Vietnam with kids promises to be a magical and memorable experience like no other. The Vietnamese are super-friendly, welcoming and surprisingly fun people who adore children – be prepared for your little ones to receive VIP attention on their travels.
From north to south, Vietnam’s beautiful and diverse landscapes provide one giant playground for amazing adventures and nature activities, from kayaking to mountain biking. And rich in culture and history, there are countless fascinating sights to see and fun yet educational pursuits unique to Vietnam – so much to learn and enjoy in Vietnam. When it’s time to relax at the beach, an increasing number of family-friendly accommodations and kids’ entertainment are readily available – and affordable!
World-famous Cu Chi tunnels make an enthralling day trip while based in Ho Chi Minh City, just 18 miles south (some companies offer exclusive speedboat transport along the river for part of the journey there). These historic tunnels may work out as one of the most history-drenched family tours you’ll likely join in Vietnam but are also a fun and interactive experience that’s a big hit with kids.
This immense network of underground tunnels was the secret HQ and base for the Northern Vietnamese Army’s (Viet Cong) military operations during the Vietnam and Indochina wars – contributing a huge part in their victory.
Having been preserved, the Cu Chi Tunnels are now a popular tourist attraction. From the original tunnel network, visitors can enter two short sections that have been restored and slightly widened. On fascinating guided tours, clamber through these deep tunnels, sensing a rough idea of what wartime conditions were like, seeing former subterranean facilities like soldier’s living quarters, and scrambling out of emergency exits. Above-ground attractions include an awesome shooting range, a display of wartime mantraps and burnt-out tanks, and sampling bunker meals as endured by the Viet Cong!
The ancient capital, Hanoi, is jam-packed with things to see and do, however, Bat Trang village on the city outskirts, makes a must-do, interesting half-day tour that all the family can enjoy!.
A traditional ceramic village dating back to the 14th century, Bat Trang still produces their world-renowned porcelain and pottery wares, many, at family-based pottery workshops and kilns. Stroll around the quaint riverside village, stopping off at the dozens of showrooms and stores displaying a vast selection of pottery and ceramic pieces. You can also drop into some traditional workshops, watching various stages of production.
Be sure to book a class at various workshops to learn all about this traditional ceramic-making process and ancient Vietnamese artisan craft of the Red River Delta. Kids can try their hands at making their own pottery products, transforming into real-life mini-potters for the day: controlling the wheel to shape the clay, working and trimming the clay, then painting and decorating their hand-made masterpieces. These finished glazed pots make a unique and lasting souvenir to take home!
Vietnam boasts some of the world’s most acclaimed cuisine and kids are bound to love the light, fresh and delicious dishes – a lot less spicy than other Asian countries – eaten on their travels. With many quality tourist cookery classes available in Vietnam, this makes the perfect opportunity and fun activity, learning how to make Vietnamese cuisine and recreating favorite dishes once back home. Some small group classes cater to families, given you the option to choose the most suitable menus in advance. Instructed by Vietnamese chefs, most classes start with a tour of a local market: a superb, hands-on way to experience local life and traditional wet markets, learn about the exotic, diverse produce, and their health benefits. Participants’ level of involvement depends on ability: in most cases, children undertake simple tasks like grinding spices and mixing sauces, and creating simple regional dishes like fresh rice paper rolls, salads, and cold noodles not requiring much cooking. Classes invariably wrap up with a group lunch, certificate, recipe book, and souvenir thrown in!
Family-orientated cooking classes are available in all major destinations – Hanoi, Hue, Danang, HCMC, and even onboard Halong Bay cruises. However the most family popular and biggest choice of classes is in Hoi An, either purpose-built schools or restaurants housed in colonial villas. Hoi An is a stand-out for its fresh produce and unique traditional regional recipes, plus many classes hosted in the surrounding lush countryside, accessed by scenic riverboat trips. Some incorporate fun culinary activities, including planting rice, picking fresh produce at organic gardens, catching crabs, and paddling in a traditional ‘coracle’ boat.
