Vantage Point: The Location for the Extraordinary Photo!

The skyline of Saigon at night

The skyline of Saigon at night

Ho Chi Minh City is a unique city in that it is rapidly growing but has yet to develop into a massive skyscraper filled concrete jungle.  While it is transforming into a cosmopolitan world city, it still retains some of its old world charm.  The city is rich with nooks and crannies, alleyways and narrow motorbike-filled roads, and areas unexplored by the majority of tourists, making it a very different type of place to explore.  These features of Ho Chi Minh City make it a veritable playground for photography enthusiasts because you can take pictures here that will be distinctly unique.  The irony is that this also makes it difficult to find the perfect spots to capture those exotic moments.  We have compiled a simple guide to finding the best vantage points in Ho Chi Minh City to inspire your urban photography.

LANDSCAPE

Even though the city has little to offer in terms of mountains and oceans, the topography is unique enough to create a beautiful silhouette.  The Saigon River offers an interesting perspective for photographers because there are many spots along the river where one can look back and see the skyline or simply appreciate the sunrise and sunset.

Vantage Point:  For a great shot of the complete skyline, go to either the Kinh Te or Thu Thiem bridge.  Sunset is usually around 6 pm in the evening so try and catch the sun setting on the city!  Note that the Bitexco Tower is the tallest building in the city and although it has a viewing deck on one of it’s upper floors, the skyline seems underwhelming from this perspective.

The Saigon Sunset

The Saigon Sunset

If you are more a fan of greener landscapes, you will have to venture a bit outside of the city but fortunately not too far away.  One of the most popular places for wedding photographs around the city is a theme park of sorts, called Binh Quoi 1.  The Binh Quoi Village is lush and green, and it has waterways with traditional boats and boatsmen.  If you go at the right time, you may even see couples taking wedding shots.

Vantage point:  Find the pond with lilies and a water wheel or look for a spot along the water with huts and parked rowboats for a more authentic look in a fabricated paradise.

Lily pads at Binh Quoi Village

Lily pads at Binh Quoi Village

The scenery at Binh Quoi Village

The scenery at Binh Quoi Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARCHITECTURE

Ho Chi Minh City has some very interesting buildings.  Sure, they are not the sky reaching structures that you see elsewhere, but they are marvelous nonetheless.  The city has its fair share of old buildings that have been maintained pristinely since the French Colonial Era in Vietnam.  They hold such history and meaning, you can feel the aura of years gone by.

Vantage point:  The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most beautiful colonial era buildings.  Walk to the side of the building to the massive doors – they make for a cool backdrop for portrait shots!  If it happens to rain one evening, go to the City Hall in Saigon.  The way the blue lights shine off the wet pavement and reflects onto the building makes it looks mystical!  And if you go to the historical Post Office, look up!  The ceiling is an architectural masterpiece.

The City Hall glowing blue after a heavy rain.

The City Hall glowing blue after a heavy rain.

The majestic ceiling of the main Post Office.

The majestic ceiling of the main Post Office.

The city is filled with juxtapositions, especially the old with the new.  But there isn’t just one kind of old.  Next to the colonial buildings are the ages old pagodas and temples.  They offer a history of their own.  Many of them have been there since before the war, and some of them even damaged and then subsequently restored.

Vantage point: Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most impressive pagodas, architecturally.  But the Thien Hau Pagoda has a ceiling full of cone shaped incense burners that make for a very interesting photograph.  The many pagodas around the city also look the most magical under a haze of incense smoke – find out at what time of the day most people visit the pagoda to maximize the amount of smoke in the air!

Cone-shaped incense burners on the ceiling of the Pagoda.

Cone-shaped incense burners on the ceiling of the Pagoda.

Incense burning outside the Jade Emperor Pagoda

Incense burning outside the Jade Emperor Pagoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CITY LIFE

The one thing that this city most definitely does not lack is the ever-moving, awe-inspiring, and at times hair-raising activity.  The people, the food and the culture are so vibrant that it is a privilege to be able to capture it on camera.  The most well known feature of Ho Chi Minh City is the traffic.  The streets are jam-packed with motorbikes – in fact, the cities in Vietnam have the highest number of motorbikes per capita in the world!

Vantage point:  Early in the morning, take a trip out to District 5 near Cho Lon.  This is where you see the motorbikes carrying the craziest things, like washing machines or giant panes of glass!  In the evening, go up to the Chill Skybar rooftop restaurant and look down onto the circle intersection below in front of Ben Thanh market.  A time lapse photo of the motorbikes zipping around the circle will capture the chaos on the roads at night!

A really cool time lapse photo taken from the top of Chill Skybar overlooking the circle outside Ben Thanh market.

A really cool time lapse photo taken from the top of Chill Skybar overlooking the circle outside Ben Thanh market.

