We have just finished 30 days in Vietnam with our three kids ages 5, 8 and 11. We had quite a tight budget but still managed to have a wonderful experience with some great accommodation, delicious food and cool activities. We found lots of good tips and info on this page so would like to pay it forward and share our experience for others, especially those with children or a small budget.
Edited to add: We would not encourage anyone to ride scooters illegally (ie you don’t have the correct license, experience, insurance etc) and everything shared here is our OWN EXEPERIENCES and may differ from other people’s experiences or opinions.
Ho Chi Minh City
The Mar Q luxury apartments found on booking.com. Contact the owner Thao on WhatsApp: +84 90 495 55 45. She can also arrange airport pick up for you if you don’t want to get your own taxi or are not ready to use grab yet.
We loved this apartment in District 1 as we could walk to all the main sights or get a cheap grab if it was too hot. Amazing rooftop pool with stunning views of the city. Apartment was modern, 2 comfortable queen beds (in fact the most decent mattresses from our whole trip) in separate rooms, nice bathroom and it was a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Approx: $85nzd a night
One day Mekong Delta tour (20usd per adult 10usd per child) and one day Cu Chi tunnel tour (16usd per adult 8usd per child). We booked through WhatsApp with Athai Travel (I just messaged a bunch and went with the cheapest) and we were pleased with the tours. Great value for money.
In the city we just used Google maps to walk ourselves to the points of interest which was easy, but you could also do the double decker hop on hop off bus. We found the Ben Thanh market intense but we still managed to get a few bargains. Saigon Square markets were also good. We ate inside the food court and restaurants at the Saigon Centre a few times just to get some relief from the heat and we also went to a local place across from the apartment which served a variety of foods. We cooked for ourselves sometimes and also ordered grab food delivery when we didn’t feel like braving the streets or heat.
Overall, we found Ho Chi Minh intense but interesting. We probably stayed a little bit long but it was our first stop so was good to get to terms with how everything works in Vietnam. Got a SIM card on arrival at the airport which was easy and cheap and you can then use grab going forwards.
Da Nang and Hoi An
We flew into Da Nang and had arranged a private driver through WhatsApp who was waiting. It was late at night so cost 300vnd to transfer to Hoi An, about the same as a grab. We stayed in 3 different accommodations in Hoi An and An Bang beach. We had originally planned to spend four nights at Da Nang My Kye beach but loved An Bang so much we switched and glad we did.
Accommodation 1: Ancient Terracota Villa
Located outside the old town (about a five minute scooter ride). This was a homestay with an older Vietnamese couple who were really lovely. They cooked us a fresh and delicious breakfast each morning and the pool was fantastic. Our room was two large queen beds which we were happy with although they were on the firm side. The bathroom was ok but was a wet room which we found a bit annoying. Apart from that, outstanding value for money!! Approx $40nzd a night inc breakfast for the 5 of us.
Accommodation 2: An Bang Happy Village
One of our best stays in Vietnam. This was a cosy little place set in a garden only 100 metres back from the beach. It had a tiny pool good for a cool dip and only four guest rooms. We took the family room with two large queen beds and these were decent mattresses which was awesome! Nice fresh breakfast cooked to order each morning and we loved the day bed outside our room on the verandah. We wanted to stay longer but they were fully booked! Around $75nzd a night inc breakfast.
Accommodation 3: Hung Do Home Stay
Awesome big rooms. This was a modern home so felt nice and fresh. Great shower and big beds with the standard firm mattresses. Awesome pool and lovely fresh cooked to order breakfast each morning. Good location on the main drag of restaurants but not noisy at all. This was excellent value for money at around $50nzd a night inc breakfast.
We hired scooters for three of the days we were at Ancient Terracota villa. We didn’t find scootering in Hoi An too difficult. Using the scooters we were able to visit the old town during the day and night. We wandered the streets and markets and enjoyed the busy night time atmosphere with all the lights, boats and street vendors. We also used the scooter to take ourselves to the coconut boats. This activity cost us about $20nzd for the family (plus about $10 to have them do the spinning trick with our boys). Overall a fun experience.
