Vietnam is a fantastic place for families to visit! It is exciting, exotic, inexpensive, and offers a rich tapestry of history, culture, food, adventure, and fun.
I recently spent three weeks exploring this vibrant country with my 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. I felt it was largely an undiscovered destination for Australian families. We generally tend to visit Bali and Thailand, yet Vietnam is so accessible, cheap, and very interesting.
I spontaneously bought tickets on a whim one evening – $1500 for three of us including travel insurance to fly with Scoot Airlines via Singapore. What a great decision that was!
I wasn’t familiar with Scoot, Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier, but it was adequate, despite ingratiating reviews. It was, however, delayed several times and we were compensated with a $90 meal voucher at the airport. The flight was comfortable, professional, and drama-free.
We spent five days in Singapore en route to Ho Chi Minh City.
There is so much to explore in Ho Chi Minh! After complications with my initial accommodation booking, we ended up in the backpacking District 1 – this in itself was an adventure, exploring the nightlife of discos and pole dancers, as we sauntered through the zesty, lit streets filled with music and action. The energy was high and colourful.
Shops and street food fare were open until the wee hours as a mix of tourists, backpackers, and locals took to their delights along the streets, dodging the motorcycles.
The biggest challenge I found in Vietnam was the traffic mayhem and the absence of English-speaking people. A translating app was a Godsend; and crossing the streets was a feat!
After a quick Google phone search, I found a local hotel that had a roof-top pool – this was a priority as the humidity was sweltering.
We stayed at Prague, which was a budget hotel situated in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, within short walking distance to the nightlife, restaurants, and bars. It only cost $60 a night for the three of us and included a nice breakfast of fresh fruit, toast, cereal, and hot Vietnamese dishes. Fresh spring rolls to start the day were delicious! The rooftop pool was small but clean, and comfortably warm, and offered interesting views of the motley Ho Chi Minh cityscape.
I enjoyed having an assortment of cheap massage and nail salons on our doorstep. $18 for a terrific Vietnamese full body massage, compared with the $85 I pay in Perth, was a treat. We walked to the Ben Thanh markets and purchased impressive replica Prada handbags, Converse and Nike shoes, a North Face jacket, designer T-shirts, activewear, and Ray Ban sunnies.
We had a short-hour flight to Nha Trang for around $70 per head, where we soaked up the quintessential tropical palm-lined, enduring soft sand beaches.
The waves were abundant, and the water was warm. Nha Trang is an interesting centre – many Russian tourists and menus are written in Vietnamese, Russian and French. English speaking was sparse.
We stayed at Novotel, which was ideally situated beachfront in the town centre, so within walking distance to the markets where we bought $9 bikinis and $18 pearl necklaces. The food was exotic and experimental as we deciphered the local menus through a translation app. It was so cheap. Our first night, I had two large cocktails, the kids each had a mocktail and we shared three large main dishes for $20. The service was great despite communication challenges.
Peppered with bars and eateries on the sand, the beachfront in Nha Trang is terrific with bay views of the islands.
It is a resort town popular with the Vietnamese for holidays and international travelers. We were there in May during the Independence Day celebrations so accommodation was scant and travel services such as trains and buses were booked out. (It is advisable to reserve travel plans well ahead if travelling at this time, a rookie mistake I made.) We were unable to get a train or bus on our preferred dates and last-minute accommodation options were limited. We stayed at The Ibis, which was clean, modern and adequate, although not luxury.
As such, instead of road or rail transport, we flew to the popular beachside resort city of Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, where we stayed at a basic hotel, A25, for only $40. It was clean, included robes and tea and coffee facilities, an ensuite and breakfast.
I lost my credit card at an ATM in Danang and amazingly someone found it and tracked me down through the company details on my card. This was a great testament to the honesty and kindness I experienced throughout Vietnam.
I hired a private driver to take us from Danang to our next destination, Hoi An, which was an hour away and cost $20.
Hoi An is a magical city, rich in culture, the arts, and history. It is renowned for tailor-made clothing services. I could have a dress made to measure within 24 hours for under $20! The old town centre lights up at night with a buzzing nightlife, markets and artisans selling their wares. Iconic French-Vietnamese restaurants and music-filled bars are plentiful.
We stayed at Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa which was a perfect blend of traditional Vietnamese architecture, style, and sophisticated elegance. Nestled between the beach and lagoon, with water winding through the hotel grounds, and a sparkling swimming pool, there was a peaceful naturalistic ambiance that created a feeling of harmony and peace.
We then had a fun train ride of 3.5 hours to Hue. I booked a second-class sleeper berth which was comfortable with six beds, which we shared with several local women.
The views were magnificent – high cliffs over the ocean, dense valleys and hilltops, and small villages amidst emerald fields and jungles, were the scenic entertainment.
Food trolleys rolled outside our cabin and there was a small food service area that offered basic refreshments. I wasn’t game to try the local warm Vietnamese street food on offer but we enjoyed packets of nuts and popcorn.
Hue is unique – the Imperial city – abundant in culture and history. We visited the Citadel and took a tour of the old palace which had been home to 13 Emperors and maintained an aura of majesty and regal tradition. The tour was fascinating, learning about the old ways of Vietnamese royalty where one such Emperor had 400 wives and 142 children. I found the history of eunuchs disturbing, learning that adolescent boys born of servants were selected, and had their testicles removed without anesthetic medicine. Many other truths were shared including how the ancient civilization was destroyed by French colonialization, and again by US bombings during the Vietnam War.
Aside from the Imperial history, Hue is a rich hub of the Arts. The riverside markets display the artisanship embedded in this city – painting, jewellery, music, and fantastical food creations stream the walkway.
We stayed at the majestic Azerai La Residence, which was the French Governor’s residence and then an embassy, and has since become a luxury resort offering 122 elegant rooms and suites. It offers views over the Perfume River and Citadel and is in close proximity to the downtown shopping and entertainment region.
We flew back to Ho Chi Minh City and drove out to Ke Ga Bay to the newly opened Azerai resort hotel. It is an oceanside sanctuary of peace and luxury, with a private beach and expansive ocean views. Set on 4.5 hectares of unspoiled landscape, this white stone resort has clean air, open space, and serenity. It has three swimming pools including an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
After a few relaxing days at the peaceful coastal resort, we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City where we stayed in a modern two-bedroom suite at the Residences, Intercontinental Saigon. This is an exclusive luxury hotel with stylish décor, furnishings and modern facilities. The Residences are ideal for families due to their spaciousness and privacy.
We visited the War Museum which was a highly educational but very confronting account of the Vietnam War. It challenged my thinking on the allied forces’ (USA, Australia etc) involvement in the war. The atrocities were illustrated graphically – soldiers’ brutality, Napalm bombings, and Agent Orange – sights that sear the mind. My son didn’t fare well, he chose to sit outside through most parts, my daughter was silent but intrigued and I sobbed through the whole experience.
I met a local Vietnamese-Australian man, Linh Le, who is the owner of Luxperia, a bespoke travel company that specialises in tailoring travel packages to suit the individual. He was very helpful with our travel arrangements, including a fantastic tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels and a magnificent stay at Mia Saigon.
We took a speedboat tour down the Mekong River to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, which illustrated how Viet Kong conducted warfare from beneath the earth’s surface during the Vietnam War. It was incredible, eye-opening, and worthwhile.
We spent two delightful nights in the Presidential Suite at the superb Mia Saigon, a refined boutique hotel situated on the Saigon River. This was a luxurious treat to complete our wonderful trip through Vietnam.
Created by KATE DURACK