If you are looking to go slightly off the beaten track with your family, Vietnam could be the answer to your holiday dreams. Glorious beaches, friendly people and an unspoilt culture make Vietnam one of the best places to take your family on holiday. The best bit? Despite its many benefits and gradual rise in popularity, Vietnam isn’t awash with tourists, so that you can discover its beauty unhindered by masses of fellow holidaymakers, pushy touts and camera flashes.
Vietnam is a long, narrow country that wraps around the east coast of Asia, bordering Cambodia in the southwest, Laos and China as it rises northwest, and with the South China Sea to the east. Vietnam’s culture ranges from north to south, but you will never be far from Vietnam’s famous hospitality, stunning beaches and delightful islands.
There are so many things to do and see in Vietnam, but here are some of our favourite southern Vietnamese spots for families.
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and is at the forefront of the country’s cultural and economic revolution. Ho Chi Minh is bursting with sights, sounds and smells; a patchwork of thriving economy and desperate poverty; a city of contrasts. For families visiting Ho Chi Minh City, just wandering through the streets and observing the gravity-defying architecture which sits cheek by jowl with temples and ramshackle shops, is an education and a feast for the eyes.
Cat Tien National Park is a UNESCO World heritage site, and one of the most beautiful natural habitats in Vietnam. The tropical rainforest can be explored on foot or by boat; ask local guides to gauge the suitability of hikes for your children (and you!). As you explore the park, you will discover countless species of birds and mammals, reptiles and insects. Elephants still live in the park, and leopards are rumoured to, but are famously elusive. Sadly, the last rhinos were killed by poachers in 2010.
Don’t be worried that your family will suffer from sensory overload from both natural and urban sources; when you have had enough of people watching, animal spotting and traffic-dodging, there are plenty of relaxing colonial-style hotels to choose from, where you can kick back by a pool and enjoy the sunshine.
The largest island in an archipelago of 28 islands off the southern coast of Vietnam, Phu Quoc Island has been “discovered”. While it has not yet reached the dizzy heights of many Thai islands, there is no doubt that more and more people will be flooding to this tropical escape in the coming years. Its main tourist area, Long Beach, is lined with resorts, but beyond that, the tropical jungle and idyllic coconut-tree-lined beaches remain unspoilt. Much of the island is protected as Phu Quoc National Park which is predominantly untouched; while there is the odd mud track, it does not have the safari park/zoo feel of many national parks. Phu Quoc Island is a real tropical idyll; the perfect place to spend time getting to know your children, kayaking bays, snorkelling the reefs, and relaxing. Despite its isolation, Phu Quoc does have an international airport and several ferry routes; families will be relieved to know there is also a WHO recognised hospital on the island.
Aside from enjoying tropical beach life and snorkelling, there are plenty of boat tours where you can explore the mangrove jungles, go fishing, and visit other islands in the archipelago.
The famous Mekong River comes to an end at the Mekong Delta, in southern Vietnam. Known as Vietnam’s “rice bowl”, the Delta is an area filled with vivid greens, where plants and wildlife flourish. The Delta is much more than part of a river; it is the lifeforce of the towns through which it passes, and of Vietnam’s untouched wildlife. It is home on the one hand to bustling flotillas of houseboats and floating markets, on the other to magnificent mangrove forests, where water buffalo wallow in rice paddies and wild birds flutter from tree to tree. A trip to the Mekong Delta gives a true insight into the crucial part that water plays in life – particularly to children who are used to getting their water from taps or bottles – and it offers the opportunity for parents and children alike to delight in the array of fresh produce and the slower pace of life on the water. Visit markets, explore the range of densely populated yet rural towns on the banks of the river, and visit sacred Khmer pagodas; the pace, colour and ambience of the Mekong Delta is simply enchanting.
Formerly known as the Devil’s Island of Indochina, the Con Dao Islands used to be the home of political prisoners and unsavoury characters. Today, however, the chain of 15 islands and atolls is one of the most popular places to visit on a trip to Vietnam, and ideal for families. Hiking, diving, snorkelling, making castles in icing-sugar-white sand – the list of activities to be enjoyed by family members of all ages goes on and on. Like the Phu Quoc Islands, the majority of Con Son, the largest island, is protected as a National Park, home to Vietnam’s largest sea turtle nesting ground. Depending on the age and constitution of your children, it is worth visiting Phu Hai prison, the largest of 11 jails on Con Son Island, where thousands of prisoners were held from 1862 until the prisons were closed in the latter half of the 20th Century.
There are legions of beaches to choose from – from the most popular Bai Dam Trau, to deserted coves. They all offer pristine water and incredible snorkelling, where you can discover a whole new underwater world with your family.
There is something magical about exploring new places with your children; the mutual delight as you discover things together, the knowledge that you are not following the same tourist trail, trampled by millions of families before you. Somehow, it makes the experience magical, and makes the resulting memories even more precious.
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