Vietnam customer reviews
We are very proud of the feedback that we get from our trips and are pleased to share reviews from past travellers. These are kept as up to date as possible. Please have a read through to get a real sense of the kind of experience that you might have on a trip to Vietnam with us. And please do ring if you’d like to talk with someone who has been there and travelled with the kids.
Bartolini Family (with children aged 13 & 15)
Travelled Christmas/New Year 2019/20 – Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam
We have travelled with Stubborn Mule twice in the last 2 years – a 2 week trip to Myanmar (Burma) and a 2 week trip to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Both times we have had the most amazing family holidays with our 2 daughters (aged 13 and 15). Kelly at Stubborn Mule has a wealth of first hand knowledge of these countries and put together brilliant itineraries for us – a great mix of sightseeing, relaxing by the pool/beach time, activities such a zip lining or cycling, going to elephant sanctuaries and cooking lessons. We have only been home a week from Vietnam and are already trying to decide where our next Stubborn Mule adventure should be!
Kelly – We had a long chat so this is just to summarise.
All flights were great and ran on time. The overnight train was also a fun trip and the cabins were nice and clean. Even the toilet stayed clean for the whole trip! We took some food with us for dinner and breakfast (pot noodles for dinner and rolls/croissants for breakfast) plus lots of snacks and drinks. It was easy to buy other drinks on the train or at any platform. We got picked up and dropped off at all the airports and train stations with no issues…
All the hotels were lovely. In Siem Reap we had a suite which was enormous! It had a washing machine which was very useful as you can imagine. The pool was lovely. In Luang Prabang the hotel was gorgeous all round. We had adjoining rooms which makes life very easy. In Hanoi we stayed at a very central and had a roof top pool. We had adjacent rooms but not adjoining. Roof top pool was freezing but still got used by S and M! In Hoi An our hotel was lovely. We had adjacent rooms. The pool was beautiful here with views over the river. The hotel also offers free boat trips which we took advantage of. In Saigon we stayed at a huge glamorous hotel where we had adjoining rooms. The rooftop pool was lovely and a good place to spend a few hours sunbathing and swimming at the end of a long trip.
The guides were all great – Mr Leap in Siem Reap, Mr Sphack in Luang Prabang, Annie in Hanoi. In Saigon we had 2 different guides for the 2 different tours so didn’t really get to know them very well. They both seemed nice enough, but neither of them went “above and beyond” like we felt the others had. I think partly because each one was only with us for a few hours and partly we think because the tourism culture in Saigon doesn’t promote this attitude – there is plenty of work for the guides and no-one needs to go the extra mile to get repeat business.
As I mentioned before we found that there were lots of little things in Saigon which added up to it not having such a friendly feel…
We loved all the trips except the Mekong Delta trip and Tonle Sap – in the dry season there just isn’t much to see on this lake or in the village… I am sure in the wet season it would be lovely to cruise through the village and mangrove forest.
As I mentioned on the phone, the trip in Hanoi to Lien Mac to cycle round the veg and flower fields was great.
On the money front it would be worth mentioning in the trip notes that if you take pounds or dollars to change then make sure the notes are clean and crisp. We took some £20 notes and some were rejected a few times by money changers for being too old or having small tears or writing on them.
Also in Siem Reap there is no need to have any Cambodian money – absolutely everywhere deals in dollars.
Finally, I always travel with a travel washing line, travel wash, travel sink plug and travel hangers which are great for when you just want to just hand wash a few small items rather than sending the smaller bits for laundry – something to add to you packing list?
Also the water bottles you recommended were great and I think should add them to the packing list.
I think that’s it! We had a lovey time and are already thinking about our next big trip.
Thank you for an amazing experience…. I have to add that the guides in Cambodia, Laos and northern Vietnam were excellent. We definitely had more than we expected. From my point of view, once they knew I’m a tree expert, then I was treated to some amazing trees! Finally a useful trip note; the greater the value of the note, be it $100 or £50 then the better the exchange rate. Having 100 $1 notes got less than a single $100 note by quite a lot.”
Gallie Family (with child aged 9)
Travelled October half-term 2019
Hello Helene – I have to say I think this has been my best holiday ever – we had such an amazing family holiday, it was everything and more I hoped it would be and literally everything went like clockwork! From the moment we arrived in Hanoi and met by Tuan, our most amazing and friendly guide for the first part of our holiday everything was brilliant. Tuan was amazing, I can’t say enough about him and how much he added to our trip – such a lovely young man, he spoke beautiful English and was full of information about all the places we visited, he answered all our questions and gave us such an understanding of so much about this beautiful country. We laughed a lot together and shared so much about each other’s families – he felt like part of the family by the time we left him – we were all really sad to say goodbye, we wanted to take him with us!
We were super impressed the whole time to always have a guide plus a driver plus a whole beautiful minibus, all to ourselves! We felt like VIPs!
All the guides and drivers were great throughout the trip and looked after us so well – it felt so easy and stress free as we didn’t have to organise or worry about anything!
I’ve been thinking about our itinerary and questioning whether I would change anything and we as a family have come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t change a thing – every place we went and everything we did was great, the itinerary was such a mix of activities and sites, it kept us all very entertained and interested – even James (9).
Hanoi was crazy as city’s are and with the manic streets and all the mopeds – that was a shock but we got used to it quickly – you soon learn the pavements aren’t really for walking on, they are more there for the mopeds to park on!
All the sites we visited in Hanoi were great and really interesting. Tuan was a great guide and told us loads of history and background on everything, it really brought it all to life and helped us understand and learn so much more then we would have done on our own. We really loved the Ho Chi Minh complex. The cyclo tour as you had anticipated was a big hit with J – that was super fun and then going for a local lunch of pho after was great – we all loved. Tuan gave us a great recommendation for a meal out in Hanoi too so we really enjoyed it.
Whilst heading out of Hanoi, the bicycle ride around a local town and along the river was fun. I wasn’t sure if the boys would enjoy it and particularly going to someone’s home to make the spring rolls, but we all really loved it – it was all really fun and we all got stuck in!
Our first home stay in PuLoung was the most basic, we were in a traditional stilt house and the room was just a wooden room with two mattresses on the floor and mosquito nets – J thought it was a posh bed as it had “curtains” and was very excited at the prospect of sleeping in it 🙂 Although basic, it was great, the family were lovely and the contrast from our normal life was what I wanted James to experience. All the other home stays were much more ‘normal’ rooms with en-suite facilities etc, so we were fine for a couple of nights there. We all really enjoyed our 4-hour trek here too and Tuan hired a local guide to come with us to make sure we didn’t get lost and he great. He made J a hat as we were walking along. We got dragged into a local wedding as we walked through one village and shared in some local ‘happy water’ with all the locals and J made a friend with a lovely girl who spoke beautiful English. Another thing about this place, so many welcoming and friendly people, it was lovely!
NinhBinh was great, the homestay was lovely and it was super to have a proper slightly softer bed after PuLoung. We loved the boat ride at Trang An and being rowed through the caves too.
Halong Bay was a dream – I could have stayed there forever! Our cabin was lovely, the full width of the back of the boat. We were a dab hand at making the spring rolls having already practiced in Hanoi. The staff on board were lovely too. We were on the first night with 6 French people who funnily enough live in Brittany right next to us in the Channel Islands.
No-one was keen to have Karaoke so that idea was knocked on the head – but squid fishing was a big hit. I enjoyed the tai chi in the mornings (the boys didn’t bother getting up, the lazy heads). It was great saying two nights and would definitely recommend that to others too – the others left the boat after one night and were really disappointed they hadn’t booked for two. That left us being transferred to another big boat for the whole day whilst they were taken back and we cruised around, went kayaking and swimming and had a huge lunch prepared for us – we couldn’t believe it – definitely VIPs that day – they then allowed us to jump in and out of the water from the top of the boat off a diving board – J had the best time!!!
After that Tuan took us back to Hanoi and we had to say goodbye when we headed to Dong Hoi on the night train – we enjoyed the experience of the train, the cabin was nice and clean andIm pleased to report even the toilets were fine (one end of the cabin had a stand up toilet but the other end was a very clean full mod cons toilet which was perfect!
The Chay Lap home stay was really super – that was J’ favourite pool and the place was really lovely! Being right next to the beautiful mountains that looked like they’d been draped in green blankets was amazing. The caves here were amazing and Paradise Cave was just on another scale – really, really awesome – J has developed a huge love of caves now, he just loves them.
Hung our lovely guide here took us to another cave which was nice and also a really lovely botanical garden which wasn’t on the plan but was great to see – we walked to some waterfalls and had a bit of climb and hike down and then came across some people having their wedding photos, having climbed down in their wedding outfits – we were literally melting that day and all dirty after the climb, but somehow they’d managed perfectly!
Our other super cool thing we did at this location was visiting the Dark Cave. We had our guide drop us there on the way back to our homestay and spent the afternoon there – it was a huge zip slide across a river into a cave and you have to swim in, with hard hats and torches then are taken on a tour through the narrow passages then finally end up in a mud bath in the dark – really fun, all of us loved it but I don’ think any of our costumes will ever be the same colour again. We then spent the rest of the afternoon on smaller zip lines plunging into the river – great fun!
The day train was good too down to Hoi An (thanks for recommending buying the extra bunk – it was definitely the right move to just have the comfort and reassurance of having the whole cabin to ourselves.)
Hoi An was amazing – loved the place, the beautiful streets at night with all the lanterns and even during the day, it’s a lovely place. Funnily enough my boss at work was there on a trip at the same time so we met for dinner. We got into the street food quite a bit in Hoi An, the banana pancakes are amazing! The beautiful Japanese bridge was lovely and we went on a little boat at night and floated some candles. We also went to the bamboo theatre, which was fun to watch a show.
The homestay was very nice indeed – a little bit of a walk out of the centre, but we got our bearings and it wasn’t a problem – about 15 minutes walk home in the evening – but everywhere felt so safe, it wasn’t a problem. J enjoyed the pool here too!
Phu Quoc – that was a perfect end to the trip. I can’t say we did much as we didn’t leave the hotel – we were all really contented for some down time. We didn’t see much of J as he wouldn’t get out of the water and spent most of his time with his head under with his snorkel looking at the fish. The hotel was really nice and the staff so friendly. J taught the restaurant manager how to play Uno on our first day, after that we played with him every day and ended up giving him our pack as he enjoyed it so much.
The hotel manager there also was super nice and really proactive ensuring everything was ok with all guests, he’d come and speak to us every day and have a chat. Really lovely place to go and relax and unwind after a busy first half of the holiday. I know there were things we could have gone to do, but we were happy relaxing. The bungalow we had was lovely and the bathroom with an open air garden was really novel – we quite enjoyed having frogs and giant snails in our bathroom garden to look at and for the rain to come in (to the garden area).
Finally Ho Chi Minh – again we were impressed and pleased to have a guide to show us the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were amazing and I’m so glad we stayed to see them – we also stopped at a very nice restaurant on the way. I have to say throughout the trip, we were always taken to very nice restaurants – we never had a bad one!
The hotel was very nice and we had the biggest bed yet. Our final day was super hot, but we got out and did the War Remnants Museum, as A was really keen to see it. It was an amazing museum and the boys enjoyed all the things to see outside (tanks, planes etc). The museum inside was hugely interesting but also very upsetting. J was fine, he was just swanning around looking at bits – it was just when you stopped to really read that you took in the enormity of it all and how devastating the wars have been. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone else though if they have an interest in learning about the history of the wars.
For the rest of the day we mootched around, visiting Notre Damn and the post office, having a bit of lunch and generally trying to keep cool till our transfer back to the airport and heading home.
Sorry if this is a ridiculously long email with feedback – just want you to know we had the BEST holiday, we made fantastic memories and I can’t thank you enough for organising it so well – it was effortless for us and such a pleasurable 3 weeks and just what we needed!
I have been spreading the word to all our friends and mums at school that Stubborn Mule is the place to go to organise a fantastic family holiday that will keep the whole family entertained – I can’t recommend you guys enough!!!!
Thank you from all of us – I’m sure you’ll be hearing from us again!
Davenport Family (with teenagers aged 14 and 17)
Travelled Summer 2019
Hi Emily. We had the most amazing time in Vietnam and thank you for your meticulous organisational skills, we had no problems whatsoever and an unforgettable experience. Please find attached a few photos of the girls involved in various activities, including kite making (which was a huge success). I would not hesitate to recommend your firm / you to other friends considering a similar experience.
Gaches Family (with children aged 9, 12 and 13)
Travelled Summer 2019 to Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand
Hi Helene – Our trip was fantastic. The itinerary ran like clockwork with the assistance of the wonderful guides and drivers. The issue with the flight was soon resolved with the help of your Vietnam team so wasn’t an issue. Thank you for all your help and for making everything so easy. I have already been spreading the word about Stubborn Mule and will continue to do so.
A couple of thoughts:
Our hotel in Ho Chi Minh had to be changed and the substitute was not quite up to the standard of the other places we stayed at. In particular the rooms smelt smoky. However the location was fantastic and it was only for one night so was absolutely fine.
In Hoi An, our hotel was lovely but in hindsight we would probably have chosen somewhere smaller and less touristy. I felt it didn’t fit in with the rest of our holiday, but it was obviously our choice.
Buri Rasa was a perfect end to the holiday and we would definitely like to return there!
We really enjoyed both of the overnight train journeys – would definitely recommend, and also the cookery courses which were all very different. The elephants were amazing and we’ll never forget being woken up by monkeys in the tree house!
