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Sally, from our3kidsvtheworld, recently visited Ho Chi Minh City with her husband, Craig and three kids, Alannah (10), Keira (8) and Caelan (6). They had a fabulous time and in this article they share their list of the top 5 things to do with kids in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam has never been my favourite destination but Sally is doing a great job of convincing me to give it another shot!
We recently took the kids to Vietnam for a family holiday, Craig and I had been to Vietnam for our honeymoon and thought it would be nice to take the kids back and show them where it all began. Initially I was very excited but then I started to worry if there was enough there to keep them interested.
Craig was short on leave so it had to be a snappy trip, we decided we would do 4 days in Nha Trang at a nice resort as the kids love swimming. The rest of the time would be spent in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). That was the 4 days that I had to entertain them, I had to find things that they would enjoy and remember.
Vietnam is not like the other Asian countries we have been to lately. We visited Hong Kong in 2014 and went to Disneyland and Ocean Park, two really big ticket items that the kids were super excited about. We also visited Malaysia and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary for a day and went to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, Borneo. Next year we are taking them to Singapore and will go to Universal Studios and Legoland, which is just over the border in Malaysia. Again there is something for them to really look forward to.
So what did we do in HCMC? Here are our top 5 things to keep kids entertained while in town. Remember at the time my kids were 10, 8 and 6 years old. All these activities can be booked at your hotel tour desk. If your hotel doesn’t have a tour desk, there are tour operators that are easy enough to find if you go for a walk, at worst, go to the tour desk of another larger hotel near your own.
Craig and I went to one of these in Hanoi during our first trip to Vietnam and I was really excited to see that there is a Water Puppet theatre in HCMC. I wasn’t sure if the kids were going to like it or not as the singing is all in Vietnamese accompanied by traditional music. I thought the girls would be ok being the older 2 but I was worried about our youngest, Caelan.
Well I’m happy to report he loved it, he couldn’t take his eyes of the show and it was wonderful watching all 3 of them staring intently at what was going on. The girls really enjoyed it too. The show went for an hour and they were quiet and watched the whole time.
Cost: $12USD per person, approx. $17AUD
The cost of our tour included a one way taxi ride from our hotel. The tour desk staff will advise you of the time you are required to be in the hotel foyer and they will organise the taxi to take you there. Easy peezy!
This is also something Craig and I had already done. we were again hesitant that the kids would not be interested and again they surprised us and really enjoyed it. We organised this one through a tour operator but could just as easily booked through the tour desk.
The tour collects you from your hotel at a designated time. It took around 2 hours from our hotel to get to the tunnels but can take longer depending on traffic. We took a half day tour which was between 9am-3pm.
The tour moves pretty quickly through the Cu Chi area. Upon arrival the tickets are organised and you go through the gates as a group with your tour leader. Our leader Brian, was very knowledgeable and his grandfather had served in the war for the Viet Cong. It was again a very confrontational experience, one the kids will not understand at this age but as they get older and learn about the war things will start to fall into place.
There is an old US tank left from the war and you are able to climb on and have photos. Caelan was impressed with this. He was also attentively listening as Brian demonstrated all the traps and props there to show how the Viet Cong won the war.
All 3 of the kids went through the 50m of tunnels that are there for tourists to go through. Even though these have been altered size wise for tourists, you are still able to get the idea of what life would have been like for those involved in the war. Brian was very good with answering the kids’ questions and making them feel involved.
There is also a firing range at the complex where you can shoot various firearms that were used during the war. Craig had a go shooting an M16 for $2US a bullet, there are also AK47s, M30s and M60s. You must be over 18 years to have a go and although Caelan was keen, the noise was enough of a deterrent!
Cost: 240,000 dong per person, approx. $15AUD
On this occasion, Caelan and Keira were given a child’s rate which is half price. I am not exactly sure what the cut off age for children prices as they seem to change depending on who you deal with. I felt the prices were fairly reasonable so didn’t question it all that much. We basically paid 4 adults, Alannah was charged as an adult and the other 2 as children.
Craig and I did a home stay last time we were in Vietnam and Craig was very keen to do this again with the kids. Unfortunately due to time constraints we were unable to pull that one off, next best thing, a day tour. This can also be organised through the tour desk at your hotel.
This is a full day tour from 8am to around 5pm depending on traffic. We fell within this time frame and our tour was on a Sunday which is a very busy day on the roads as many Vietnamese people living in HCMC go home to visit family in the Mekong. The drive to the Mekong Delta is about 2- 2.5hrs depending on which city you embark from.
This tour sets a cracking pace, there is a lot to see and do which I think is great for kids. They didn’t have enough time to get bored and there is so much to see and experience. A large traditional boat took us across the Mekong to the islands and this is where the activities start. First we were taken to see where they make honey and were able to sample some with tea. This was also where they brought out a 2 metre python for photo ops if you are game.
Next stop was coconut candy and we got a demo of how they make it. We also got a taste of the various flavours before being ushered onto the stall to buy some. Caelan even sat down with the lady wrapping them and gave her a hand.
Next stop was a canoe ride down one of the many canals, the kids loved this, waving and greeting the returning canoeists as they passed. From here we were ushered onto waiting carts for a horse and cart ride through the village then a short walk to lunch, prepared for you at a local restaurant which doubled as a crocodile farm. Lunch was pretty basic, a type of curry chicken and rice but for an extra fee you could have the local delicacy, elephant ear fish.
