Not long ago, we decided we were ready for an adventure in Asia with kids. We wanted an active family vacation in a culturally interesting destination with the availability of beaches for some relaxation. Originally, we were thinking Thailand, however, once we started talking with the owner of Ciao Bambino’s preferred tour operator partner who has led trips throughout Vietnam for decades, we were swayed towards Vietnam as he raved about the gregarious people and how authentic and un-Westernized northern Vietnam is for travelers.
Sure enough, we were often the only Westerners in view. This was trip was more than a vacation; it was a meaningful learning experience for the whole family. Here are my top five reasons to visit Vietnam with kids.
Over 12 days, we explored Hanoi, then went to Halong Bay and stayed on a private junk. Afterward we traveled to Nihn Bihn and finally Hoi An. From there we continued to Cambodia and Laos for another four days. We were gone for 16 days in all.
We spent the majority of our time in northern Vietnam because it is less developed and Westernized than the south. Getting firsthand knowledge about living in a Communist country was one of the most valuable experiences for the whole family, plus learning about Buddhism and meeting with monks were other firsts for us. Finally, the historical connection with America was very interesting.
I found myself deeply moved at different points in the trip and appreciated that it wasn’t just a light and fluffy destination; there were important and sometimes very sad discoveries through many of our experiences. Hearing about the American influence on Vietnam from a local’s perspective is fascinating.
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Biking through small rural villages and rice fields near Nihn Bihn, kayaking and hiking in caves in Ha Long Bay, and traditional net fishing in floating baskets and riding a water buffalo in Hoi An were some of the many physical pursuits that kept our active family busy.
Patrick explained that Vietnam is a foodie’s paradise. He was right. Literally everywhere, from the nicest hotels — like Hanoi’s fabulous Hotel Metropole Hanoi and Hoi An’s Victoria Hotel — to fine restaurants and simple noodle shops, our kids were treated like VIPs. We found the Vietnamese people open, welcoming, bright and incredibly engaging; they embraced our children and took pleasure in sharing experiences and teaching them about Vietnam.
Our goal was to create a trip with a mix of activities to keep all ages engaged and on the move, with a very well planned itinerary thoughtfully tailored to each person’s interests.
In addition to the physical activities, we scheduled home visits in Hanoi and Hoi An, market tours, cooking classes, a meeting with a North Vietnamese war veteran and a monk, a bomb shelter visit, a tour of a floating village and a photography walk through a predawn fish market. We also checked out all types of transportation, including boats, planes, cyclos, and oxcarts. A real highlight was dressing up and trying our hand at traditional Vietnamese Opera.
By far the most important moments were those when I could almost see my kids’ minds opening in front of me. Vietnam absolutely expanded their exposure exponentially. Some concepts, like freedom of speech, are easy to talk about in theory, but to see them in front of you is a powerful experience.
We learned about resilience, starvation, empathy, freedom and simplicity. For example, one day in the market, my kids started to get grossed out by something (either bugs or frogs) that locals were eating. Our guide explained that when people have experienced not having enough to eat, they will eat anything. That was it: My kids didn’t say another word about any of the exotic things that were eaten for the rest of the trip.
Waking up on a Chinese junk with the sun rising over the karsts in Ha Long Bay; stretches of lily pads and lotus flowers among rice fields in Nihn Bihn; Hoi An’s white sand beaches … all are images that will travel with us forever.
TIP: I’d feel remiss not to mention the flights, because people’s first question is almost always, “How was flying there with four kids?” Really, it was surprisingly easy, even though it took 23 hours. The 12-hour time change was also shockingly fine. I think it’s harder when heading back to the East Coast from California. My kids were great on the drives and planes. They are getting older, they want to be able to go on these trips and, let’s be honest here — Apple products help.
Get our best tips for smooth air travel with little ones in tow >
Resilience: Many people spoke about the hardships of surviving the war and communism, yet in a peaceful, accepting way — Buddhism at work, in my eyes.
Hunger: The kids learned that hunger really does exist and people will eat anything when they are starving. We also witnessed the effects of long-term malnutrition.
Empathy: The firsthand exposure to so many different things allowed us to see how limited our understanding is of another culture. Because of that exposure, we are more empathetic and less judgmental.
Freedom: To see the limitations of personal freedom, such as not being able to criticize the government without fear of retribution, was very impactful. We all learned that our freedoms should never be taken for granted. We also learned to appreciate the opportunities that we have in our lives, especially when it comes to access to medical care, infrastructure, education and career choices.
