Vietnam is jam-packed with fabulous activities for children but reading some holiday itineraries you wouldn’t know this. Yes, we know that there is a rich and sometimes troubled history, and yes, teenagers should learn a bit about this, but endless temples and historical sights are going to leave the kids cold.

The trick to a enjoying a holiday to Vietnam with kids is to intersperse the sightseeing with activities that the children will love. Here are our top 10 things to do with children in Vietnam but if you want more ideas, do let us know.

1 – Take a cyclo ride through the backstreets of Hanoi

Most families either start or finish their visit to Vietnam in the crazy teeming streets of Hanoi. These can be quite a challenge with younger children. The absence of any pavements together with the presence of about 50 million motorbikes (not quite literally, but nearly) means that toddlers definitely need to kept close. However, to enjoy the mayhem in a more relaxed fashion, hop in a cyclo for a leisurely tour of the old city.

A cyclo is a bicycle rickshaw in which you sit on a comfortable seat on the front of a bike and are pedalled around by the cyclo driver. The seats fit one adult and one (small-ish) child or two children. Hold on tight as the driver navigates the noisy streets, past street vendors pushing carts of fresh flowers and stalls selling brightly coloured handicrafts.

Vietnam with kids - Cyclo ride Hanoi

Cyclo ride Hanoi

2 – Bike ride through Hanoi’s backstreets and help cook lunch

For a bit of respite from the chaotic streets of central Hanoi, make your way to the Red River District. This is one of the few parts of Hanoi that escaped bombing during the Vietnam War and the quiet streets are lined with traditional courtyard houses and peaceful Buddhist temples. Join a local family in their ancestral home and help grandma make a tasty lunch of spring rolls washed down with a pot of green tea.

From here take a bike ride into the backstreets, stopping at a local market and a small temple for an insight into the way of life in this off-the-beaten-track part of the city.

Vietnam with kids - Home-cooking Red River District

Home-cooking Red River District

3 – Homestay in a traditional village in Pu Luong

For children who somewhat take their lifestyle for granted, a night in a village homestay can be a rather humbling experience. Deep in the mountains of northern Vietnam is the gorgeous landscape of the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, home to cascading rice terraces. And within this is a small village of stilt houses where you can spend the night with a friendly local family. Dinner will be cooked over the open fire, bed will be a mattress on the floor under a mosquito net and the hot shower? Well, there isn’t one. This is not for families who must have their creature comforts, but if you can forego these then a night in a village will be an experience that the children will remember forever.

Vietnam with kids - Homestay Pu Luong

Homestay Pu Luong

4 – Take a boat ride through a cave system in Ninh Binh

South of Hanoi lie the remains of the country’s ancient capital at Hoa Lu. Frankly only the most historically minded families will find much to divert them at the ruins as there is very little to see. However, not far away is the small village of Trang An in the heart of some of Vietnam’s most sublime scenery. Towering karst peaks sheer up out of the paddy fields and wide rivers meander past the steep cliffs. You can take a rowing boat ride on one of the rivers that has carved its way through the mountains over millennia. You don’t row the boat yourselves (there’s only so much time you want to spin around in circles…) but will be piloted by a local rower.

Follow the river as it curls around the mountains then head directly into a narrow opening at the base of a cliff. Here you find yourselves in a dark cave that tunnels through the hills. Duck under low hanging stalactites and marvel at the dexterity of your rower, as they navigate the narrow channel.

Vietnam with kids - Ninh Binh boat ride

Ninh Binh boat ride

5 – Cave dinner in Halong Bay

You have to be careful with Halong Bay. Parts of this are now horribly over-crowded and hundreds of boats ply the same routes through the bay. The views are gorgeous… or would be if they weren’t blocked by other boats.

Our advice is to head to the more remote Bai Tu Long Bay. Quite aside from the family jokes you can enjoy at the name of the bay, here you find pristine scenery but few other tourists. We can’t quite work out why more people don’t head this way, but for now they don’t, so enjoy it whilst it lasts!

There are lots of different boats to choose from but our favourite stops for an evening dinner inside a cave. There is something really special about a day spent kayaking and swimming in the bay followed by a candlelit 3-course dinner in a remote cave.