Laird Family (with teenagers aged 13)
Travelled Summer 2019
Hi Lee – We had an amazing time and absolutely loved Vietnam. The people were amazing. So friendly – wanting photos taken with us and to chat with us to practice their English. The guides and drivers were brilliant. So knowledgeable, friendly and flexible. It was so hot and by lunchtime we were ready to relax by the pool. Nothing was too much trouble. I would love it if you could feed that back to your local partner. They were so lovely and really helped make the holiday.
We adored Hoi An. It was truly amazing. We loved the shops, restaurants and the buzz. We even enjoyed the bartering despite being nervous at first. The lights/lanterns were beautiful. The beach was empty and stunning and the water was so warm it. The hotel was beautiful and we loved our private swimming pool. Perfect after an evening in Hoi An.
All the accommodation was first class. We were delighted with it all. The Phu Luong hotel stands out as we just couldn’t believe the view. It felt as if it was a painted backdrop rather than real. But we loved it all. Rooms beautiful and clean and facilities were fantastic. We were truly spoiled.
All the activities were great. I can’t thank you enough for the recommendations and ensuring we had such a perfect holiday again.
The weather was challenging. It was so hot but having the pools helped a lot and of course the air con too!
Roman Family (with child aged 11)
Travelled Summer 2019
Hi Charlotte – We had a great time in Vietnam. Every day was different so it went really quickly; it was good to finish the trip with Hoi An, and the hotel on the beach. I think we all enjoyed the boat trip on Halong Bay the best – this is definitely a must do, especially 2 nights. All the hotels worked out well – we appreciated the air-conditioning! Our first guide was fun and was very good with A, entertaining her all the time. So all very positive.
Bates Family (with child aged 13)
Travelled Summer 2019
Dear Emily. We had a really great time on the trip and I have to pinch myself to believe that it all actually happened. It was organised really well, the guides were brilliant – friendly, organised, informative, meticulous time-keepers – nothing was too much trouble. In fact I cut my foot on a rock and had to have stitches and the guide picked me up and took me to the nearest hospital to get stitched up. He couldn’t have been kinder. Absolutely loved Vietnam, the people, the landscape and the food.
Our favourite place without question was Phong Nha, and in hindsight I think we wished we were there for longer, it was paradise. We really enjoyed the ziplining and dark cave experience which wasn’t on the schedule but only up the road from Chay Lap, so I’d recommend that to any future visitors. Also loved the Halong Bay boat experience, but it was all great. The people at the Hoi An accommodation were soooo lovely – it was a very special place. We did a boat trip to the Cham Islands while we were in Hoi An, which I’d thoroughly recommend – saw monkeys on the islands.
Poulton Family (with children aged 8 and 11)
Travelled Easter 2019
Hi Lee – Just wanted to say thank you to Stubborn Mule and your Vietnamese partners for an amazing holiday. We had a great time, only complaint is it went too quickly! Vietnam is an amazing place to visit and our guides made it a hassle free and very enjoyable holiday. The birthday present and cake for O was a complete surprise and made his day.
Evans Family (with children aged 7, 9 and 11)
Travelled Easter 2019
Hi Lee – Well, what can I say? We have had the most incredible family adventure and we loved every minute. The initial bustle of Hanoi, the beautiful hills at Pu Luong and the simple homestay, the relaxing junk trip with amazing food at Bai Tu Long and the final relaxing few days on the beach at Hoi An.
All of the accommodation was excellent in its own way. The hotel in Hanoi was so lovely and a little oasis of calm tucked away down a side street. The rooms we had were great and a lovely breakfast with views over the city.
The homestay was great too. One morning the children who live there had the TV turned on and were watching rubbish on You tube. A minor gripe! This was H’s favourite place as when we went to bed there were fire flies buzzing around the room and it looked magical. The views from our stilt house were unbelievable too. We loved our walk up through the hills to get there.
The Tam Coc Garden resort was on another level and such a treat to get to a beautiful soft bed with white sheets after 2 nights on the very hard floor at the homestay! I think the contrast though makes you appreciate it more.
The junk was a winner too. I was so happy when we got onboard and realised that there were only 3 rooms and we had 2 of them! The food was amazing and plentiful. The kids loved the kayaking and playing in the sea and one lunchtime we had the poshest bbq ever on a beach. Tablecloths and all!
The train journey was longer than we had thought we didn’t arrive in Da Nang until 12.30pm. It was all good though and La Siesta had sent us off with a goody bag of water, fruit, crisps etc. which was really thoughtful.
We really enjoyed the hotel in Hoi An. Two lovely garden rooms looking towards the pool. I was so relieved not to be in one of the rooms in the block at the back.
The activities that we did while we were there were all great. The bikes in general were pretty ropey. One with a puncture and another where the seat kept dropping down but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment.
My personal highlight was the walk we did at Pu Luong through the local villages. We were the only tourists there and it was so stunning. The following day we went on bamboo rafts and the kids loved that- complete with water buffalo poo floating past
I could go on and on……… suffice to say, it’s the best holiday we’ve ever had and Vietnam and it’s people are wonderful. We never felt threatened and we never came across any begging.
Thank you Stubborn Mule
Ferguson Family (with children aged 12 and 14)
Travelled Easter 2019
Hi Liddy – Vietnam was absolutely awesome, as usual. All four of us agree that it is our favourite country. Thanks so much for organising the trip for us. We continue to recommend you to everyone. I’m not sure what we will do next Easter but the following year is a big one as oldest child will have done GCSE’s so we are thinking about your Japan trip for summer 2021.
Saigon Hotel Liberty Central
Excellent, and perfectly located for the markets which is where the kids wanted to spend most of their time
Loved it. The beach house was fabulous and it felt like we had our own private pool. Great location as we could wander out to other bars and restaurants and we had our best meal of the trip in town at a little place called the Saigonese Eatery, which we went to twice.
Really loved this hotel. Again great location so we could walk everywhere. The Four Seasons is going up next door which might change things. We shortened the tour of the city as we wanted to do our own thing but the bike ride and visit to the local village for lunch was really great.
Stunning hotel in a beautiful region. Pools could do with a bit of a clean, and a bit of heat as they were freezing although maybe not something an eco resort should be doing! There wasn’t a lot to do in the area though, other than walking. The boat trip was cancelled as there had been some sort of incident the month before and the authorities had closed it down. We did a short walk with the guide the afternoon we arrived and then a 2.5 hour one the next morning but it was boiling so we didn’t make it any longer.
Enjoyed the hotel, particularly the pool area but on balance l think we should have stayed in the Tam Doc area as there is more going on rather than being in the middle of nowhere in a conference type hotel. The boat trip was great but it would have been hideous in the height of the season. The cycling around the paddy fields was fabulous.
Halong Bay boat
Was amazing and the highlight of the trip. Really luxurious and so good to be able to get away from the massive boats that charge around. Only slight negative was that we expected to be able to dictate our timetable a bit and swim and kayaking from the boat when we wanted. Apparently no swimming is allowed in Halong Bay but the captain reluctantly allowed us to swim from one of the beaches we visited whilst we kayaked.
The guide was excellent, as was the driver and his vehicle was immaculate and there were seatbelts that worked too.
Larson Family (with children aged 8 & 12)
Travelled March 2019
Hi Kelly. The trip was great! We only had two minor issues: they didn’t have the right room for us in Pu Luong – just meant sharing a bed with one kid for the night, and the driver didn’t meet us at the airport in Da Nang, which was fine we took a taxi. Everything else went very smoothly and everyone really loved the trip. The Halong Bay cruise was the highlight I think. One of the other guests on the boat happened to be a super talented musician and he played for us a bunch which made it even more enjoyable.
Schurink Family (with children aged 7, 9, 12 & 13)
Travelled January 2019
Hi Charlotte – We have had an amazing time in Vietnam! Firstly I would like to compliment you on the organisation of it all; all was so well done and seamlessly put together. We did not have to worry, all was taken care of. It was a wonderful trip, and we have all learned a lot on this trip. We really appreciated the homestays, that is definitely the way to go to really interact with the local people.
We only had 1 small hiccup with our flight from Danang to Ho Chi Min when Vietnam Airlines decided to put us on a flight 2 hrs later than what was on our tickets… we did see the Cu Chi Tunnels but had not much time in the city itself (no great loss really, we did experience the chaos of Hanoi already).
Other than that, we had no issues, only great experiences and great food! The itinerary you put together for us was great, balanced for different experiences and well suited to travel with children. Your print-out was well written with just enough information per day and a great deal of helpful information in the “general information about travelling in Vietnam” section.
The highlights included Pu Luong Nature Reserve: our guide Quan for that first week was awesome, very suited to travelling with children. He was delightful, full of information and happy to answer any of our questions (including the silly ones from 7 y.o. O). For children, there was so much freedom here in walking around and interacting with the locals, trying out our wonky Vietnamese phrases.
Halong Bay cruise was more luxurious than we had expected (parents are not complaining!), but loved the things they had to keep us busy. Even later at night there was squid fishing on board, which the kids loved. The Paloma Cruise staff was very friendly.
Hoi An was a highlight for us as well, again there was the freedom to hire bikes, go for walks, shopping, eat street food and generally get to know Vietnam. Very easy to get around, so great for kids as well. Was really great to visit local shops, like the hairdresser (all boys got a haircut at the Hot Toc Nam in town, with chairs and cups of tea for the rest of us to watch each haircut!).
The hotel was beautiful, so nicely located. The people are so lovely and helpful, and they have been great helping to organise to send stuff back to us (our oldest son left a new Vietnamese shirt in the cupboard and our youngest left his dear cuddle blanket in the bed; both have been found and are getting sent back).
Phu Quoc Island was just divine, thanks for including that trip! Again, so much to do for children as well while parents chill (or not). Very easy to get to town as well if you had enough of resort life and want to go to a cooking class (which we did) or explore local shops.
I think just about everything was a highlight when looking through my writing! I plan to write a recommendation on maybe Trip Advisor when I have some more days with children at school. This also goes for photos; I have so many on my phone, I just need some time to sort them out! I will definitely send you some, when I get there.
Jewson Family (with children aged 17, 19 and 19)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Liddy – Sorry it’s taking so long to send this but we’d wanted to let you know what a great time we’d had in Vietnam this Summer. There were many highlights. Beginning the tour in Saigon was a good introduction to the recent history of Vietnam, particularly the War Remnants Museum and exploring the Cu Chi tunnels. We hadn’t expected to enjoy the tunnels but it was really fun, our guide was great and he also took us at a quiet time. The traffic in Saigon was also an experience!
Listening to gibbons calling at sunrise in the Cat Tien National Park was magical, even after a very early start.
Hoi An was a beautiful and bustling town especially at night. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay near the peaceful beach at the Boutique Hoi An Resort from where we cycled into town through the paddy fields.
We enjoyed exploring Hanoi and making spring rolls out in the suburbs. The cyclo tour was most entertaining and a fun way to experience the manic traffic and the streets full of shops.
The Pu Luong reserve was stunning even though we had some bad weather. The first homestay in the remote village of Hieu was a beautiful place. Trekking through the paddy fields and up hidden valleys was lovely, despite the leeches! The hospitality of the staff at the Pu Luong Retreat was exceptional – due to the weather we were the only guests there!
Ninh Binh was great fun, particularly exploring the waterways and the Tam Coc Garden Resort was a beautiful hotel. We would have liked another day there to explore further. If you have any clients who are ornithologists the Bird Garden is well worth a visit just before sunset. Walking in the Cuc Phuong National Park was good, with lots of stick insects, but a long drive to see things that we had already seen in other National Parks.
Finally, as you would expect, Halong Bay was amazing. The staff and other guests on the Dragon’s Pearl made for a fantastic end to our trip.
The Vietnamese we met were fabulous, hospitable people and our guides incredibly knowledgeable. We would thoroughly recommend the trip.
Many thanks for organising it for us.
Hill Family (with children aged 11 & 14)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Charlotte. We had a great holiday in Vietnam thanks. A fantastic and fascinating country to visit. The locations visited were all great, with about the right amount of time everywhere we stayed. The hotels were all of a high standard (the villa with private pool at Le Belhamy was particularly popular!).
We were very impressed with each of our 3 tour guides, all of whom provided a real insight to life in Vietnam, as well as providing us with a great understanding of the areas and sites being visited. Whenever possible the guides were flexible with start times, and the sites visited were exactly as per the itineary provided. The guides all had very good English.
Halong Bay was great, and we particularly liked the smaller size of the Junk Boat, which was of a very high standard.
Woods Family (with children aged 16 & 18)
Travelled Summer 2018 to Vietnam & Cambodia
Hi Charlotte… many thanks for planning the holiday for us, it was absolutely fantastic. I’ve been singing your praises and promoting your company to anyone who asks about the trip ever since!! All the guides were excellent, especially Dun who looked after us from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. Lots of highlights and feedback as follows…
Kids loved the bicycle ride in Hanoi and city tour was informative and great fun (rickshaws !)
The home stay and the resort at Pu Luong were stunning – amazing views over the rice terraces and mountains, and the food delicious!! Wanted to stay here for a few more nights! Lunch on the way to the home stay was stunning!! Almost too much for us as we ate a few hours later in the home stay – which was also great!! But we felt bad for our hosts as we struggled to eat it all!! Although we made up for it – destroying the banana pancakes for breakfast the next day!!!
Nim Bin was ok and needed as a stop over before Ha Long Bay – but the historic sites were a bit disappointing. The boat trip was a too much of a tourist trap… loads of coaches and the boat guides kept trying to take short cuts! Was the only time on our trip that we were pressured for tips.
Hidden Charm hotel at Nim Bin was really comfortable with a nice outside bar area and pool – also some good restaurants a few minutes walk away.
