Ultimate Road Trip Guide: Vietnam
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Why traveling through Vietnam with kids is a must
Vietnam is one of the most versatile Southeast Asian countries. It’s known for its lush green, limestone cliffs, a dark and complex history, delicious streetfood and millions of motorbikes. The population is estimated at 97,5 million.
This ultimate family road trip guide: Vietnam covers all the places you should not miss while in Vietnam with kids.
Best age to visit Vietnam
Vietnam is very family friendly. It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting Vietnam with toddlers or teens. A family trip to Vietnam is always a succes, because its highlights are fun for adults and kids of all ages.
Hiking through rice fields, tasting yummy street food, cruising through Halong Bay and exploring Huế’s forbidden purple city. All exciting and fun things to see and explore as a family. Take at least 3 weeks to explore this amazing Southeast Asian country. This road trip itinerary of Vietnam can be done in 4 weeks. 5 weeks if your family loves slow traveling or if your kids need a little more time to rest in between travels.
Backpacking through Vietnam with kids
Vietnam has good infrastructure and great public transportation. That’s why backpacking with kids is easy here. We did all our traveling by (night)train, bus and boat and it was a journey we’ll never forget. Backpacking Vietnam with kids is amazing!
More and more travelers go on a road trip through Vietnam by car. We don’t have any experience with driving here, but like I said, infrastructure is good. The only thing is that cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are extremely busy and I personally wouldn’t dare drive here. Cars and motorbikes are everywhere!
Outside of the city center and especially on the countryside or on highways driving a car yourself is recommendable.
Kid friendly Vietnamese dishes
Food wise Vietnam offers a lot of great dishes that children of all ages will love. Like the noodle soup Pho, filled with veggies, fresh herbs and comes with chicken (Phở Ga) or beef (Phở Bo).
Another kid friendly dish is Bánh Xèo (sizzling cake). Savory rice flour crepes stuffed with beans, fresh herbs and shrimp or pork. If your kid is really picky, don’t worry. Most Vietnamese speak basic to good English and they have no problem leaving some of the filling out.
Lastly, we saw kid favorite La Vache Qui Rit cream cheese everywhere. So if all else fails you can always fill a delicious, freshly baked baguette with that. Baguette? Yes, Vietnam was once a French colony and that is still noticeable in some of the architecture, but also in the kitchen. The famous Banh Mi sandwich is served in a baguette. It’s a much lighter version than the French one and simply divine! I still crave it on a regular basis.
Vietnam tours for families
Most tours to the must-visits are also aimed at children. But, there are a few things you should check when booking a tour. Add an hour or two to every tour timetable you lay eyes on. The Vietnamese are not very punctual.
All the tours we did (booked through different companies) started too late and the short breaks are not so short after all. So, when traveling with kids under 6, make sure you bring enough entertainment for the bus ride and the breaks. They will love the excursions, but we all know how they can get moody on the way to sights or during longer breaks.
There’s one exception when it comes to punctuality: Ha Long Bay cruises. They are usually on schedule. The thing you need to check when booking a cruise is the age limit. Some cruises are more romantic and aimed at newlyweds and kid free couples. Others allow kids of all ages, but don’t offer cribs. Always make sure to bring life/swim vests for all kids under 8. They often don’t have any for kids below 8.
Vietnam: a safe family travel destination
Vietnam is safe for families to visit. Vietnamese love kids and truly dote on them. They’re welcomed with a smile everywhere. There’s really only one thing that you should be mindful of and that’s the insane traffic. Hold onto your kids on the sidewalk, because if you loose sight of them for just a second they could end up getting badly hurt if they run onto the streets.
Crossing the street is a true adventure. Our first night in the big city we stood on the sidewalk for 10 minutes in total disbelief of the mayhem before our eyes. Street lights are in function, but nobody pays attention to them. They will stop for you, but don’t run and keep paying attention to your surroundings while crossing, then you will be fine. After a few times, you’ll get used to it. We always held hands with each other though. And with smaller kids it’s best to carry them across.