Vietnam with kids - Cave dinner, Halong Bay

Cave dinner, Halong Bay

6 – Basket boat ride and crabbing in Hoi An

The enticing streets of Hoi An need little introduction and are an essential stop on any family holiday to Vietnam with kids. Families will be seduced by the pretty town with its wooden shop fronts, bustling markets and sensational restaurants. Few tourists venture far beyond the bustling town centre but if you do, you find a slower pace of life that offers great activities for children. Take a boat out into the estuary and then into one of the narrow channels that weave through the paddy fields. Here you can switch to a circular basket boat and paddle into thick groves of water bamboo. Have a go at crabbing, Vietnamese style, trying to catch the well camouflaged purple crabs that scuttle around the bamboo stems.

After lunch in a local restaurant on the banks of the river you can continue on by bike, cycling through friendly villages with beautiful views. This is similar to the scenery of the Mekong Delta so if you don’t have time to make it to the far south, this is a great alternative.

Vietnam with kids - Basket boat ride and crabbing, Hoi An

Basket boat ride and crabbing, Hoi An

7 – Visit the Dam Sen Waterpark in Saigon

Okay, so it might not be an overly Vietnamese experience, but the Dam Sen Waterpark really is a real treat for the children. It’s vast and there is something for all age groups. Older children will disappear off to take an inflatable ring down a terrifyingly steep slide or take a turn on the giant rope swing, falling off into a deep pool. Younger children will love the huge toddler pool with animal slides, water fountains and plenty to clamber over.

The park gets very busy at the weekend and during Vietnamese holidays so is best visited outside of these times if possible.

Vietnam with kids - Dam Sen Waterpark

Dam Sen Waterpark

8 – Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels

There’s no two ways about it, the history of the Cu Chi tunnels is harrowing. However, somehow a visit to the tunnels is invariably a highlight of any holiday to Vietnam with kids. Children of all ages are entranced by the stories that they hear and the younger ones perhaps don’t understand the more traumatic aspects of the history. Everyone will enjoy searching the forest floor for the entrance to the tunnels (almost completely impossible), climbing on the old tank and heading down into the tunnels to follow them as far as you can manage. Most parents have to give up quite quickly as the heat and need to crouch and crawl takes its toll. However, most children will happily continue through the whole length of the tunnel, meeting you at the end.

Cu Chi Tunnels - Vietnam with the kids

Cu Chi tunnels

9 – Ride bikes along the narrow channels of Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta has changed immeasurably in recent years. Ignore any pictures taken more than a couple of years ago that show bustling floating markets as these have all but disappeared. However, this area is still well worth a visit as the Mekong fans out into an endless network of channels creating hundreds of small islands. These are best explored by bike and sampan and you can spend a wonderful day or two exploring the area. Families with older children might enjoy a night on a converted rice barge, slowly cruising along the palm-fringed canals and enjoying dinner on deck.

Vietnam with kids - Biking in the Mekong Delta

Biking in the Mekong Delta

10 – Fly homemade kites in Phu Quoc

The island of Phu Quoc lies off the south coast of Vietnam, nestled up against Cambodia. This is billed as Vietnam’s answer to a tropical island but you need to be very careful where you end up. Many of the beaches on the island have been heavily eroded by the sea and there is only a narrow strip of sand. Other areas are home to rampant construction and your beach holiday will be marred by the rhythmic hammering from a nearby building site.

BUT, and it’s a big but, if you head to the right part of the island you can find a little slice of gorgeousness. Our top tip is to stay at the Mango Bay Resort, a truly idyllic place perched on the edge of the ocean. Think comfortable beach bungalows with slatted shutters that let in the sea breeze, outdoor showers and stunning views. The resort runs a very low-key series of activities for children. Borrow a kayak and paddle out to the off-short platform for a spot of snorkelling. Build a sandcastle and watch the tide slowly surround it. Or make your own paper kites and then fly them on the beach as the sunsets. Perfection? Yup.

Vietnam with kids - Make paper kites and fly them

Make paper kites and fly them

These top 10 activities can be incorporated into most of our Vietnam family holidays. In order to get the most out of your trip make sure that you check what the weather will be like when you are due to travel. A holiday to Vietnam with kids can be an experience they’ll never forget but you don’t want to arrive expecting sunshine only to realise that it’s winter time and likely to be cold and wet! For up to date health advice see the NHS travel website.

Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
I’d love to hear from you with your experiences of travelling to Vietnam with kids so do email me at info@stubbornmuletravel.com.