Ha Long Bay was better than I expected (not a big fan of boats) with stunning sites, amazing sunsets and fun canoeing and swimming. We were totally amazed at the quality (and quantity!) of the food on board the Fairy Sails and the crew were so friendly and helpful. (We did notice lots of plastic rubbish in some parts of the bay – this could be an issue if not tackled soon – I think the local government need to get more pro active in cleaning it up , even if there’s a tourist tax levied to pay for it.)
Train to Danang was an experience – kids loved it … I couldn’t sleep but I enjoyed the experience never the less (honestly!)
The hotel near Hoi An, Boutique Resort, was perfect to recharge a little, beach was lovely and only about 5 mins taxi into town (restaurants here are just amazing …. and incredible value!) Hoi An is a must see, great town (even managed to get some jackets tailored for myself and son at a great Taylor’s called Tina’s.)
Absolutely loved Vietnam and the people we met there – already planning to go back one day and cover the Southern part of the country
Cambodia was even better!!
Angkor Wat and the other sites we visited were amazing – probably the most impressive historic sites I have ever visited
Visiting them by bicycle is a must do!! It was just brilliant peddling around the sites and into the woods – wizzed past monkeys, elephants and some interesting locals!! Kids tell me this was their absolute highlight!!
The Angkor Rural resort was one of the best hotels we stayed in – beautiful little boutique hide away, simple but lovely “huts” , stunning little pool and the friendliest, happiest and most helpful staff I’ve ever met !!! Food here is totally fine but not amazing, however we ate out in town where there were hundreds of great options.
Free tuk tuk into town during the day (only a few pounds at night) which was an exciting 15 minute ride away and easily and quickly organised by the hotel
Trip to the fishing village was fun – great boat trip and meeting the crocodiles and snakes was clearly something the kids enjoyed !!
The food we had for lunch on our trips in Cambodia was just amazing – enjoyed trying some of the more unusual curries and stews – all washed down with local beers at 50p per bottle!!!
So in summary this really was a family trip of a lifetime and we can’t thank you enough for advising us on the relevant options and organising it all!
Will be in touch when we are ready for the next visit !!
Thanks so much once again
Daniels Family (with children aged 8, 16 & 19)
Travelled Summer 2018 to Vietnam
Hi Helene – Thank you SO much for all that you did for us to put together such a fabulous itinerary. We have all had such an amazing time and have come back with many, many happy memories, photos, full travel diaries and of course souvenirs! The country was such good value too (especially meals out). Our trip certainly ranks as one of our best family adventure holidays and given the wide age range in our family, it is no mean feat to put together an itinerary with something for everyone. After our trip to Costa Rica last summer, it was a hard one to follow, but Vietnam was every bit as good (in different ways).
Everything worked SO well – the guides (particularly Quan who was with us for the first 8 days) and drivers were all superb, the hotels wonderful, the food delicious and the Vietnamese hospitality surpassed all of our expectations.
I know I was a little hesitant about whether or not to go for a 2 night trip in Halong Bay, but this was definitely the right decision – it exceeded everyone’s expectations (particularly as we had read about it now being so touristy, which to our mind wasn’t the case at all. On our second day I don’t think we came across another boat until we put down the anchor for the evening).
The boat and all staff on board were fabulous and as for the food…WOW! We still can’t believe how they manage to serve up so many delicious and varied dishes with limited facilities – the seafood was to die for! and if there was any type of food anyone didn’t eat, the staff would always prepare an alternative dish. We had so much fun trying our best to master Tai Chi on the top deck at 6.30 every morning! Not sure how serene we all looked, but we felt at one with the world!
Kayaking amidst such stunning scenery was a treat and we were lucky enough to watch a wonderful sunset the first night whilst sipping cocktails and then a terrific thunderstorm the second night (with the Bay illuminated by lightning bolts!) – apparently all trips were cancelled the following day due to a typhoon, so we felt even more fortunate to have been able to explore the Bay.
We all loved Pu Luong Nature Reserve and particularly the homestay – this has to be a “not to be missed” experience. I had expected something far more basic in the accommodation but it was lovely and such friendly hosts. It was great to see the children all so excited in the morning as they all got up to watch a beautiful sunrise from our stilted hut. The scenery there was stunning too and our trek through the rice paddies and villages was really enjoyable (if a little hot!).
Ninh Binh province was well worth a visit for the boat ride through the caves and beautiful scenery.
S found the overnight train journey really exciting!
Minh, our guide in Hue was really knowledgeable on Vietnamese history and his tales were fascinating as we wandered around the old citadel. Due to building works at La Residence hotel, they even upgraded our rooms to suites and gave guests credit vouchers towards food / drinks bills.
Finishing the trip with 4 nights in Hoi An was perfect (what a beautiful and colourful old town) – after moving around, it was great to have a few days r&r at the end of a busy (but strangely relaxing) trip. The hotel was great for families with the pool and beach and the free shuttle service to the old town works really well. We thoroughly enjoyed the cookery course and had a lot of fun in the basket boats and trying to catch crabs!
We also met a few other “Stubborn Mule families” on our travels, all of whom seemed to be having a great time too.
In terms of other things to note…whilst we did get caught in a couple of heavy downpours, our waterproofs never left our rucksacks! – we felt it was too hot to wear them so an umbrella was preferable (I could have left the waterproofs at home to leave more room for shopping!).
The bike ride in the suburbs of Hanoi didn’t work for us – not a criticism at all on your part, just something to note. S can ride a bike, but it was quickly apparent that with cars and scooters on the roads, it was too much for her and she didn’t feel confident and we felt it wasn’t safe for her, so Quan our guide took us back to the bike rental place and we continued on foot instead – it might be worth noting if you are putting together a similar itinerary for families with younger children who don’t want to sit on a child seat on the back of an adult bike.
I could go on and on with memories of our trip, but at this rate, trawling through my email, you won’t get any work done! However, if you would like to find out anything else / have any specific areas where you would like feedback, do let me know.
In the meantime, whilst next Summer is a long way away, I would love to have your thoughts on ideas for our next adventure within a similar budget (as a family we have already visited Jordan, Egypt, Morocco Costa Rica and South Africa) – I did wonder perhaps about Mexico or Cuba, but Namibia is still also on our wish list (you may remember that we did toy with that as an option this year).
Castro-Brown Family (with children aged 8, 10, 13 & 14)
Travelled Summer 2018 to Vietnam
Dear Helene… In a nutshell we absolutely loved it! We are constantly debating which place we preferred between Sri Lanka and Vietnam and are no clearer on finding a winner. Yet again our guides were amazing, friendly, knowledgeable and helpful as were our drivers. The itinerary was spot on and suited our newfound travelling confidence. Highlights for us were watching a storm from our cabin on the Dragon Pearl and feeling like we were in an Agatha Christie novel, the overnight train to Hue, but think we all agree that waking up the in the home stay to see the early morning emerging over the paddy terraces in the nature reserve was beyond special. And of course the fantastic food for the whole trip helped too. Thank you so much again for all your help with the planning and organising, as usual the service we got was brilliant.
Glasspool Family (with children aged 12, 16 & 17)
Travelled Summer 2018 to Vietnam
It was wonderful thank you so much. Perfect in every way. Happy to write a proper review, send pics etc. Will do so this weekend and will ask children to select some fine images for your competition.
Innes Family (with child aged 9)
Travelled Easter 2018 to Vietnam & Cambodia
Hello Helene. Just recovering from our awesome trip, and had to get in touch to thank you and your team. Our holiday was everything we wanted and more, it took us places and gave us experiences we would of never sort out ourselves. Your services before the holiday were great, your partners whilst we were away were fab. Could not complain about anything, guides were always on time, clean, organised, friendly and knowledgeable. Hotels were great, location of each one was brilliant, they were all clean and staff were always great. All in all fabulous, will defiantly recommend your business to everyone, and now to save for our next adventure.
Smith Family (with children aged 7 and 11)
Travelled Easter 2018
Hi Helene, we had a brilliant time… We felt that we’d truly experienced Vietnam and got to see many of its different guises – the fabulous energy of Hanoi; the tranquil rice fields in the nature reserve; the beauty and calmness of Halong Bay and the floating fishing villages to the much more touristy Hoi An. It was such a luxury to have everything organised and guides waiting for us – meant no worries with the kids!
Think it’s fair to say the kids and my husband hated the first hour in Hanoi but after that everyone loved it and the kids missed the hustle and bustle of Hanoi once we were in the countryside. I’m glad we added the extra day in Hanoi to get over the jet lag and get used to the city – it gave the kids a relaxing day before all the various trips started…
My husband and I didn’t particularly like Hoi An – just felt like a tourist trap. The weather wasn’t good while we were there so we felt a bit trapped in the hotel for a day. We had a final day in Hanoi and I’d arranged a street food tour which was fab – would definitely recommend adding that to the itinerary.
All the hotels were brilliant – perfect for families and we were looked after perfectly throughout the trip. It was an ideal trip to introduce the children to that part of the world and experience a culture in sharp contrast to our own.
Our son particularly enjoyed visiting the Kong Skull Island film set in Trang A!! The one place we were disappointed with was the Eco lodge – food wasn’t particularly great, rooms had quite a damp smell, electricity was sporadic etc. I would have skipped staying there in favour of the one we stayed in after Trang An, which was gorgeous and we would have liked more time there.
Wightman Family (with children aged 7 and 9)
Travelled Easter 2018 to Vietnam and Cambodia
The Dragon Legend was an excellent boat and I thought actually the most comfortable and luxurious accommodation we had in Vietnam! I absolutely LOVED Maison Polanka in Cambodia – OMG one of the best hotels I’ve ever been to, it was amazing and every detail was thought of, excellent service and unique – a little haven in the busy city.
Richards Family (with children aged 5, 13 & 15)
Travelled Easter 2018
Kelly… We had a fabulous time. No issues at all except flights home!… Otherwise every place was perfect. Hotels good, guides excellent, country stunning. Only place we were a bit disappointing with was Halong bay. Sooooo crowded and dirty. The water is just full of plastic. Otherwise, brilliantly organised. Chen sea is a fabulous place to finish off.
Littel Family (with children aged 11 and 13)
Travelled Christmas 2017/18 to Vietnam and Cambodia
Dear Liddy – We all had an amazing time… this was a fabulous holiday! Starting off with Hanoi we loved this and the opportunity to explore was fabulous… We packed in a reasonable amount visiting and trying as much as we could in the time we had. On the second full day here we met Ang our guide and she was just brilliant!! Going out to the suburbs, bike riding, cooking with a host family, cycling through the markets, visiting a communal house all of this was right up our street!!
We then moved onto Pu Luong nature reserve with Ang and a fabulous driver (she was really knowledgeable, interested and interesting). The lunch stop on the way was great and we even pulled up at a chop stick-making factory on the roadside, which was an interesting and enjoyable experience for us all. The homestay on the reserve was excellent. The family was so hospitable and this was one of our favourite parts of the trip. (Tip we were however quite cold at night and needed to sleep in our clothes!!), not a problem and all part of the adventure. The food and the experiences we covered whilst staying here was fantastic.
Moving onto Tran Ang was beautiful and the limestone cast where absolutely mesmerising. My kids loved getting off and exploring the set of Kong Skull Island (awesome by their standards!). The host family again who we stayed with this evening were so friendly and kind and again the food we were offered was plentiful and delicious.
The next day we transferred to Halong Bay – this was probably a mixed response from the gang!! Obviously a world heritage site and protected, these were our observations. The White Dolphin Cruise company, everyone was friendly and professional. The rooms were good although poor planning on their behalf our rooms were situated at opposite ends of the boat and were the smallest cabins (despite us staying two nights to everyone else’s one?). Again not a problem just feedback. The food on board was again plentiful – not the most delicious but after Hanoi and Pu Luong the bar was set pretty high.
However the drinks on board here were ridiculously expensive and I personally felt quite aggrieved by this given that there is nowhere else to go!! … The guide on board the boat was interesting and informative, the cookery lesson on board was also good and the activities on offer (kayaking, fishing etc were good)… The huge downside to this part of the trip was that obviously there are restrictions as to where the boats can and cannot go… It is stunning and kayaking whilst watching the sun go down was beautiful, but the whole feeling that everyone had to moor up (safety in numbers possibly?) in the same place day and night was a shame.
From this we returned to Hanoi… to catch the train from Hanoi to Hue. Well this was an adventure!! We all squeezed ourselves into the 4 birth cabin with our luggage…. and tried to sleep as much as possible, it was by no means unpleasant or uncomfortable, certainly part of the adventure… We were all glad to get off the train where we were met by Jack our next guide… he took us up the perfume river to the pagoda and to the ancient citadel, again he was really friendly, knowledgeable and informative and we all enjoyed the tour.
Again the children and I then had a lovely afternoon wandering about (in the pouring rain!!!) eating, exploring and drinking and similarly we had a lovely evening out too.
We then began our journey from Hue to Hoi An. Visited a couple of Tombs of the Kings, stunning and fascinating on the way, we also had a bike ride around a village, the kids learned how to make incense and incense sticks which was fun…
We arrived in Hoi An late afternoon and the Betel Garden homestay was great!! It was a good 20 minute walk into Hoi An but a lovely one. They also had free use of bikes and we all LOVED this as we fully embraced being Vietnamese and ignoring all traffic signals!! We Loved Hoi and could have stayed her for longer. Sadly the weather was not kind we were soaked everyday but this did not dampen our joy, food was great! Clothes and souvenir shopping was also lots of fun!!
From here we said goodbye to Vietnam and headed off to Cambodia. All pick ups were great and on arrival once we’d checked in we went out for dinner – We all liked Siem Reap (it’s quite bonkers).
The hotel was ok clean, comfortable – the breakfasts were really disappointing and we opted to go out in the end as the tables were never cleared or clean. There wasn’t much available, you had to ask for cutlery and plates to be replenished etc but we found a great place and had super tasty brekkies out.