You cannot come to Vietnam and be absolutely enamoured by the people.  Vietnamese people work hard but still take time to relax and enjoy themselves.  One of the most charming sights is seeing a Vietnamese woman dressed in an Ao Dai and sauntering down the street or and elderly person finding some shade under a conical hat.  In the evenings, locals come out in full force to spend time with friends at the local watering holes or the coffee shops (yes, coffee joints were cool here long before they became popular in the rest of the world)!

Vantage point: As you’re walking around the city, take a look inside the alleyways.  They are more than just a narrow passing.  You’ll see food stalls, parked bikes, people lounging, and more!  If you’re taking a picture of a person though, ask their permission first.  Most people don’t mind but be sure to show them the photo afterwards to put a smile on their face. 🙂

An alley riddled with flags of Vietnam.

An alley riddled with flags of Vietnam.

Quiet alley with beautiful doors on either side.

Quiet alley with beautiful doors on either side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hope you enjoyed this Vietnam Travel Tip from XO Tours, offering the most unique city and food tours in Saigon!

A Comprehensive Guide to Vietnam Visas

*** Disclaimer: We believe all the information in this article was correct at the time it was published, however, regulations in Vietnam change often so we urge travelers to not rely solely on the information in this blog post when planning their trip to Vietnam. We cannot be held responsible for any lost monies or travel time due to incorrect information. ***

So, you’re thinking about Vietnam as your next holiday destination?

Great choice!  It is a wonderful country, full of equally wonderful people!  Whether you’re interested in food, culture, adventure or just relaxing by the beach, Vietnam has something for everyone!

Before you rush online to book your plane or bus ticket, however, you should make sure you do your research to ensure you get the most out of your adventure. One of the first things that you will need to find out is if you need to obtain a Vietnam Visa. Most travelers to Vietnam will need to get a visa before being allowed into the country; there are some exceptions.

VIETNAM VISA EXEMPTIONS

If you hold a passport from one of these 6 countries, and your stay is 30 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • Indonesia
  • Laos

*** All foreign travelers flying direct to Phu Quoc Island are also given a 30 day Visa Exemption. If you plan on traveling to the mainland however, and you are not holding a visa exempt passport, then you will need to obtain an embassy issued Visa or VOA ***

If you hold a passport from the Philippines, and your stay is 21 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Philippines

If you hold a passport from one of these 13 countries, and your stay is 15 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Russia
  • Belarus*
  • Germany*
  • France*
  • United Kingdom*
  • Spain*
  • Italy*

Countries marked with an asterisk “*” are exempted to June 30th, 2018. An announcement has yet to be made on whether this will be extended.

If you hold a passport from one of these 2 countries, and your stay is 14 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Brunei
  • Myanmar

*** For the latest information regarding Visa Exempt Countries, click HERE ****

To be entitled to visit Vietnam on the visa exemption, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of:

  1. The day you arrive is counted as your first day. Whether you arrive at 12.10am or 11.45pm, that is still counted as day one. The day you leave is also counted as one of your days. So, in effect, if you have a 15 day Vietnam Visa exemption you are allowed to stay in Vietnam for up to 14 nights. If you have a 30 day Vietnam Visa exemption you allowed to stay for up to 29 nights, etc.
  2. You will more than likely be required to show proof of onward travel, or proof of exit. Example – an airline, or bus, ticket out of Vietnam dated within the period of your visa exemption.

Also, be aware that there are restrictions on when you can re-enter Vietnam using a visa exemption. If you want to re-enter Vietnam again within 30 days of your last visa exempt entry, you will need to apply for a new visa in order to be allowed back in. That is, you must stay out of Vietnam for at least 31 days before you can enter using a visa exemption again. ** This rule does not apply to citizens of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar **

There is nothing stopping you from returning to Vietnam within 31 days, but you will need to arrange a Vietnam visa to re-enter. This is quite common as many people enter Vietnam, stay for a few days, and then do a side trip to to another country, before returning to Vietnam.

In a situation like this, one of the entries can be under the visa exemption, and the other using an embassy issued visa or VOA (Visa on Arrival). It doesn’t really matter which is used for which entry, so long as the exemption is used for a stay of 15 days or less. If you decide to get a VOA (visa on arrival) instead of an embassy issued visa, please be aware that a VOA is only valid for air travel. A VOA cannot be used at a land border crossing.

 

If you come from a country where the visa exemption doesn’t apply to you, or you’re planning on staying longer than the period you are visa exempt; you have a couple of visa options:  Embassy issued visa, or VOA.

EMBASSY ISSUED VIETNAM VISAS

You’ve chosen Embassy issued?

Ok, you’ll need to contact the Vietnam Embassy or Consulate in your home country to find out exactly what they require, as well as the cost.

Here is a link to a list of Vietnam Embassies around the world:

http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/vietnam

Fees obviously vary from country to country, and, if you don’t live near the Embassy, you may have to post your passport in to receive the visa stamp. This will add to the overall cost of your visa however, and you will risk putting your passport in the hands of your postal service. Some Embassies may offer you the option of a loose leaf visa, which would negate the need to post your passport.

