I just got back from an 11 day trip to Vietnam with my two kids and my husband and honestly, we had an amazing time. It was the best family holiday we’ve had so far we agreed. Why? Yes, Vietnam is fantastic and I could go on for days but there are a few things I hope by sharing here might inspire you on your next family holiday
Most parents worry most about the plane trip. And it is obviously the first part of the trip so I'll start there. The flight to Vietnam is 8.5 hours, that was the farthest I'm prepared to travel with a 5 and a 3 year old. Firstly, I think it's important to arrive at the airport with plenty of time. You’ll spend less time in queues which is less stressful for everyone involved and then you have plenty of time to let your child/children run or crawl around and burn off some (possibly nervous) energy. Yes, that is right; let your kids run around freely before getting on the plane. I try to make sure they are not bumping into other people but I do let them go wild and also make noise. Most people find it entertaining, I get a few dirty looks but whatever; but the time my kids were on the plane they were ready to have a rest and THEY WERE ANGELS!!! (Yes, I mean quiet and compliant)
While they're running around, I also do my own exercises and Yoga in the airport – check out #airportyoga – there are over 8000 pics on Instagram with that hashtag. It’s everywhere now so don’t be shy. The kids came and joined me as well, it was fun and not that I particularly mind either way but no-one really looks or cares so go for it, lunges are especially great. My next hot tip – get a plane pal or legs up pillow – I hired mine from leaseforbabies.com.au. It cost me $60 for the two pillows, it was pretty much the best $60 I spent on the trip. After unleashing all their energy at the airport playing chasey and doing Yoga, they will be tired and they will sleep but need the right conditions for that to happen. A movie and then these pillows will allow that. The pillows fill up the space between your seat and the seat in front which is why both kids were able to comfortably lie down. We had such relaxing flights – both ways (despite an incident not involving us – won’t go into that). Here is a pic of my two asleep. In fact, Ari slept the whole way back from Vietnam. These things pay for themselves. While you’re at it get a trunki as well – also priceless in my opinion.
You cannot go to cafes and restaurants all day and expect your kids to be “good”. (Once again, I really mean quiet and compliant,) Giving your kids an Ipad while you eat and drink is not a holiday for them – sorry not sorry. Vietnam has the best food and there was no way we were missing out! But we tried to keep things balanced so everyone was happy. Tired and whingey kids will make the most delicious banh mi taste sour in the mouth. (And by the way, the best banh mi is Banh Mi Phoung in Hoi An, Anthony Bourdain's favourite place - amazing!!) The other awesome thing about Vietnam is the street food, you don't have to sit down for hours in a restaurant, you can wander from place to place snacking and kids also love the tiny stools. I brought cereal for the kids so they wouldn't have to eat three meals out every day. I'll never understand why kids love cornflakes so much, anyway... Sometimes we'd get take away for dinner if we were out most of the day. There is nothing worse for kids after you've had a huge day out then you say "OK, we're going out for dinner now." Nooooo, you cannot do that to the kids - they may start a chant "I hate dinner" and there will be so much dissent it is not worth it. Those are the nights for take away.
If I knew we were going to be out walking and eating and shopping in the evening (basically doing adult stuff) I would make sure the kids had lots of quality time and moments during the day. Not necessarily entertaining or giving them activities constantly but just being present with them. Doing things like tickling, chasey, role play games, I Spy, jumping in the waves when we were at the beach – these are ways for all of us to have fun and feel connected. Did I ever just read a book? Of course. And I went and got massages on my own as well. We don't need to be in each others pockets all the time but if we are with someone (especially our children), let's really be with them wholeheartedly. Other great things to do that break up adult activities are wandering through parks and looking at leaves or spotting wildlife (aka rats) and a lot of parks in Saigon have exercise equipment - makes for great people watching too!; we went on a couple of boat rides in Hoi An, kicking back in a cyclo gives tired little legs a rest while I chose which shops I wanted to go back to later win-win. Our kids also loved going anywhere on the bikes. Often, it's the little things things that really count. If you can weave a few magic moments like this into your day, things will just start to flow and both parents and kids will be happy. For me, that's what a holiday is really about.
Is Vietnam a child-friendly place to travel. I would definitely say yes. I adored Hoi An and am already looking forward to going back there again. We already agreed that when we next visit Vietnam, we won't stay in Saigon (otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City) Hoi An has a much more relaxed atmosphere. Firstly, it's on the coast so you have the beach, the old town doesn't allow cars or even motorbikes so it feels peaceful and you're not stressing too much. I don't know if this is a new thing but in Saigon you have to contend with motorbikes on footpaths as well, so sometimes it really feels like there is no break from the traffic. In saying that, we had a wonderful time there too but we did spend a lot more time in and around our hotel. I had kind of planned it that way as we had booked a hotel, Sherwood Residence and we stayed in a three bedroom apartment. Sherwood Residence was one of the only kid-friendly hotels in Saigon. At the time when I was booking, there were no kids clubs at any hotels in the city. At this hotel, there is a kids playroom and two pools, one is a toddler pool. The kids playroom looked slightly lame but my kids wanted to be in there all the time, sometimes we had to say no, you have to go swimming ha ha! They also had pretty good room service which we used a bit as we got sick!
We got sick and we still had the best time ever! So what's the real secret? No secret really, the same things that make for a great holiday make for a great life too. Be kind; to your family, other people and creatures around you, allow yourself to be open to exciting adventures and new people and don't sweat the small things (or sometimes the big things too.) And when things aren't going according to plan, take Elsa's advice and "let it go."