Top 5 Tips for Traveling Vietnam with Kids

Traveling with children in Vietnam

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 Vietnam 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 travel tips for those of you traveling with children in Vietnam.

THINGS TO DO WHEN TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN IN VIETNAM

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the activities)

  1. Plan activities based trip: 
  2. Avoid Dangerous Situations:
  3. Be organized and travel with a plan:
  4. Avoid Unnecessary Health Risks:
  5. Bring protection:

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 of central Vietnam can be quite diverse from city to city.  Along the Vietnam 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 historically rich 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, there are some recommended 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 speedboat, which can be a fun experience for your kids.

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2.  Avoid Dangerous Situatons

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 traveling 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 sidewalks and wandering can have grave consequences.  Make sure that they walk between the adults, and all of you cross in a straight line like ducks in a row.  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

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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.

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4. Avoid Unnecessary Health Risks

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 when eating in Vietnam.  Children can be more susceptible to foodborne 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 McDonalds, 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 judgment when ordering cold drinks.

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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.

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Good luck on your travels in Vietnam.  Our scooter tours allow you and your children to discover Saigon or Hoi An safely. 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 (Vietnamese conical hat)..

Our XO Tours ladies wearing their traditional Ao Dai and Non La (Vietnamese conical hat).

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! It’s a cultural symbol that you will see during your Vietnam trip. 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

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! Or read more about Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

How to Spend One Day in Hoi An – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

Hoi An is one of the few cities to remain firmly in Vietnam’s cultural history.  The Old Town portion of the city is a UNESCO heritage site and the old architecture is superbly preserved and displayed.  A Hoi An day trip is an extremely popular activity for tourists but beware, it’s crowded!

Nevertheless, we recommend having at least one full day in Hoi An as it is definitely worth visiting.  As part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series, here is a guide on how to spend one day in Hoi An.

Besides Hoi An, we also have Custom Itineraries in Ho Chi Minh and Ha Noi so you can get the best out of your trip in Vietnam:
Things to do in Vietnam – How to spend 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City
Things to do in Vietnam – Custom Itineraries for 2 days in Ha Noi

how to spend one day in Hoi An

A Day with Custom Itineraries in Hoi An can be really fun!

 

DAY TRIPS IN HOI AN FOR ONE DAY: OUR SUGGESTIONS

  1. Tailor some clothes, bags or shoes
  2. See the countryside
  3. Go for a stroll and explore the Old town
  4. Enjoy the scenery
  5. Enjoy Hoi An’s regional cuisine
  6. Visit the Lantern Market and enjoy the Nightlight entertainment

1. Tailor some clothes, bags, or shoes

Custom tailoring is a huge industry in Hoi An

Hoi An Suit Shop

Custom tailoring is a huge industry in Hoi An.  Hoi An is home to more than 400 tailoring shops and thousands of tailors who are not only talented at making clothes but are skilled in making shoes and handbags as well!  Average turn around time for full suits is a day and about 4 hours for handbags or shoes!  If you are interested in getting custom made items, try to find a shop of your liking as early as possible during your visit.

Of course, the quality of the goods comes into question when the turnaround time is so quick.  The truth is that the opinion on this varies from person to person, item to item, and shop to shop.  Even shops with a solid reputation have been known to make sub-par products.  A lot of times, the key is to be completely clear on what you want and to communicate it effectively with the shop owners.  If you happen to be in Saigon before your visit to Hoi An, we recommend that you buy the fabric and materials in Saigon as the choices are more plentiful and usually of better quality.

Here are recommendations for where to go for custom-made items (these are places where we have had good luck, and as much as we want you to have the same positive custom tailoring experience as us, we cannot guarantee it)

Shoes, Handbags:  Friendly Shop Hoi An [1] (please find links in the footnote)

Shoes, Clothes, Jackets, Suits: Ms. Anh (093 570 5655).  She works independently and sometimes collaborates with different shop and stall owners.  Her tailoring knowledge and know-how are superb.  She will meet you at your hotel once you contact her.