Once you have your passport back with a Vietnam visa, you are good to go.  There will be nothing more to pay on arrival in Vietnam, and when you do arrive, proceed directly to Immigration / Passport control.

 

Embassy issued Visa Sticker

Embassy issued Vietnam Visa Sticker

VIETNAM VISA ON ARRIVAL (VOA)

Not interested in using the Embassy, and like the sound of using VOA? And you’re entering by air at one of these airports?

  • HCMC – Tan Son Nhat International Airport
  • Hanoi – Noi Bai International Airport
  • Danang – Danang International Airport
  • Nha Trang – Cam Ranh International Airport

Advantages?

You’ll save some money, and you won’t have to trust your postal service with your passport.

The downside?

You will have to spend a little extra time at the airport organizing your Vietnam visa when you arrive.

How much time?

Well, that depends on how many other people arrive at the same time, who also require a VOA. The wait could be anything from 10 minutes to 2 hours, with it generally being much closer to the shorter time frame, than the longer. You can pay extra for expedited service, but it’s often not required.

So, what do you need to do to arrange a VOA?

First, you need to get an official approval letter from one of the many VOA agents out there. The fee for this service varies from provider to provider but starts at around $15-25 USD. You can find info for reputable VOA providers on our site in the menu.

Your VOA agent should email you your approval letter a few days after you pay their service fee. Please keep in mind that the VOA approval letter is not an actual visa, but a letter that is handed in at the VOA counter, to enable you to receive a visa stamp once you arrive at the airport in Vietnam.

Do not be concerned if there are other names on the letter as it’s quite common for agents to make visa applications in bulk. If this does concern you, then most agents can arrange a private letter for you. There is normally an extra fee for this, however.

 

approval letter form immigration Vietnam

Copy of an approval letter

 

Once you have received the approval letter, print it out in its entirety. The VOA agent will also send you an “Entry and exit” form, and this also needs to be printed out. This form needs to be filled in, and it’s a good idea to do this prior to travelling, so as to save time when you arrive.

Entry and Exit form

Entry and Exit form

 

You will also need to supply a passport sized photo, as well as the visa stamping fee in US dollars.

When you arrive, head straight to the VOA or Landing Visa window. Do not line up at Immigration / Passport control.

 

VOA / Landing Visa window

VOA / Landing Visa window

 

Once you are at the window, hand over your passport, the approval letter, the completed “Entry and exit” form and one passport photo. Then take a seat and wait for your name to be called.

When your name is called, return to the counter and collect your now stamped passport. The stamp looks much the same as the Embassy issued visa.

The visa fee is now paid, which is $25 USD for one and three month single entry visas, and $50 USD for one and three month multiple entry visas. Be sure to check the visa dates in your passport while still at the counter.

When all this is done, you can proceed to the Immigration desk, followed by collecting your luggage on the way out.

VIETNAM E-Visa

A relatively new option is the E-Visa. Please don’t get it confused with the VOA, (visa on arrival) because while it’s similar in that you apply online, it is a very different system.

First off, there is only one official E-Visa site: https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/web/guest/trang-chu-ttdt

Vietnam official E-Visa Page

 

If you find any other site purporting to issue e-visas, or any site with the word ‘e-visa’ in their domain name, be aware that they will be acting as a third party. And by acting as a third party, they will charge you a fee for the privilege.

So, what is an e-visa?

An e-visa is a one-month single entry visa, only. So if you need a multiple entry visa, or are staying in Vietnam for more than 30 days, then you will need to use either the VOA system, or obtain your visa through the Embassy.

Who can use e-visa?

Here is a list of the countries that it’s available to:

1. ARG Argentina
2. ARM Armenia
3. AUS Australia
4. AZE Azerbaijan
5. BLR Belarus
6. BRN Bruney
7. BGR Bulgaria
8. CAN Canada
9. CHL Chile
10. CHN China (Not apply to Chinese e-passport holders)
11. COL Colombia
12. CUB Cuba
13. CZE Czech Republic
14. DNK Denmark
15. FIN Finland
16. FRA France
17. D Germany
18. GRC Greece
19. HUN Hungary
20. IND India
21. IRL Ireland
22. ITA Italy
23. JPN Japan
24. KAZ Kazakhstan
25. KOR Korea (South)
26. LUX Luxembourg
27. MNG Mongolia
28. MMR Myanmar
29. NLD Netherland
30. NZL New Zealand
31. NOR Norway
32. PAN Panama
33. PER Peru
34. PHL Philippines
35. POL Poland
36. ROU Romania
37. RUS Russia
38. SVK Slovakia
39. ESP Spain
40. SWE Sweden
41. TLS Timor Leste
42. ARE United Arab Emirates
43. GBR United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
44. USA United States of America
45. URY Uruguay
46. VEN Venezuela

