over the three weeks we met some lovely people. Admittedly we were travelling & on holiday in Vietnam so the majority of people were working in retail, hospitality and leisure roles.
Vietnamese culture values relationships harmony. People often focus on building positive connections with others. In Vietnamese culture people often strive to be polite and respectful in order to avoid causing offense.
That said, they may also say and do things that people from the West may find intrusive. For example a large belly is seen as a sign of wealth and good living. You may find yourself having your belly rubbed and being compared to Buddha!
3. Vietnamese Coffee Rocks!!
We thought Europeans were obsessed with coffee and that the home of coffee was Italy. The Italians have nothing on the Vietnamese… as long as you like it sweet. Coffee is usually served with sweet condensed milk. This adds a creaminess and sweetness to the coffee.
Vietnamese coffee uses Robusta beans. These are native to the region. Robusta beans have a stronger and more bitter flavor than the Arabica beans commonly used in other types of coffee drunk in the West.
The brewing of Vietnamese coffee involves using a small metal filter called a Phin. This sits on top of the cup or glass, and coffee drips slowly through. The process develops an intense, concentrated coffee. Much like a large espresso.
Coffee shops are everywhere in Vietnam. If you visit, you must try the Egg Coffee (it’s like a custard) and the delicious Coconut Coffee.
4. We learnt a lot about Vietnam history
Our eldest daughter was studying GCSE history and Vietnam was part of the curricular. Bringing history to life was one of the major benefits of our family trip through Vietnam. We loved learning for about Vietnam beyond recent history.
Vietnam became an annex of China in 111 BC and remained so for over a thousand years. During this period, Chinese culture and administration heavily influenced Vietnam. These influences remain in the country today. Many people speak Chinese and we enjoyed visiting a Chinese school in Hoi An.
Vietnam gained independence from China in the 10th century. There was then a period where it expanded territory through wars and conquests.
Vietnam became a French colony in the late 19th century and became part of French Indochina, with Laos and Cambodia. The French introduced Western education, architecture, and culture to Vietnam. This is still evident today with Latin alphabet being used and colonial buildings throughout the country.
Vietnamese nationalists began to organise resistance to French colonial rule in the early twentieth century. The Viet Minh’s successful campaign for independence was achieved in 1954.
Post independence Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The communists in the North were supported by the Soviet Union and China. The non-communist South Vietnamese were supported by the USA.
The conflict, known as the Vietnam War in the West, but as the American War within Vietnam occured between 1955 to 1975. It resulted in the reunification of Vietnam under communist rule. The communist party have continued to govern since.
We visited the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war and the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Min City. Both were fascinating to visit. The museum though was particularly graphic in sharing the effects of the war (in particular the use of Agent Orange)and may not be suitable for some children.
5. The dramatic Scenery in Vietnam
We were fortunate to have time to travel through Vietnam as a family and experience the wide and varied scenery. Highlights for us included…
Ha Long Bay, located in the north of Vietnam, about 3 hours from Hanoi. It is UNESCO World Heritage site with limestone cliffs and emerald green waters.
Hoi An, a charming and historic city located on the coast in the centre of Vietnam. It is known for its charming old town. The traditional wooden houses are adorned with hundreds of colourful lanterns. It was a joy to wander aimlessly through these ancient streets.
The Mekong Delta in the south of the country, a fertile area of rice paddies, fruit farms, coconut plantations and scenic waterways. We enjoyed travelling through this area on boat and soaking up the views.
6. Travelling in Vietnam
Travel planning is huge part of an extensive trip to Vietnam. It is a large country and to see it you have to be prepared to travel. This takes time to plan and to action.
If you are brave you could attempt Vietnam travel by car or motorcycle. As a family travelling in Vietnam we chose to use a combination of private buses, taxis, planes, boats and an overnight sleeper train.
Travelling in Vietnam was easier than we thought it would be. English was spoken throughout the country so it were were apple to buy tickets and plan routes at stations and airports. Where language became a barrier, we found the Vietnamese more than happy to use the Google Translate app on our phones.
Using an overnight sleeper train was both a highlight and a challenge. The carriages were ancient and our 4 berth ‘VIP room’ must have had decades of sweat and cigarette smoke impregnated into the beds and curtains as the smell was quite intense. We had also been warned in advance that the trains were badly ventilated, had no A/C and there could be bugs including mosquitoes, cockroaches and mites. They also had drop hole toilets and a communal sink for washing hands & brushing teeth.
With advance warning we’d invested in Craghoppers NosiLife Stretch Liners which has anti-insect treatment built into the fabric. These offered protection against biting insects (as did the other Craghoppers NosiLife clothing we were wearing) We didn’t get bitten. Other people that we travelled with didn’t fare so well on the train. Read our gear reviews here to help you choose your Vietnam travel gear.
7. City Street Life
It is fair to say that at times city life in Vietnam blew our minds. Hanoi in the North and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), in the South, were particularly manic, with incessant noise, smells and movement. If you are prepared for this, it is very exciting to experience.
Crossing the road in Vietnam becomes a new skill that you have to learn. Motorists simply do not pay attention to pedestrian crossings and you have to learn a new technique where you catch the eye of a motorist, put your hand out and then walk in front of the car or scooter rider. It’s scary at first, but it works. I would though be worried about attempting this with young children! There is so much traffic and millions of peoples ride scooters as their primary mode of transport
Vietnamese cities are densely populated. During the evening the pavements and walkways become street food kitchens, places to dine, take a coffee and meet your friends. Stepping amongst this frenetic city life for a few days was enjoyable. It was fun to experience though at times overwhelming for our children who are used to less chaos.
There was though a darker side with the number of brothels disguised as massage parlours. It became very frustrating to be hounded “Hey Mister .. you want a massage … we have many pretty girls”. It was a conversation that we were not expecting to have with our teenage daughters, but again an element of getting out of our comfort zone as a family.
Summary of our Vietnamese Adventure
Our Vietnam experience was in the main positive. When people have asked us on our return, “How was your holiday in Vietnam?” … Our reply is. “It was an adventure, not a holiday”. We saw some amazing sights, met some great people, learned a lot about the history of Vietnam, enjoyed lovely food and drinks. We felt like we’d experienced a completely different country and culture to what we are used to in the U.K.
This was our original goal with the trip. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone and push the boundaries for us as individuals and as a family. It did that. By pushing the boundaries we also faced various challenges. Some of these were medical due to food hygiene and insect bites. The main challenges though cultural and socio-economic and were hard to navigate beyond…
- The level of poverty was high. Despite the country embracing communism, there are huge class divides. There are ultra rich people driving Rolls Royce cars and shopping in high end brands such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Children also walk the streets barefoot and prostitution is rife.
- There is a huge pollution problem in the country with plastic litter. This is on streets, beaches, roads, waterways and the sea. The country is being choked by this pollution and a strategy is clearly needed to deal with this whilst the country rapidly embraces growth through tourism.
- Animal & marine life protection is not the same as what we are used to in the West. As scuba divers we enjoy immersing ourselves in the sub aqua world. We look, we learn and we try to have minimal impact whilst visiting. Walking into supermarkets and seeing items such as packets of dried seahorses broke our hearts. It would have been difficult to accept if this was for food. It wasn’t. It was for ‘magical potions’ i.e. Chinese medicines for issues such as male erectile dysfunction. This was incomprehensible for us all, but particularly so for the children.