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2. See the countryside

Hoi An Country-side exploring

Hoi An Country-side exploring

 

The countryside and rural areas of Vietnam are simply stunning.  Visiting these areas gives you a glimpse of the romanticized vision of Vietnam – the rice fields, the conical hats, the quaint architecture, the friendly faces… As the cities have become more industrial and cosmopolitan, these rural areas have become more remote and harder to reach.  Fortunately for Hoi An, it is still quite small in size compared to other big cities in Vietnam so the countryside is more accessible.

There are several types of tours which take you to the countryside for sunrise or early morning glimpses of Vietnamese rural life.  This is also an opportunity for you to pursue some of your interests while traveling.  For instance, if you are fond of photography or of biking, there are tours that are catered specifically to your needs.  XO Tours offers a fantastic countryside motorbike tour called “Riding with the Nguyens”  that explores the areas around Cam Kim Island. On this tour, you’ll not only get to see areas of the countryside that are virtually untouched by tourism but also be given to interact with the local people in homes and places of work.

 

 

hoi an countryside

hoi an countryside

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3. Day Trips in Hoi An Require An Ancient Town Visit

Once you return to the city after the tour, the afternoon is the perfect time of day to see some of the famous sights within Hoi An.  But first, before you set out on foot to discover the city, we recommend that you grab a Banh Mi sandwich to fuel you for the afternoon.  The Banh Mi sandwich in Hoi An is both famous and different from a sandwich that you will get in other parts of Vietnam.  The bread and fillings are unique to the region and is a great first insight into local cuisine.  We highly recommend Madam Khanh’s stand [2], who has been dubbed the Banh Mi Queen in Hoi An!

After you grab a quick bite, check out the famous bridges in Hoi An. Among 5 best Hoi An historical sites, The first is the historic Japanese covered bridge built by Japanese merchants when Hoi An was an important trading port.  The second famous bridge is simply a foot and motorbike (and whatever other vehicle fits) bridge that connects two parts of the downtown area.  The architecture of this bridge isn’t historically relevant but the way that the bridge is situated makes for a great photo-op!  If you are a museum enthusiast, you can visit any of four famous museums in the old town area.  Or, for a greater insight into the history of Hoi An, visit some of the Assembly Halls built by Chinese merchants.  You can buy a composite ticket that allows you entry into one bridge, one assembly hall, one old house, one museum and one other place of ‘intangible culture’.  All these sites are within the Old Town of Hoi An and are within walking distance from each other.

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4. Enjoy the scenery

Hoi An is surrounded by a series of inlets and small channels and some residents of the town have capitalized on this by offering boat rides along these channels.  Although this may initially seem like a very touristy thing to do, it is actually one of the best ways to view the old colonial architecture from afar.  Many boat owners sit along the boulevard closest to the water and offer boat rides.  Feel free to ask several different boat owners to find the one who offers the best price.  Often times, their initial price will fall dramatically if they feel that you will take a boat ride with one of their competitors.

Beautiful Hoi An from above

Beautiful Hoi An from above

If boat rides don’t interest you, you can enjoy the scenery in a different way.  The ocean is not too far away from the main city so a 100,000 VND cab ride will get you to An Bang beach, one of the best beaches in Vietnam.  This particular beach was also named in CNN’s 100 Top Beaches [3] in the world so if you happen to be in Hoi An during the right time of the year, we recommend checking it out!

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5. Enjoy Hoi An’s regional cuisine

As we mentioned earlier, the regional cuisine around Hoi An is unique, and we recommend that you take the opportunity to try it out.  Hoi An has an eclectic mix of restaurants and you will have plenty of dining options.  Look for Cao Lau on the menu, which is a noodle soup unlike pho and other noodle soups you will find in Vietnam.  Also be sure to try white rose dumplings, which are shrimp dumplings shaped with the translucent cover formed in the shape of a rose.

Though Hoi An has both famous and budget eateries where you can try these dishes and more, we recommend Streets Restaurant Cafe [4].  Not only is it a restaurant serving up delicious food, it is also a social enterprise that helps disadvantaged youth to develop new skills and solid work experience.

If you want to get off the beaten path and try some unique local dishes you won’t find in Hoi Ancient Town, you might consider taking a walking tour to enjoy the “Dinner with the Nguyens”.