Our guide met us with bikes to take us to the Temple ticket office (didn’t appreciate that we had to go in person cycling to collect the tickets and queuing for quite some time to get them before being able to head to the temples. The cycling between the temples was a great experience and our guide was super, really knowledgeable and we covered off a lot. In my children’s opinion two temples would have been enough, so there was no real need to have paid for the three day pass. We only had two full days in Siem Reap and one day was more than enough for the children. They enjoyed exploring the following day and we all had a massage, visited Artisans D’Angkor which was a great community based project, ate some good food and chilled.
Next day we departed for Sihanoukville… and Koh Rong was a lovely end to the holiday (I’ve done a trip advisor on Sok San Beach resort). It was a great holiday beach chill destination.
The return journey was all fine and we were so glad to catch the flight from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh.
Luggage – so we overpacked!! Not enough warm clothes were packed for the trip despite my research on temperatures and the forecast. Recommending back packs – I think would be a good idea. When we were in Pu Luong we had no means to get our luggage down to the homestay and ended up decanting just essentials down the hill to where we were staying for three nights leaving everything else in the van. On the train this was also interesting trying to get our luggage in our cabin – so again just a communication tip really on warm clothing and don’t over pack/ luggage size!! Plus we did get charged for being overweight on the internal flights (It wasn’t the UK scandalous prices which is a relief!)
We would definitely use you and Stubborn Mule again and are truly grateful for the time, skill and knowledge put into organising an amazing trip of a lifetime for us!! We will be back!! (If you’ll have us!!)
Thanks to all involved.
Warwick Family (with children aged 11 and 14)
Travelled Summer 2017
We had a really good trip – Cassia Cottage was superb and the highlight! Everyone was very helpful with J and so we had a good time – thank you. We would definitely recommend it to others.
Travelled Summer 2017
Helene – I meant to email you on Monday but didn’t get a chance. We had an absolutely fantastic time, all the arrangements were superb, it was such a luxury to have a local guide and driver at our beck and call who whisked us in air conditioned minibus from site – to – site – they were marvellous.
All the places we stayed in were great – Mai Chau was wonderful as was the junk in Halong Bay. B&B in Ninh Binh not terribly special, but fine. Loved the Homestay in Pu Loung although mattresses very hard so didn’t sleep well…
The food everywhere was outstanding and a real highlight.
Thank you so much for sorting it all out so seamlessly, it was a real treat to be looked after so well for the entire time.
Abbott Family (with children aged 12 and 17)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Liddy – We had a really good trip, thank you. I was soo impressed with how all the arrangements happened perfectly! All guides, transports, everything happened according to plan. Cha, the manager of your local agency in Hanoi was excellent. She called us twice to check we were happy and all going well.
On the first night aboard the junk, it rained very heavily and water came into the kids cabin, soaking one side of my daughters bed – she just scooted across to the dry side and got some sleep. We gave this feedback to Cha, not to complain but just let her know. She later came back and after speaking to the company running the junk, got us an $80 USD refund/compensation, which we thought a very considerate offer.
Probably the junk was the least good quality part of the trip. In fact, we had two junks over the two nights. The first junk broke down and so we had to change boats. I was happy about this as the first junk was pretty run down, and our cabins were the two smallest ones in the lower deck and our rooms smelt of diesel and the of WCs. The second boat was much nicer.
Our guides were absolutely lovely, and unfailingly considerate – in fact all the people we met in Vietnam were so nice.
The cookery school morning was really good too and I would recommend them, as I know we had to change from the planned school to this one… An excellent morning and delicious food.
I think our most challenging time was the very first evening. We had arrived in Hanoi at about midday and all had a rest in the afternoon, to get going early evening to find food – but what a culture shock! I think my husband was OK but the kids and I, tired and hungry, found the whole experience of Hanoi in full crazy mode, as the sun was setting, and so getting dark, a bit threatening. We didn’t know where to eat so after bit of a walk, just found a nice looking local looking café/restaurant, to find they only sold porridge type meals and struggled to come up with anything vegetarian for N. We stayed, but that was the low point gastronomically for the whole holiday. That evening was the only time I wondered if we had done the right thing in coming to Vietnam and if the holiday would be OK. So, I wonder if suggestions about where to go to eat based on different budgets, just for that first night would be helpful to other tired families? After the first day we loved exploring and finding different places to eat.
I can’t believe that this day last week we were exploring Saigon! It was a great holiday with many different experiences and memories. The kids especially enjoyed the fab Wi Fi availability in Vietnam!
I would recommend you and Vietnam to anyone thinking of it as an option.
You have been great at communicating with me and keeping me informed of changes, schedules, requirements etc.
Miller Family (with children aged 16 and 18)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Liddy – I just wanted to report back that we had an amazing holiday and to say thank you for looking after us so thoroughly and professionally. Everything worked like clockwork, the in-country travel agent was always on the ball and, again, very professional. In fact, everyone was so good I had to increase my tip budget significantly!
As you know, we were disappointed with the Emeralda – you can see my review on TA, I think you’ll guess which one is mine ! However, all the other hotels were great, in particular the staff at La Siesta were truly amazing and I would recommend to anyone that if they go to Hanoi they will struggle to beat the experience provided by this hotel. Also, the Hoi An Boutique Resort was fabulous – an amazing beach front location and, given how manic it was in the old town, we were so pleased to be able to go in in the evening but then come back to peace and sanity. A really fabulous way to end the holiday.
We pushed the boat out on this trip on the basis it was probably going to be our last ‘family’ holiday together, but… it was so good the kids want to do another one. So, in 2 or 3 years we will be back ! We have recommended you to friends of ours… who are planning a trip to Sri Lanka next year, hopefully they will be in touch with you.
Pawar Family (with children aged 5 and 6)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Helene – My feet haven’t touched the ground since we arrived back! …We had an absolutely wonderful time. It was an amazing adventure and a holiday to remember. Vietnam is a beautiful country with so much to offer. I am so pleased to have been able to share this experience with my children and I feel that it has given them so much. We did so many new things together as a family and we will treasure these memories
The hotel in Hanoi was fabulous. The staff were so very attentive and accommodating. We arrived very early in the morning and our rooms weren’t available. However, the staff could see how young the children were and how they were struggling and they managed to give us a room to use for a few hours rest before we could be moved to the duplex. We were so grateful! It was in a perfect location, right in the hustle and bustle of the city. The children loved the water puppet show and the cyclo ride immensely.
Mai Chau was just stunning! One of my favourite parts of the trip. I am SO glad that the change in itinerary allowed us to stay here. We had one of the best views from our rooms and it was just beautiful to be able to sit outside and watch the locals work on the rice paddies with the mountains as a backdrop. The cycle tour through the rice paddies and the villages was definitely a highlight for me. And the girls got some pool time which was great for them!
Following that, we travelled to Ninh Binh via Pu Luong. Again, we were really glad to have taken the detour to see the views from Pu Luong. Just breath-taking. Although, the resort itself has unfortunately fallen into disrepair quite quickly after its closure which is a shame.
Emeralda resort was lovely. Again, the girls enjoyed their pool time! We absolutely loved the Trang An caves.
I must admit that I was a little disappointed with Halong Bay which was surprising. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip, having heard so much about it. I think I just couldn’t get past the amount of pollution in the water. It was horrific to see the levels of pollution in what should be an area of protected beauty. It certainly didn’t make us want to take a dip in the water although we did go kayaking which was huge fun for us all. La Fairy Sails was ok. It is now looking a little tired and probably wasn’t as clean as it should be… However, the food was wonderful on the boat and staff were lovely.
Another change I probably would have made would be to only do a one night cruise rather than a two night one. The day on the day boat was an ordeal to get through, if I’m honest. The humidity at this time of year was punishing and there was no air-conditioning on the day boat to be able to get any respite from it. And with our children still being quite young, I don’t think they got much more out of that extra day on the boat.
The sleeper train was a lovely surprise! I actually really enjoyed this journey, after all my worries!! It was much better than I imagined – cleaner and more comfortable than I had convinced myself it would be after reading dodgy reviews on trip advisor, ha ha! The sleeper train was the best part of the entire holiday for my children who could have stayed on it for days! The only thing I would say is that the air-conditioning was so strong that it had us in Arctic conditions and they provide only a thin blanket. I didn’t sleep simply because I was freezing!
We enjoyed our time in Hue – the rooms felt huge after the junk boat and the sleeper train! The hotel was in a great location.
I loved Hoi An and was another highlight for me. The Boutique Hoi An was just perfect for us and it was a wonderful way to end our holiday.
Your local representatives were great – they kept in touch with us regularly to make sure we were happy and we felt very reassured by their kind attention. Our first guide was slightly disappointing however. We didn’t feel any kind of enthusiasm from him and sometimes felt we had to keep asking questions to get any information rather than information being offered readily. It sometimes felt that he was just going through the motions.It’s a shame as I think a good guide makes all the difference in how a country, it’s culture and its customs comes across to travellers. Nevertheless, he was competent and was very mindful of the girls, having two of similar ages himself, for which I am grateful.
My husband wants me to mention one of the restaurants we were taken to. Most of the meals included were delicious and of a great quality. The guide took us to lovely local restaurants in villages and homestays and we were very spoilt with food! However, there was one restaurant that we stopped at on the way to Ninh Binh that wasn’t of a good standard at all. It was very dirty and unhygienic with an unpleasant smell and when my husband expressed his doubts, he was told that all the local restaurants were the same and that many guests stop there. We went ahead and ate there quickly. As we were leaving, the owners allowed their huge dog into the room to help them to “clean” the floor of detritus (of which there was a lot). I’m glad we didn’t eat too much!
Aside from these one or two points, we had a superb holiday and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I cannot praise you and Stubborn Mule enough! The level of attention and care has been most impressive and above and beyond normal expectations. Our friends have been most interested in what we had planned and I have recommended you to all and sundry! We will most definitely be touch again with future holidays.
Steiner Family (with children aged 8 and 10)
Travelled Easter 2017
Oh Liddy – I loved it more than I’ve loved any trip in the last ten years! We all adored it. It made me feel alive and in love with the world. Hanoi was thrilling and the Skylark provided a very good base. My favourite bit was actually the half-day tour around the quiet suburb by bike, seeing the market (ladies asking for photos with the boys) and making spring rolls. This was really special.
Halong Bay was probably our favourite part of the whole trip. Nice and social – there were six kids on the cruise and they made friends, eating at a kids table at each meal. Very beautiful scenery, amazing food. Loved the kayaking and barbecue on the beach. Staff on the boat were nice, though the bar bill at the end was a kind of exorbitant nonsense.
The Hidden Charm hotel at Ninh Binh was the least good night, though we were so pleased to have spacious rooms and a bath after the cruise. The hotel was hosting a karaoke night for a Vietnamese bank at unbelievable decibels. Was like trying to bed down in a nightclub.
The ecolodge at Mai Chau was just beautiful and we were blown away by the little bike rides to nearby villages – impossibly green paddy fields, wooden houses that seemed to be from another century. It was hot so we didn’t venture out much, staying mostly by the pool. The hotel was brilliant, especially the food in the restaurant. Our guide also showed us little market stalls in the mountains, run by white thai tribes selling food. So interesting.
Lastly Hoi An, which felt very crowded and touristy compared to Mai Chau. We really enjoyed swimming in the sea (so warm) and the pool. The rooms were not the best – there was some noise from the road and they didn’t give out onto the lawn, but we soon settled in. We enjoyed shopping in the town and eating out.
All in all, I didn’t want it to end. I though Vietnam had everything – wonderful people, divine food, lovely climate, and it was a riveting place to explore. It was the perfect combination of exotic and foreign yet safe and welcoming. The kids got a huge amount out of it. We didn’t take any screens with us, and they did four-hour drives in silence, so intently were they staring out of the window.
The hotels you booked us into were marvelous, really comfortable and beautiful. We became attached to our guide, Anh, who was bright and interesting and really great with the kids. She also took care of us, which left me and my husband free to enjoy ourselves rather than worrying about times of planes, prices of rickshaws etc. I felt a bit tearful when we said goodbye to her. It was the same with our driver, who was pleasingly careful on the roads but also incredibly kind to our children. Overall, what was so nice is how child-friendly Vietnam is. They genuinely love and welcome children.
We learned that half day tours suited us better than full day tours, and if I was to book another trip, this is what I’d change. Full days were a bit too long for the kids, whereas half days allowed us to flake out by a pool and do our own thing afterwards.
All in all, ten out of ten. I wish it could start all over again. I didn’t want it to end.
We are already planning our next long-haul destination (any ideas?).
Nicholson Family (with two children aged 8 and 11)
Travelled Easter 2017
We have had an unforgettable trip and a truly excellent time. It was thoroughly enjoyed by both myself and my husband and the children. Interestingly my favourite bits were not the same as the children’s; for example the bamboo slatted terrace overlooking the paddy fields in Pu Loung (mine) versus the children’s, who has the largest walk-in shower in the Hidden Charm and which hotel had the best buffet breakfast!
We felt the La Siesta hotel was really excellent. Made I think mostly by the service. The room was a great retreat from the bustling streets. We ate fabulous street food in the same place twice!
I think for your set up/customers, the Hidden Charm should be avoided. It was a fairly generic hotel, the staff were functional rather that exuding rapport. Breakfast although a reasonable spread was mediocre. The kids adored the huge rectangular pool on the first night as they had it to themselves but the environment was very unattractive. Interestingly their website picture is actually an architects drawing and the real thing looks nothing like it.
The main thing for me on the whole tour was the food and meeting the people. Our guides were lovely. The one in Hoi An put a huge amount of effort into informing us about everything. Or drivers too were great.
