Planning a family trip to Vietnam? EVERYTHING you need to know before you go

A family trip to Vietnam is high on many people’s bucket lists. The food, people and natural environment mean there’s something to keep the whole family happy. Knowing where to start to plan your trip can be tough and it definitely takes a slightly different mind set to a regular package holiday. Don’t let that put you off, follow these simple steps and soon you’ll be enjoying your dream family holiday in Vietnam.

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Before you book your family trip to Vietnam

Work out exactly where you want to go in Vietnam

What do you really want to get out of the trip as a family? Relaxing on the beach? A vibrant city break? History and culture? Theme parks? You can experience all of this in Vietnam but if you have one main focus then you can plan the rest of your time exploring. We tend to aim for a week at a beach where we can head out on day trips but relax a lot then go off adventuring for the rest of our break. Vietnam is very hot and often completely alien to kids so make sure you plan in plenty of down time and space to get used to the new environment.

Weather will probably play a part in the decision process depending on the month of your visit. For simplicity I’ll split the country into 3. North Vietnam (where Hanoi and Halong Bay are located) enjoys cooler days and low humidity between December and February. June to August can be very hot, rainy and humid and kids may struggle with the heat. Central Vietnam (where Da Nang, Hue and Hoi An are located) Is hot pretty much year round with a tropical climate. It is driest between November and April. South Vietnam (where you’ll find Ho Chi Minh City and The Mekong Delta) has two seasons, wet and dry. Again it’s fairly hot year round with wet season lasting from May until November.

If you’re planning on seeing the whole country you’re pretty much guaranteed some rain whenever you travel. Don’t let that put you off. It’s not too bad and the showers never last for long. We visited in August and whilst it was very hot, we loved it and just found plenty of air conditioned restaurants to escape the heat. Most accommodation will have air con so you’ll all be able to sleep.

Start with a rough budget and duration for your family trip to Vietnam

Money goes a lot further in Vietnam and being such a long flight, I’d say the longer you can spend there the better. It’s also easier to plan in those all-important down days when you’re not so pressured by time. Flights are going to be your main expenditure then for accommodation you really can spend as much or as little as you like. I found it extremely easy to find amazing five star hotels for under £80 per night.

Check on comparison sites such as Skyscanner for the cheapest flights for your dates. If you can be flexible then you can even plug in your destination and it will find the cheapest month for you. Then use sites like Tripadvisor or Trivago to compare hotel prices. I also think it’s a good idea to check Airbnb as well. We found this fabulous apartment near Da Nang on there for £60 a night.

Research where to stay in Vietnam with family

Family friendly accommodation in Vietnam is plentiful and covers everything from budget hostels and guest houses to luxury hotels. The good news is that most places have huge, family sized rooms and often kids can stay for free in existing bedding.

hotel pool in vietnam

It’s easy to find international branded hotels if you want something you recognise but I recommend going all in and looking for something more local. Definitely try to find somewhere with a pool, a great way to cool down after a busy day exploring. For some examples of what you can get for your money have a look at this list of hotels in Da Nang to suit every traveller.

Consider a package trip to make it easier

Package company Explore has some amazing family friendly tours of Vietnam. You could try their 11 day discover Vietnam trip which takes in Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, The Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City. Transport, accommodation and some meals are included in the price. Or their Vietnam in depth trip for 15 days which adds in more tours and visits to local towns and villages. Prices are very reasonable, starting from £1,199 per person which is great value when you add in the tours included.

2 months before your family trip to Vietnam

Once you’re all booked up it’s time to sort out the family’s travel admin.

Check everyone’s passports and visa requirements

This is so important and it’s surprising how many people forget to check passport expiry dates – especially of their kids. You’ll need a full 6 months left on your passport from the date you return home.

Some but not everyone will need a visa so double check. The UK is exempt and tourists are allowed to travel to Vietnam for up to 15 days without one. Most other countries will need to sort it before they travel. You can check Vietnam Visa requirements and apply online here.

If you do need a Visa then a visa approval letter will cost you $15 dollars and you’ll have to pay a further $25 on arrival. Don’t forget the cash or a passport photo.

Visit your doctor and get your travel vaccinations

This is so important when traveling to countries like Vietnam. Most places are very clean and hygienic but it’s always better to be safe when traveling with kids. We needed Diphtheria and Tetanus and if it’s your first time to Asia, you’ll probably also need Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies and Typhoid. Luckily Malaria is low risk in most of Vietnam but take all the usual precautions – mosquito repellent, long sleeved tops and trousers and plenty of anti bite.  You can check out the NHS fit for travel website to get a list of which vaccinations you will need but make sure you book yourself in to the GP to discuss all requirements and stock up on your prescriptions.