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6. End Your Hoi An Day Trip at the Lantern Market and enjoy the nightly entertainment

After dark, the Old Town in Hoi An transforms into a mystical row of lights and lanterns.  In fact, Hoi An is a big centre for paper lantern manufacturers and merchants.  Every shop or establishment will have a few lanterns outside, but the real sight to behold is the lantern market.  Here you’ll be able to see how these lanterns are made and will have a plethora of choices should you wish to take some home with you. Visit our footnote for the location of Lantern Market

After a stroll through the market, check out the outdoor traditional theatre.  You will have a chance to see Vietnamese folk dancers and musicians perform traditional pieces.  The theatre runs from 9 pm to 10 pm at a square on Nguyen Thai Hoc street.  It is completely free and open to the public so it’s interesting to see, even if it’s just for a few minutes as you pass by.  Before you retire to your hotel, be sure to light a candle box and set it in the water.  Many kids sit along the banks of the channel and offer candles to you – remember to make a wish!

Hoi An Lantern Market

Hoi An Lantern Market

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Footnote:

[1] Friendly Shop Hoi An

[2] Madam Khanh’s stand,

[3] CNN’s 100 Top Beaches

[4] Streets Restaurant Cafe

[5] Location of Lantern Market

For more custom itineraries or Vietnam travel tips, check our XO Tours Blog frequently.

 

 

How to avoid getting sick while eating and traveling in Vietnam

How to avoid getting sick in Vietnam

How to avoid getting sick in Vietnam

One of the fastest ways to ruin a vacation is by falling sick!  As a traveller in a new country, it can be difficult to know what to eat, what to drink, and how to go about your activities while staying as healthy as possible.  Here are some great tips on how to stay healthy during your time in Vietnam.

Besides health, another headache for tourists are the various scams here. There are dangerous tours (thankfully there are safe food tours too), questionable places to eat, there are even people on the street who just want to charge you as much as they can. Travellers should know about these tourist scams and safety hazards before traveling to Vietnam.

Affraid of getting sick in Vietnam? Here’s How to Avoid It:

FOOD AND WATER SAFETY

ENVIRONMENT


FOOD AND WATER SAFETY

Drinking Water

Bottled water.

As a traveler, water safety is a very serious issue.  Like many other countries, Vietnam has an underdeveloped water treatment infrastructure in place.  Contaminated water is a major source of illness so it’s very important to understand what you are getting into.

  • In Vietnam, avoid tap water as much as possible and only drink bottled water.  Generally, even locals will avoid tap water and will drink boiled or filtered water at home.  Bottled water is almost always available for sale at any local restaurants and hotels. Some brands that are popular and safe include Aquafina, Lavie, Vinh Hao, and Dasani.
  • For a refreshing alternative to water, try Vietnamese iced tea (“tra da”, pronounced “cha da”), which is cold green tea with ice.  Since it is a tea, it has been steeped in boiling water and then cooled, thereby killing any critters that may make you sick.  Most locals will drink ‘tra da’ at restaurants over water simply because it’s safe, more refreshing than lukewarm water, and cheaper than anything bottled!

Iced tea.

 

  • As for the ice, use your judgment.  Yes, ice outside may not be safe because it may have been made with contaminated water.  However, many restaurants buy ice from companies rather than manufacture it themselves, in which case it is quite safe. Many people, both locals, and foreigners, are able to enjoy drinks with ice in them without consequence.

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Food

Pho (Beef noodle soup).

Food-borne illness is also a major concern for travelers. To avoid food poisoning, check the meal you are eating is hot and completely cooked! Food restrictions  are easily satisfied.

Tips for eating in Vietnam safely

  • Soup-like dishes are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cuisine so there are many opportunities to contract some sort of illness.  Make sure that the bowl of Pho that you order is piping hot!
  • Eat only cooked foods and steer away from raw meats.  Although many sushi restaurants will prepare the fish properly, it is not worth the risk if you are only here for a short time. You can try them in countries with a higher standard of hygiene in Asia such as Japan, Korean, etc
  • Even eating salads and raw vegetables are not the best idea.  Adding raw herbs to your hot pho is usually fine but again, you will have to use your judgment.  Note that restaurants will flash boil the raw vegetables and herbs for you at your request.
  • Be cautious of fruit – eat fruits that have an inedible skin (i.e. bananas, oranges, watermelon, etc.) and avoid fruits like apples and sugar cane.

