History is very much present in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh. If you’ve never been to the country, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is an excellent entry point with a mixture of historical sites, cheap shopping, glorious food and chill-out on-the-water activities. This charming Vietnamese city is changing rapidly. The beautiful colonial buildings are steadily being invaded by multinational chain restaurants (think Starbucks, BreadTalk, Jollibee and Burger King) and most locals are now abandoning the gorgeous traditional ao dai for Western style clothes. These are all good reasons to visit Ho Chi Minh with kids now, before international commercialisation changes the city forever.
The Destination: Ho Chi Minh With Kids
There is a nice balance of activities to do around HCMC. For history buffs, there are several war-related tourist destinations, some of which are still interesting for kids. For shopaholics, there is a treasure trove of little boutiques and art galleries. And for those who just want to relax, a couple of days on the Mekong is ideal plus there are plenty of public parks where the kids can run. Ho Chi Minh is a great way to introduce Vietnam to kids or otherwise a convenient layover point on your way to other family holiday destinations in Vietnam.
The Attractions in Ho Chi Minh With Kids
The major attractions in Ho Chi Minh traditionally centre around war museums and markers. The most popular of these are the Cu Chi Tunnels - an excellent insight into the realities of guerilla warfare. You can actually descend into the tunnels and there is a rifle range where you can shoot an AK-47.
Also famous is the War Remnants Museum – a confronting experience if you don’t know much about the Vietnam War. It’s a sobering and shocking insight into the Vietnamese perspective of the war. (This attraction is only appropriate for older and mature children because of its very explicit and graphic content.)
A real highlight of a trip to Ho Chi Minh City with kids is a boat ride down the Saigon River to the Mekong Delta. Here you will spot fishermen, children jumping off the banks and huge barges going about their daily business. Most tours down the river will also include a stop on an island or riverbank garden. These are usually good places for children to run around – sometimes tours also include a visit to a small produce farm of rice noodles or local sweets.
With the wind and the noisy
boat engine it’s a memorable and pleasant experience for everyone but you if
have very small children it’s worth booking a more expensive private boat.
These are generally more enclosed making it easier to control eager toddlers
who want to hang over the sides.
If you want an afternoon doing as the locals do, just pick any of the public parks to hang out. Kite flying is a popular activity for young and old and happily, for tired parents, motorcycle coffee vendors are everywhere to offer a caffeine-boost.
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh With Kids
The area around Dong Khoi and Le Loi near the Caravalle Hotel and the back entrance of the Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers (also known as old Saigon) is a quaint grid of neat little shophouses where you can purchase coloured lacquerware, local artworks, tourist trinkets and get clothes tailored. It’s fun to explore as an adult, but be clever about how you allocate your time there as it can be tiring for children as it is hot and the streets are busy (not really convenient for pushing a stroller or small children).
A sign of how much times are changing in HCMH, many of the luxury fashion brands are also available now including Dior, Christian Louboutin and Chanel.
Kid Friendly Food in Ho Chi Minh
While street food is relatively safe by Southeast Asian standards for adults, it is not recommended for young children. However, most restaurant and café food is fine and most dishes typically have a non-spicy option upon request.
If you want to sample the local pho (rice noodles in a simple chicken or beef broth), look out for the chain Pho 24 which is a chain of fast food-style restaurants serving the dish in clean, Western-style comfort (with air conditioning!). It's more expensive than eating streetside, but safer and far more comfortable for kids.
[For more tips on introducing foreign foods to kids, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant here.]
Family Friendly Accommodation in Ho Chi Minh With Kids
There are several hotel options in HCMC but the Asiana Saigon has some spacious and new serviced apartment options with full kitchen and laundry. This is a welcome respite from the heat of a long sightseeing day, especially as there is a pool where the kids can relax. The major downside is it is a short taxi ride from the shopping and restaurant district of old Saigon which is really only a problem if you have younger children. For older kids, it’s roughly about 15 minutes walk.
The Practicalities of Ho Chi Minh With Kids
While the war attractions are fascinating for adults, parents should really keep in mind how appropriate the sites are for children. Younger children will find many places boring. For instance, it takes a (hot and sweaty) hour to get around the Cu Chi Tunnels grounds before you are actually allowed to enter a tunnel and toddlers may be frightened by the gunshots from the rifle range. On the other hand, many of the exhibitions at the tunnels and the War Remnants Museum are extremely graphic – something parents should also consider when taking older children.
Accompanied with the extreme heat and lack of any significant cooling systems at any of the major tourist attractions, HCMC is a more pleasurable experience for everyone if you wait until your children are old enough to cope with the humidity and are independent enough to really learn something from the places you are visiting.
HCMC, like the rest of Vietnam, is famous for its large motorcycle population. This means the streets are busy and dangerous. It’s takes real skill to cross the road and broken footpaths make pushing strollers difficult. Keep a tight hold on children of any age around the traffic as it can be unpredictable and accidents are common.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Vietnam. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
If your nationality requires a visa for entry, purchase this in advance before you leave home or otherwise be prepared to wait. Sometimes customs is very straightforward, but you can be stuck for over an hour at the airport waiting for a simple stamp in your passport if you haven’t pre-organised your migration clearance.