A major advantage of the e-visa is that, unlike a VOA (which you can only use it when entering by air), you can also use an e-visa at land border crossings and certain seaports. A list of the Vietnam border crossing ports:

Cửa khẩu đường không (International airport)

1. SBQT Cát Bi Cat Bi Int Airport (Hai Phong)
2. SBQT Cam Ranh Cam Ranh Int Airport (Khanh Hoa)
3. SBQT Cần Thơ Can Tho International Airport
4. SBQT Đà Nẵng Da Nang International Airport
5. SBQT Nội Bài Noi Bai Int Airport (Ha Noi)
6. Sân bay Phú Bài Phu Bai Int Airport
7. SBQT Phú Quốc Phu Quoc International Airport
8. SBQT Tân Sơn Nhất Tan Son Nhat Int Airport (Ho Chi Minh City)

Cửa khẩu đường bộ (Landport)

9.   Cửa khẩu Bờ Y Bo Y Landport
10. Cửa khẩu Cha Lo Cha Lo Landport
11. Cầu Treo Cau Treo Landport
12. Hữu Nghị Huu Nghi Landport
13. Hà Tiên Ha Tien Landport
14. Lao Bảo Lao Bao Landport
15. Lào Cai Lao Cai Landport
16. Mộc Bài Moc Bai Landport
17. Móng Cái Mong Cai Landport
18. Cửa khẩu Nậm Cắn Nam Can Landport
19. Sông Tiền Song Tien Landport
20. CK Tịnh Biên Tinh Bien Landport
21. CK Xa Mat Xa Mat Landport

Cửa khẩu đường biển (Seaport)

22. Cửa khẩu Cảng Đà Nẵng Da Nang Seaport
23. Cảng Hòn Gai Hon Gai Seaport
24. Cảng Hải Phòng Hai Phong Seaport
25. Cảng Nha Trang Nha Trang Seaport
26. Cảng Quy Nhơn Quy Nhon Seaport
27. Cảng TP.Hồ Chí Minh Ho Chi Minh City Seaport
28. Cảng Vũng Tàu Vung Tau Seaport

What is the cost of an e-visa?

The fee, which is paid at the time of application, is $25 USD. There is also a small handling fee of around $1 USD. This makes it the cheapest way to obtain a visa for Vietnam.

We hoped you found this Vietnam Visa guide useful! If Ho Chi Minh City is one of your stops in Vietnam, you might consider checking out one of our 4 acclaimed city tours. XO Tours has been the #1 ranked tour company in Vietnam for over 7 years running, as voted by the users of Tripadvisor. Our XO “Foodie” tour is the original Vietnam street food tour and was recently named one of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine.

What NOT to bring to Vietnam

We recently posted about the items you should bring with you when visiting Vietnam.  We thought it would be fitting to also tell you about the items you should not bring with you!  Here is a short list to guide you when packing for the trip and to remind you of the import rules in Vietnam.

1. The Obvious – We hope that the point we are making here is assumed, but to reiterate – please do not bring illegal drugs (yes, this includes cannabis) and weapons to Vietnam.  If you are caught with illegal drugs or weapons, the repercussions are not pretty!

2. Anti-Government Propaganda – Although we highly recommend learning about Vietnam’s history and culture before coming here, we do not recommend bringing some of these reading materials to Vietnam.  If they contain any material that one would consider to be against the current government, they will be confiscated and you will be heavily reprimanded.  What’s more, if you bring any printed maps, make sure that the map labels the giant body of water next to Vietnam as ‘Eastern Sea’, not ‘South China Sea’! 🙂

Eastern Sea Map

The body of water directly east of Vietnam is referred to as the Eastern Sea rather than South China Sea. Any maps that label it as South China Sea are prohibited.

3. Heavy or Excess Items – As we mentioned in our previous blog post, internal flights seem cheap at first but they really make their money on excess baggage fees.  If you can do without heavy items such as hair dryers or even heavy-shelled bags, you may save yourself a lot of money!  Also avoid bringing an excess of common hygiene products like toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc.  If you happen to run out during your trip, you can find all these items here, and most brand names are available.

4. Expensive Items – Thieves in Vietnam can be masters of their art.  If you flaunt that real gold necklace or diamond pendant while roaming the motorbike-saturated streets, it may get snatched before you even realize what has happened!  It really is best to leave your expensive jewelry back home to avoid theft.  Although rings are more difficult to steal, you still have to use caution.  Women do wear their wedding rings routinely here without a problem but you will have to be very aware of your surroundings.

With hoards of motorcycles around the city, if someone was to snatch your necklace and speed away, you wouldn't even know who to chase down!

With hoards of motorcycles around the city, if someone was to snatch your necklace and speed away, you wouldn’t even know who to chase down!