Fruits.

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Street Food

A lot of travelers ask about street food in Vietnam.  Is it safe to eat?  Will I get sick?  The answer is not so simple.  For instance, our XO Foodie Tour takes you to street stalls and open-air restaurants where the food quality and safety procedures have been thoroughly scrutinized and held to high standards.  Here are some things that may help make your decision when considering other street food stalls.

  • The turnover and volume at the street stall is an important consideration.  The more people who frequent a stall, the fresher the food will be.  A lot of these stalls do not have a means for refrigeration so they seldom prepare food ahead of time.  As an example, the stalls inside Ben Thanh market serve a very high volume of customers so a lot of their prepared food gets consumed on the day they make it.  That is not to say that you will avoid getting sick but the risk is less.

    The food stalls in Ben Thanh market sees hundreds of visitors a day so they tend to go through their food quite quickly in comparison to other food stalls around the city.

    The street-food stalls in Ben Thanh market see hundreds of visitors a day so they tend to go through their food quite quickly in comparison to other street-food stalls in other areas.

  • You can also observe the hygiene at the street stall you are considering.  In many cases, you can see your plate being made and if it’s not up to your standards, it is not worth the risk.
  • Be observant of the vessels they use.  If you see them wash the bowls or plates in tap water and they are still wet when putting your food in it, maybe this isn’t the street stall for you.  For this very reason, “banh mi” (Vietnamese sandwich) is one the safest street stall foods you can eat because there are no vessels or utensils involved!

A Banh Mi vendor.

  • If you really want to eat street-food during your time in Vietnam, reviews from other travelers may be a good source – if many people go to a particular establishment and none of them has become ill, you may get lucky as well!

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ENVIRONMENT

We’re very proud to offer our customers the safest insured-motorbike tour in Vietnam! 

Air Pollution
Ho Chi Minh City is not overly polluted but you can still feel the difference in air quality when compared to other cities around the world.  Protection against air pollution is a must when your body simply isn’t accustomed to it.

  • If you are spending a lot of time on a bike, you may want to don a mask to protect against dust and pollution.  This is useful if you are going to spend several hours on a bike on a regular basis such as long rides across the country.  For shorter bike rides like on any of the tours offered by XO Tours, you will be just fine without one.
  • Pollution and dust can also affect your eyes so definitely wear sunglasses or goggles on these long rides because your eyes can start to burn.

If you try to avoid air pollution, you can always escape for a day trip to the nature of Can Gio Mangrove – UNESCO Biosphere Reserves for some green and peaceful environment. Another option is to getting away to these beautiful beaches around Vietnam

Many motorbike riders in Vietnam wear masks to protect against dust and pollution.

Many motorbike riders in Vietnam wear masks to protect against dust and pollution.

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Tap Water

As trivial as it may sound, many people get concerned about how to brush their teeth and if tap water is safe for brushing.  As we discussed earlier, tap water may be contaminated so it is not safe to ingest.  Here are tips on how you can go out this everyday task and still stay safe.

  • If you are in Vietnam for a short time, it is not worth getting sick so we would recommend using bottled water to brush or no water at all to brush your teeth. If you are unsure how to say it: nước (is water in Vietnamese)
  • For extended stays, brushing your teeth with tap water is said to be a good way to get used to the local bacterial fauna.  Many tourists brush their teeth with tap water successfully without getting sick.  Again, this is only worth it if you will stay in Vietnam for a longer period of time.
  • You may also want to check at the front desk of where you are staying because many of the higher end hotels have an internal filtration system.  Keep in mind that the goal of this filtration is not to make the tap water safe for drinking but marginally better so that small tasks like brushing your teeth are hassle-free.

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Sun and Insects
With much of Asia being in a tropical climate, it is important to consider sun safety and insect protection.

  • The sun rays are very potent so please protect yourself with the use of a hat and strong sunscreen.

Vietnamese ladies cover their body to avoid sunlight.