We also rode to Da Nang to check out the beaches down there as well as An Bang beach which we loved and ending up booking accommodation at. We should have also taken ourselves to marble mountain on the scooters as it was close enough to do so, but we didn’t realise this until we went there with our guide later!
We booked a private driver named Quoc Pham to take us up to Hue from Hoi An. He picked us up at 7am and we went straight to marble mountain. From there we did the Hai Van Pass and all the main sights in and around Hue. It was a big full day but it worked out cheaper combining all these sights with our transport to Hue. It cost us 1,800,000vnd plus the entrance tickets to the sights. Pham was awesome and gave us free drinks throughout the journey. We also took a private car back to Hoi afterwards which was about 1,000,000vnd. The five of us squashed into a regular car which was tight so worth spending a little more for a 7 seater next time.
Accommodation: Hue Four Seasons Homestay
Decent clean rooms with great bathroom and lots of light. AC was not great but there was also a wall fan and flat screen tv. The family here are so lovely. Freshly cooked breakfast every day and a nice little pool for cooling off in the afternoons. Excellent location close to all the restaurants etc. We hired a scooter from them also which was a nice new one and we took ourselves to the temple at sunset and to the abandoned waterpark.
Approx: $45nzd a night inc breakfast
We flew to Hanoi from Da Nang. It was busy but definitely nothing compared with Ho Chi Minh. It had quite a different feel. We stayed in the old quarter and were only ten mins walk from the central lake.
Accommodation 1: Little Diamond Hotel
Room was larger with two queen beds but felt old and tired and very claustrophobic. The bathroom was yuck and the corridors and lift were very tight and cramped. Breakfast buffet was good and the chef made us omelettes on request. The lady at reception is really lovely and helpful. Approx: $55 nzd a night inc breakfast
Accommodation 2: Perfume’s Cozy House
We went for the deluxe family room at the top. It was a mission climbing four flights of stairs each time but the room was fantastic as there were three separate single beds in a separate room. Breakfast made to order each morning and the owners were super lovely people. Location was about 15 mins walk to the lake so quite central.
Approx $60nzd a night inc breakfast.
We looked around by foot and took ourselves to train street where we had a coffee and watched the train go by. We also took ourselves to Ho Chi Minh tomb by grab but couldn’t get in as my shorts weren’t long enough. (Make sure you wear sleeves and longer pants to any temples or tombs). We went back another day more prepared. The water puppet theatre was only 100vnd a ticket and we thought it was a really fun experience! The hop on hop off bus tour also looked like a good way to see the city.
We went to the Dong Xuan market and that was a totally different experience to Ho Chi Minh’s markets. No one was trying to sell us anything, in fact, some refused to sell to us as they would only sell in bulk! We found shopping at stores around the city was good enough and prices are pretty set anyway with a bit of wiggle room. In Hanoi we also tried the egg coffee at the famous cafe Giang and it was so delicious! We just walked or used grabs to get around.
Tam Coc (Ninh Binh)
We loved this little town. Yes it is a bit touristy but we appreciated being able to have some western food options and not be completely isolated. We hired scooters from our homestay and rode around exploring which was really fun! Such beautiful landscapes and little villages to ride through.
Accommodation: Mr Cau Homestay
This was our best homestay in Vietnam. The value for money here is amazing. The homestay itself is located just behind the Main Street so really close to all the restaurants but still nice and quiet. It was like an oasis. There are only three rooms set in a little garden with a gorgeous big pool. The family here are really sweet and kind. They have four daughters and they looked after us so well. The breakfast was delicious and very generous.
The room had two queen beds and a big bathroom with wet room shower. Although the room was small it was immaculately clean and you only had to ask for more towels. She would clean it every second day also. She booked us bus tickets, sold us cheap water and gave us a great price for scooters. Approx $30nzd a night inc breakfast.
On the scooters we took ourselves to Hang Mua which has beautiful gardens, an amazing cave and 500 steps to climb a mountain peak that had incredible views. We really enjoyed this place. It cost about 100vnd each, our youngest was free. We also rode to the Trang An boat tour. (We were told by others who did both the Tam Coc and Trang An tours that Trang An was better).