Simplicity: The beauty of life is sometimes its simplicity. My kids got to see how few things you really need in a home. Hearing a self-sustaining older farming couple living on $500 per year say “Why would we need more money when we have everything we need?” struck all of us and made us all think about our materialism. Seeing families celebrating together in their home and sleeping all in one bedroom was beautiful, and we were all taken with small village life.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Nancy Solomon.
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Start a Discussion53 Comments
My family is planning a trip to Vietnam from Canada in April of 2019. Kids are 6 & 8. We are going for 3 weeks and are curious if its worth trying to fit in Cambidia as I want to see the Angkor Wat temple. I would love to get some recommendations on an itinerary and things to do.
Hi Andrea – Sounds fabulous! One of our Family Travel Advisors specializing in Asia will reach out in email to talk more about our planning service and how we can help with an itinerary. Happy planning!
We are planning a family trip for 2019. Our children will be 11 and 7. We would like travel during the “off-season” of course when the weather is nice in the North and South. We intend to start in the North and end in the South where my wife’s family fled during the war. Any suggestions/help would be appreciated.
Hi Dwana, Thank you for your message! One of our Family Vacation Advisors specializing in Vietnam will get back to you via email to see if we can help with your trip planning. Best, -Amie
We are planning a family holiday for 3/4 weeks in September. We have two kids aged 15 and 12. Would really like to try out Vietnam but not sure it’s the right timing in terms of weather/season.
What do you think? Would really love to do some adventurous stuff so it is really important that we hit the right weather.
Hi Marisa – Thanks for using our site! Vietnam’s northern and southern halves have opposing weather patterns, so it’s tricky to hit just the right time when both are ideal…in September, you should be able to do a lot of the adventure activities in northern Vietnam, like trekking in Sapa. We have Family Travel Advisors who specialize in Vietnam planning and would be happy to help – I’ll have one of them reach out in email. Happy travels!
We are a family of five with kids 13, 11, and 7 planning a trip to Vietnam and SEA and would love help in the planning. Thank you!
Hi Peggy, thanks for using Ciao Bambino! Those are terrific ages to visit Vietnam. We’ll have a Family Vacation Advisor reach out in email to talk about how we can help with your plans. Happy travels!
Hi, we are a family of five – currently planning our trip to Vietnam in July/august.
Please can you have someone contact me also. Thanks.
Hi Raylene, thanks for using Ciao Bambino! One of our Family Travel Advisors specializing in Vietnam will reach out in email to see how we can help. Happy planning!
we also would like to plan a great trip like this for December 2017 with our two 10 year old curious and active boys. please contact me. Jeremy
Hi Jeremy, thanks for using Ciao Bambino! One of our Family Travel Advisors specializing in Vietnam will reach out in email to see how we can help. Happy planning!
Yes, this is great information and I’m thrilled to have stumbled upon it. I’m hoping to plan a trip to Vietnam (interested in potentially adding Cambodia and Laos as well) with my husband and 10 and 11 yr old for our 2 wk March break but not exactly sure where to start but sure looks like you all do!
Rachelle- Thank you for your interest! We are happy to help! A Family Travel Advisor will private message you shortly. Happy travels!
Good morning, Ive just booked tickets for a 20 day journey around Vietnam from New Zealand. We have 4 boys aged between (by then) 8 and 14 and I am so excited to start to plan our itinerary. This will be our first overseas experience as a whole family so will no doubt have lots of learning curves. Finding this blog, I thank you, because it makes it so much more real and achievable. Thanks!
Hello! We are planning a trip to Vietnam in feb 2018. I have two 6 year olds. Could you help organize a trip?
Hi Sarah – Thanks for reaching out! One of our Family Travel
Advisors specializing in Vietnam will contact you via email. Happy planning!
Love that last picture of your son holding the fruit and the woman smiling. It’s very sweet 🙂
thanks for giving us some ideas and a general knowledge of what it would be like to travel through Vietnam with a child. We are planning a three week long trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh wit a few stops on the way. Would yu consider three weeks long enough for a trip all the way along the coast?
Hi Vanessa – Thank you for using Ciao Bambino! Sounds like a wonderful trip – three weeks should be enough for Vietnam highlights. One of our Family Travel Advisors specializing in Vietnam will reach out in email. Happy planning!
Question for Nancy- How did she find the hands on educational experiences, meeting the people she mentioned and the opera experience etc. Is that something ciao bambino organizes or can she share that information with me?
Hi Julie! I understand you’ve been in touch with Amie and she’s paired you with an advisor who can answer these questions and others on your call. Happy planning!