This tour could be considered a bit gimmicky as there are various opportunities to purchase souvenirs and the pace may not suit everyone but for us, the kids were kept interested and moving which was great.
Cost: 350,000dong per person, approx. $22AUD
Caelan was again considered a child but Keira this time an adult. The prices are reasonable and I wasn’t going to argue over $11. This tour cost under $100AUD for all 5 of us for a full day tour, I think thats pretty good value.
A cyclo tour of the city was the first thing Craig and I did on our honeymoon in 2003, I was determined to do it again on this trip with the kids. A cyclo is a traditional ‘taxi’ like vehicle driven by peddle power with a seat in the front for the passenger. I was told by the tour desk operator that this form of transport is being fazed out due to traffic congestion. This made me more determined to ensure the kids got to experience this before it was too late.
Tourists are advised not to organise cyclo tours with street operators as there are a number of scammers over charging or changing the price at the end of the tour. We booked ours through the tour desk at the hotel. This is the most reliable way of booking and the price is set and paid before hand.
Our tour was for 2 hours around HCMC, cyclo’ s are now banned on a number of roads, in particular the bigger, busier ones due to the traffic congestion. I feel this was a great way to get out in the traffic and experience what life on the roads is like for the local people. I took a lot of video and there were a few moments when my high pitched voice gives away that I might have been a bit concerned about the traffic!
Our cyclos passed the main landmarks and places of interest, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Post Office, Ben Thanh Market, Flower Market, Pet Market and Chinatown. We also stopped and visited a pagoda and had a look around while our guides had a little rest. Our tour was at 8am which meant we were out in the busy traffic with everyone going to work and kids to school. Caelan had his arm out the side and a number of the motorbike riders drove past and gave him a high 5! The locals were very excited to see us on the cyclos and were calling out ‘hello’ to get the kids attention.
Cost: $12US per cyclo, approx. $17AUD
We paid for 3 cyclos Craig had one to himself, I had one of the younger kids and then Alannah and the other little one where on one together. Keira started off with me and then swapped with Caelan half way through the tour when we stopped at the pagoda. All up it cost us $36US, approximately $50AUD for 2 hours touring, great value for 5 people. We also provided each cyclo driver with a 100,000 dong tip, that equates to approx. $6AUD and they were very thankful for our generosity.
I believe the best way to see a city is by foot. You haven’t been to Vietnam until you cross the road! The kids were originally very nervous as you would expect, but by the end they were very confident crossing the roads. The key, walk straight, at the one pace and don’t stop, they will all go around you!
On our first day we decided to get out and about. We got google maps out and off we went. We started at Ben Thanh Market, then on to the Rex Hotel, the HCMC Town Hall. We stopped and had a drink near the Ben Thanh Market and had lunch at the famous Rex Hotel, made famous during the Vietnam War as a popular location for American and Australian Officers. There’s a great bar on the roof top and its also a great place to take in the traffic and craziness on the roads. Also some nice views of the HMCM Town Hall.
Next up we walked around to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Post Office. We had a look around here and some souvenir shopping. The Notre Dame Cathedral closes at 4pm and we got there later than that but no big deal we could see through the gates. We stopped here and had some traditional donuts that were nutty and yum!
Just up the road from here is the Independence Palace, we know this as the Reunification Palace but it seems to have had a name change. We also arrived here at closing, the security guard at the gate let us in for a quick photo and even took one of the 5 of us together for me! What a champion! Now we were in peak hour so we decided to stop for an ice cream and let the traffic pass a bit.
Cost : Nothing, zip, zero
Not only is this a very cheap day, you really start to get the feel for a city when you are walking around. We never at any time felt unsafe, a number of local people stopped and asked if they could have photos with the kids and I was taking photos of the crazy traffic and people in traditional clothing. The kids walked nearly 7kms that day and there wasn’t a whinge out of them. We had enough stops to keep them happy and ice cream is always a winner.
After this we headed back to our hotel and stopped somewhere along the way for dinner. I must admit this was the earliest the kids went to bed for the whole holiday and they all slept well! Craig went out for a massage and I was on my computer enjoying a few local beers while completing some posts for my blog. It was one of my favourite days, just getting out amongst it!
There are plenty of other things to do in HCMC. If the kids were a bit older we would have taken them to War Remnants Museum. Craig and I did that last time but thought it would be too confronting for the kids at their age. If they were teenagers I would definitely have taken them there for a better understanding of the devastating effects that war has on people and countries.
You must eat the local food, I go with the theory, if locals are eating there it should be alright, go with the crowds. Food in Vietnam is wonderful. It’s fresh, light and tasty and there’s plenty of it. There is a great coffee culture too, which is a big statement coming from someone who is from the coffee capital of Australia, Melbourne.
Shopping is fun in Vietnam, bartering is a sport! I generally ask the price, offer a third of it and then barter to half of the original price and nothing more. If they don’t come to the party, walk off. I’ve learnt that if I walk off and they’re happy, they did well, if I walk off and they’re not so happy, I probably did well! In the end, the price is fair if you’re happy to pay it!
Like a lot of Asian countries, the Vietnamese love western kids, they stop us in the street and touch them and I thought they were kissing the kids. When I asked Keira a bit later she said they were sniffing her! Not sure what that was about or the significance but I have told the kids that its ok as long as they don’t walk off with them (which happened in Hong Kong!). They love it when the kids speak Vietnamese. we taught the kids hello and thank you and it was appreciated by the locals.
Vietnam is a great place to visit with kids, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to take them there.
What are your best tips for visiting Vietnam?