We do not recommend that you bring expensive electronic items, but if you must bring them, be extremely careful.  For the photography enthusiasts, professional cameras can be very useful here as Vietnam offers an amazing backdrop for your photos.  However, we advise you to have straps for your camera that are really thick and to keep it strapped across your body or wrist.  PacSafe makes bags for cameras that is reinforced with steel wire so it cannot be cut.  As for phones, many people have had their phone stolen right from under them as they write a text message or look at maps.  Have someone cover if you if you need to use your phone on the streets and stand facing inwards rather than towards the street.  Otherwise, keep it in a pocket with zippers.

PacSafe makes camera bags that are very theft-proof. The straps and the body of the bag contain a thick wire mesh that prevents anyone from cutting the bag open.

PacSafe makes camera bags that are very theft-proof. The straps and the body of the bag contain a thick wire mesh that prevents anyone from cutting the bag open.

5. Pornography – The sale or possession of any pornographic material is strictly prohibited and illegal in Vietnam, not just for tourists but for everyone.  Enforcement is very strict!  If you happen to have unlabeled DVDs in your bag, they will be checked at the airport.  Please note that pornography is illegal in most of Southeast Asia but more easily obtainable in some of the neighbouring countries.  If you are traveling around Asia, you will have to get rid of any pornographic material in your possession before entering Vietnam.

This is another great travel tip brought to you by XO Tours, the complete Vietnam travel resource!

Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Children in Vietnam

The tourism industry in Vietnam has grown tremendously since the mid 90s.  Previously thought of as a war torn and inaccessible country, it is now a thriving tourist destination in Southeast Asia.  When traveling in a large group of people with varying ages, interests, and tastes, it can be difficult to plan a cohesive trip that suits everyone.  In Vietnam, you have the opportunity to create a family trip that suits everyone’s needs because it is still relatively cheap to travel here and easy to find activities that the whole family will enjoy.  Here are our top 5 specific Vietnam travel tips for those of you traveling with children.

1. PLAN AN ACTIVITIES BASED TRIP

An easy way to keep you and the kids happy during a trip to Vietnam is to plan activities that are ‘hands-on’, but still appeal to both the younger and older crowd.  Vietnam has many opportunities to do just that.  Here are specific places that the whole family can enjoy doing activities while still relaxing and enjoying the surroundings:

Northern Vietnam – Halong Bay is a great spot for family friendly adventure in Vietnam.  During most cruises in Halong Bay, there are plenty of opportunities to kayak in the bay, swim in the ocean, lay on the beach, go squid fishing or take cooking classes.  Some cruise lines are more family friendly than others.  Bhaya, Au Co, and Indochina Sails have some of the biggest decks, giving your kids plenty of space to run around.  Paloma cruises offers the Paloma Family Cruise, which is a private cruise with a 6-person capacity.  The tour can be more catered to your family’s individual needs if the standard activities don’t appeal to you.  Some cruises also have adjoining cabins with a connecting door so you can stay accessible to your kids – Jasmine cruises, Paloma cruises, and Starlight cruises are some of the companies that offer adjoining cabins.

Kayaking and squid fishing are just two activities in Halong Bay that are a lot of fun for kids.

Kayaking and squid fishing are just two activities in Halong Bay that are a lot of fun for kids.

Hanoi, being the capital of Vietnam, has many museums and landmarks that you can visit.  If that gets a bit dry for some members of your family, you can take a trip to the Bat Trang pottery village where everyone in the family can paint a piece to take home.  Your kids might also like “toy street” in Hanoi, located on Luong Van Can street.  If you want to enjoy some open space, the parks near Hoan Kiem lake are usually not too crowded and there is plenty of room for kids to run around.

Toy Street in Hanoi is an interesting place to see with kids... kind of like a Southeast Asian version of Toys'R'Us!

Toy Street in Hanoi is an interesting place to see with kids… kind of like a Southeast Asian version of Toys’R’Us!

Central Vietnam – The culture and environment in central Vietnam can be quite diverse from city to city.  Along the coast, you will have many opportunities to enjoy water sports.  Nha Trang is famous for scuba diving and Mui Ne is known for windsurfing and parasailing.  If your family enjoys water sports, we recommend visiting these destinations.  Nha Trang also has the Vinpearl amusement park which can be a fun activity to enjoy as a family.  To get to the park, you take an impressive gondola ride, which is one of the longest gondola rides over water in the world.  In contrast to Nha Trang and Mui Ne, Hoi An is a much more relaxed town and is a place to experience a different city vibe in Vietnam.  That being said, it is a very touristy town (and therefore, very tourist friendly) so if you and your family need a break from the hustle and bustle of life in Vietnam, Hoi An is a great place to visit.  Visiting the countryside near Hoi An is also a great option and many tours offer the opportunity to float down canals in small bamboo fishing boats.  You can also engage in some cultural activities like taking lantern making classes or taking a bike tour to the surrounding villages.

