Our mini guide to acing Ho Chi Minh City with the kids in tow...
Here at HoneyKids HQ we’re firm believers that having kids shouldn’t have to put an end to cheeky last minute getaways from Singapore, and with so many fantastic short break options on our doorstep, we’ve been crossing them off as often as we can. This time? Destination: Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known officially, and still known to many unofficially, as Saigon)! Here’s how we spent three happy nights and four days exploring Ho Chi Minh with kids – a city packed with history, culture, friendly people, amazing food and bikes. So. Many. Bikes.
HOW TO GET THERE
Vietnam really isn’t so far, and Ho Chi Minh is one of the closest ‘Nam destinations of all. A direct flight will whizz you there in just under two hours. Scoot, Silk Air, VietJet and JetStar all fly daily from Changi Airport.
WHERE TO STAY
Ho Chi Minh certainly isn’t short of hotels, and no matter what your budget may be, you’ll find great options to suit. We plumped for a mid-price range, four-star boutique hotel, The Millennium Boutique which ticked all our boxes: a great location (extra thumbs up for being in a quiet street: a rarity in bustling Ho Chi Minh), interconnecting family rooms (small but clean, modern and comfy) and a rooftop swimming pool and bar area to use after a busy (and dusty) day of exploration. Have a look at Majestic Saigon for a big traditional colonial style option, or The Rex Hotel if luxe is the name of your game. Most of the small boutique hotels though are great value for money, are eager to please and make the perfect base for laying your weary heads at the end of your adventures.
WHERE TO EAT
Vietnam is famed for its great cuisine. From roadside vendors (we befriended a very nice coconut seller) to top notch fancy affairs, it’s all scrumptious. We loved Barbecue Garden SO much, we went back twice! Tuk Tuk Bistro was also a big hit (the best Thai we’ve had outside of Thailand), and although we didn’t make it there, we had several recommendations to try Cục Gạch Quán, which promises home-style Vietnamese food packed with flavour.
WHAT TO DO
Even if you’re limited on time (we went for just three nights) it doesn’t mean you can’t pack a whole heap of adventure into your itinerary:
Go for a boat trip on the Mekong River: We tried a boat trip around several islands in the Mekong Delta known as Dragon Island, Unicorn Island, Phoenix Island and Tortoise Island. Sadly we didn’t see any dragons, unicorns, phoenix or tortoise, but we did have fun trying honey tea at a bee farm, rowing down canals in the Ben Tre Province, checking out how to make coconut sweets, trying exotic offerings at a fruit farm and wearing the odd conical hat. Also: elephant ear fish for lunch…
Visit the War Remnants Museum: Some of the displays in the War Remnants Museum may need a quick recce by parents before letting small eyes see the more graphic photos and exhibits (only you will know what you want to expose your little ones to when it comes to this kind of history). We brought our own three kids (aged five, 10 and 15 years), and they found it a very sobering, thought-provoking experience that led to a lot of questions (we had to give ourselves our own history lesson to be able to answer, so it was a great learning opp for us all). The planes and tanks outside are a hit for kids of all ages if you do decide to avoid some of the displays inside.
Explore the Chu Chi Tunnels: Another war site, but this one is out of town (around a 90-minute drive) and in the jungle (and without such obvious horrors for the kids to clock). Your tour guide will lead you around the area showing you how the Viet Cong soldiers lived, hid and fought in the area during the Vietnam War, and you’ll get the chance to actually go down some of the tunnels to see for yourself how, erm, cosy they are. Your hotel will be able to arrange the trip for you.
Try a cyclo tour: Having already aced a three-wheeled bike tour in Hanoi, we gave the cyclos another go in Ho Chi Minh. It’s a bit of a squeeze (just enough room for one adult and one child on each bike) but a great way to get around the city. No one will judge when you close your eyes on some of the busier streets…
Catch a water puppet show: Another very traditional Vietnamese pastime, the water puppet shows are still popular today and are great for kids of all ages. Try The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater shows inside Tao Dan Park which run every day and are some of the most famous in Ho Chi Minh (no website: sorry!).
Grab a bargain at Ben Thanh Market: Not to be confused with a Ben 10 Market (our youngest was quite surprised when we reached there to find stalls packed with souvenirs, bags, knick knacks, clothes and everything other than Ben 10 toys), this is the go-to place for literally anything! Bartering is essential and we were recommended to settle only once the prices had come down by at least 50-60% from starting offer. There is also a ‘fixed price’ section for those who can’t be bothered dealing with the haggling.
Eat a Bánh Mì: These tasty Vietnamese sandwiches combine traditional French baguettes with local ingredients. Our favourite? Pate with cucumber, jalapeno, pickled carrots and daikon. The Banh Mi (and the coffee!) at L’Uisine and The Loft Cafe (which we found by accident near the cathedral) were both exceptionally good. Wash it down with a weasel poo coffee if you dare!
Learn how to cook Vietnamese food: There’s no denying that the Vietnamese know how to whip up a delish dish, so why not learn your way around the ingredients and recipes as a family so you can bring some ‘Nam flavour to your own kitchen? Saigon Cooking Class is a great pick for a cooking class with kids – the friendly instructors speak English and will guide the whole gang through a veritable cooking storm with plenty of laughs along the way.
- The pavements are almost as dangerous as the roads in Ho Chi Minh City: the motorcycles often mount the sidewalks so you need to keep your wits about you at all times. Would we try and navigate the city with young children in strollers? Probably not: use a baby carrier instead!
- Crossing the roads can be quite the hair-raising hazard. There are pedestrian crossings, but as far as we could tell nobody seems to pay much heed to them. Locals will often take pity on you and help you across. And if all else fails tag onto another group while they cross and hide in the middle!
- Only use the official metered taxis (and walk everywhere if you can to avoid them altogether). Taxi drivers are not known for being the most scrupulous of people… Use an airport pick up through your hotel if you can!
- Barter for everything!
- Bring lots of snacks for the kids if you have fussy eaters.
- Make sure you pack mozzie repellent and sunscreen, especially if you are going out on the day trips. We saw mosquitos the size of a small child…
Enjoy! Ho Chi Minh City really is a whole heap of fun and adventure.