Best time to travel
Because Vietnam is a very long country, the temperatures in the North vary considerably with the South. This makes it a year-round destination.
That said, from March to April the rainfall is low and the temperatures milder and is the best period if you’re traveling through the entire country.
When only visiting Northern Vietnam know that overnight temperatures can dip to 4 degrees Celsius.
We were here in December and we enjoyed it, but that’s mainly because we brought our fleeces and warm socks for the time we spend in Sapa. We sometimes had to wear a sweater or a fall coat when in Hanoi, but the temperatures there where not as low as they were in Sapa.
From May to August it can get very hot and humid. Spring and Autumn are the best when visiting North Vietnam. Blooming of the rice fields starts in May. If you still want to see the rice fields before they’re harvested, don’t go any later than September.
South Vietnam has warm, pleasant temperatures throughout the whole year, making it good for traveling at any time. Flooding may occur from July to October, but is not frequent. The thing you probably will experience is heavy rainfall, but the good news is that it never rains for very long.
From March to May, temperatures are at its peak, regularly hitting 40 degrees Celsius.
Road tripping through Vietnam with kids
Being a top travel destination, Vietnam is extremely well connected by air and railway. It also has some great roads. When planning to travel the whole country, you have many different transportation options.
This ultimate family road trip guide: Vietnam is focused on traveling by (sleeper) train, bus and boat, because that’s how we did it. But you can also easily travel by car.
Our top tip is to pick up your rental car when you’ve seen Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi after you’ve landed in one of those cities. And bring it back before you explore one of these cities before returning back home. If you rent and return your car at a place outside the city center or at the airport, you avoid the mayhem that is traffic in both of these cities.
How to get to Vietnam
My family and I like to use Expedia for flights. And we always opt to book a flight and hotel, at least for the first night. Just to ease the start of our family vacation. When arranging everything yourself, Expedia is a good starting point. But always compare prices by visiting more than one booking site.
How to get around in Vietnam
To book your transport during your ultimate road trip through Vietnam with kids, whether by air, train, bus or ferry, we recommend using 12Go. This is a user-friendly website that will show you all the different price options and comparisons as well as reviews from fellow travelers.
Epic family road trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
This ultimate road trip guide of Vietnam with kids starts in Hanoi and ends in Ho Chi Minh City. This is the best Vietnam itinerary for families who are looking to combine city trips, soaking up history, hiking in nature and chilling at the beach. You can find it all in this 4 week Vietnam itinerary. When you want to do it all, 3 weeks in Vietnam is the bare minimum and you can’t stay in any of the locations for longer than 2 nights. If you want to follow this entire Vietnam road trip itinerary at a slower pace, opt for a 5 week stay.
Southeast Asia itinerary including Vietnam
If you choose to combine Thailand and Vietnam, check out this ultimate family road trip guide of Thailand for a 3 week itinerary. Start with Thailand by landing in Bangkok and at the end of your Thailand trip you fly from Bangkok to Hanoi and work your way down to Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s mostly cheaper to book a return ticket to and from the same destination. In this case from your home country to and from Bangkok. Instead of flying from your own country to Bangkok and then return home from Ho Chi Minh City. You do have to fly from Ho Chi Minh City back to Bangkok at the end of your trip. But that’s probably still 100s of euros cheaper than booking your return flight to 2 different cities in different countries.
And with this map of Vietnam, including all the best places to visit in Vietnam with kids, I’d like to dive into our guide and hope it inspires you enough to plan your Vietnam family vacation!
The best way to start your road trip is by exploring this country its capital city, Hanoi!
After arriving at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport it will take you about 40 minutes to get to the city center via airport shuttle bus, taxi, private transfer or express bus.