We went in the morning to try and beat the crowds. There were still loads of people but it was better than it can get I think. The boat tour was 3 hours and cost 250vnd per person with our two younger ones being a bit cheaper. We chose route 3 out of the four options as it goes through a 1km cave. That was amazing, but probably a little scary if you don’t like caves! We all enjoyed it, even our kid who gets a bit claustrophobic.
Cat Ba island
We travelled by bus from our homestay in Tam Coc to the door of our hotel on Cat Ba island. It cost 270,000vnd per person which also covered the ferry ride. It worked out cheaper than using a private car and we were happy with the travel.
We found Cat Ba very targeted towards the Vietnamese tourists. We were there during the weekend which meant the place was flooded with Vietnamese on holiday. We found it really loud and dirty and unless you want to be fully immersed in the way the locals eat, sleep and holiday, it’s not really suited to foreign travellers in our opinion.
We chose to go to Cat Ba to do a day cruise of Lan Ha and Halong Bay rather than an over night cruise because of the cost for a family of five people. We were also told by lots of tour agencies the day cruises still see all the same spots as the overnight cruise boats. We booked a day cruise through a local agent in Cat Ba after talking to a few to get a feel for prices. It is slightly more expensive to go on a Sunday and it is important to check if there will be other foreigners on your boat. A Sunday ticket seemed to go for around 650,000vnd per person (slightly less for young kids).
We paid 610,000 per adult and that included lunch and transfers and snorkel gear. We ended up being the only foreigners on our boat, but we had a guide that spoke excellent English and looked after us. After lunch we were offered to switch to another boat that was staying out longer and visiting monkey island for another swim. Our boat was taking all the Vietnamese tourists back as they weren’t interested in swimming. We really enjoyed the more chilled out vibe of being on a boat with other western tourists. We never thought this would have mattered to us before, but it really did make a big difference to our comfort levels being able to converse with others.
Overall, the actual cruise was ok, lunch was good (another opportunity to sample real local made cuisine), however, we were absolutely blown away by the state of the water in Lan Ha and Halong Bay!!! It was filled with rubbish/garbage!!! We thought at first it was perhaps just going to be near the fishing village but nope, it was everywhere!!! It was unbelievable and made it really hard to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and it felt really gross to swim and kayak in it.
We had read a few comments about rubbish prior but did not expect it to be so bad. Other tourists on the second boat felt the same us as. It was incredibly sad. There is so much tourism on the water and over fishing that the ocean here is quite visibly struggling. This was definitely one of the lowest points on our trip. (For context, we come from New Zealand so seeing ocean waters like this was very different to our experiences at home).
Accommodation: Cat Ba Hotel 206
Worst hotel experience ever. Don’t consider staying here, for variety of reasons as mentioned before, Cat Ba is really geared towards Vietnamese visitors and this hotel was no exception. It was awful and our review on booking.com reflects this. Approx $65nzd per night which included a below average breakfast.
Our summary about 30 days in Vietnam
Vietnam has some really beautiful and diverse areas. We found a few local dishes that we really liked (Hoi An crispy pancake, spring rolls, sugar cane ice drinks, Beef noodle soup, sticky rice) but we also ate some ‘western’ food along the way to keep our kids happy. The people themselves are doing whatever they can to survive and make a dollar and this can be seen everywhere. We found homestays a really great way to see local culture and to meet and learn from Vietnamese people.
As with all places, there are good people and bad people. You WILL be seen as a $ sign no matter what your budget, but there are many lovely Vietnamese who are kind and will help you. One day we would like to come back and do the whole country by motorbike and without kids 🙂
Note: All our accommodation was booked on booking.com so we could get rewards and discounts. All prices shared covered 2 adults and 3 children. All flights were booked online direct with VietJet. Apart from one slight delay that we were notified about ahead of time, they were fine. All tours and bus transport were booked in person on arrival to each place or through reccommendations on this Facebook group.
Source: Liz Cribb from New Zealand – group Vietnam Travelers