  • As for insect-transmitted diseases, malaria and dengue fever are the two you should educate yourself about. In Vietnam, the prevalence of malaria is contained in rural areas but dengue fever is more common throughout the country.  Both are transmitted by mosquitos so an insect spray that contains DEET is a must!

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Stray Animals
One feature about Vietnam you may find different than other countries is the number of stray animals.  As you travel around, you’ll see dogs, cats, chickens and more.  An incredibly important point for you to be aware of is that Vietnam is not a rabies-free country.  Besides rabies, there are many diseases transmitted through animals.

  • Simply steer clear!
  • It is imperative that you do not touch or pet any of the stray animals, no matter how cute they are!

    Stray animals are commonly found out and about on the streets, but it is best to not pet them or come into contact with them.

    Stray animals are commonly found out and about on the streets, but it is best to not pet them or come into contact with them.

Want a worry-free tour? Our Friendly Vietnam Tour Guide will keep you safe on sound!

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MONEY TALKS – How to use Dollars, Vietnamese Dong, Credit and Debit Cards in Vietnam

One of the foremost things on every traveler’s mind is money at the destination.  Where to get it, how much to keep, how to exchange it, or how to pay for things are all questions that one must think about and understand before visiting a foreign country.  In Vietnam, and generally in the rest of Asia, cash is king, but a complicated one at that!  Before you arrive in Vietnam, take a few minutes to read through this information so that your Vietnamese trip goes without a hitch!

These are what we are going to show you:


How to Spend Your Vietnamese Dong?

500,000VND Note front

500,000VND Note back

500.000 VND = 21.95 USD l = 29.07 AUD (May 2018)

200,000VND Note front

200,000VND Note back

200.000 VND = 8.77 USD l = 11.59 AUD (May 2018)

100,000VND Note front

100,000VND Note back

100.000 VND = 4.38 USD l = 5.80 AUD (May 2018)

50,000VND Note front

50,000VND Note back

50.000 VND = 2.19 USD l = 2.90 AUD (May 2018)

20,000VND Note front

20,000VND Note back

20.000 VND = 0.88 USD l = 1.16 AUD (May 2018)

10,000VND Note front

10,000VND Note back

10.000 VND = 0.44 USD l = 0.58 AUD (May 2018)

Vietnam offers many opportunities to spend money, whether it be on shopping, travel or delicious food! You can pay for things in Vietnamese dong (VND), US dollars or by credit card.  Spending in VND is often the best way to go to ensure that you get the best price.  Be careful with the bills – even though all the denominations are different sizes and colours, it can still be hard to differentiate.  For instance, the 500,000 and 20,000 dong notes are both slightly varied shades of blue, and the 200,000 and 50,000 are shades of red. It is entirely plausible to confuse one for the other.  At the markets or local shops, make sure you carry small bills (less than 100,000) because they may not have change for you.  Many places also accept USD but you will usually not get a very good rate since the merchant can set their own term.

Several Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fee.

Some large stores, hotels and restaurants may accept credit cards but most of them will not!  Make sure you check beforehand.  Firstly, any establishment that allows credit card purchases will generally only accept Visa and MasterCard.  You may have some difficulty in finding places that accept American Express, Diners International or credit cards from other charge card companies.  You will most probably be charged a 2-3% transaction fee for credit card purchases.  On top of that, you may be charged an international transaction fee through your credit card bank or company, usually 3-5% of the purchase price.  If you are an avid traveller, it would help to save a lot if you have in your hand one of these card with no international fee.  The best ones are the Discover It Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or the American Express Platinum Card.

In many instances, paying by credit card may not be an available option or may not be cost-effective, but there are certain advantages to paying with a credit card.  The first is that Visa and MasterCard give you the best exchange rate of the week.  The exchange rate that they will give you will be better than what you will get for cash at the banks.  Another important consideration when paying for things with credit card is that there is often inherent insurance provided by either the charge card company (Visa/MasterCard) or your credit card company.  For large amount items such as hotels or flights, it may be beneficial to use your credit card, just in case there is a discrepancy or emergency.  Depending on your coverage, you can claim or dispute all sorts of things if you pay by credit card – hotel burglary, fraudulent transactions, insurance for jewelry purchases and more.  However, be very, very aware of the transaction fees and the associated costs, because the cost of using your credit card in Vietnam may not be justified.

