Vietnam with kids is a much easier family holiday destination than you might think, especially if you head to Hoi An. Since the bigger cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are more crowded, Hoi An offers just the right cocktail of culture, beach and delicious food for a family adventure holiday that's not too overwhelming for anyone. If you are traveling with kids and looking for a taste of Southeast Asia, Hoi An with kids is the ideal mix of activity and chillax.
The city is a quaint grid of cobbled streets lined with heritage shophouses. It’s big enough to occupy any eager tourist for a few days, but small enough to be safe with very young children, especially as many of the streets are closed to cars and large vehicles. While the main drawcards are the shopping and tailoring services, the architecture alone is still attractive enough to give the town a friendly cultural and historical vibe that will charm even the most resistant tourists.
Even if you hate shopping, just wandering the streets of Hoi An old town is still a wondrous experience. In the cobbled laneways budding photographers can go trigger-happy snapping shots of traditionally-clad locals in conical hats against the backdrop of brightly coloured terraces. Wander through the old Japanese quarter, check out the hustle and bustle along the river and then head to the Japanese Bridge to cross into the Chinese quarter.
Hoi An is definitely charming enough that you don't need a guide. But if you do decide to engage one through your hotel, you will get an insight into the historical importance of the town as a trading port that truly brought together Eastern and Western cultures and helped them co-exist.
If you’ve never been to this part of the world before, one of the best ways to come into town during the day is by boat along the Hoi An river. It’s a chance for kids to see river life and fishermen at work, although you will have to keep a tight hold of overly curious toddlers.
It’s also worth returning into the old town in the evenings to witness the spectacle as the noisy locals gather in the streets to play games and get together to unwind. The vibe is lively and raucous – but family-friendly and amusing.
The ocean of Cua Dai Beach (also commonly known to politically incorrect Westerners as China Beach) can be a welcome respite from the busy-ness of the city. It is home to many of the larger hotel chains with four and five star facilities. Here is where you are likely to meet with some of the local expatriates at the rustic beach bars to hear what life in Vietnam is really all about.
Nearby to Hoi An is the five hill cluster of Marble Mountain where you can walk up Water Mountain and explore the hidden grottoes and historical places of worship. [To read more about Marble Mountain with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Danang.]
Tailoring is one of the major tourist industries here and vendors can create imitations of designer pieces to your specific requirements. Aobaba (148 Trần Phú, Hội An, Quang Nam, Vietnam, Tel: +84 510 3920 666) may not be the cheapest offering, but they are reliable, speak English well and can make little girls’ clothing and well as men's and women's.
It's also worth looking out for the TOHE store on Bach Dang Street which sells super cute children's toys, clothing and accessories. The designs for these have been created by local Vietnamese children attending creativity classes in orphanages, schools and hospitals as way to encourage expression and communication. 30 to 50% of the profits of products you buy from TOHE are funnelled back into the arts programs.
While street food is relatively safe by Southeast Asian standards for adults, it is not recommended for young children.
[For travel tips on how to encourage your kids to sample foreign foods from celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant, click on the suitcases&strollers story here.]
A very cool little secret is the Villa @ The Red Bridge. This four bedroom private villa is ideally located 10 minutes drive in either direction from Cua Dai beach and Hoi An town. It has its own pool and staff to provide breakfast each day and is the perfect size for two small families or one large. Plus it is a stone’s throw to the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School where you can order divine (and safe) meals to your villa or enroll in a class to find out how to make it all yourself.
If you prefer a larger resort, Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa has sizeable villas right on the beach and is a popular choice for it's good food and reliable service.
Hoi An old town now requires all visitors to pay a token price daily "entrance fee" to walk the streets. This is not as offensive as it seems: the money is reinvested in helping to preserve the UNESCO listed heritage buildings and will actually gain you entrance to five buildings of significance which you might not otherwise have paid to enter. These will give you an insight into how local life used to be lived and provide an interesting fusion of French, Vietnamese, Chinese and other cultural architectural techniques all fused into one. You can purchase tickets and get more information at the tourist information centre on Nguyen Hue Street or at the official website.
There is a dress code to enter most historic building. Sleeveless tops and shorts above the knee and not appropriate so bring a shawl or something light to cover up.
While Hoi An town can be safely navigated by stroller during the day, the streets get extremely busy at nighttime, so they are not ideal for younger children. But for children who are a bit more independent (and can be relied upon to not wander off), evenings in Hoi An with kids are an exciting and interesting experience.
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.
The closest international airport to Hoi An is Danang. To read more about Danang with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.