If you need a specific brand – bring it with you

Kids are funny sometimes when it comes to home comforts, a little memory of a favourite sweet from home can make all the difference to a hot, tired, slightly overwhelmed kid. I always travel with a couple of packets of Pipers favourite strawberry laces. I also take tea bags with me as I really struggle to get a good cuppa anywhere in Asia.

Favourite toiletries should also be bought from home, they’re easy to buy in Vietnam but you won’t necessarily understand the packaging or find your favourite make. We always have to take loads of the only sun cream Piper isn’t allergic to. But even if you don’t have allergies, I recommend packing plenty of sun cream and after sun – it’s really expensive in Vietnam.

What money to take to Vietnam

Make sure you order plenty of Dong (VND), the currency of Vietnam. It is currently 30,000 to the pound and 23,200 to the dollar. I always do a comparison online to check the best rates then order my currency to be delivered straight to home. Do not wait until you get to the airport – rates will be awful. You’ll need cash for taxis, street food, some restaurants and bars and many attractions. We saw loads of cash machines but you don’t want to get stung with the fee too often. We also found that many places accepted card and we saw several money exchanges on the streets.

If you have any US dollars hanging around or in fact you’re visiting from the US, lots of places would accept that too. It just got a bit confusing with the double converting. I’d say keep this as your emergency money!

Download the Grab App

This was so useful to have when we arrived in Vietnam. It’s their equivalent of Uber which makes getting around super simple. Just type in your destination and track the driver. You can fill in your credit card details at home, no need for cash which was great. You can also leave reviews for the drivers meaning they were all even more friendly than usual.

parasol and beach chairs in Vietnam

Sort out your travel insurance

Another biggy, hopefully you won’t need it but just bite the bullet and get it done. Accidents do happen and sometimes people get sick. Make sure you know the important numbers – phone and policy number, exactly what it covers and any excess you’ll need to pay.

girl under a pagoda in vietnam

Print off all your documents

This gives me such peace of mind when prepping for the holiday. Even more so for our family trip to Vietnam where we had no clue about the language. I have a light folder that I pop in print outs of flights, hotels, internal travel tickets and excursions in date order. As I use each, I can just throw it away. It’s great that most things are available on my phone now but just in case of hold ups, running out of charge, losing my phone, I like to have a physical copy. It also helps ensure I haven’t forgotten to book anything for which I’ve got previous!

I also take photocopies of our passports, one to take with us in case we lose them (gulp) and one I leave at home with my parents so they have all the important numbers. I also send a copy of my itinerary to them but that’s perhaps slight overkill!

Pre book your trips and transfers

You’ll want to do so many day trips in Vietnam, there’s just so much to see and do. Two months out is the perfect time to start getting excited and pre-booking trips. You’ll also often find some great discounts by booking in advance online. Sites such as Klook have a huge amount of things to do on your family trip to Vietnam. You can also use them to book short internal transfers.

A great way to get teens and tweens engaged and excited about visiting Vietnam is to let them choose some of the trips themselves. I always let Piper help research and discuss what she wants to see or do when we get there.

golden bridge in vietnam

Speaking of transfers, now is a great time to get airport transfers sorted. I love Holiday transfers for a great value, easy option. You can arrange for them to collect you from the airport and take you straight to your hotel. No waiting around in Taxi lines or drivers who don’t know where they’re going. Plus, as it’s pre paid, you don’t need to hunt around for cash or barter with a taxi driver as soon as you arrive. This is always such a relief on a family trip to Vietnam.

Learn Some Vietnamese before your family trip to Vietnam

This is a fun one, Vietnamese is a complicated language but learning a few important words is easy and a great way to get the kids excited about the holiday. Piper loved the reaction locals gave her when she remembered to say thank you in Vietnamese. A few you might want to try:

  • Hello = Xin Chao (Sin chow)
  • Thank you = Cam on (kahm uhn)
  • Sorry = Xin Loi (Sin Loy)
  • Goodbye = Tam Biet (Tarm Byeet)
  • No, Thank You! = Khong! Cam On (Khom, kahm uhn)
  • What is your name? = Ten ban la gi?  (Ten bang la zi)

girl in pink stripy dress looking out at the south china sea

If you or anyone in your party is traveling with health issues, allergies or are vegetarian or vegan, these are words you need to learn. I also recommend printing out the words and keeping them with you at all times. This will help you remember the improtant ones and really help your trip to Vietnam with kids.

