We have just returned from a wonderful family holiday to Vietnam, and I thoroughly recommend it with or without kids. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had anticipated it was something more akin to Bali or Thailand, more third world, more poverty, squalor and rubbish, but I was pleasantly surprised by how clean, tidy, organised and developed the country was, even small towns we visited. The Vietnamese have a long and troubled history with Westerners, but they show no sign of any animosity or resentment. They are just warm, friendly, welcoming people, eager to please and help, adoring of children and who made us feel relaxed and comfortable at all times.
We flew from Sydney on a day flight with Vietnam Airlines, admittedly not the greatest airline in the world, but we got there. A day flight with three kids is not something I’ll do again in a hurry, particularly an energised one year old eager to explore. We transited in Ho Chi Minh City before flying to Nha Trang on the east coast and arrived in the evening at our hotel, the Evason Ana Mandara. The impact of the heat and humidity on that first day was incredible but the kids coped with the tiring travel very well.
Everyone woke early on our first morning, the sun was up well before 6am, so we took our first peak at the resort. Our garden villa was only 20m from the beach. The Evason is the only resort on the beach in Nha Trang, so we were very lucky to be able to stroll from our villa onto the beach daily. Although by about 10am the sand was too hot to walk on, so you had to sprint to the water’s edge with thongs on, carrying the children, or risk seriously burnt feet!The landscaping at the resort was magnificent and tended by a huge team of gardeners who were up watering, sweeping, trimming and maintaining at sunrise every day. It amazed me that they were always fully clothed, with long sleeves, long pants, socks, and shoes, with rice hats and masks. I could barely tolerate the flimsiest of dresses it was so hot. But I was told they don’t like to be exposed to the sun, so they prefer to cover up completely. I do love tropical gardens, the vibrancy of the smells, colours and textures. I feel more at home in them than European gardens I think. Beautiful thick green grass like shag pile carpet, amazing palms of every shape and size, fragrant frangipanis, orchids and ferns.
This is the view we were met with on our first morning. It was not even 6am, already about 30 degrees and all the locals were having an early morning swim. These weren’t tourists, but the local towns people cooling off before the start of the working day. We discovered this was a daily ritual and was repeated in the evening about 5pm when thousands of locals descended on the beach either side of the resort, for a refreshing dip.
The beach was beautifully clean, with clear warm water and not a speck of rubbish. The water was rather like a warm bath, and we played a game with the kids in the sea swimming around to see who could find a cool patch of water to get some reprieve from the oppressive heat. The buildings in the background are the town of Nha Trang which was about a ten minute drive away.
We camped on the beach after breakfast every morning, under one of these umbrellas. The view over the bay was amazing, but we found it just too hot to sit in the sun, so the umbrellas provided welcome relief and shade.
I do love a breakfast buffet, and the Asian hotels do them particularly well. They put on a wonderful spread of both Asian and western food every day, and the kids ate more for breakfast every day here than in an entire day at home. Something about the excitement of helping yourself to the vast expanse of food available. Charlie’s daily intake was fruit, Coco Pops, 4 croissants, 3 pancakes, 1 waffle with bacon followed by a muffin and mango smoothie! Amelia ate her body weight in food too. No wonder the locals thought she was 2 and kept calling her a big girl!
The resort facilities were wonderful. Two large pools, a luxurious spa (I enjoyed a massage in the open room below overlooking the beach), two restaurants and a pool bar, with plenty of water sports and outside activities available. Of course, the kids’ club got plenty of use too.
We usually lazed by this big pool after lunch when the kids went off to kids’ club, which they insisted on (no complaints from us!) and had a ball making conical hats, sand cards, kites and all manner of fun activities. The paving around the pool got so hot you couldn’t walk on it, but the outlook was amazing.
We didn’t waste any time getting the babysitters on board, so we were able to put Amelia to bed in the villa early and enjoy dinner with the kids, although they usually fell asleep at the table after half an hour. I must say we are very lucky to have kids who are happy to be left with strangers, and thus afford the freedom to enjoy some grown up time. They were thankfully happy to stay with the babysitters, who were two lovely Vietnamese women who worked at the resort during the day and all adored the children and took wonderful care of them.
We took a day trip into Nha Trang, on this open buggy. I was amazed by the number of motorbikes and mopeds in Vietnam, the main form of transport and horrified every time I saw entire families on the back of the bike, zipping through traffic with the kids all without helmets. This lady below was cradling a newborn and as a mother it stresses me out watching them.
Lots of fresh fruit and flowers available in street stalls.
Our guide Dang told us that the land in Vietnam is very expensive, so all the residential buildings are only 4m wide, although several stories high. They are passed down from generation to generation, so most people seem to live in a reasonable standard of accommodation.
It seemed odd to me seeing the Vietnamese selling and eating French baguettes and they must be one of the only Asian countries who have bread as part of their diet. Another legacy of the French occupation of Vietnam last century.
Looking at this Vietnamese woman and her attire, you could hardly believe it was nearing 40 deg on that day! We were sweltering and struggling but she didn’t seem to find the heat oppressive as we did.
You can see the lady behind Charlie had the typical motorbike rider attire – long sleeves, long pants, socks and shoes, with gloves, a sun hat, a mask and helmet! You can see how hot Charlie is and he’s holding a cold wet towel trying to cool down!
We stopped at a beautiful and ancient temple in Nha Trang, near the river. Many thousands of years old, where the locals go to pray to the Holy Mother. Charlie was very keen to say some prayers inside the temple. There is a real mix of religions in Vietnam, including Buddhists, Catholics, Confucians and Taoists although Vietnam is officially and atheist state and a census states 81% are non-believers. Our guide told us the younger generations are not interested in religion but more in spirituality and self improvement.
A local woman weaving silk and below a table of offerings for the Holy Mother. Many couples come to this temple to pray for fertility and help conceiving.
The brightly coloured fishing boats in the mouth of the river, waiting to head out to sea in the early evening. And below, motorbikes galore!
After a week in Nha Trang, we boarded the plane and headed up north to Hoi An for our second week. More on that next.
All images by Melinda Hartwright.