We loved visiting the lady in Hanoi to make spring rolls and our feast there was great. It was hilarious visiting the local food market, literally our first hour out on the first day, and the children were introduced to the senses assault of a food market- noisy, smelly and full of sights of things like frogs being bashed over the heads, chickens ready for the chop, pigs crammed in small cages for transport and fish flopping in puddles of water to keep them fresh. I’m impressed my daughter the animal lover didn’t become vegetarian. Instead she ate most things and her favourite meat is now goat!
The bat caves and subsequent meal (the best on my scale) were brilliant. It was soooo hot that day. The cool cave was fabulous.
The Dragon Legend trip was lovely. After our more personal bespoke activities and locations it obviously felt rather touristy. The Bai Long trip away from Halong probably meant we avoided crowds but I think being a larger vessel meant it could not moor in the smaller coves and between the islands. We were in open water on the edge of the islands with the shipping lane in sight. (Hundreds of lights at night-we initially thought it was the mainland).
Disappointingly we could only swim briefly, twice plopping out of a central door on the boat then taken in the current to the back. The kids loved this. We weren’t able to swim off the beach, which was a shame after our BBQ in the intense heat (that was lovely and shaded by umbrellas). The food on the Dragon Legend was ok. I think by then we had been spoilt by our true Vietnamese experience and found the food dumbed down for the westerners! The rooms were really beautiful.
The overnight train a massive hit!
The international windsurf competition didn’t significantly impact on our stay it was just a great pity the beach scene was disfigured by all the marquees and very dodgy air con wiring!! Thank you for arranging late check out. Hoi An is really beautiful and my daughter and I had a great shopping session without the boys! She’s a pro at bartering.
Payne Family (with children aged 10, 11 and 12)
Travelled Easter 2017 to Vietnam & Cambodia
Dear Liddy – Thank you so much for helping to organise the most amazing holiday to Cambodia and Vietnam! We have wanted to visit here for many years, but never felt comfortable planning it on our own. We don’t typically do package holidays. We want to be in and amongst the communities and not just walking through and peering in on them. (This is pretty easy to plan on your own in Europe and America). I had sent out enquires for Asia in the past to other similar companies only to find out that there was an age limit, which always left one or two of our boys out of the trip. We were so happy to find Stubborn Mule Travel as they actually believe, much like us, that having kids doesn’t mean we have to stop seeing the world.
In both countries we appreciated the local knowledge of places to stay, especially for those amazing homestays we just never would have found on our own. We had amazing guides and drivers. It was wonderful to have local people guiding us as they found some brilliant experiences for us, like the chopstick factory and making fishing nets with a local family. It also allowed us to interact with local people much easier along the way, which was brilliant.
Having a driver/guide all to ourselves was such a treat. They were all so patient and accommodating to those spontaneous moments that weren’t on the schedule. Once they saw we were flexible and how interested we were in the culture, they also made some spontaneous stops of their own for us too. These moments were so important for our family, especially for our boys to be alongside and hang out with adults and children from somewhere very different to there own home. There is no better life lesson than this for creating a wider world view that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
We decided we did not stay long enough in Cambodia and that we definitely need to see other places than those near or within Siem Reap. We absolutely loved our time there! The main temples left me speechless and the boys in awe. I couldn’t believe that we had made it to Angkor, somewhere I have wanted to go for many, many years. We insisted on going on the boat ride at Kampong Phluk the little village on Tonle Sap Lake, even though it was the dry season. It was spectacular seeing the stilts that these houses were built on and to learn that the water level is 15 meters lower than in the wet season. We thought it was still a fantastic trip, even though our guide was worried as we wouldn’t see the stilt house level with the lake as during the wet season and would be disappointed. So we’d say it was definitely worth going there in the wet or dry season.
Beng Melea was spectacular, but they no longer let you climb in and amongst it. There are railed paths upon which you can walk to view it. No worries as the boys loved it and we did find a few smaller temples that were fine to climb on later in the trip. We did manage to see around 10 temples some with hoards of people and a couple of temples when it was just us! (We loved Ta Nei) We loved the Rolus Group and Bantrey Srei and were so glad we made the trip out there.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and encouraged us to try unusual foods, interact with monks etc… and was helpful in explaining the history of the place and the stories and ways of Buddhism, especially to our boys. He was very good to make sure we knew what to expect the next day before departing us. We look back after our time in Vietnam and wish we could have been on foot in the countryside there, stayed in a homestay and have had a chance for our boys to meet some local children. We would have enjoyed meeting people and learning about their life, job, culture etc… We had hoped the ox cart ride might have given us this experience.
I guess being a bit more underdeveloped than Vietnam, these type of opportunities are not as common/organised here. It would be good for possibly future trip there for us to discuss options like that with you. The only surprise is that our driver took us to some expensive Western priced places to eat every day and so a lot of our food budget for the whole trip was blown in 4 days! We suppose they get to eat free when they bring us there. Just something to know when planning trips to Cambodia for others. Before going we read to our boys a book called Little Brother by Allan Baillie. It was a gentle introduction to them about the Khmer Rouge reign, some of what was set in Angkor. They referred to it many times over the 4 1/2 days we had there. I just thought it might be a book you could add to your suggest reading list that you sent us.
Everything we did in Vietnam was wonderful. We loved all the unique and beautiful places we visited here and really enjoyed the cycling, kayaking, visiting families, boat rides, fishing, cooking, eating and the homestays. I can’t really pick out a favourite, because every day we did something new that we loved that too! Each day was a holiday in itself! Most days the views were incredibly breathtaking and the city of Hanoi was a good, short contrast to the countryside.
It would have been helpful for our guide to prepare us the night before for our next day adventure. A few times we found ourselves packing on the side of the road as we needed a rucksack for the night or we needed to take everything we needed for the day as we wouldn’t be back to the van until the evening or perhaps we just needed a different pair of shoes. Also one day we were told it would be an hour walk to our homestay and 4 1/2 hours later (8 miles) we arrived. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful, amazing, a very unique experience which we loved. We did however only take one bottle of water each and we’d probably left a few things in the van.
We also were very disappointed that the government had put a hold on swimming and kayaking in Ha Long Bay, which meant our second day on the boat we followed a group around, watching while they did what we had done the day before. I imagine the tour boat companies were still trying to figure out how to manage the removal of these 2nd day cruise activities. We just wanted you to know, as we were not sure how long this would be the case. Apparently there had been a fatality related to an accident between these activities and one of the tour boats.
I have taken way to many photos. I will send you a few later that you can feel free to use to help advertise Stubborn Mule or perhaps just to make you smile at a trip well planned. We have told everyone about your lovely and helpful company. We cannot recommend your travel help enough. I cannot even begin to express how much we enjoyed every single minute of our time there. It was a lot of money for us, but we felt it was worth every penny we paid for it and more.
We certainly got the most out of every moment that we were in Asia. Your knowledge was key in making our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam the most amazing adventure we have ever been on with our boys. Who knew you could find things to please us all. My 10 year old said, on most days, “This is the best day of my life! Do we have to go home?” Which is pretty impressive considering he didn’t even want to go!
Thank you for your patience with me going back and forth about what I was after in a holiday like this. It was everything we could have hoped for. Our only complaint is that we just didn’t stay long enough.
Now to start looking for our next Stubborn Mule adventure!
Family A (with children aged 8 and 11)
Travelled Easter 2017 to Vietnam & Cambodia
Hi Helene – I hope you have recovered from your trek now – how brave you are – I’m so impressed and congratulations to your family too… The holiday you arranged was just perfect and we had the most wonderful time. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime and we have so many fantastic memories. The organisation was amazing and everything went so smoothly.
I think the only thing we struggled with was the bike ride to and around Angkor Wat. It was over 38 degrees and we found it so hot and had to end the day after lunch. We did however manage to see some of the other temples the day after when we went by tuk tuk.
The people we’re just so lovely and friendly and nothing was ever too much trouble. Our guides were great – very varied but we enjoyed listening to what they said and finding out all about them, their life and families…. One of the funniest things was the BBC filming when we went on the Battambang railway. So at 8.30 in the morning we were being filmed for an episode of ‘All about the place’ for CBBC joining in with I would walk 500 miles by the Proclaimers!
Thank you once again – all we’ve got to do now is decide where to go next!
Shore Family (with children aged 6 and 8)
Travelled Easter 2017
Hi Helene – We had a really good time… Vietnam is an amazing place and everyone was so friendly (perhaps a bit too friendly to my youngest who has blonde hair!). The hotels were lovely and we really enjoyed the range of events organised for us.
The guides were incredibly helpful and couldn’t do enough to accommodate our wishes making sure that the cycle rides and walks weren’t too long for our family. I thought it was great that most of our guides had young children themselves so could connect with our children and would keep them entertained for a few minutes as we looked round the temples etc.
We really enjoyed meeting the local families and the fishing trip, which we felt was a good insight into everyday life without being too touristy.
Re the change at Hue – it actually worked out better for us to have some time to sort things out before the tour at 1pm so I would suggest thinking about changing it for future trips.
Thanks for organising it and happy to provide any further feedback if helpful.
Turner Family (with children aged 9, 12 and 15)
Travelled Easter 2017
Hi Kelly – The trip was absolutely fantastic & certainly ranks as one of our best holidays. The 2/3 day stops all felt like a series of mini holidays. The family room at the Siesta hotel in Hanoi was beautiful. Pu Luong was stunning… the trek and bike ride were really peaceful. The staff at the retreat were really friendly. The manager even joined us for a few rounds of cards one evening & staff played games with the kids. The kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves & each had their own personal favourite part of the journey.
The cycling and kayaking activities all contributed to their enjoyment. The overnight train was a bone shaker but a great experience. We all really enjoyed what turned out to be a private cruise on Halong Bay. The crew were brilliant and the food was superb. When we arrived at Hoi An beach it felt like we’d been away for an age & we were certainly ready to spread out rather than live out of a bag! The 2 bed beach villa at Hoi An Boutique was lovely. Saigon was an experience & the Cui Chi Tunnels were interesting & a great way to end the holiday.
If I had to be critical I would mention that out first guide, Tham, took us to a couple of very poor food quality ‘tourist’ restaurants which catered for coach parties… but this didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the holiday. I should add that otherwise Tham was a really nice guy and very informative & he did also take us to a number of small local restaurants where the food was delicious. I certainly wouldn’t want him to get in any trouble for the aforementioned comment just take heed and avoid large tourist restaurants. Otherwise everything was perfectly organised.
Your and Liddy’s patience with us and excellent personal service has been very much appreciated. We will definitely travel with you again & have already recommended you to many of our family & friends.
Marsh Family (with children aged 9, 12 and 14)
Travelled Easter 2017
To the whole team at Stubborn Mule – We are in Hong Kong waiting for flight home and we’ve had the most amazing trip. It couldn’t have gone any better we’ve loved every minute. Superbly organised, thanks so much. I’ll send photos once home but just wanted to say thank you.
Gilder Family (with children aged 3, 8 and 11)
Travelled Easter 2017
We had a great holiday/adventure and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was a new experience for us and one we loved. One thing we will say upfront and hope you share this with your is that our guide at the start, Tony (Nghia Tran) was fantastic and we feel made the holiday for us. There are some things we’d love to share, as feedback is good I am sure, and there are very few bad points (rather not as good as the rest). We have over 3000 photos and videos to go through too. Thanks for all your help and advice.
Lubkowski Family (with children aged 14 and 18)
Travelled Easter 2017
Kelly, thanks for your email. We all had a wonderful time in Vietnam and we would recommend it to our friends.
- We would suggest two days in Hanoi rather than two days in the Emeralda Resort. The Emeralda Resort was the low point of the trip with time apparently wasted. It is a nice hotel but very little to offer. If the itinerary is maintained then would suggest other activities need to be suggested.
- Halong Bay is stunning, but the environmental impact of tourism is potentially very worrying. The amount of rubbish in the water at the overnight stops needs addressing. As an engineer I can also add that the beach where we stopped for the BBQ was effectively man-made or at least significantly enhanced by the boat company. Not ideal.
- Finally the travel companies need advice how to look after the counties natural resources, for example too much lighting in caves.
Clearly Vietnam is a young country and people are learning how to do things, but hopefully they will not ruin their natural resources.
To conclude we really enjoyed ourselves and we are now considering our next adventure.
Mullins Family (with children aged 9 and 14)
Travelled Christmas/New Year 2016/17
Amazing trip. Very happy to feedback but would rather chat…
When is good to catch up?
Mok-Bush Family (four adults)
Travelled November 2016 – Vietnam & Cambodia
Thank you very much for the wonderful holiday in both Vietnam and Cambodia. It was beyond my expectation scenery wise and would love to stay longer.
Van Mellaerts Family (with children aged 7 and 9)
Travelled Autumn 2016
Dear Kelly – We had a fantastic time thank you, we loved it and all the guides were brilliant as was the itinerary. Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hoi An were particular favourites… thank you so much for all your help organising it and giving such excellent recommendations.
Lowe Family (with children aged 4, 8, 10)
Travelled Summer 2016
Apologies for the late reply, my feet have hardly touched the ground since landing, as we were straight back to school and two weeks of half days with my little one. In summary, we had a fantastic time but I still don’t really feel like we have had time to process what we did! Mind you, it was quite hard work with M (our 4 year old who is generally quite demanding anyway) plus she was constantly being ambushed by people for selfies with her being white blonde “and sooo cuute….”. If only they knew!!
