We are considering a trip to Vietnam next year with our 13yr old son. We would love to hear pros and cons travelling this beautiful country and is it suitable for a 13yr old?
Great question, reader! We’re happy to dive into this one for you. The long and short of it is that Vietnam absolutely is suitable for a 13-year-old, but we'll start off with the travel side of things to help you get an idea of what's ahead.
Vietnam has well-established train routes that run the length of the country. Chances are that you’ll be landing either in Hanoi, in the far north, or Ho Chi Minh City, all the way down south, so you’ll likely need to cover a bit of ground to see everything on your list.
You’ll be glad to hear that’s not as hard as it might sound - trains running the 1000 miles between the two cities leave 5 times per day, so it’s fairly easy to find a journey that fits your schedule. Two of those departures are night trains, meaning you can also save a bit of cash on a hotel while making the trip.
The trains are family friendly, with locals often using them as a cheaper way to cart the whole gang around than flying. However, we must admit that we did find some mixed reviews about those night trains in particular. Here are some of the highs and lows you can look forward to if you choose life on the rails:
- All the carriages are air-conditioned. Great in theory, but the air conditioning can't be adjusted, meaning you’re stuck with what you get all night. On top of that, we read several reports of cigarette smoke filtering through the air system during stops.
- The cabins are clean, or they start off that way, at least. With people understandably snacking to pass the time, and hot food served on the morning stretch, it doesn’t take long before roaches appear. So maybe pack an extra can of Raid!
- One major advantage to taking local trains has to be the chance to meet locals. You might even find yourself being taken in and fed by a friendly Vietnamese family. Or you might find yourself sharing a cabin with several unpleasant strangers. The best way to survive Vietnam’s night trains is to book out all 4-6 berths for yourselves to ensure a little privacy and a safe family space.
- Oh, and then there are the views. Need we say more?
Hiring a car
Next up, the road trip. The obvious pros here are that you’ll get much more privacy, and you can take a break whenever your teen gets restless. Vietnam is especially popular for motorbiking holidays, although we suspect your 13-year-old may not have his driving licence just yet, reader. With that in mind, we’ll focus on travelling by car.
Driving in the big cities is chaotic, to say the least. It’s loud and heavily congested, and you constantly have to keep your eyes peeled for scooters weaving in and out. Once you reach the countryside, roads are often poorly maintained, so taking things slow is a must.
That said, if you’re a confident and patient driver, it’s totally doable. This handy article goes into lots of detail about all the things you’ll need to keep in mind when driving in Vietnam’s cities in particular.
One common alternative is to hire a car with a private driver, which would let you fully tailor your visit and also avoid the anxiety of getting behind the wheel. The downside here is the price, which starts upwards of £100 per day in comparison to the £35 per day of car hire.
Of course, dear reader, this is the easiest way to make sure your trip really hits the mark for all of you. We found several small-group tours online that cater to families with teenagers, usually taking in the major sites while including lots of outdoor activities.
This option certainly takes away the stress (or fun!) of planning, but it can turn your holiday in a usually very affordable country into a rather pricey affair. These tours also tend to focus on the north of the country, meaning you could miss out on seeing anywhere south of Hoi An.
Now we've got the lay of the land, it's worth thinking about what you want to see while you're there. If you'd rather take the DIY approach to your Vietnam trip, reader, we have some suggestions that are sure to get your teen out of bed before midday:
Near Ho Chi Minh City - Sailing among the floating markets and traditional villages on the Mekong Delta is high up most Vietnam lists, but the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels are not to be missed either. If you’re feeling brave - or your teen has been misbehaving - crawling through the pitch-black tunnels will provide a good idea of the harsh reality experienced by Vietnamese soldiers. Safely above ground, you can peruse the booby trap exhibition, which somehow scares us less.
Nha Trang - Around 7.5 hrs north of Ho Chi Minh City by train, the seaside retreat is popular for its idyllic beaches, scuba diving and spas. It’s also home to an island theme park, Vinpearl Land, which is best reached via a scenic cable car ride across the bay. A visit to the impressive Po Nagar Cham Towers will be in order afterwards to calm any residual endorphins.
Hoi An- This is the place for anyone who likes to shop, with markets galore selling food, souvenirs, clothes and local crafts. It’s also one of the few places you’ll get a chance to take a ride in a traditional bamboo basket boat and bob along like the local fishermen.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang - About two thirds of the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, near the city of Dong Hoi, is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Scrambling around the world’s largest cave should be top of your list there, but a walk through the surrounding jungle will suit any animal-loving teen.
Lan Ha Bay - Swap the main part of buzzing Halong Bay for peaceful Lan Ha Bay, and you’ll be rewarded with equally picturesque views - minus the crowds. Larger boats can’t access the area, but a smaller Junk Ship cruise will get you to those secluded spots where your family can strap on your life jackets and go kayaking in safety.
Hopefully that's given you some ideas, reader - it looks like you and your teen are in for a whale of a time. Have fun, and don't forget to send us a postcard!
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