When I moved to Asia in 2005, I made a list of places I wanted to visit. Vietnam had been on the top of that list from the beginning, and yet for thirteen years I never went. I know . . . how can I come up with excuses for thirteen years, right? But as we all know, life happens. One time I actually had tickets in hand and tours and hotels booked, but Hubby had a health crisis only a couple days before we were scheduled to leave, and we cancelled all of our bookings and thanked God it didn’t happen while we were traveling. After that failed attempt, every time a holiday rolled around, we had other things to do. My son and daughter were born, and we wanted destinations that would be easier to do while toting preschooler and toddler around with us. Or Hubby was in grad school, and we had to forego our vacation to pay tuition (and so he could use the time off work to write those papers). There was always something that took precedence . . . for thirteen years.
So this year when we were planning our vacations and mapping out what we wanted to do with each school holiday, I assumed we would take the kids to go visit their grandparents in the States during Christmas—the same thing we had done during our winter break since they were born. When Hubby suggested we see what would happen to ticket prices by creatively swapping the order of our desired trips, not only did it save us a ton of money on airfare, but it also opened up an opportunity to take a longer family trip during that three-week winter holiday.
You better believe I jumped at the chance. Vietnam isn’t a large country, but it’s long, and if you want to visit the North and the South, it takes time to travel between them. So . . . to celebrate Christmas this year, we spent two-and-a-half weeks traveling through Vietnam. We spent two weeks in the South—one week at the beach in Phu Quoc Island and a few days in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon City). And then we spent a week in the north—in Hanoi and the surrounding areas.
Two-and-a-half weeks is a long time to live out of a suitcase, and by the time we came home, we were definitely ready. There were times when patience wore thin. There were times when Hubby wanted to go try a brewery and had to go out by himself (and I stayed back at the hotel with the kids). But all in all, we had a really fabulous time.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of ten more posts that details the specifics about the different places we visited (as well as tips for families traveling with kids). But for right now, here are a few general tidbits about traveling in Vietnam.
Though our tour guide in Phu Quoc island told us that visa requirements have been changing over the last several years to make tourism easier, visas are still required to go to mainland Vietnam. When I was getting our visas for this trip, Vietnam had recently completed a trial program for e-visas. The trial went well, so they extended the e-visa program and that is how I obtained my family’s thirty-day travel visas. I hope the program continues because getting e-visas was really easy. I went to this site, entered the information for each person in my family, and paid the 25 USD fee for each of us. Three days later, I visited the site again, entered the registration codes that were given to me at the time I paid the fee, and printed out the visa authorizations. When we arrived in Vietnam, we did not have to wait in any long lines to secure visas or finalize paperwork, we went directly to the lines for immigration, and they stamped our passports and let us through. It was a really smooth and easy process.
It took us a while to figure this out so I don’t know how Uber would have worked for us in Phu Quoc, but in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi the easiest way to get around is by using Uber. (If you don’t know what Uber is or how it works, here is a video for you to watch that explains it.) We ended up using Uber so much that we were worried about how much the roaming on Hubby’s phone would cost us, so we found a cell phone store in Hanoi and asked about travelers’ plans. We ended up buying a SIM card with 10 GB of data for 175,000 VND (about 10 USD). The ten-dollar plan included only 4G data usage (no phone calls). They removed Hubby’s Beijing SIM card and gave it to him in an envelope, and they got his Vietnam plan started for him. When we left Vietnam, he simply replaced his Beijing SIM card and was good to go.
The great thing about Uber is that you can see the charges when you request the car, it’s charged directly to your credit card (so there’s no exchange of money), there’s no communication involved (so you don’t need to worry about language barriers), and the driver has a map with your destination (so you don’t need to worry about the taxi driver not knowing where your destination is). Buying a ten-dollar SIM card to have access to 4G data usage was totally worth it. Using Uber made getting around the cities really easy for us.
Traveling With Kids in Vietnam:
My kids are seven and five and they both did fabulous on this trip. There were some activities on the tours we went on that they couldn’t do, but for the most part, they were able to participate and have fun, just like the adults. I’ll give more details about how the kids liked our activities in each of the specific blog posts in this series.
One thing I’d like to say right off the bat, though, was that I was really glad we brought our own floatation vests for the kids. We brought them mostly because we wanted them for the week that we spent on the beach, when we knew the kids would be playing in the surf. But we also knew that we were going to be doing several kayaking and boating activities and would probably want them for those activities as well. Having their own life vests made all the difference in our ability to enjoy the kayaking and other water activities in which life vests were required, but only adult-sizes were provided. The adult sizes would have been way too big and uncomfortable for the kids and would have caused a lot of whining and complaining. If you have small kids and want to do any kayaking or such activities while in Vietnam, make sure you bring easy-to-carry life vests for your kids.
For a sneak preview of what’s to come, take a look at the posts below that will be published over the next several weeks.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon City):
Hanoi, Vietnam (Where to Stay and Eat)
Ha Long Bay—A Must See (If You Don’t Mind the Rats)
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (A Big Hit for both Adults and Kids)
Bai Dinh Trang An Tour (A Day of Temples, Bikes, and Boats)
My Favorite Part of this Trip:
There were so many things I loved about this trip, but I just have to mention one of my proudest parent-moments while we were there.
My children attract a lot of attention in Asia, especially my very blonde daughter. When you look at her, you don’t guess that Mandarin would ever come out of her mouth . . . at least the Chinese family sitting next to our breakfast table in Hanoi didn’t expect it. They happened to be from Beijing, and when Daughter heard them speaking in Mandarin, she decided to join their conversation. I have no idea what they said to each other during the course of their conversation, but I loved the surprise (and joy) in their faces when she decided to strike up that conversation with them. It made me thankful for the life we have here as expats in Beijing and the opportunities it brings. My daughter is soaking Chinese language up like a sponge. I love it.