Order a pre-paid Sim card to collect at the airport

Be prepared to be offline and don’t rely on Wifi, it doesn’t always work. You can make life a little easier for yourselves by ordering a sim card to pick up at your arrival airport. They’re really cheap (way cheaper than switching your roaming on) and you can choose how much data you want. We mostly only used ours for maps, checking train times and ordering Grabs but it was a real lifesaver a few times we got a bit lost.

Have a Vietnamese night before you go

I love themed holiday nights with kids. It’s a great way to introduce them to a new culture and get them excited about a trip. We tend to do one for everywhere we visit. For your Vietnam themed evening you could maybe practice making lanterns and visit your local Vietnamese restaurant. It would also be great opportunity to teach the kids some Vietnamese history.

Try some unusual food

If you haven’t taken the kids to South East Asia yet then some of the food is going to seem very strange to them. Mainly it’s nothing like your local Vietnamese restaurant but even if it’s not authentic try to persuade the kids to try something a bit strange and new. An enthusiastic approach to food that looks a bit different will make travel in Vietnam so much easier – the street food is amazing, hygienic and oh so cheap.

That said, don’t worry if you are traveling with a fussy eater, there are loads of western restaurants around Vietnam often even Vietnamese restaurants will have a few western options. I think Piper went about 3 days straight having Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner. It’s just a bit more expensive and will probably take a bit longer to come out but you really can eat whatever you like in Vietnam.

The week before you go on your family trip to Vietnam

Now’s the time to pack if you haven’t already. Don’t worry too much about this, things are cheap and plentiful in Vietnam. If you forget anything, you can grab it there. Packing light is key if you’re planning a family trip to Vietnam and travelling through the country. Lugging heavy suitcases on trains and buses sucks and most domestic flights will only allow 20kg checked bags. I find a big back pack to be a lot easier than a case but it’s not essential.

For me some must packs are:

  • A first aid kit and any prescription medicine
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Anti bite, mosquito repellent and maybe some mosquito nets.
  • Heaps of suncream
  • Long sleeves and trousers will come in handy for visiting temples and keeping the mosquitoes away

a beach in vietnam from above

Prepare the children for some cultural differences

The Vietnamese are wonderful people, welcoming, happy and boy do they adore kids. They will want to talk to them – don’t worry they know you don’t understand, may even want to photograph or touch them. Make sure you tell your kids not to be scared of this but reassure them that you will not let locals touch or take their picture if they are not comfortable with it. A short but firm “no” will stop it when you’re there and Piper actually loved having her photo taken constantly, she felt like a film star!

piper quinn meeting vietnamese people

You may come across a few squat toilets with water hoses instead of tissues. Mention it to the kids but hopefully they won’t have to use them often. And make sure you always have spare tissues on you.

Practice crossing the road. This may sound totally crazy but it’s a bit different to home. The majority of traffic you’ll have to contend with in Vietnam is Motorbikes, they’re more than used to navigating around pedestrians who walk in a constant straight line across the road. Make any unpredictable moves and you may be in trouble. It’s well worth explaining this to little ones.

The Vietnamese don’t have a lot but their kids seem to be some of the happiest in the world. This can be a great lesson in gratitude for the whole family.

Start changing the kids bedtimes before your family trip to Vietnam

I’ll be honest, I sometimes do this and sometimes don’t bother. It can be helpful to get kids into a slightly different sleeping pattern before you leave. Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of the UK, that’s a huge time shift for kids to get used to on your next family trip to Vietnam. If you can also cancel a day nap to ensure they’ll sleep for a bit on the flight, even better.

child asleep on a hotel chair in vietnam

Make plenty of space on a smart phone or digital camera

Vietnam really is the holiday of a life time and you’ll want to capture all those precious moments on camera. Do not make the mistake I have done on many occasions by arriving with a full smart phone and no spare SD card. Make sure you also pack a couple of portable power packs so you can carry spare charge with you at all times.

piper quinn behing a bottle of bintang

Have a read of this post for more tips on how to survive long haul travel with kids especially how to cope with the flight.

Do you have any tips for planning a family trip to Vietnam? Please do leave them in the comments.

Read next: Visiting Asia with kids

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