One of the most enjoyable family activities is leisurely cycling trips in the countryside, which from north to south, Vietnam can offer in abundance. Amongst many options, there are some cycle-friendly stand-outs with glorious scenery, all-important flat terrain, with off-road safe trails. Bike hire is easy, although mountain bikes are recommended.
West of HCMC, one of Vietnam’s friendliest, most picturesque regions, the Mekong Delta, makes a great family day out (or longer) from the urban chaos. With its lush, peaceful farming lands skewered by a network of waterways, the ‘Delta is ideal for cycling, stopping off at fruit orchards, cottage industries, and secluded riverside hamlets.
In Hoi An, cycle out to the surrounding quintessential rice paddies and rural communities, or to one of several relaxing beaches for a picnic and swim.
In the north, take a cycle tour through enchanting Mai Chau (around a two-hour drive from Hanoi), where picturesque valleys backed by forested mountains are home to ethnic minority stilt-house villages and a traditional way of life. Beyond Hanoi, the Red River Delta is also a must-do, cycling off-road through centuries-old artisan villages and riverside farming lands.
A water puppet show is a total must-do activity on your family vacation in Vietnam: not only unique to Vietnam and a wonderful insight into traditional Vietnamese culture but a sure-fire child-pleaser that parents invariably enjoy too! Water puppetry originated centuries ago in northern Vietnam’s Red River Delta, when farmers practiced this recreational art form in flooded paddies.
Hidden behind a bamboo screen in waist-deep water, puppeteers manipulate lacquered wooden puppets to act out traditional stories based on ancient folk tales and rural village life, on an ever-changing, watery stage. The hour-long shows, broken-up with vignettes (short enough to hold kids’ attention) are accompanied by an authentic orchestra ensemble playing traditional folk music – joining in with the boisterous exclaims at the half-submerged puppets. Even though the dialogue is entirely in Vietnamese, the storylines and exaggerated gestures are fairly clear and the delightful puppets – including cheeky comical figures and mythical creatures – dramatic music and quirky humor keep kids enthralled.
Water puppet shows are performed in dedicated theaters in HCMC, Hoi An, and Hue, but don’t miss a performance in its birthplace: in some Red River Delta villages and at Hanoi’s world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.
At some point, be sure to book a seaside getaway, with relaxing downtime at the beach for both kids and parents, after all the excitement of sightseeing. In fact, it’s a great idea to base yourself in one of Vietnam’s major beach destinations: not only enjoying all the lovely beaches and related activities but making the most of affordable five-star resorts, supplying pools to cool down, kids club, and heaps of organized activities – and somewhere to retreat after exploring surrounding attractions. Although Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline, the best destinations are located in the tropical south.
Phu Quoc is, not surprisingly, a hot favorite beach destination, an idyllic tropical island just a one-hour direct flight from HCMC, boasting some of Vietnam’s loveliest white sand beaches, with the best snorkeling and plenty of family-friendly beachfront resorts. Kids will love riding the world’s longest over-the-sea cable car connecting two scenic islands in the stunning An Thoi Archipelago, tours to pearl farms, and the island’s huge theme park.
Other recommendations cover the amiable south-central city of Nha Trang, a short flight from HCMC, with options of a central city beach, massive Hon Tre Island resort and entertainment complex, or upscale beach resorts secluded on private beaches. In the Central Provinces, both Danang and Hoi An offer family-friendly beaches out from the center of town, while Mui Ne, a train ride from HCMC, is another family favorite, for its palm-fringed golden sands, upscale resort choices, and constant micro-climate. Mui Ne is also a watersports and kiteboarding hotspot, with towering sand dunes kids can sandboard down!