Southern Vietnam – One of the biggest appeals of Ho Chi Minh City is the bustling and chaotic nature of the city.  If you want to take some time away from the chaos, we recommend visiting Dam Sen Water Park or Suoi Tien Amusement Park.  Both places have plenty of rides, attractions, and activities geared towards children and is a great way to keep them active during your vacation.  Dam Sen Water Park is, as the name states, an aquatic themed park with lots of themed water slides and pools for kids to play.  It is not too far away from the centre of town and the admission to the park is based on height.  Suoi Tien Amusement Park is a Buddha themed amusement park which may seem strange but is a lot of fun for kids.  Besides the rides and activities, they have shows, go kart rides and boat rides.  This amusement park is about 30 minutes outside of town.

The Dam Sen Water Park and Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Saigon are a fun way to spend an afternoon with kids. (The elephants are not real).

The Dam Sen Water Park and Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Saigon are a fun way to spend an afternoon with kids. (The elephants are not real).

The Mekong Delta is also a nice family friendly destination.  Most tours in the delta are hands-on and engaging for young kids because they entail canoe trips down the backwaters, visits to rice paper factories, and visits to fruit candy manufacturing shops.  Large tour companies with multiple groups of people on the same tour can get very ho-hum for kids.  The itinerary is more rigid and not all activities may appeal to your children.  Instead, we recommend private tours through Water Buffalo Tours.  Or, you can even go to Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels through Saigon River Express, where you travel by speed boat, which can be a fun experience for your kids.

2.  STAY SAFE

It is well known that the lifestyle in many parts of Vietnam is chaotic, to say the least.  Here are some tips on how to stay safe with young children in the city:

Transportation – There are many transportation choices available to you in Vietnam.  When you’re traveling as a family, we highly recommend taking planes or trains from city to city rather than a bus.  Often times, roads in remote stretches are not very developed and can be treacherous.  Also, the journey by bus can be very long because buses tend to travel quite slow, and the long and bumpy ride can be very frustrating for children.  Fortunately, most cities, even small ones, have airports so very few places in Vietnam are inaccessible by plane.  As for overnight trains, they are also quite safe.  If you are a family of more than 4, you will have to split between two cabins as one cabin only holds 4 people.  Within cities, we recommend taking taxis or cars for longer distances rather than bikes or cyclos.  You should especially exercise caution when deciding whether to hire a cyclo in Saigon, though there are safe to hire in Hoi An and other cities in the North.  It seems like a very quaint way to see the downtown area of Saigon, but cyclos have been confined to smaller areas of the city recently and that has made many drivers more desperate and aggressive.  In fact, there have been reports of cyclo drivers threatening the safety of tourists and this is not a situation that you want to be in, especially with children.

Crossing the Road – Crossing the road in Vietnam is a bit of an art.  It may be alarming at first, but the best thing you can do is prepare your kids.  They may be used to wandering around on the side of the road at home, but many roads here don’t have side walks and wandering can have grave consequences.  Make sure that they walk between the adults, and all of you cross in a straight line.  It is usually easier for drivers to navigate that way.  Be alert and cautious, yet definitive, in your movements and you all should be just fine.

Local children crossing the road in Saigon, although we recommend that they have adults on either side of them.

Local children crossing the road in Saigon, although we recommend that they have adults on either side of them.

Interacting with Locals – Vietnamese people are fascinated by kids, foreign kids in particular.  They show their affection towards kids very freely so your kids will not only get treated really well here, they will also be touched, prodded, hugged, played with, and generally be adored.  Don’t be alarmed if this happens to you as it is very innocent on the locals’ part.  With babies and very young children, you do have to be careful that you carry wipes and clean their hands if too many strangers play with them.  And, make sure that they are not wearing anything valuable that may be easy to snatch.  Even if they are wearing something inexpensive which could mistakenly be taken as a valuable item, leave it off them so they don’t become a target of theft.

Getting Lost – Losing your children in a sea of traffic and people is a parent’s worst nightmare.  Take every precaution to avoid this predicament and keep a piece of paper with them with all the necessary information for them to find their way back to you.  Here are some important phrases you can print out, fill in, and keep with them:

traveling with childrens in vietnam
3.  BE ORGANIZED AND TRAVEL WITH A PLAN

When traveling with kids to Vietnam, it is important to travel with a plan.  It’s very easy to travel here with a relaxed, non-scheduled pace, but that requires a certain amount of flexibility, which is sometimes difficult to have with kids.

Hotels – Definitely book your hotels beforehand, as accommodations fill up quickly, especially during busy season.  Even if you find last minute hotels, be aware that you may not get the amenities that you want.  For instance, if your kids are young enough and you want them in the same room as you, many hotels here only have double beds and little room to put another cot or bed in the room.  Or, if you need a microwave or fridge to store perishable food, that is often difficult to find in hotels here.  Some hotels in busy tourist areas have also have swimming pools, but if these hotels are booked up or outside of your budget, many of them allow outside guests to use their pools for a fee.  In Saigon, The Grand hotel and The Renaissance hotel, both in District 1, allow public access to their pools if your kids want to go for a quick swim to get away from the heat!