N’s highlight was the Cuchi tunnels. Quite a history lesson for us grown ups! Terrifying stuff. He just wanted to get down the tunnels and see the man traps – being 10 he doesn’t understand the horror of it obviously (which is fine!) but P and I struggled to get our heads around it (and the fact that it is still so incredibly anti American. Again hardly surprising considering…). We did go to the war remnants museum but only to see the tanks and helicopters outside. Then to a ‘cultural show’ at the opera house which was only an hour long so we reckoned we could suffer our way through it, however, it turned out to be the most beautiful contemporary ballet, a very pleasant surprise! All 3 kids were mesmerised too!
We took ourselves to the beach near Hue one afternoon. We were the only people there on miles of sand and ended up at an old school bus set up by the beach where we were fed and watered for the afternoon. I don’t think they get many westerners visiting but was great fun for everyone. The train from Hue to Danang was a great experience too. Only 2 1/2 hours so not too long for the kids to go mad on and gorgeous coastal views.
Hoi An was incredibly hot and sticky but we LOVED it. Was amazing to be able to cycle around with the kids on the back. The betel garden was lovely. We all loved the cookery course and fishing experience. Really glad we spent the extra time there.
After the tranquility of Hoi An, Hanoi came as a bit of a shock. As you know, we weren’t too impressed with the hotel. Our room was fine but had a very odd smell – Stale cooking/frying combined with moldy dishcloth. The kids were so knackered they didn’t want to go anywhere that first night do we chose to eat there. BIG mistake, the food was vile… (breakfast was great though)
Anyway, Hien met us there and was lovely and very patient! Pete had pretty much decided on our way in that 2 nights in Hanoi was going to be overkill for us so Hien managed to arrange an overnight stay at YenDuc. To be honest, that ended up being the highlight for me. The kids loved it and despite the extra cost I would thoroughly recommend it in the future to break up the journey to Halong bay.
We saw the water puppet show, had lunch in a local house hosted by a gorgeous old couple, the accommodation was fantastic, we were then on bicycles around the village with our lovely guide, went to the most ancient house in the village (another wonderful old lady), then, N being tall enough got to don some waders and attempt to use the actual water puppets, then rice making followed by all of us in waders for some basket fishing. A fab afternoon! Next morning was also quite an experience with a ride to the local market unfortunately topped off by N cycling into a fetid ditch as he reached for his cap! Luckily the only damage was to his pride! After a good shower the kids then went to another old lady’s house to make themselves brooms, all by 10 am! Then back on the bus to Halong bay.
STUNNING. Again, ridiculously hot. The day on the day-boat felt like a bit of a chore probably only because the air con on there was fairly non-existent. We were also surprised how filthy the water is too so swimming didn’t seem all that tempting. Dinner in the cave was lovely but we decided was unnecessary 2 nights in a row so we opted to stay on board to eat for night 2 and watch the spectacular approaching storm. A didn’t want to leave the boat!
All in all, a wonderful experience! Thank you for helping make it happen! We have so many friends asking about our experiences and your company so you may get some calls sometime! We are going to dinner tonight, with the Floyds, to some intrepid friends so they can get the full story on our experiences in Vietnam and Borneo (which also looked amazing!)
Costello & Mitchell Families (with four adults and five children aged 13, 13, 10, 10 and 8)
Travelled Summer 2016
Thanks Kelly, we had a fantastic time, thanks for all your work. Guides all great, particularly Tamh in Hanoi. Drivers very safe and slow (sometimes agonisingly so but better than going crackers). I’ve recommended you to a couple of friends already so hopefully you’ll be getting some enquiries for next summer. Best wishes and thanks again to you and Liddy.
Hotels excellent, although Emerelda a bit odd. Hardly anyone there, like the Bates Motel, with hindsight may have been better to do a long day trip from Hanoi perhaps.
Pool at Anantara bit small and ridiculously rough edges, like sandpaper. But great hotel.
La Residence and Sofitel superb.
Red Bridge cookery class a real highlight, market visit fantastic, kids nearly threw up at sight of pigs where everything except the squeak is for sale.
Premier Village fine, we were just unlucky that we didn’t realise the 4 bed villa had one of the rooms outside and in the basement and only accessible from outside. Very good of them to move us. Shame the hotel didn’t have a nice pool bar for evening drinks, more like a concrete bunker from Cleethorpes sea front in 1962.
Hotel oddly full of Koreans, none of whom can swim and who entered the pool fully kitted with life jackets. Went to Vietnamese buffet night, acres of food but only us there. Koreans all eating in the villas (still with life jackets securely fitted).
Glad we took flights rather than train – I went trainspotting at Hue and saw the long distance trains, people looked as though they’d abandoned all hope on board.
Home visit fascinating, kids couldn’t believe they don’t have mattresses on bed (or indeed walls to house). Caitlin v nervous of tiny pet dog following hideous warnings of rabies from our doctor when we got jabs. Felt bad they had to nip out to buy food/beer etc. Struck us that maybe we went to wrong house and they didn’t have the heart to tell us.
It was good to have the pool interlude at the Sheraton on the last day – although it’s a bit of a tragic, rundown pool area compared to the other hotels we stayed in.
Lori here… I just wanted to add a few more points of my own, probably not as witty as Steve’s but wanted to share:
I thought Nee (spelling?) was also an excellent guide. I think Tamh saw us at our peak of excitement in arrival and at the end of the trip when we had a few bumps, which he dealt with brilliantly – namely, I left a big bag at the hotel and he sorted it so we got it back in time for check-in.
We did a snorkelling trip to the Chamm Islands which most of us were not enamored with. The island – beach and water – was very dirty and there were thousands of noisy Chinese folk when we got there. The snorkelling was pretty mediocre at best. Some of us felt like we lost a day from our holiday on that trip!
Me, Lorraine and Gavin went to Marble Mountain, which was a pretty good excursion by taxi from the hotel. More there than you can see from afar.
We enjoyed our 2-night stopover in Hong Kong before the trip, but thank goodness we woke up early for the Peak Tram – got there at 9am and when we came out the queue was around the block!
Family C (with children aged 6, 11 and 12)
Travelled Easter 2016
We absolutely loved our trip! It was a real cultural, historical, adventurous and fun experience for all the family. We will definitely use Stubborn Mule Travel again. Thanks so much Liddy.
We flew BA from London (via HK on way out and KL on way back) – each journey about 18 hours. I think one airline flies direct from London to HCM / Saigon (not sure which one) which might be worth looking in to even if you need to do an internal flight up to Hanoi upon arrival. With it being such a long and narrow country definitely best to start at one end and end at other rather than doubling back. We started north in Hanoi and ended in HCM (so the weather got hotter as we headed south).
For us it was approx low 20’s and often overcast in the north (I would have liked it hotter but was perfect for the kids and for trekking, cycling etc), low 30’s in Hoi An (half way down) which was beautiful and low 40’s and v humid in HCM!
What we loved most
Our itinerary was great but the real highlights included:
– The night in the home stay in Pu Luong – very rural, gave insight in to real farming Vietnamese lifestyle, felt like a real adventure, not to mention a privilege, amazing food and lovely lovely host family despite the fact we could only converse with them via our guide. The kids loved sleeping on the mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets. We could never have accessed this spot if booking independently.)
– Ha Long Bay (kids loved staying on a junk, kayaking and swimming by day and candle lit BBQs in caves and beaches by night. They even made a big birthday cake for my son’s 7th birthday and presented him with a carved root vegetable water buffalo as a birthday gift. La Fairy cruises were brilliant! The food and the cabins were excellent. We had a triple room adjoined to our double room and both were en suite. They also went off the beaten track. Some of Halong Bay has become v touristy now and some busy areas of water are sadly dirty with visible rubbish in the water – v sad. Would def recommend 2 nights on the junk as otherwise you only get an hour or so of kayaking as opposed to a full day out on the water plus you get further away from the main tourist boats who are doing 1 day trips. Much of the time there were no other boats in sight and we got to appreciate the real beauty of the area. Also, it’s about a 4 hour journey from Hanoi so it gave the kids more down time to enjoy this stunning area and fun experience).
– Hoi An ( beautiful, buzzing, charming little town on coast with stunning beaches – had time to chill on beach for a couple of days along with a fab day cycling and fishing. Fab waves!)
– We loved (perhaps with the exception of our 7 year old) the food, esp in the north where it is a bit spicier. The street food in Hanoi and the cafes our guide took us to on journeys, were a real highlight, as were the meals in the home stay.
Things we would do differently
We only had 15 days. It was full on but great fun! We would change very little of what we did or where we went in that time. However, looking back we would probably have been better flying from Hanoi to Danang as the overnight train journey was about 16 hours (compared to a 1 hour flight) which I felt dug in to our valuable time and we were all really tired when we arrived. It was however a really good experience and gave the kids an insight into travelling. Secondly, our hotel in HCM wasn’t great.
If we had longer a few things I would consider:
– Another day of trekking up north
– Perhaps visit Hue to see old palaces, temples etc. I loved this when I was in Vietnam 20 years ago but not sure how much it would appeal to the kids – also q exposed and v hot. A good alternative to give them an insight in to this might be My Son which is only about 50km from Hoi An and can be done as a day trip. I believe it is supposed to be a mini version of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and pretty impressive from what we heard.
– I would love the kids to have seen / experienced the Mekong Delta. 1 or 2-day trip from HCM. But v hot and humid at this time of year and we didn’t have time.
- A relaxing end to the holiday might be visiting one of the islands near Ho Chi Minh for a couple of days where there is supposed to be good diving and snorkelling.
Finally, we couldn’t rate Stubborn Mule Travel highly enough. Through their partner company in Vietnam they sorted out all the logistics etc and made travelling with the kids hugely easy, enjoyable and definitely hassle and stress free. We didn’t have to think about the logistics at all. In each location, we had our own large mini bus for the 5 of us with a private guide and driver who organised everything for us. We had a particularly good guide in the north called Tham who we couldn’t recommend highly enough.
Family R (with two children aged 4 and 6)
Travelled Easter 2016
Thank you for organising such a wonderful trip, we all had an amazing time. We saw sooooo much, had amazing experiences, met wonderful people and ate fab food. My favourite spot has to be Hoi An. I think I could go back to Betel Garden for two weeks and explore from there without getting bored!
In hindsight we may have packed a little too much in and perhaps the kiddos or should I say Steve could have benefited from a bit more down time. However, having said that I don’t know what I would have cut out. I would have loved longer in Hue and perhaps a day less in Hanoi but that would have been tricky to juggle.
The Mekong Delta didn’t grab me but I am still glad I saw it. I can’t decide whether a day trip would have been enough. The accommodation there was probably a bit too basic and because of location seemed to add extra travelling time. The family who ran the home stay were however lovely.
By the way I would recommend people visiting the tombs at Hue and My Son from Hoi An, both were fab. We got to both early so we were virtually on our own… two of my highlights. Our guide in Saigon was absolutely fantastic, probably one of the best guides we have ever had.
Very sad to be home.
Thank you again it was fab.
Where shall we go next?
Family S (with three children aged 5, 8 and 9)
Travelled Easter 2016 (to Vietnam and Cambodia)
We had an amazing time on our hols, some parts worked really well for our family and some I would probably change a bit. But it was an amazing holiday and your company did us proud! Thank you!
Hanoi was our first stop and La Siesta was one of the best customer services I’ve ever come across. Everything about the hotel was top notch and the staff went above and beyond to help us especially when we got back from Halong bay and needed to take Fred to the hospital for X-rays. The tour of Hanoi worked perfect for us and the kids loved the cyclo-rickshaw ride.
Halong Bay was fab, it was worth the extra to get our own junk as we could miss the majority of the crowds at the different attractions. The junk was good, a little tired l, but that didn’t bother us.
We found Hoi An a bit of a disappointment. It’s beautiful but so full of mainstream tourists you could hardly move! In hindsight, we would have preferred to go to Sapa on the overnight train instead. The Palm garden was a bit of a faceless hotel and the staff were middle of the road. The pool was good for the kids though and provided some well earned ‘r and r’. I know we requested a kids club, which is why we ended up in that hotel so this feedback isn’t a reflection on your booking. Myself and Matilda had a great cookery class with The Red Bridge, it was a lovely thing for us to do together.
Saigon was good, the tour wasn’t as child friendly as Hanoi but we still enjoyed it. I think the kids may have been toured out by that time. They loved the tunnels though. Mekong Delta and the home stay was good. Our flight to Cambodia wasn’t until 7:30 pm so we had a very long day travelling up from the home stay. That was too much for the kids as we’d already done a lot of travelling before. One little point, we had to walk from the road to the home stay and leave the van with our 2 big bags in it. No problem there but I wish Jonny would have told us before we got there as we were rummaging around in the bags getting everything we needed for the night on the road side with excitable kids.
Cambodia was lovely and our guide, Houd, was great. Very patient with us and the kids different arguments/water stops/needs for the loo. The tour suited us well and was very flexible. The hotel was good too.
I forgot to mention Tommy who took us around Hanoi, he was also a great guide and good with the kids. Our kids felt they knew each guide we had like a friend by the end of each tour and that was lovely to see. Jonny in the Mekong Delta was great with Fred and also helped translate a card game at the home stay when my kids were playing with the little boy who lived there.
So, we had an amazing holiday but it was pretty full on, I think I need another holiday!!! I’ve had so many people here in Abu Dhabi ask me about it I’ll be recommending Stubborn Mule to them. Anyway, thank you for a wonderful holiday and I look forward to planning our next one with you.
Family S (with two children aged 13 and 19)
Travelled Summer 2015
We had an absolutely fantastic holiday – in fact our best ever! We particularly enjoyed our time from Ha Long Bay to the end of Hoi An – something exciting every day.
