The contrasting landscapes and cultural complexities of the lush Mekong River Delta in Vietnam layers one iconic scene upon another: rice fields; orchards laden with exotic fruits; farmers and fishermen in classic conical hats, and fabulous food, all of which makes this a fascinating destination to visit with kids. If you’re planning a family holiday in Vietnam, make sure to have the Mekong in your itinerary.
Combine this with good transport, and the fact that it’s a safe destination and the tourist dollar goes far, and it’s no wonder that increasingly more families are choosing to explore the Mekong River with kids. Be prepared for your children to get a lot of attention from the locals, especially if they are fair. Vietnamese people love kids.
It’s a good idea to book accommodation with a pool so that the kids have somewhere to expend some energy and cool off after a morning of sightseeing. Furthermore, make sure you weave some beach time into your itinerary. Or to keep things even easier, go for a family-friendly Mekong river cruise that will provide some fabulous cultural insights, adventure, and downtime when needed. But if you are planning to visit the Delta on your own, here are some ideas of things to do:
Mekong Delta cuisine is famous in Vietnam and if your family likes hands-on activities, here is something to do! The Delta is home to dozens of cooking schools, most of which welcome kids from age five upwards with open arms. A cooking class typically starts with a visit to the local market. This is a fantastic hands-on way for kids to learn more about fresh produce. After you’ve picked up the ingredients you need, it’s time to step into the kitchen. Participants’ level of involvement differs between cooking schools, but in most cases, you can expect to help with chopping, grinding spices, mixing sauces, and barbecuing.
Some schools give you the option of choosing a menu in advance. Fresh rice paper rolls and other dishes that don’t require much cooking are ideal for kids. Shopping for ingredients, then preparing and enjoying a meal together in a private home connects kids to Vietnam’s customs and culture like few other experiences can.
When life is led mainly on water, the floating markets are a thing, and the floating markets of the Mekong Delta are famous. Cai Rang is the largest wholesale floating market in the Mekong Delta. It starts around 4 am and runs until 10 am, which means you’ll need to make an early start to the day. The market is a 40-minute boat ride from Can Tho, and when you arrive you’ll see large boats piled high with fruits and vegetables and smaller boats pulled alongside them whilst men and women manually put their purchases into the boats.
There are also ladies in smaller boats selling coffee, baguettes, and drinks. There are even ladies cooking pho right there on their tiny boats, like little mobile cafes. Your kids will get the opportunity to interact with some of these floating merchants and will learn that the boats identify what they are selling by hanging a sample off the top of a long pole. This is certainly an eye-opener for a young family; your children will be entranced by the activity, the produce, and the vibrancy.
Make a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, about an hour and a half by car from central Ho Chi Minh City, and a feat of wartime ingenuity. During the American War, Viet Cong guerrillas dug this 75-mile network of subterranean passages as a bomb shelter, a way to transport supplies in secret, a place to store guns and ammunition, and as a planning headquarters for major operations such as the Tet Offensive.
So comprehensive was the tunnel system that it included schools, hospitals, and living quarters complete with kitchens. There’s lots to explore onsite, including military vehicles, displays of Viet Cong uniforms and weaponry, and samples of the foods on which the guerrillas lived, but the tunnels themselves are the highlight. There are stories of some soldiers living underground in the tunnel network for four years during the war. Small, removable panels carefully covered with leaves mask entrance and exit holes and you can examine the types of crude booby traps used to fend off enemy soldiers. The Cu Chi Tunnels are not frightening for most kids, but they are sobering.
Riding the world’s longest cable car in Phu Quoc is one of the best things to do with kids in the Mekong Delta area. The journey takes place between two islands of the scenic An Thoi archipelago and is extremely picturesque and thrilling. At 3.6 miles long and takes 15 minutes to reach the other end. This means for a whole 15 minutes, you are up in the sky in a glass car that sometimes sways from side to side, staring below at fishing villages, turquoise waters, and hundreds of fishing boats that look like colorful pieces of paper on water. At the end of the ride, you can head to the white sand beach on the Hon Thom island and have a good time at the play area there.
Coconut palms are grown in abundance in the Mekong Delta and the deliciously soft and chewy coconut candy is a specialty of the region, with a number of mills located on the banks of the river. Here, you can witness first-hand the skillful blending process that includes milk, sugar, and malt. The mixture is then chopped up into cubes, left to dry, and individually wrapped ready for sale. Your kids will love it.
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