Ninh Van Bay, Nha Trang, Vietnam. View from the hike. NHYM 2019. All photos courtesy of NHYM.
We recently returned from an epic two and a half week Vietnam adventure for the Easter holidays and it has taken me this long to recover and write about it. As I told friends about my trip, many kept asking me ‘Where did you stay/where should we go/what should we do?’ so here are all my tips.
Travelling with children is also particular: you can’t necessarily sight see all day and expect your children to be happy and smiling by the end of the day. So my method is: child – friendly sight – seeing in the morning and playing and resting in the afternoon, preferably in a hotel swimming pool. So far, this formula has worked perfectly for us as a family and we usually manage to keep the whole family happy this way.
Local fishing boat, Ninh Van Bay, Six Senses. NHYM 2019.
This was not my first time going to Vietnam as I have been many times and even spent one month living there, but it was the first time taking my children and they absolutely loved it. Vietnam may not be a place where you will find the biggest temples of Angkor Wat or Ayuttayah, or the Great Wall of China or the Grand Palace of Bangkok, but you will get a bit of everything on a smaller scale and with a different charm.
Rice fields and Water Buffalos. Hoi An. NHYM 2019.
We started in Saigon, but I would recommend travelling through Vietnam from North to South if you have enough time: friends of ours started in Hanoi and went downwards. In Hanoi, most people will stay at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, which resides in a colonial building and retains its old world charm. What’s good about it with children is that it has a swimming pool. Another option, La Siesta has a range of hotel options which are very good value.
In Hanoi, you can get a feeling of what it was like in the colonial era while Saigon is a much more chaotic, modern city, so many tourists prefer Hanoi for its charm, but the Vietnamese prefer the vibrancy and dynamic life of Saigon. Our friends took an 8 hour motorbike street food tour around Hanoi and then out to the countryside, and said it was a blast and they highly recommended it.
After, Halong Bay is the requisite stop as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. I would recommend going for 2 nights rather than 1 night, as it’s not worth it and you will just get stuck with another 100 tourist boats and that may ruin the experience. But other friends chose Bai Tu Long Bay, which is quieter and has less tourists and stayed on the Emperor Cruises which looks very luxurious and only has 8 suites per boat.
Other areas worth seeing in the North are Sa Pa for the terraced rice fields and Ninh Binh, with its limestone monoliths, but for these you would need a considerable amount of time in Vietnam to get to all of those places.
Four Seasons Nam Hai Pools. NHYM 2019.
We met up with our friends in Hoi An, where the beautiful Nam Hai Four Seasons resort waited for us. There are plenty of cheaper options around Hoi An, you could argue, but I was travelling with two young children and I wanted the most stress-free option and the Four Seasons is generally a safe bet. (And this one is a lot cheaper than most Four Seasons hotels). The Kids Club at the Four Seasons was great for us adults: the girls were kept busy all day baking cookies, jewellery making, lantern making, playing games and making new friends. And when they tired of the Kids Club they happily spent the rest of their day by the pool (there are 3 pools, 2 for adults, 1 for kids).
Hoi An Architecture and Multi-coloured lanterns. NHYM 2019.
For the adults, a trip into Hoi An is definitely worth it. What is special about Hoi An are the lanterns at night, but also the mixed architecture throughout the town. It was an old trading port that accumulated various influences from the Japanese, Chinese and French. It’s best to go either early in the morning before the tourists arrive or at night to see the lanterns illuminating the river…
Riding a Water Buffalo. NHYM 2019.
One day we went on a water buffalo, wet rice planting and boat/fishing tour – all of it very touristy, but very child-friendly. The highlight of our entire trip for our children was riding a water buffalo, but they also enjoyed learning about rice planting and cultivation and they loved the basket boat ride.
Cutting rice. NHYM 2019.
They also learned to ride a water buffalo plough, which we called ‘water buffalo water skiing.’
Water Buffalo ‘Water Skiing’ Hoi An. NHYM 2019
We then left for Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, near Nha Trang which I thought was absolutely stunning. This is not where you get modern, flashy rooms with mod cons: they are all made of wood and very rustic chic, but that’s what I loved that about it. There, it is all about nature. The Six Senses is so good at blending nature with its hotel and this was up to par with any of its other destinations.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay Water Villas. NHYM 2019.
We had a very nice two bedroom hilltop villa which was huge with its own pool and a gorgeous view of the bay and the mountains of Nha Trang. The rooms were wooden, thatched huts surrounded by trees and hillside. The food in the main restaurant was not the best ever, but the BBQ at our villa was delicious and highly recommended.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Sunset from our Hill Top Villa. NHYM 2019.
Here, like the Four Seasons, you can ride everywhere on bicycles. The Kids Club is not the best I’ve seen, so I only recommend it as a free babysitting service, but don’t expect Maldives quality (i.e. dolphin trips and marine conservation with turtles). But having said that, our kids loved the open air cinema by the dock, the complimentary ice-cream and making new friends – all from London – and they had a great time. Their highlights: egg picking in the chicken farm, snorkelling and fishing on a local wooden boat, a sunset cruise and seeing a monkey from the boat. My husband went on a super hike which had amazing views of the mountains and spotted langur monkeys while I enjoyed the Six Senses Spa, so again, something to keep everyone happy.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. NHYM 2019.
Saigon, where we started and ended, has drastically changed in the last ten years and has become a completely modern city with 1) Starbucks 2) H&M and 3) Chanel, and some say that there isn’t a lot of cultural interest, but to me it’s a great city and it is becoming cooler with rooftop terraces and rooftop pools. We stayed at the Hotel Des Arts, which is a popular destination for families because of their interconnecting rooms and it has a rooftop pool. If you want to be in the middle of the action and don’t mind noise, Liberty Central City Centre, is a modern, cool 4 star which has a rooftop pool and bar, that the girls loved for Happy Hour – even though their happy hour was a watermelon or mango juice.
View from our hotel room Liberty Central Saigon. NHYM 2019.
Their highlights in Saigon were: going for a cyclo ride through the city, going to the mall (why oh why?!) and going to a water puppet show, which shouldn’t be missed with young children. We also did a day trip to the Mekong on a boat and sampan, which is a long day, and also went to visit a family friend in the countryside, which gave us a taste of how people really live there. We also went to visit a local pagoda and orphanage to bring food and lollipops (lollipops, I was told, are a rare treat for them!) and it was great for them to meet and interact with lovely, local, children and not just Londoners, who were everywhere.
Local Pagoda in Saigon, where the monks look after orphans. NHYM 2019.
For me, travelling is not just about seeing the great cultural sights, but it’s about just being there, absorbing the culture, the people and the way of life which is so different to our own in London. It’s seeing that there are other ways to live aside from our own, to appreciate people and their cultures and it’s just wonderful sharing that with my children.
Whatever kind of traveller you are – a nature lover, a temple/ruins lover, a culture lover or a food lover, there is a bit of something for everyone in Vietnam. When we left, one of my daughters said ‘Let’s come back next year!’
Testament to a great trip!