Hanoi is sometimes spelled as Ha Noi, translated into Between two Rivers and is Vietnam’s capital city. There is loads to do in Hanoi with kids, like checking out a water puppet show, eating street food and watching the giant plastinated turtle at Hoan Kiem Lake. You can easily spend 3 to 4 days in Vietnam’s second largest city.
Hanoi is known for bustling streets filled with motorbikes, street food in every street and every corner, temples and the 2000 year old Old Quarter. Enough activities for every family member to pick a favorite from.
10 things to do in Hanoi with kids
These are the 10 best things to do in Hanoi with kids:
- check out local life in the Old Quarter
- secure your spot at the entrance of Train Street, right before the train passes through the middle of a busy shopping area
- visit the Hanoi Night Market
- take a selfie with the huge plastinated turtle in the Ngoc Son Temple
- walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake, where busy city life meets nature
- buy tickets for the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre show
- claim one of the plastic chairs on Backpackers Street and enjoy a Pho with beef or chicken
- explore the Temple of Literature
- marvel at the sight of the huge Ho Chi Min mausoleum complex
- enjoy a food tour
Read more: 10 things to do in Hanoi with kids
From Hanoi you take the sleeper train to Sapa, all the way up north. The other option is to book a tour from Hanoi to Sapa aimed at kids. Sapa, sometimes written as Sa Pa, is known for its impressive rice fields, lush green mountains and local tribes. An idyllic destination you shouldn’t miss while on a family vacation in Vietnam.
Trekking with kids in Sapa
Sapa is ideal for hiking and therefore a must do. From kid friendly short walks through rice fields to multi-day hikes for experienced hikers, anything goes. In short, there are hikes for families with kids of all ages.
Other things to do in Sapa with kids
Another must do in Sapa is a cable car ride up to Fansipan Mountain, your children will love it. Just know that Sapa can get pretty clouded and foggy, so book last minute to make sure you can actually see something up there.
The third thing to do in Sapa is take a taxi to Love Waterfall. Before you reach it you have to walk for about half an hour. There’s one river crossing you should be aware of. It can be quite slippery there, so smaller children walking solo will need a hand or a carry. On the way back you can ask the driver to stop at the Silver Waterfall. It was really nice, but the steps were pretty steep for my 10 year old. Keep this in mind for your own family and their previous hiking experiences.
When to visit Sapa
If you want to see luscious green rice fields you should visit Sapa during the summer, just know that it gets really hot this time of year. In autumn and winter you get rewarded with beautiful golden hues. And in spring you get to see blossoms.
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Ha Long Bay
After your visit to Sapa’s rice fields you head back to Hanoi and venture out east for a visit to Halong Bay. Also written as Ha Long Bay, this is the place where you hop aboard a cruise boat to enjoy sailing through 1000s of limestone karsts and pass about 1980 islands.
The water has a beautiful turquoise color that really pops against the limestone color of the karsts.
If you opt for a 2 night cruise you go beyond where most cruises stop. But don’t worry, if you only have 1 night you can still enjoy Ha Long Bay in peace. It’s large enough for all the operators to find silent spots.
Things to do on a Ha Long Bay cruise
In any case, don’t miss the chance to kayak through the bay and spot monkeys on the islands you pass. You can also stop at one of the many beaches to relax for a bit, before kayaking back to your vessel.
Most boats offer an excursion to one of the pearl farms. Our son really loved checking out the process of harvesting the pearls and so did we.
Lastly, don’t pass up on a chance to check out one of the many floating villages where fishermen and -women live and children play around in the water. You can even spot the floating school from your row boat. Gladly, you won’t visit their houses or school, they keep their privacy that way. You only pass by the village, giving you an idea of how daily life is for the locals here.
Read more: Halong Bay cruise with kids
Halong Bay and the descending dragon
The translation of Ha Long is descending dragon. This is because of the legend about a dragon defending Vietnam from invaders from this part of the country. The dragon did not only use fire, but also jewels. Emeralds and jades landed in the ocean and formed the karsts and islands in the bay. This made it impossible for invaders to set sail to the coast of Vietnam.