It was also great in Hanoi and HCMC but fear the grown ups enjoyed it more than our 13 year old (“like being on a school trip”). I must say that after our relaxing time in Hoi An, none of us were really up for city life again but we had a fantastic guide in Cham (who being older was very very knowledgeable about the history of Vietnam and had lived through the war with America) but once we were on the road again and went to the Cu Chi Tunnels we were back in tourist mode. The last afternoon with the guide in HCMC was a bit ‘what shall we do now’ after the War Remnants Museum (gory) and we sort of wandered around the city looking at the Post Office and Cathedral de Notre Dame.
All 3 guides were brilliant making it a real stress-free holiday – all arrived when they said they would (all early in fact) and were great in taking charge of the day so we didn’t have to worry. They also plied us with water non-stop, which was great.
Tom in Hanoi – very likeable with great English, he took us to some really local restaurants and even spent the afternoon with us on the first day, which we didn’t expect (gave him extra tip to make up for this). He again was very knowledgeable and we all loved the cyclo tour and were very bemused by the Water Puppet show. Loved all the temples and the mausoleum we visited.
Tom in Hue – really keen and again had extra time with him that we didn’t expect. Really loved our cycle tour to the Tombs of the Emperors and the journey to Hoi an – even fitted in the Cham Sculpture museum in Danang.
Cham in HCMC – as before, really good English which wasn’t a strain to understand and very knowledgeable. Our daughter got an ear infection and he took us to the pharmacy and made sure we got the right medication.
Hanoi – a great start to seeing Vietnam and experiencing a different culture. Bit cautious to start with crossing the roads but soon got the hang of it. We felt that in Hanoi we really did sample local cuisine and as there were only few tourists felt a part of city life.
Ha Long Bay – wow! Loved it, so relaxing with great food and stunning scenery. Loved the fishing village and kayaking and swimming……
Hue – we loved that it wasn’t as busy as Hanoi and easy to get around. Very little time here and had to go straight into the tour from the railway station – could have done with a wash first.
Incidentally the overnight sleeper train was a highlight – very exciting and we all managed to get a very good night’s sleep!
Hoi An – our favourite but much more touristy. We bought so much (including 2 suits, 12 shirts and a winter coat, lanterns, trousers, dresses, necklaces, keyrings etc etc) that we had to buy another bag to bring it all home. The atmosphere of the town especially at night was lovely and buzzing with backpackers and older folk alike
HCMC – interesting to see the development of the city including skyscrapers with helipads – not what you think when you imagine Vietnam. Had a last day here to ourselves and filled it by doing a city walking tour we found in a book in the hotel. Didn’t need any more time here.
Skylark Hotel in Hanoi – excellent location, just round the corner from the old quarter which made it noisy with honking scooters. Not a problem but the hotel itself was noisy inside. Staff were really friendly and the rooms comfortable.
Dragon Pearl Junk – lovely, the organisation was great, rooms snug but comfortable as expected, food was very nice.
Asia Hotel – Hue – excellent location, right in the middle of where you would want to be and very comfortable.
Betel Garden Homestay in Hoi An – our favourite, loved that we could borrow bikes (we cycled into Hoi An each day and to the beach). Staff extremely friendly, going out of their way to make you comfortable and made a real effort to know all our names (to much hilarity when they got it wrong, “good morning Charlish”, “good morning Ferry”). Rooms were great and interconnecting which helps rallying the troops in the mornings and had everything we needed.
Palm Garden Resort in Hoi An – excellent, after seeing the erosion of the beaches nearer the town we were glad we had chosen this resort. Everything you could want from a relaxing beach break and more. Food was expensive so we tended to have lunch in the hotel and eat across the road at the handful of restaurants there and got our laundry done there too.
Sanouva Hotel in HCMC – our least favourite, rooms smelt of smoke, staff neutral (had to lug own cases up to room – think we got a bit spoilt by the other hotels), breakfast adequate but very cramped. But, the location was great and markets and centre easy to walk to.
Just about right for this time of year – we would have liked the beach bit to be at the end but it was sensible weather-wise to have it when we did, but on the other hand we may have been a bit knackered by then so was good to have the break.
Would loved to have fitted in the Mekong Delta – next time.
It all worked really well as we found we had a busy day or two, then a bit of downtime to ourselves, and so it went on. Therefore, we found the pace easy to keep up with and there was always something new and exciting waiting for us the next day.
Excellent – all minibuses. We only brought 2 suitcases as I presumed we would have limited luggage space in a car so may be worth letting others know this. For us though it was fine as it meant we had plenty of luggage allowance to bring all those extras back.
Incidentally, the your local travel agency were great at keeping in contact either through the guides or direct to the hotel to confirm arrangements. One Agent met us at the hotel in Hanoi to take us to the train station ensuring we were safely ensconced in our cabin before she left. Very impressed.
So, thank you for a busy, enlightening, stress-free whirlwind of an adventure…. where to next?
Family C (with two children aged 14 and 16)
Travelled Summer 2015
In short, we had a fantastic holiday and loved Vietnam. Everything went smoothly and your local agency in Vietnam was efficient, professional, trustworthy and their guides intelligent and interesting. Thank you for your work too. We felt we got the level of service and excellent organisation we expected from your company, with the personal touch that made it feel a safe and realistic adventure for us.
For the sake of your business planning, I’ll jot a bit more detailed feedback.
Skylark- fantastic hotel and location with super helpful staff, nothing too much trouble and they were keen to offer showering facilities even after our Halong Bay trip, when we had officially checked out.
The programme of activities on the 1st full day was interesting, but perhaps a bit too much for the kids, who were jet lagged and grumpy and found it very hot. Possibly it was cultural overload too soon for them.
Our guide (Dan) was super. Over our time with him he chose all the food that was ‘included’ which meant that sometimes he picked dishes that the children would not eat, when a quick chat could have secured food we would all eat, but that is a minor grumble. He was happy to tweak the schedule, allowing us to return to Hanoi earlier by missing out the morning walk after the home stay, which made the kids very happy! He added in stops for interest: pineapple farm, dragon fruit garden, etc which was lovely.
The rest of the Hanoi itinerary was fine.
Ninh Binh was all fine but the hotel (Yen Nhi) was not good (perhaps best available?) and breakfast inedible. The bike ride to the pagodas was really great except that the bikes were mechanically crap. Barely ridable!
Homestay: a wonderful experience. There was a colossal downpour while we were there which enabled us to see how quickly the rice fields flooded. Our children found it challenging but remember it as one of the best bits. The family cooked an extraordinary feast for us and was really hospitable.
Perfect in every way and the kids favourite part of the holiday.
The Perfume River trip was a disappointment as we had all been looking forward to it. It was short, boring and spoilt by the woman on the boat who pestered us throughout to buy her trinkets. The guide, Huan, was very good and knowledgeable. He wasn’t expecting to show us the Citadel, but having seen our itinerary he made a quick phonecall and graciously changed his plans. The Asia hotel was fantastic and again well placed. (NOTE from Stubborn Mule – We have now amended our boat programme in Hue).
Charming. Betel Garden was different (mumsy but with a great pool). Hospitable management. The bikes were great fun for getting around on. The cookery school was ace. We ate at the Mermaid twice because it was so fantastic…Lonely Planets recommendation par excellence.
Flight to HCMC fine. Guide, Dung, young, intelligent, knowledgeable. Brilliant tour of the city, with sights all done quickly but in enough detail for the kids to remain gripped. We were fascinated by the war museum and tunnels too. Plenty of time to roam Saigon freely, which we all enjoyed.
So, we have listed some of the weak points of the trip, which we only remembered when discussing this email. Overall, it was fantastic. Everything worked from an organisational point of view…drivers, guides, timings etc…we never worried about arrangements. The guides were a credit to their country (clearly there is money to be made in tourism!). We loved Vietnam too, Far East, Communist, developing…etc. great food, hospitality, culture, countryside…the list goes on. The holiday did not disappoint.
Family D (with three children aged 8, 10 and 12)
Travelled Summer 2015
We loved it all and felt that you had done a brilliant job of finding the right hotel in the right place.
My only gripes were that on the boat there was far too much health and safety to the point of making it feel like you were back in the UK. We were made to wear life jackets on a 60 second journey from the boat to the shore and kayaking and on a boat tour. We were pretty much the ONLY people made to wear them and when we said it was too hot, we could all swim well and we didn’t want to wear them the crew got very anxious and said they wouldn’t take us then.
I understand they have to be careful in rough weather and with young children but it took the pleasure out of kayaking around exotic islands and feeling carefree, and as I said we were the ONLY boat out of many who were wearing them. It did actually really drive us bonkers, because I think half the pleasure of travelling somewhere like Vietnam is the lack of restrictions and the freedoms it entails. All our beautiful photos we are wearing these bright yellow life jackets – it is quite upsetting! The rest of the boat was good fun, great food and lovely staff.
The train from Hanoi to Danang was great and very basic which is what we expected. Ladies come around selling a bit of mango and things like that but people must take supplies. We had a bit with us and attempted to eat in the dining car but it was so yuk no one could eat it, so telling people to take food would be good.
The hotel in Hoi An was spot on (although the pool was boiling hot so you couldn’t cool down at all) as were all the other hotels. We changed rooms when we went back to Saigon as the first room was in the old bit and had internal windows and was very low down and dark and old fashioned. When we came back we asked to be up high and in the new bit and they gave us 2 lovely modern rooms with lots of light and nice modern bathrooms very high so we could see the city, which was amazing. I think the old bit was trying to be faded charm but I am afraid they are dark and gloomy with old bathrooms and no view so it is a bit depressing being in them.
I am only putting criticisms in there as I think you would like to know the niggley bits? The guides were all great, especially the old man in Saigon who took us around the Chu Chi Tunnels. And the drivers were all VERY safe (quite slow) and charming. The other hotels and boat etc were clean and nice and very well located and all your itinerary worked like clockwork, so thank you.
One last thing is it might be nice to make sure you book your clients seats on the airplane as soon as you can as we ended up quite far back and it is always nice to feel you are nearer the front.
I am sure we will be in touch again when we plan our next adventure!
Thanks for all your help
Family K (two adults, no children)
Travelled Easter 2015
We had an absolutely wonderful holiday and all the arrangements that you had made worked perfectly. We thoroughly enjoyed it all and are so pleased to have been to Vietnam. We appreciated the variety of our experiences there and loved the food!
Thanks for all your hard work for us! I’m sad the holiday is over…
Family S (with two children aged 9 and 12)
Travelled Easter 2015.
Thank you so much for your email. I can safely say that this was the trip of a lifetime. We saw, experienced and ate so much, I can’t believe it was only two weeks! We were 24 hours late getting there in the end, so had to get off the plane and go straight into our city tour, but actually we all coped. We missed Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum as a result, but we were not too worried about that. Our favourite parts of the holiday were definitely the two homestays, and the adjoining days.
The first one, up to Pu Luong, was led by a guide named Spike (Trung), who was utterly brilliant. The journey was quite long, but we kept stopping to try sticky rice in bamboo or buy sugar cane to chew, and we met lots of locals who were all busy taking our picture on their phones! I thought the homestay would be commercialised, but it really was just somebody’s house, and we had a lovely evening with the hosts, raising too many toasts with rice wine.
The scenery was amazing, and we really felt that we had got off the beaten track.
The Mekong Delta trip was equally wonderful. We almost came unstuck because they had only booked us the walking tour, not the bicycles. Luckily Hoan, our fantastic guide, went through the itinerary with us the night before and I asked about the bikes. This resulted in a phone call to our hotel room from the office in Hanoi at 7am the next morning to confirm that we wanted bicycles, and a slightly delayed departure while they got the bikes loaded onto the minibus.
I’m so glad I did mention it though, because seeing the delta by bike was really special. We cycled and cycled, along the pathways between the canals and the houses, and everyone wanted to greet us and ‘high five’ us as we went by. The bikes were good too – Trek ones, and every time we finished a route the driver was there waiting with chilled wipes and water for us. We called him magic Quang. We had yet another cooking session at the homestay, run by our guide, and helped make our own dinner. The Cai Rang floating market was amazing, and we got up really early to be there before the other tourist boats.
The Halong Bay trip was slightly marred by cold drizzly weather, but we had a hilarious group of Aussies and Kiwis on the boat, so it was a bit of a party. The itinerary wasn’t exactly as you wrote, which was actually rather nice, because we had no idea we would have an amazing candlelit dinner in a cave, or a cookery lesson! We enjoyed the lovely surprises!
One little thing about Hoi An. On Day 8 it says that no meals are included, so we bought lunch on the train (we were arriving in Danang about 12.30pm). When the guide, Henry, collected us, he said lunch was included, and although we said we didn’t need it, he insisted we went and had it, which was rather awkward. Also, the bike ride on day 9 wasn’t really a ‘bike ride through the countryside’, we did have bikes but we only went a short distance, and then did some gardening at ‘Tra Que Vegetable Garden’ (they gave us the conical hats to wear and everything), and had a foot massage each! Actually it was a really fun day, and the weather that day was disgusting, so although we enjoyed cycling in the rain it was probably a good thing we weren’t going too far and had other activities to entertain us.
Because of the weather we delayed our flight to Saigon by a day, so we could go on the trip to the Cham Islands and had a free day to ourselves the next day (too rough seas for the snorkelling trip) and that day we cycled for hours round all the countryside pathways, so we made up for the short ride the previous day.
The only day that I would suggest you don’t sell to anyone else was the Cham Islands trip. Every other trip we did was off the beaten track (even the Halong Bay was actually to Bai Tu Long Bay so we hardly saw any other boats and it felt really special). This one was a huge commercial trip. We were on a speedboat for 20, which initially we thought was fine, even though they were extremely noisy and screamed at every bump. But actually we were part of a much larger tour. We arrived at the harbour and were taken on an hour-long walking tour of the village/town, led by our own guide, but with the other English speakers on the tour joining us. Then we went to a beach where we were able to get changed, and the boats took us to the snorkelling location. There were 5 boats rafted up, so 100 people in the water, and they made us all wear lifejackets, so it was impossible to actually swim. The water was actually too churned up from the recent bad weather to be able to see anything, but even if it had been clear I’d have been surprised if any fish would have hung around, given the 100 squealing, thrashing Vietnamese tourists that surrounded us.