Pre-arrange Transport – The standard car taxis in Vietnam are big enough to fit 4 people (but 3 comfortably).  Van taxis can fit more, but it can sometimes be a struggle to find vans.  They are also more expensive.  In any case, with a family, it’s best to arrange transport beforehand through the hotels so that you can be more certain that it will be safe, will fit all of you, and will take you to the right destination without long detours or go-arounds.  The less time you spend sitting in traffic in a stuffy car in Vietnam, the happier you and your family will be.  The rates are usually competitive and you can check online for average taxi rates for whichever city you will be in to compare.  On top of that, taxi scams run amuck in Vietnam so it’s best to avoid the situation altogether.

Check the Weather – The weather in Vietnam is incredibly varied not just by latitude but also by time of year.  It can get quite miserable at certain times of year depending on the time of the year and the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere that is blazing hot or currently in typhoon season.  Please note that many parts of Vietnam are consistently hot so prepare your kids for what to expect because children can be less resilient to weather that they are not accustomed to.

4. STAY HEALTHY

Short vacations can be easily ruined when children get sick, and changing plans is often difficult when you have less flexibility.  Use these tips to keep your kids happy and healthy during your time in Vietnam:

Include Down Time:  As we mentioned earlier, Vietnam can be a very hectic place.  That, combined with the heat and pollution, can really wear you and your family down.  Vietnam has so many amazing places to see and explore that it can be easy to go overboard and plan every activity imaginable.  But be sure to include some rest periods so that you and your family don’t fall ill.

Food Safety – When traveling with kids to a new country, eating healthy is a big issue.  Check out our previous blog on how to travel in Vietnam without getting sick.  We encourage you to be smart with food choices.  Children can be more susceptible to food borne illnesses so being careful is all the more important when traveling with kids.  Street food can be safe to eat, but you need to be careful where.  Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is usually a safe item that kids can try because it’s mostly bread with whatever fillings you like.  It’s also very hearty so it keeps them full for a longer period of time.  If your child is not too fond of strange fillings, many Banh Mi stands also have processed cheese – you can’t go wrong with bread and cheese!  It may be a good idea to bring non-perishable food items that your kids are familiar with if they decide not to eat local food.  Be careful not to bring anything that will melt because it will turn to mush in the heat here.  In any case, if your kids need a break from Vietnamese food, there are plenty of fast food options like MacDonalds, Burger King and Lotteria where you can find familiar food.

Kids usually love the Vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi).

Kids usually love the Vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi).

Water Safety:  This is another big concern when traveling with children.  First of all, please ensure that your family, and kids especially, have received all their recommended shots before coming to Vietnam.  If you have travelled substantially before or have been exposed to this kind of climate, there is a chance that contaminated water may not bother you.  But children often have lower immune defenses so getting vaccinated for diseases that are transmitted by contaminated water are a must.  Once you are here, be sure to drink bottled water only and even brush teeth with bottled water.  Brushing teeth with tap water may not do a lot of damage if your kids do it accidentally but it’s best not to take the risk.  Ice is also usually safe in Vietnam but use your best judgement when ordering cold drinks.

5. BRING PROTECTION

The elements can be just as big a factor in children becoming ill as food and water, and require just as much attention.  Vietnam can have an extreme climate which can be bothersome without proper preparation.  For a more comprehensive list of what to bring and what not bring to Vietnam, check out our previous blog entry.

Insect Repellent:  We have mentioned before that dengue fever is fairly common in Vietnam, and though it can affect anyone, immunocompromised people and children are more likely to contract this disease.  What’s more, children are less likely to show restraint when scratching mosquito bites so even if they don’t contract dengue, those bites can become infected easily in the hot climate in Vietnam.  Some areas in Vietnam like the Mekong Delta are quite swampy and mosquito ridden, so use strong insect repellent with DEET to avoid any issues and bring anti-itch cream with you.

Hats and Long Sleeves:  Both heat and pollution can cause a lot of body stress for children so keep hydrated, bring a hat and breathable material long sleeves if you plan on spending a lot of time outside such as significant beach time or hiking in the hills.

Medicines:  Vietnam has many long and windy roads and even short distances can be nauseating.  Some foods and smells may also give you nausea, even if they are perfectly safe to eat.  Many people comment that the wafting smell of fish sauce or strange meat is too different for children to handle.  Because of this, we recommend that you pack anti-nausea medication and Pepto Bismol.  Note that although you can find these medications here, they are often marked up significantly and special versions specifically for children can be hard to find.

 

Good luck on your travels in Vietnam.  To learn more about us and how we can accommodate you on our tours, read our FAQ section.

Try to Wear This Hat Backwards!

Our XO Tours ladies wearing their traditional Ao Dai and Non La.

Our XO Tours ladies wearing their traditional Ao Dai and Non La.

