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Vietnam is hectic and ethereally beautiful.
The terraced rice fields sweeping down from mountains; karst scattered bays; endless rivers and enormous caves; deserted beaches; ancient cities and graceful pagodas and temples are more momentous in reality than you could possibly imagine.
But it’s an adventure and usually involves long distance travelling in quite a demanding climate.
So, unless you plan to spend your time lazing round luxury resorts on the Can Dao Archipelago, a family holiday here works best for older kids and teenagers.
Direct flights from the UK to Ho Chi Minh City take just over 12 hours.
Vietnam has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites including Ha Long Bay and awe-inspiring Trang An.
Much of the country’s astounding natural landscape is protected in 30 national parks and often very accessible.
Several UK travel companies specialise in experience-rich family holidays in Vietnam: worth considering if you want to visit both north and south.
Vietnam is a classic activity holiday for teenagers from sailing on the Mekong Delta to kayaking round Ka Long Bay, hillwalking in Sapa, cruising the Red River or caving in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
Temperatures are c. 30˚ in North Vietnam from April to October. South Vietnam is c. 27˚ year round. Wettest months are June, July and August across the entire country.
Daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi take just over two hours.
The Vietnamese capital is as busy and relentlessly noisy as most large Asian cities. Get over the culture shock and it’s also fascinating and astonishingly lovely in some areas. The street food is worth a visit alone and older kids will enjoy the colourful strangeness, seriously quaint sights and extremely charming Hanoians.
Four hours drive east of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is the classic image almost everyone has of Vietnam: densely green waters, pierced by limestone karst, dotted with slow-moving junks and tiny canoe. The bay’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Often described as the loveliest town in Vietnam, Hoi An is a complete contrast to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Once a major port and virtually untouched by the Vietnam War, the traditional architecture here dates back to the 15th century and the UNESCO World Heritage old town contains hundreds of the country’s most important monuments and buildings.
Ho Chi Minh is the hub of South Vietnam and the largest city in the country. Over eight million people live here and it’s another Asian metropolis worth getting to know, even for a day or two. Post Saigon, HCMC (as it’s known) successfully reinvented itself as a sleek modern giant and has the malls, designer hotels, smart restaurants, soaring architecture and international headquarters as proof. But for every steely tower and glossy store lined boulevard, there’s an ancient temple, historic market or avenue of street food stalls. Blending old and new is a talent HCMC has mastered beautifully and once you get used to the hectic atmosphere, it’s impossible not to find something to admire in this historic and fascinating city.
Everything floats on the Mekong Delta: houses, markets, sweet factories, boats, barges and businesses. It’s a lush, magical world of waterways and canals teeming with activity and one of the most memorable experiences in South Vietnam. Day tours from Ho Chi Minh City are arranged through hotels and local companies. If you want to explore the delta for longer, homestays are a good option with older kids.
The tropical paradise archipelago off the southernmost tip of Vietnam is the country’s loveliest holiday destination. A protected marine and rainforest environment with huge white beaches, delightful towns and villages, rare and wonderful wildlife and exquisitely beautiful resorts. There’s a dark backstory here too: Con Dao was Vietnam’s most notorious prison during the Indochina Wars and visiting the overgrown site’s might be interesting for older kids.
Six Senses Spa on Con Dao Island is the first and only five-star resort on the archipelago: sensationally opulent and very family friendly.
The tallest building in Hanoi has an incredible view of the sprawling city. If heights aren’t an issue climb to the observation deck on the 65th floor and experience the Skywalk.
The home of the world’s largest cave, Han Song Doong, and another of the country’s stunning World Heritage sites, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park should be at the top of everyone’s Vietnamese must-see list.
About an hour’s drive outside Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels have become an symbol of the US Vietnam War. But the 250km warren was actually constructed at the start of the French Indochina wars in 1946. Guided tours allow visitors to crawl through certain sections – not for the claustrophobic.
Con Dao is the only place in Vietnam where Green Sea Turtles nest. It’s also an amazing diving and snorkelling destination, awash with rare wildlife and famous for fantastic beaches and lush rainforest.
Part enormous waterpark and part, equally immense, funfair and all themed on the ancient myths and legends of Vietnam. Great family day out and the place for colourful festivals all year round.
A UNESCO World Heritage complex of sites including 10th century Hoa Lu City and a remarkable landscape of waterways, caves, paddy fields and historical monuments. On the Red River Delta and an easy day trip from Hanoi.
One of the capital’s most exciting museums explores the role of women in Vietnam throughout history. The fascinating permanent collection’s enhanced by a year round programme of events and temporary exhibitions.
Vietnam’s oldest national park is a stunning and diverse landscape of mountain, river and forest. Home to sensational creatures like Clouded Leopards and Black Asian Bears, it’s also one of the few places in the world to see rare Delacour Langur primates.
Cruising on a traditional Chinese Junk round the karst strewn waters of Ha Long Bay is an iconic Vietnamese experience with kids.
Known as Vietnam’s Rice Bowl, the Mekong Delta is a perfect tour from Ho Chi Minh City: visit Cai Ran Floating Market; sail waterways on traditional sampan; explore Can Tho and Turtle Island.
Travelling around Vietnam depends on the type of holiday you’re planning. Domestic flights are the only way to manage a packed itinerary from north to south. If you’re touring within one region: trains are fun with older kids (especially sleepers) and cars with driver/guides are easy to arrange and inexpensive. Self-drive for a few days is manageable, but Vietnam isn’t the country for long, independent road trips. Public transport can feel a bit hectic in larger cities, acclimatise, and it’s surprisingly efficient and easy to use. And when you’re touring rural areas or smaller national parks, hire bikes: they’re a Vietnamese transport staple.