This story makes a visit to the already fairytale like surroundings even more magical.
After a visit to Halong Bay you head back to Hanoi one last time. You’re finally heading south in a slow pace. First stop: Ninh Binh. From Hanoi it’s a little over 2 hours by train. It’s really fun to visit Ninh Binh, right after a visit to Halong Bay. At the latter you enjoy 1000s of limestone karsts in the water and at the first you get to enjoy 1000s of limestone karsts within a flat landscape in between endless rice paddies.
Ninh Binh is the province and Tam Coc the best place to visit and check out the beauty of this area. Tam Coc translates into 3 caves. This name refers to Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba. You guessed it right, these are the 3 caves in question. This entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as Trang An Scenic Langscape Complex. And scenic it is. In and around Tam Coc you can explore valleys, mountains, limestone cliffs, rice paddies and ancient temples.
In conclusion, Ninh Binh is one of the top places to visit and can’t miss from this ultimate road trip guide of Vietnam.
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Like Korea, Vietnam used to be divided into North and South. From 1954 until 1976 the two were separated by the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, more commonly known as the DMZ. This border was about 75km long, running from east to west and was located near the middle of present day Vietnam. In what we now know as the Quảng Trị province.
The DMZ used to be one of the most guarded border posts in the world, like the DMZ in Korea still is. Lots of bunkers, tanks and tunnels.
Visiting the DMZ is not suitable for kids of all ages. Visitor centers and museums that center around the Vietnam war with America, in the 60s and the first part of the 70s of the last century, show the damage that was done in this area. To the land, but mostly the people. We’ve all seen the pictures and every parent can decide for themselves whether or not their kids are old enough to visit this area.
Things to do at Vietnam’s former DMZ
If you’re looking to visit the former DMZ make sure to visit the Vinh Moc tunnels. You can see how the Vietnamese people used to live underground. More of the history can be learned by visiting the exposition room on site.
Other interesting places to visit with kids in the DMZ area of Vietnam are
- Khe Sanh Combat Base, a graveyard for tanks and helicopters
- Hien Luong Bridge, literally divided in two, marked in blue and yellow
- Truong Son National Cemetery, where you can pay your respects to fallen citizens and soldiers
How to get to the Vietnamese DMZ
Unless you’ve got your own car, it’s not easy to get to this area. And whatever you do: if you don’t join a tour, don’t go off road! Lots of land mines still haven’t been found. In all cases it’s best to join a tour, your family will be safe at all times and you get to see all the highlights from the comfort of a bus.
We’ve arrived in Southern Vietnam. The beautiful city Hué was one of our favorite cities in Vietnam. It can’t miss in this ultimate road trip guide of Vietnam with kids. We stayed here for 3 days, but that was to0 short! Because on one of these days we went on a tour from Hué to the DMZ, so basically we only explored Hué for 2 days. If you plan on visiting the DMZ from Hué, take into account that this will cost you a full day. If you’re Vietnam itinerary gives you enough wiggle room to stay in Hué for 4 days, including 1 day to the DMZ, do it!
Vietnam is known for its unique culture and Hué is one of those cities where you can really soak this up. This city is located in the Thua Thien-Hue province. It’s known as one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. Hué is often called the spiritual heart of Vietnam.
Imperial City of Hué
The Nguyen Dynasty came to power in this city in 1802, until their reign ended in 1945. The first emperor, Gia Long, built the Imperial City in Hué. This ancient citadel can still be visited and is often the reason why people flock to this city.
The best thing to do in Hué with kids is a visit to the Imperial City. It’s located by crossing the Perfume River from the city center and the complex is huge. You can easily spend an entire day there. With its strong Chinese influences in design you feel like you’ve entered China.
Beautiful gardens, lots of dragons and funny looking statues will make this place interesting for toddlers. The impressive temples and palaces will definitely get the attention of the older kids. They can all run around in the gardens. Just make sure they don’t climb onto ancient monuments.