Brightly colored lanterns are an iconic symbol of Hoi An; every night, lighting up the atmospheric Ancient Town’s streets and especially, during the full moon lantern festival. Among the endless activities for children in Hoi An, lantern-making classes is one of the most popular; a traditional craft that has been around for centuries in this ancient trading port.
Many family-run artisan workshops host great value, fascinating classes, easily learning how to make Vietnamese lanterns with ready-made bamboo lamp frames and covering of silk fabrics or hand-crafted paper. These lanterns make a wonderfully personalized Vietnamese souvenir, plus a lovely home décor piece. Children can also learn how to make masks, again, another regional craft with skills passed down the generations; masks are made from scratch, from the papier-mâché base to painting traditional-style designs.
For families who love the great outdoors, ever-popular Sapa, in Vietnam’s upper northwest mountains, is a must. Even the overnight train journey, from Hanoi to Lao Cai near the Chinese border, is an exciting adventure!
A former French hill station resembling a charming alpine town, surrounded by towering mountains, Sapa makes a delightful base for wondrous activities. Guided trekking tours, from one day to days, head out to verdant rice paddies, sweeping valleys, forested hills and even remote ethnic minority villages, giving a unique opportunity to engage with mountain families and see how they live. Families will love the cable-car ride to the top of Mount Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak (10311-feet-tall), allegedly the tallest, longest and most advanced three-wire system ever installed in Asia, revealing jaw-dropping views of cloud-covered peaks and forested slopes. As further distractions, cultural festivals are held here during the year and there are cafés, restaurants and shops.
There aren’t any Disneyworld’s here (yet), but in recent years, Vietnam has increased its tally of international-standard and impressive amusement and theme parks, practically all, conveniently accessible from major tourist destinations.
In the Central Provinces, families are spoilt for choice. In Danang city, Asia Park – Sun World Danang Wonders is an Asian-themed amusement and cultural park, renowned for its ‘Sun Wheel’ – one of the world’s highest Ferris wheels. Around 34 miles northwest of Hoi An, sprawled across the cooler mountains, Sun World Ba Na Hills is a massive, European-inspired theme park and resort complex, connected by three cable-car systems, one of which being the world’s highest vertical climb, making for a thrilling ride.
Kids will also love the Fantasy Park, Vietnam’s largest indoor games zone and Instagram-icon, Golden Bridge, an elevated pedestrian bridge held aloft by two giant stone hands, revealing jaw-dropping views.
From beach city, Nha Trang, an overwater cable-car ride transports the family across to beautiful Hon Tre Island, home to VinWonders, a vast resort island complex, incorporating family-friendly resorts fronting lovely beaches and gigantic water park and amusement park that contains the world’s biggest floating bay.
Phu Quoc Island also has a similar set-up with VinWonders Phu Quoc, allegedly, Vietnam’s largest theme park, inspired by various imaginative themes and featuring a water park and aquarium. Also on the island, Vinpearl Safari, Vietnam’s first semi-wild animal sanctuary, with a great variety of wildlife admired from a bus tour.
With its unfair share of dreamy rivers, extensive coastlines, bays and off-shore islands, Vietnam provides endless opportunities for memorable boat journeys – each engaging with unique nature and cultural experiences.
For an overnight sailing adventure, hop aboard a luxury yet family-friendly boat cruise through Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay in the northern Gulf of Tonkin. Not only can you all watch ethereal karst scenery gliding by from the sun deck, but off the boat, the bays are a wonderland of cathedral-sized caves, hidden grottoes accessed by sea kayaks and secluded coral coves perfect for swimming. Alternatively, down south, take a boat trip along the Mekong River, anything from a half-day to a week, discovering the Mekong Delta’s floating markets, stilt-house villages, and family-run fruit orchards. Don’t miss boat trips off the pretty shores of Phu Quoc and Nha Trang, sunset forays along Hoi An’s scenic Thu Bon River, and traditional ‘Dragon Boat’ cruises that ply the Perfume River in Imperial Hue, stopping off at extraordinary tombs and pagodas.
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