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How to Exchange Money to Vietnamese Dong?

Although it is becoming more rare, the practice of exchanging USD at gold and jewelry shops is still prevalent in Vietnam. The exchange rate used to be significantly higher than banks and currency exchange booths but the difference is much smaller now.

Although it is becoming more rare, the practice of exchanging USD at gold and jewelry shops is still prevalent in Vietnam. The exchange rate used to be significantly higher than banks and currency-exchange booths but the difference is much smaller now.

 

If you come with some foreign cash, you can exchange it for VND at banks or currency exchange establishments.  You may get a slightly better rate of return at banks but you will always lose a little bit in the exchange.  The disadvantage of going to a bank to exchange money is that you need to show a passport for identification and you need to fill out a form first.  It can be a hassle when you want to do a quick exchange and then go.  Alternatively, at currency exchange booths you can exchange money instantly.  For USD and CAD, exchange money in increments of $100 to get the best exchange rate.  The currency exchange booths around tourist locations such as Ben Thanh market may charge a higher transaction fee so it is best to avoid them unless you are in a hurry.  Also please note that many exchange places will not accept old or torn bills.  Bring new and crisp bills in order to get the best exchange rate.  If you happen to have damaged bills that no one else will accept, simply go to a bank and exchange it for a new note for a nominal fee.

Another place to exchange USD to VND is at the many gold shops in Vietnam.  This practice is technically illegal but if you have lost or forgotten your passport, banks are not an option for you so you will have to exchange money at booths or gold shops.  It used to be the case that you would get a significantly good exchange rate at the shops than at other places but now the exchange rate is no longer that different.

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How to Obtain Vietnamese Dong from ATM?

ATMs are found throughout the city so you will be able to take out cash almost anywhere you are. But remember to check the rules beforehand so you know how much your credit card company and the ATM will charge you for the withdrawal. Keep in mind that Techcombank and HSBC bank machines allow the most amount of money to be withdrawn at one time.

ATMs are found throughout the city so you will be able to take out cash almost anywhere you are. But remember to check the rules beforehand so you know how much your credit card company and the ATM will charge you for the withdrawal. Keep in mind that Techcombank and HSBC bank machines allow the most amount of money to be withdrawn at one time.

 

To obtain more cash, you can always go to any of the ATMs around the city, but first you must know the rules of your bank and your debit or credit card.  There are many credit and debit cards that will charge a hefty fee for withdrawing cash overseas and it can get very expensive!  You will also have to find out what the transaction limit is per day for your card.  As for the ATM associated fees, the withdrawal fee is usually around 20,000 Dong (about $1 USD).  Some people have reported that DongA Bank ATMs do not charge a transaction fee but in our experience there is always a nominal fee.  That said, withdrawing from a credit card will cost you a lot because not only will you be charged for an international cash advance, that amount will start accruing interest immediately.  We recommend withdrawing funds through a debit card.

Most HSBC and TechCom ATMs allow a per transaction maximum withdrawal of 5 million to 6 million dong.  Other ATMs allow around 2 million dong.  For large withdrawals, the ATM will dispense 500,000 dong notes which you will then have to exchange for smaller bills for small purchases.  The ATMs around the city are generally safe but, just as anywhere else in the world, try to avoid ATMs in convenience stores and bars.

 

If you need really large sums of cash, Western Union is the best way to go.  It is less expensive and more hassle-free than bank wire transfers, and there are hundreds of locations within Ho Chi Minh City alone.  Depending on the amount, you may pay less in a Western Union transaction fee than on international cash advance fees through your bank or credit card.  Simply get a friend or family member to go to a Western Union branch back home and fill out the appropriate paperwork.  Be sure that the spelling of the name of the recipient matches exactly as it is shown on the passport – even one letter off is grounds for refusal.  Note that the money they send to you will be from their own account rather than yours, unless they have power of attorney or joint status for your account.

Remember that no matter what, be safe with the cash that you have.   Avoiding carrying large amounts of money and use a money belt if possible!

Hope you enjoyed another great travel tip brought to you by XO Tours, the most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam! 🙂

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