It’s a buggy friendly place, but you do sometimes have to take the stairs to enter a building. They even rent out electrical golf buggies.
You can hire a guide, but you can also opt to get the audio tour that is pretty good. Since the Forbidden Purple City (nickname for the Imperial City) is huge you need an entire day to see it all. But the highlights can be done in half a day.
5 things to do in Hué with kids
These are the top 5 things to do in Hué with kids:
- Explore the Imperial Citadel
- Feel like an emperor in the Forbidden Purple City
- Visit the Royal Tomb of Minh Mang
- Check out the Thien Mu Pagoda
- Enjoy the Perfume River from a Dragon Boat
Read more: 5 things to do in Hue with kids
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Da Nang, or Danang, is the first proper beach town in this ultimate family road trip guide: Vietnam. It’s located about 100km from Hué, only a train ride away. This is a port city of importance to Vietnam and gives the same commercial vibe as Ho Chi Min City.
Da Nang is on the coast of the South China Sea and a great place to unwind after a few days of traveling and exploring. Spend the day on the beach, relax in the sand and swim in the sea. When hungry, food is not far away, local sellers offer delicious mango slices and coconuts all day long. Or take a pause from the beach and cross the street for an amazing seafood dinner. It doesn’t get fresher than this.
5 things to do in Da Nang with kids
Check out these 5 things to do in Da Nang with kids:
- relax at the beach
- walk the Golden Bridge at Sun World Ba Na Hills
- check out the Dragon Bridge
- hike around Marble Mountains
- hop on the ferris wheel in Asia Park
Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most loved travel destinations. Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its perfectly preserved history. Think streets filled with traditional and colonial buildings, paper made street lanterns and parasols everywhere and dozens of tailors who can tailor make every piece of clothing you can think of.
You won’t get tired wandering around the ancient streets in Hoi An’s old town. Stay here for 2 to 3 days, until you’ve done and seen it all.
10 things to do in Hoi An with kids
These are the top 10 things to do in Hoi An with kids:
- stroll around the old town at night to see all the lanterns lit
- admire the Japanese Covered bridge
- watch fishermen and woman bring in their catch of the day at the river
- check out the Fujian Assembly Hall
- get fresh fruits at the Hoi An Central Market
- visit the Hoi An Night Market
- buy something tailor made from one of the tailors
- get a Banh Mi sandwich from one of the many street food stalls
- join a family friendly cooking class
- visit Tan Ky Old House
Read more: 10 things to do in Hoi An with kids
Nha Trang is the most popular beach destination in Vietnam. With a coastline of 6km there are endless options to choose from when you want to swim, snorkel, dive and simply enjoy the beach.
Nha Trang has 19 islands, so don’t skip out on a chance to do some island hopping here.
Visiting Da Nang or Nha Trang
If you’re a bit short on time and need to scrap a place from this ultimate road trip guide: Vietnam with kids, skip either Da Nang or Nha Trang.
Both cities are quite similar. Da Nang is the ideal combination of a city trip and beach hang out. While Nha Trang is the better option if you’re mostly looking for sea and beach activities. Nha Trang also has a more tropical feel, because of all the islands.
We are moving away from the coast and into the central highlands of Vietnam. Our destination: Da Lat, also spelled Dalat. Known for delicious coffee, forests, flowers and wine. But, to be honest, the wine is pretty awful. Our guess is that it’s famous because there aren’t any other wine regions in Vietnam to fawn over.
Da Lat is a breath of fresh air after visiting busy places like Da Nang, Hoi An and Nha Trang. It’s definitely a city in its own right, but for some reason lots of travelers skip Da Lat. Obviously we think it’s a not to skip destination, otherwise we would’ve left it out of this Vietnam road trip guide.