I am glad I came across your article. I have been wanting to take my kids to see Vietnam and Cambodia as part of their homeschool experience. What your kids experienced is just what I want for my kids. Thanks for this post.
Hi Pepper – I’m glad you found it helpful! We also provide trip planning services for families. If you’d like assistance with a family trip, reach out and let us know!
My husband and 17month daughter and i will be traveling to Vietnam from Australia May 10-28.
We aim to spend 4 nights in saigon and catch flight to hanoi. From there we hope to make our way down.
Can you please recommend a itinerary.
Thank you for using Ciao Bambino! One of our Family Vacation Advisors specializing in Vietnam will be in touch in email to help. Happy Planning! Best, -Amie
Thanks for this unique and helpful blog article! I am a big fan of Vietnam! Beautiful countryside, delicious foods, and fascinating culture all are really good! By the way, Wishing you a very Happy New Year 2017!
Fantastic experience after reading your amazing blog! Your blog have some helpful tips to make an outstanding memory!
I’d love to “talk” with a planner about a trip this Thanksgiving to Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos. We have 2 children ages 10 and 12. Thank you!
Hi Bethany – Terrific! I’ll have a Family Vacation Advisor Reach out. I’m doing this trip over Christmas 🙂 So excited! -Amie
Sounds awesome – could one of your travel advisors contact me for Vietnam as well.
Hi Susie, Yes, absolutely. One of our Advisors will be in touch shortly. Best, -Amie
Thanks for a wonderful post. If we were in two minds about Vietnam before, we are now convinced. We’re planning a trip for our family of 4 (kids aged 9 and 7) . We’re from South Africa. Love the idea of cultural experiences across the country. Planning 14 days. We’d love to work with someone for a super itinerary!
Hi Kim, Fantastic, we are excited to hear that Nancy’s article provided inspiration! One of our Advisors will reach out in email to help you plan an amazing itinerary. Stay tuned! Best, -Amie
What an amazing post! After just deciding to take our 5, 7 and 9 year olds on a more adventurous holiday I have come across this post and feel totally inspired. Can’t wait to discover more about Vietnam!
Were going to Vietnam 25. march – 15. april 2017. We are a family woth tow girls (11 and 13). Some tips would be nice 🙂
Hello Bjørnar, Are you interested in having one of our Advisors engage our partner in Vietnam to put together an itinerary for you? I’ll have someone reach out in email. Thanks! -Amie
My family is planning a trip to Vietnam and Laos for December 2016. We have an 11 year old daughter. We love biking, hiking and most outdoor activities plus eating all types of food!
Hi Melissa, Fantastic! I’ll have one of our Advisors reach out in email. We’d love to help. Best, -Amie
Great article! Thanks for sharing. My family is planning a trip to Vietnam this December 2016 and looking for someone to create an itinerary for us. We have 2 kids, one is 7 years old and the other is 3. years old. They love art and swimming.
Hi Amy – I’ll have our Family Travel Advisor specializing in Vietnam reach out to you. Thanks! -Amie
What a great article! My family is planning a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia for December 2016 for 12 days. I know it is quite short time to prepare, so I really appreciate if you guys can help us to create an itinerary. We have 2 kids, 8 years old and 4 years old.
Hi Evey, I’ll have one of our Family Travel Advisors specializing in Vietnam reach out to you! -Amie
Thank you so much for this! What did you do in Cambodia? Would love to read about that also!
We went to Siem Reap and spend two days exploring the Angkor Wat temple complex. We were hesitant to add another stop to our trip, but am really glad that we did. It was truly amazing and easy with the kids- despite the heat and crowds. I have a post coming soon about Cambodia, so keep a look out. We also visited Laos, where we spent a day at an Elephant camp and loved the whole experience.
I’d love to do essentially the same trip activities you did to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and learn more about everything – including best time of year to make the journey.
We are two families (2adults plus two 13year old boys from UK plus 2adts and a 3/7/9year old from New Zealand). We are currently planning and researching a trip to Vietnam for July/August 2017. We will probably sort flights but are looking for someone who could create an itinerary for us spanning 21days. We would like a good mix of culture and new experiences with some good downtime (by beach/pool perhaps).
Hi Murray, Happy New year! One of our Family Vacation Consultants will reach out to help. Thanks! -Amie
Great post. We just purchased tickets to go to Vietnam with our 6 year old daughter thanks for sharing.
Hi Monica – If you want one of our planners to help develop the itinerary for your trip let me know and I’ll have someone follow up. Thanks! -Amie