Nothing portrays iconic Vietnamese fashion more than the long flowy dress and the conical hat, otherwise known as the Ao Dai and the Non La.  To many, it may just seem like a hat people wear in this part of the world, but the non la is more than just a functional headpiece – it’s a symbol of Vietnamese history, art and culture.  But how much do you really know about the conical hat?  In fact, many tourists see the hat worn everyday and even buy it as a souvenir, but as we said before, it’s more than just a hat!  Let us tell you a bit about what the conical hat truly represents and enrich your cultural knowledge of Vietnam.

It is very easy to find Non La hat around Ho Chi Minh City, XO Tours has a full list for you to shop everything else so you can enjoy our Exciting Ho Chi Minh City

The Trong Dong Ngoc Lu drum with intricate carvings depicting characters wearing the conical hat.

The Trong Dong Ngoc Lu drum with intricate carvings depicting characters wearing the conical hat.

A Brief History

The exact origin of the non la is hard to pinpoint but legends and stories dating back thousands of years talk about the conical hat.  The hat is depicted as a drawing on two famous ancient relics, the Trong Dong Ngoc Lu (a drum with an intricate pattern carved onto it) and the Thap Dong Dao Thinh (a decorated bronze jar from the Dong Son people).  Both these relics are between 2500 to 3000 years old, indicating that the non la is at least that old, if not older.  What is for certain is that the hat has been an essential part of Vietnamese culture.  Farmers to labourers to ordinary men and women have been using it for utilitarian purposes and will continue to use it for many years to come.

 

What’s it for?

Vietnam is a sub-tropical country so it gets quite hot – upwards of 40 C in the summer!  The hat provides good protection from the sun and heat.  During the rainy season, the hat is a good shield for the rain.  Farmers often wear it when they are in the sun for extended periods of time.  But nowadays, it’s also a fashionable accessory and a great souvenir!

People aren't the only ones that wear the 'non la' in their everyday lives. :)

People aren’t the only ones that wear the ‘non la’ in their everyday lives. 🙂

How’s it Made

You may find the design very simple, but the construction is far from it.  Remarkably, all the conical hats in the world are hand made!  There is no machine dextrous enough to create this work of art.  The hat is made from two materials – bamboo and the leaves of palm trees.  The frame is made from 16 concentric rings (after much research, 16 has been found to be the magic number!) joined by perpendicular bars of bamboo.  The leaves are then sun-dried, ironed very strategically, and then precisely sewn and woven into the frame.  The needlework required to make the non la is also very intricate and takes years of experience, not to mention extreme patience and dextrous hands.  There are entire villages in the northern part of Vietnam where every person in the village is dedicated to the manufacturing of conical hats!

Workers in the Chuong village creating the hats by hand.

Workers in the Chuong village creating the hats by hand.

Regional Variations

As if the construction of the hat wasn’t complicated enough, hat makers have found ways to make it even more intricate.  Specific regions have their own way of making the hat unique.  For instance, the people from the Lai Chau region make their hats flatter than the regular non la.  In our opinion, the most beautiful variation of the non la comes from the Hue region.  Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam and is an incredibly romantic and artistic city.  It is the birthplace of many famous Vietnamese poets.  So it’s only fitting that there are verses of poetry inserted between the layers of leaves as a sunken design so the words are only visible in sunlight!

Beautiful 'non bai tho' with poetry and images imbedded within the leaf layers, visible only in sunlight.

Beautiful ‘non bai tho’ with poetry and images imbedded within the leaf layers, visible only in sunlight.

The conical hats in the Lai Chau region are a variation on the regular 'non la' shape.

The conical hats in the Lai Chau region are a variation on the regular ‘non la’ shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some things you should definitely know…

  • The non la is a serious fashion statement on the runways.  Designs like Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton have used the conical hat in their shows!

    Many fashion designers have used the hat in Asian-inspired shows on the runway, and supermodel Kate Moss wore it in a magazine shoot!

    Many fashion designers have used the hat in Asian-inspired shows on the runway, and supermodel Kate Moss wore it in a magazine shoot!

  • The fashion trend has now trickled down to mainstream stores!  American Apparel sells the hats (paddy hats, as they call it) for only $15.99. 🙂

    Far away from Vietnam, ordinary people have taken up the trend!

    Far away from Vietnam, ordinary people have taken up the trend!

  • If you’re wondering how one would store such a unique shaped hat, you can purchase this beautiful case for it, which just happens to be 10 times the cost of the hat that goes in it!

    A beautiful leather hand crafted box to store your palm leaf hat!

    A beautiful leather hand crafted box to store your palm leaf hat!

  • Celebrities just love it!  Even Lady Gaga has invented a very unique interpretation of the conical hat. 🙂

    The one and only Lady Gaga recently wore the 'non la' during a public appearance, but of course she put her own spin on it.

    The one and only Lady Gaga recently wore the ‘non la’ during a public appearance, but of course she put her own spin on it.

This is another fun snapshot of Vietnamese culture brought to you by XO Tours, the most talked about motorbike tour company in the media!