Top 5 reasons to visit Vietnam with kids
Last summer we were ready for an adventure in Asia with kids. We wanted an active family vacation in a culturally interesting destination with the availability of beaches for some relaxation. Originally, we were thinking Thailand, however when we started talking with Indochina Travel’s owner, Patrick, he swayed us towards Vietnam when he raved about the gregarious people and how authentic and un-westernized Northern Vietnam is for travelers.
Sure enough, we were often the only westerners in view. This was trip was more than a vacation; it was a meaningful learning experience for the whole family. Here are my top five reasons to visit Vietnam with kids.
Top Reasons To Visit Vietnam with Kids
We spent the majority of our time in Northern Vietnam because it is less developed and Westernized than the South. Getting first hand knowledge about living in a communist country was one of the most valuable experiences for the whole family, plus learning about Buddhism and meeting with monks was also a first for us. Finally, the historical connection with American was very interesting.
I found myself feeling deeply moved at different points in the trip and appreciated that it wasn’t just a light and fluffy destination; there were important and sometimes very sad discoveries through many of our experiences. Hearing about the American influence on Vietnam from a local’s perspective is fascinating.
Active Family Travel
Biking through small rural villages and rice fields near Ninh Binh, kayaking and hiking in caves in Ha Long Bay, and traditional net fishing in floating baskets and riding a water buffalo in Hoi An were some of the many physically pursuits that kept our active family busy.
Patrick explained that Vietnam is a “foodie’s paradise. He was right. Literally, everywhere from the nicest hotels, like Hanoi’s fabulous Hotel Metropole Hanoi and Hoi An’s Victoria hotel, to restaurants ranging from the city’s finest to simple noodle shops, our kids were treated like VIPs. We found the Vietnamese people open, welcoming, bright and incredibly engaging; they embraced our children and took pleasure in sharing experiences and teaching them about Vietnam.
Hands-on, Educational Experiences
Our goal was to create a trip with a mix of activities to keep the teens, the younger kids and parents engaged and on the move with a very well planned and thoughtfully tailored itinerary to each person’s interests. Both Patrick and Diep from Indochina Tours and Catherine Whitworth, our Virtuoso agent, were imperative in crafting such a complex trip.
In addition to the physical activities, we scheduled home visits in Hanoi and Hoi An, market tours, cooking classes, a meeting with a North Vietnamese war veteran and a monk, a bomb shelter visit, a tour of a floating village and a photography walk through a pre-dawn fish market. We also checked out all types of transportation modes including boats, planes, cyclos, and oxcarts. A real highlight was dressing up and trying our hand at traditional Vietnamese Opera.
Eye-Opening Life Lessons
By far the most important were many moments where I could almost see my kids’ minds opening in front of me. It absolutely expanded their exposure exponentially. Some concepts, like freedom of speech for example, are easy to talk in theory, but to see then in front of you was a powerful experience.
We learned about resilience, starvation, empathy, freedom and simplicity. For example, one day in the market, my kids started to get grossed out by something, either bugs or frogs, that people were eating. Our guide explained that when people have experienced not having enough to eat, they will eat anything. That was it, my kids didn’t say another word about any of the exotic things that were eaten for the rest of the trip.
Waking up on a Chinese junk with the sun rising over the karsts in Ha Long Bay, stretches of lily pads and lotus flowers among rice fields in Ninh Binh, Hoi An’s white sand beaches are all images that will travel with us forever.
NOTE: I’d feel remiss to not mentioning the flying because people’s first question is almost always, “How was flying there with four kids?” Really, it was surprisingly easy, even though it took 23 hours. The 12 hours time change was also shockingly fine. Literally, I think it’s harder when head back to the East Coast from California. My kids were great on the drives and planes; they are getting older, they want to be able to go on these trips, and let’s be honest here — Apple products help.
ITINERARY: Over twelve days, we explored Hanoi, then went to Halong Bay and stayed on a private junk, then we traveled to Ninh Binh, and finally Hoi An. From there we continued to Cambodia and Laos for another four days. We were gone for 16 days.
Lessons My Kids Learned in Vietnam
- Resilience: Many people spoke about the hardships of surviving the war and communism, yet in a peaceful accepting way; Buddhism at work in my eyes.
- Hunger: Learning that hunger really does exist and people will eat anything when they are starving. We also witnessed the effects of long term malnutrition.
- Empathy: The first-hand exposure to so many different things allowed us to see how limited our understanding is of another culture. Through that exposure, we are more empathetic and less judgmental.
- Freedom: To see the limitation of personal freedom, such as being able to criticize the government without fear of retribution, was very impactful. We all learned that our freedoms should never be taken for granted. We also learned to appreciate the opportunities that we have in our lives, especially when it comes to access to medical care, infrastructure, education and career choices.
- Simplicity: The beauty of life is sometimes its simplicity. My kids got to see how few things you really “need” in a home. Hearing a self-sustaining older farming couple living on $500 per year say, “why would we need more money when we have everything we need,” struck all of us and made us all think about our materialism. Seeing families celebrating in their home and sleeping all together in one bedroom was beautiful and we were all taken with small village life.
Written by Nancy Solomon. This article originally appeared on ciaobambino.com.