6 things to do in Da Lat with kids
There are many places to visit in Da Lat, including this top 6:
- take the cable car to Truc Lam Pagoda
- hike to Elephant Falls
- smell the roses at Da Lat Flower Garden
- visit the Linh Phuoc Pagoda
- check out the Vuon Anh Sang Lumiere exhibition
- explore the bizarre architecture of the Crazy House
Ho Chi Minh City
An absolute must do from this ultimate family road trip guide: Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City. Named after revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city of Vietnam by population. It’s impossible to find quiet spots here and at first you can get quite overwhelmed by all the people, the scents and the sounds. Give yourself a few hours to get used to the hustle and bustle and I assure you, you’ll love Ho Chi Minh City.
City of millions of motorbikes
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s most modern city, with loads of skyscrapers filled with international companies. Saigon, as some people still call this city, is also known for its motorbikes. Ho Chi Minh City is called the city of millions of motorbikes. Some say there are about 10 million motorbikes and others 5 million. Either way, it’s very impressive and you won’t go one minute without seeing at least one on the streets.
When checking out the architecture here, you can still very much see that Vietnam used to be a French colony. It’s even home to a Notre Dame Cathedral.
Of course there are many remains of the Vietnam war here as well, with multiple sites to visit and learn about this war, like the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Spend 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City to get a real taste of it. It’s highly likely that your family will love this city so much that you want to come back another time.
10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City with kids
A list of 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, doesn’t do this city justice. But if you only have 3 or 4 days in Ho Chi Minh City there’s hardly room for more than 10. These are the best 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City with kids:
- educate yourselves about the Vietnam War in the War Remnants Museum
- drop off your postcards at the Central Post Office
- crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
- head up to the skydeck of the Bitexco Financial Tower to get great views of the city
- check out the Jade Emperor Pagoda
- pick up some souvenirs at the Ben Thanh Market
- get French vibes at the Notre Dame Cathedral
- roam around District 1, the city centre, on foot
- tour through the Reunification Palace
- book an excursion to the Mekong Delta
As I have noted before you can book a tour to the Mekong Delta at one of the many tour operators in Ho Chi Minh City. A bus will take you to a small harbor in My Tho, where your delta river boat tour starts.
This is really a not to miss thing to do in Vietnam. While on a boat you pass rice fields, small local villages where people live in wooden houses over the river and you get to see how coconut candy is made. This last thing is especially fun for kids, since it’s not a long activity and it ends with tasting the candy.
Most tours last about 5 to 6 hours and you can get picked up and dropped off at some of the most centrally located streets in Ho Chi Minh City and at some of the bigger hotels.
After visiting all of these amazing places in Vietnam, from north to south, it’s time to end your trip with a bang. What better way to end this family road trip through Vietnam, than with a beach vacay! Let’s get to the very last destination in this ultimate road trip guide: Vietnam for families.
Phu Quoc is like paradise with its pristine white sandy beaches, lush greens and loads of water activities. You can really unwind on Vietnam’s largest island.
Backpackers also seem to really enjoy Phu Quoc, so make sure you book accommodation on the right parts of the island. Stay at beaches like Ong Lang, Bai Dai, Bai San, Khem beach and San beach at mid range to luxury hotels and you avoid loud parties and drunk guests with buckets (yes, they have those here too). There are many beach resorts for families on this Vietnamese island.
How to get to Phu Quoc
You can reach Phu Quoc island with a ferry from the Mekong Delta towns Ha Tien and Rach Bia.
If you want to fly to Phu Quoc, there are daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang. To our surprise you can even fly here from Thailand, Japan and Indonesia. Wherever you come from within Asia, there seems to be an option to get to Phu Quoc relatively easily.
After unwinding on Phu Quoc for the last few days of your Vietnam family holiday, it’s time to head back home. You’ll leave this country with a backpack filled with fond memories of the beauty of this country and even more so, its people.
I hope this ultimate family road trip guide helped with planning a trip to Vietnam. If you have any Vietnam travel tips I haven’t shared, share them in the comments for other traveling families to enjoy.
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