As far as your local agency went, they were fantastic. Miss Cha had her hands full with us, what with changing flights and hotel bookings, and arranging last minute bicycles, but she was always cheerful, even when it was Sunday and we could hear her baby in the background. The guides varied. Spike in Hanoi and Hoan in Saigon were both amazing. Excellent English, funny stories, knew where to get the best local food and helped us meet the local people. We struggled with Henry in Hoi An, mainly because his English was very difficult to follow. When he was telling us things, the boys got bored and antsy because they couldn’t follow him. He was very nice indeed though, trying really hard, and if anything was too concerned for our welfare because we felt a bit smothered. He always seemed a bit stressed. I wonder if he’s not that experienced.
Regarding hotels, the Betel Garden in Hoi An was beautiful. I could have stayed there a whole fortnight!
The La Jolie in Saigon stuffed up our booking and put us on separate floors. This was a pain because we had to put one parent one child in each room, whereas everywhere else the rooms were adjacent so the boys had their own. However, they gave us two free full body massages to say sorry, and so we bought one more and Adrian and the boys had a proper Vietnamese massage experience on our last night, which they all loved! (I hate massage so was happy to give it up to the kids).
Anyway, I am actually supposed to be working, so I’d better go and get on. I hope that is useful feedback. If we are ever flush enough to do a bespoke holiday like this again, I will most certainly come back to you, and will recommend Stubborn Mule to all our friends.
Family D (with two children aged 8 and 10)
Travelled Easter 2015
In general I would say it was quite like China so I think in retrospect it might have been better to leave it a couple of years. The trip was more relaxing than the China trip as there was less sightseeing. B said he enjoyed it more than China but found China more interesting. I think the kids probably enjoyed it more too as they had more free time.
On a more detailed basis:
I just wanted to comment on the premium economy cabin on Cathay. We had the seats in the middle front row in both directions. The advantage of these is that you don’t have anyone in front putting their seat down, and they have a leg rest, which the other seats don’t have (they just have a foot rest) and so were actually quite comfortable. However, the only way to cross the cabin is via the space in front of these seats, so on the flight out in particular it was virtually impossible for B and me to sleep as we were continually woken by people crossing in front of us and knocking our feet on the way to the loo. The flight back was actually much better – I think because of the time it left HK people actually went to sleep and so didn’t use the loo on such a continuous basis as they had on the flight out.
We LOVED the Metropole. What a beautiful hotel. One of the very best we’ve stayed in and we’ve stayed in a lot of 5 stars. It was so atmospheric – a really lovely old colonial feel. We were in the modern part and had stunning interconnecting rooms. I think they gave us an upgrade to the club floor – the rooms were very spacious with lovely and very stylish open plan bathrooms. The pool area was lovely with a great bar. The food was delicious. Staff really nice. Just couldn’t fault it and couldn’t recommend it more highly. I wish we’d had another day there to be honest! It was a lovely relaxing place after the long flights.
Our guide in Hanoi was really nice and knowledgeable. We started off at Ho Chin Minh’s palace. We queued up to see his body – the queue was very long but the whole thing was so surreal that it was worth it I think and the kids were OK in the line. We asked for a slightly later start than he recommended, but he hadn’t told us that the mausoleum closes quite early (about 10.30 I think) so actually it would have made sense to get there earlier.
We looked round the rest of the complex – it reminded me of the Queen’s hamlet in Versailles! We then went to see the Ethnology museum, which was a bit dull on the inside but the houses in the grounds were much more interesting and the kids enjoyed climbing up the wooden staircases to get into them. We stopped at a Lacquer Factory and bought a few things, which we then lugged around the rest of Vietnam. I wish we’d waited and bought them at the end, but at the time hadn’t realised quite how ubiquitous lacquer ware is.
We went to a Pho restaurant for lunch. They did me a special Vegetarian one and it was one of the best (probably the best thing actually) things I ate on the entire trip. Totally yummy. In the afternoon we saw the old University, which was quite interesting if a bit less so for us just because the Chinese style of architecture was quite familiar to us. We did the Cyclo tour – which was fun and relaxing – and then stopped at the end of the Water Puppet show, which I quite enjoyed but B was quite scathing about. I guess the whole show could be done in a lot shorter time – the novelty wore off quite quickly. The kids seemed to like it though.
When we first got on the boat we were a bit underwhelmed, not helped by a party of NZ teenagers (late teens and actually very well behaved). However, the cabins were actually very nice and comfortable and the staff were really exceptionally charming and welcoming. I got a bit confused by the whole 1night/2night thing as most of the passengers were only there for one night. It was only the next day when the second smaller boat came to take us off for our excursion to Lan Ha bay that it became clearer how it worked. I was impressed that they gave us different food for the second day compared with the newcomers, and they went out of their way to make vegetarian food for me and nut-free food for J.
I thought on the whole we’d see more of the bay than we did on the second day. We went kayaking in the morning which was fun (or would have been more fun if I had shared a kayak with J instead of B who was uncharacteristically grumpy about my kayaking prowess!) and then went to the beach for lunch but didn’t land as the guide thought the sea was too rough (but another boat pulled up alongside us and they got into their kayaks and went ashore). After lunch we got a bit bored. It was quite cloudy and a bit chilly for swimming although we did take a dip. J had great fun jumping off the top deck of the boat (although it took quite a bit of encouragement). I’d like to have spent less time anchored and more time sailing around or going ashore, but I think that may just be the route that most of the boats take.
We went to the Surprise Cave the next morning. We got there at about 8 and the crowds were horrendous. There were hundreds of people milling around – it took ages before we even started climbing the steps to the cave. However, the caves were very impressive and once inside the crowds thinned out a bit. When we got back we started sailing almost immediately which mean we were packing while we were sailing through the best scenery. After that the route home was away from the Karsts and a bit dull.
The train was a real throwback to my backpacking days – quite literally as I’m sure it dated from around that time, 30 years ago. We seemed to be in a Westerners-only carriage, although unfortunately we got a chain smoking French couple in the compartment next door – their fumes spread into ours. I really liked travelling through the streets of Hanoi – it was bizarre how close the line went to shops and people’s houses. The beds were perfectly comfortable and we all slept quite well. The train was quite dirty and I had to kill a cockroach early on – this was definitely the most (only) intrepid part of the trip.
The Betel Garden Homestay was OK (we had handy inter-connecting rooms) but I’m surprised people said it was the best place they stayed in Vietnam – it was definitely the least good for us. I kind of agree with your clients who said it wasn’t that clean. The bedrooms were OK but the bathrooms had definitely not been cleaned to anything like the standards you would expect from a decent hotel (between our first and second nights the toilet was not cleaned properly) and the water indeed took an inordinate amount of fiddling to get it to the right temperature.
There was a caged bird and a large fish in a very small tank in the reception area, which I found a bit depressing. The pool was nice. The breakfast food was a bit rubbish – definitely the worst we had in Vietnam (the eggs were undercooked). The staff were pleasant but no more so than at any other hotel we stayed at. The worst thing actually was that it was a good km out of town. We borrowed bikes from the hotel (fortunately they had ones with a seat on the back for the kids – as you know they still can’t cycle!) to go into town and back – and a taxi on the second day – but it would have been much better if we could just have strolled in from our hotel. I wish we’d stayed at the Anantara.
Hoi An itself was lovely if very touristy. We didn’t have enough time to see the beach. The cooking lesson was quite fun – the chef met us at the hotel, took us to a local market to buy some food and sample some Vietnamese sweet bun things (er…) and then took us to his house for our lesson, where he took us round the vegetable plot to look at the herbs. At first I thought it would be just us, which would have been very nice, but then a large party of cyclists turned up and rather dampened the atmosphere. The food was really delicious, but the whole thing took far too long and J was almost screaming with boredom by the end. It needed to be much more snappy to keep the kids interested.
We took ourselves round the town in the afternoon – you’d definitely need a guidebook to know what to see. We had great food both nights, including some lovely Western food which was a welcome relief for the kids, although they did enjoy the Vietnamese food.
We had a nice guide here – an older chap who spoke quite good English and obviously had a different perspective on the war from a younger person. He was refreshingly frank about the war and the politics, (unlike the guy who Hanoi who just said when I asked about the government that people didn’t talk about politics!). When we arrived he asked us if we wanted to go straight to the tunnels or go to the hotel first. Unfortunately going to the hotel meant adding to the journey time to the tunnels as I think the airport was on the route. However, B wanted to go to the hotel to freshen up so after a bit of discussion we decided to change the itinerary – so we did the city tour that afternoon and went to the tunnels the next morning, which was definitely a much better way of doing it. We said we didn’t want to see the old China town.
The guidebook (LP) made the Reunification Palace sound quite interesting. He (the guide) didn’t seem to think it was but we said we wanted to see it and I’m glad we did as it was great – a real throwback to the 1960s and it gave you a real sense of the history of South Vietnam during the war. We also went to the War Remnants Museum – the outside exhibits (mainly old US tanks, planes etc) was interesting; the inside was mainly photos – a lot of which were very harrowing and probably not very appropriate for the kids! We skipped through it quite quickly. We also stopped off to see the post office, which was beautiful.
The tunnels were probably the highlight of our trip, certainly for me. I found them very interesting, (loved the b&w propaganda film at the start) and as I’m not claustrophobic ended up crawling through a couple of them. One tunnel was one that had been hollowed out for the tourists (J came with me on that one – B and B bailed early on) but I also went through another which I think was the original dimensions – I had to go through on hands and knees and it was pitch black in places. Quite extraordinary to think how the VC navigated them.
We got to the tunnels quite early and there were fewer tourists than I had expected which was good. The kids enjoyed it too. I think you definitely need to read up on the Vietnam War to appreciate what was going on. We had the Usborne book, which was great as it made it easier for us all to understand! We went to the Saigon zoo in the afternoon – not one that I would recommend although the botanic gardens they were situated in were nice.
The Majestic was pretty much as you described. It suffered from being not as nice as the Metropole, but actually the rooms were a lot better than we were expecting from the reception area. When we arrived we were told our rooms weren’t ready and so were offered the Presidential Suite, but then it became mysteriously unavailable (which was far worse than if they’d never offered it to us in the first place!) so we just ended up in our interconnecting rooms, which were actually very nice and comfortable. They overlooked the pool and the walkway outside was helpful in accessing the pool without having to take the lift. Although the pool wasn’t that big or luxurious, the kids made loads of friends and had a whale of a time in it. The location of the hotel was good too – it was nice to look over the river at breakfast (which was also very good).
OMG!! How lovely was the Six Senses??? I think it is now the top of our list as the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at – even beating the Four Seasons in the Seychelles which was the previous holder of the top spot. I hadn’t checked out the website before so wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a bit disappointed when we first saw our villa as it looked like we were sharing the pool with the villa next door. Only some time later did I realise the villa next door was also ours, and the kids had their own villa too. There are actually three bedrooms (there’s a small one with two single beds at the back of the main ‘living room’ villa) so it would suit a bigger family.
The only thing I’d say is that for families with young kids the parents would have to separate as you need to lock the villas at night and you can’t in any case have the kids wandering around in the dark by the pool. We spent the first night with the kids in their own villa and us in the master one – we gave them the phone number for ours, but the next couple of nights were very windy (VERY windy!!) and so we split up and B slept with J. The villa pool was huge and amazing – not sure why there were two (also a small plunge pool) but can’t complain – and we were right on the beach, with steps down to the sand, so we could walk along the beach to breakfast in the morning. They gave us bikes each although obviously only B and I used them.
The rest of the time we called the buggies to ferry us around. The weather wasn’t the best as it was so windy and quite cloudy on the second day, but I had a lot of fun on a boogie board in the surf, and the kids went to the kids club and met up with a host of playmates. The free ice creams were delicious. Breakfast was AMAZING. It was just so lovely, and as the cost was buried in the total price I have no idea how much it was (but hopefully not as much as the rack rate!). The staff were so nice and friendly – waved us off at the end of our stay. The manager said at the beginning “Welcome to Paradise” and he wasn’t wrong. It was a just a thoroughly class act. Six Senses haven’t been on our radar before but we’re definitely going to investigate them after this. I loved their eco-credentials too – no silly little bottles of shampoo, but just a nice big container that stays in the room for the next people.
Hope that helps. I think I’ve pretty much covered everything but if you have any more questions please let me know! Thanks again for all your work organising it.
Family W (with three children aged 7, 10 and 11)
Travelled Christmas 2014 – 2015
Happy New Year. The trip was amazing. We saw so many different things and a fantastic experience all up. Thank you for helping make it happen.
In brief (sick child just woke up!) most of the hotels were fab but there were two that we weren’t convinced by – Betel in Hoi An and the one in Battambang. Hot water didn’t work very well , room didn’t lock properly (Battambang)… I appreciate that these are developing countries and were operating within their bracket but in retrospect perhaps we should have upgraded. All hotels were well located.
The itinerary on the whole was excellent and I wouldn’t have changed anything except perhaps scrapping Hue and having another day in Siem Reap or Hoi An.
The guides were fairly good – their accents sometimes made it quite an excercise in concentration to understand what they were saying. I often had to ‘translate’ for the kids.
Drivers on the whole were great.
Must dash but if I think of more I’ll pass it on. Thanks again. Ho
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