Family Tours in Vietnam: Your Questions, Answered

Vietnam is fast becoming a top travel destination for families, and with good reason. The food is friendly, the history is relevant, the people are warm, and the countryside offers plenty to see and do for active families.

Vietnam is ideal for traveling families wanting something a little different. The country isn’t swamped with families, but tourism infrastructure is developed enough that traveling with kids isn’t a logistical nightmare. Furthermore, Vietnam is packed with opportunities to craft meaningful, memorable experiences for children.

But despite Vietnam’s potential as the perfect holiday destination for discerning families, organizing trips for groups that transcend generations is still a challenge unless you come prepared. These issues are usually linked to growing pains in the industry as a whole: Vietnam is late to the tourism game when compared with neighboring Thailand, for example.

The country is still finding its feet in terms of how best to serve visiting internationals, and that includes families. Many industry players are still grappling with what makes a good family holiday, in part because typical Vietnamese families and typical Western families travel differently. The trick is making sure that you find the right provider.

At Sisters Tours we maintain that, with a little bit of thought and a lot of preparation, Vietnam will serve as the perfect destination for your family customers. I get a lot of questions about family travel in Vietnam, which is why I’ve put together this FAQ guide to help agents that are new to the country.

I’ve separated this FAQ into two sections:

  1. What you need to know about family tours in Vietnam
  2. How to make a great family tour in Vietnam

The first section lays down all the basics, from safety and weather considerations to accommodation and food. This part tells you everything you need to know to make a family holiday in Vietnam possible.

The second section answers the more difficult questions. It explores how to make a family holiday meaningful, valuable, and enjoyable for the parents and the kids.

Let’s get started.

 

What you need to know about family tours in Vietnam

Is Vietnam safe for kids?

Absolutely! After decades of war and violence, Vietnam has emerged as a refreshingly safe and politically stable country. Crime rates are lower than in many Western countries, while love for children and respect for the family remain unwavering pillars of Vietnamese culture. Most Vietnamese people still proudly prioritize the family above all else, and that includes keeping children safe and healthy.

Is the food a problem for kids?

Vietnam’s cuisine is palatable for the most part, with ubiquitous dishes like noodle soup and fried rice agreeable to all but the fussiest children. In my experience, northern Vietnam, where the food is balanced with no overriding flavors, and southern Vietnam, where the food is sweet and tasty, are the biggest hits with kids.

Vietnamese food is generally not hot like Thai food or Korean food, except for in the central cities like Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. In central Vietnam, it’s always better to check that the dish isn’t hot before ordering it – chilies and spices can usually be taken out of a dish.

We still get a lot of children who can’t stomach (too much) of the local cuisine, which isn’t too problematic. Western food is easily found in all the tourist destinations.

A bigger issue is allergies. In many Western countries, serving staff are sensitive to food intolerances but that isn’t the case in Vietnam. Serving staff may not know all the ingredients that constitute a dish and classic offenders – like peanuts – can make their way into almost anything.

The safest thing is usually for families to work with their tour guide to avoid restaurants and dishes that might be a problem. Note that inexperienced tour guides may not have the diligence you might expect. Double check everything and work with the local provider beforehand to make any food-related requirements clear.

How is transport for kids?

Not a problem if traveling with companies like us who are used to working with families. Family-focused agencies will always have car seats and strollers for babies and younger children. The train is also family-friendly as you can book private compartments with 4-6 beds in each.

Is accommodation family-friendly?

Accommodation can be a problem for all but high-end traveling families. The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly, only five-star and some four-star hotels have adjoining rooms. This is a particular sore spot for mid-range families from the USA and Canada, where adjoining rooms come as standard across hotels. Rooms with two double beds are often called “family rooms,” though they may not offer enough space for the average Western family.

The second problem we face is swimming pools. A lot of families request swimming pools when they travel, but they’re harder to find here than in other countries. This is particularly true in Vietnam’s two largest cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Never assume that the five-star hotel you’re looking at has a swimming pool – it might not.

Is Vietnam’s weather good for families?

However, there are ways to not let the weather become too much of a hindrance. Vietnam is a big and diverse country, and it isn’t too hard to arrange destinations around climate.

The most successful family holidays start with cultural activities in cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, and Hoi An. These cities are still good fun for families, even when it’s hot or wet. Take a look at the second section for family-friendly cultural activity ideas in these places.

Alternatively, or additionally, families can enjoy kid-friendly outdoor activities in those parts of the country with good weather. Sapa offers good hiking for kids, and if the northern mountains are too cold or rainy then Dalat serves as a great alternative. Phong Nha has caves and kayaking, but in rainy season families can head to Halong Bay or Ninh Binh instead.

No matter what time of year, there’s always a beach somewhere in Vietnam blessed with copious amounts of sun. The beaches in central Vietnam are only good in the summer months, whereas the beaches in the south are a good bet year-round.

I know this is all quite confusing, so I’ve put together this info to help:

Destinations good for summer vacation (June, July, August)

  • Cities: Hue, Hoi An
  • Outdoors: Phong Nha, Sapa, Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Ninh Binh, Dalat
  • Beaches: Danang, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Con Dao, Phu Quoc

Avoid: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City might be the only places to avoid during the summer months. They are both hot and humid with little respite from the heat. The problem is these are two major destinations, so if you can’t want to avoid them completely, consider minimizing time there.

Destinations good for Christmas vacation (December)

  • Cities: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City
  • Outdoors: Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Ninh Binh, Dalat
  • Beaches: Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Con Dao, Phu Quoc

Avoid: The central destinations of Phong Nha, Hue, Hoi An, and Danang can all be rainy and stormy. The biggest storms should have passed through by December, but flooding is still a risk. Sapa and the northern mountains can be too cold for unaccustomed kids.

 

How to make a great family tour in Vietnam

How to balance the needs of the kids with the wants of the parents?

Striking this balance is the hardest thing about arranging a family tour. The biggest problems we face on tour are usually internal arguments within families because everyone wants to do something different.

Compromise is the right way forward, but how to achieve that?

I find that breaking the itinerary into days and balancing each day is the best way to do things. Separating the whole trip into two; week 1 for the adults and week 2 for the kids, for example, is a recipe for disaster.

I think it’s better to separate the day into two parts. Take an itinerary day in Hoi An/ Danang for example. The morning can be spent wandering the old town, a delightful activity for adults but boring for some kids. The afternoon can be spent at the beach with some watersports to keep the kids entertained.

A day in Hanoi might include a museum in the morning that will keep kids occupied, but perhaps not enthralled, and then a hands-on cooking class in the afternoon.

What meaningful exchanges are there for children?

Plenty! We’ve found that the most meaningful activities for kids are those with local kids. There are two environments where we’ve seen great success: schools and families.

Local schools are quite easy to work with and we’ve established great relationships across the country. There are a lot of chances for kids to get involved with English classes, sports, or recess. Private schools have traditionally been the easiest to work with, but state schools are also starting to cooperate, opening up interesting opportunities in rural areas.

Family visits are also easy to organize across the country. Homestay experiences have taken off in Vietnam, with opportunities to cook, eat, and even sleep in the homes of local people. Visiting children can interact with the host children, and learn things like how to cook or play local games. Within our network we also have artist and musician families, where kids can learn skills and crafts with the host family.

We find that activities with local children teach appreciation and understanding better than anything.

What fun activities are there for kids?

Vietnam doesn’t have world-class theme parks, water parks, or zoos like Singapore. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids to have fun. We usually try and arrange activities where there isn’t pressure to learn; we’d rather that children learn by doing.

There are kid-friendly workshops across Vietnam, like puppet-making in Hanoi or paper art in Hue. There are also cooking classes which can be adapted to kids in every corner of the country.

For physical activities, there’s also cycling in the calmer cities of Hue and Hoi An, or water sports in Danang, Nha Trang, and Phu Quoc. Hiking families will be spoilt for choice in the country’s various national parks.

Is it possible to incorporate activities into educational programs?

Yes, absolutely. Kids from countries across the world, including the USA, the UK, France, Germany, and Australia, study modern Vietnamese history in secondary and high schools. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have excellent museums that help frame the Vietnamese experience of the war, though some museums may be too graphic for younger children.

There are also opportunities for older children to earn extra credit for university and college applications. We have links with various international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and local charities that can write letters to be used in college applications.

Hien Truong

Hi, my name is Hien. I’m managing director of Sisters Tours, Vietnam’s bespoke B2B agency. I’m also president of Vietnam’s only sustainable travel association: the Responsible Travel Club (RTC). Do you have questions? Send me an email at hien@sisterstoursvn.com and let’s get the conversation started.

Hien Truong

Hi, my name is Hien. I’m managing director of Sisters Tours, Vietnam’s bespoke B2B agency. I’m also president of Vietnam’s only sustainable travel association: the Responsible Travel Club (RTC). Do you have questions? Send me an email at hien@sisterstoursvn.com and let’s get the conversation started.