Category Archives: Vietnam

4 weeks Vietnam itinerary with kids from Hanoi, Ba Vi and Cat Ba to Hoi An and Saigon in the south. Get some inspiration and tips for your Family trip to Vietnam here.

Very long train rides through Vietnam -from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh via Hoi An

Grey, rainy, polluted and not always friendly – cutting our stay in Vietnam short


We did not enjoy Vietnam as much as we did other countries in South East Asia. I think it’s a combination of suffering from travel fatigue, the grey and rainy weather, a lack of genuine friendliness and hospitality in some of the places we visited, a feeling of constantly being ripped off and perhaps also false expectations in comparing Vietnam to Thailand. Therefore, 2 weeks into our Vietnam stay, while in Cat Ba we took the decision to cut our stay here short and head back to spend our last 2 weeks in we Asia back in Thailand.

Bus, boat and train from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh city

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1 hr speed boat to Cat Ba

To get back to the mainland from Cat Ba you have to take a bus, a speed boat and then another 4 hr bus to Ninh Binh. Originally we had planned to stay here for a few days but as we wanted to get out of Vietnam quicker than planned, we only stayed 1 night at the Viet Nhat Hotel before continuing the train further south. Ninh Binh town has nothing to offer in terms of sights really. The main attraction people come here for is the amazing surrounding karst mountains. Due to our long train trip, we opted not to go exploring them and spent the morning doing school work before catching the 16hr night train to Hoi An.

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Catching the  N1 train in Ninh Binh

16 hr night train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An

The N1 train at 15.48 was very basic, old, small and rickety. Scott and me slept in the bottom bunks with and ingrid and Paul in the top.

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Snug as a bug in a rug on the top bunk
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Scott in his ilk liners ,  extremely useful for nights like this

There was basic food for sale on board but we know from previous night trains that it’s not very appetising so had brought our own snacks and fruit to last us the journey. Pork baguettes purchased at the hotel, biscuits with sweets for a late night snack did the trick.The worst thing about night trains is always the toilets and this one was no exception. It is dirty and smelly, but when you have to go you just have to go. Grit your teeth, hold your breath and get on with it.

3 days of rain with new friends in Hoi An

We stopped in Hoi An for 3 nights and were looking forward to warmer sunnier weather. Unfortunately it had been, and still was raining much more than usual this time of year. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left the rain did not stop.

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Hoi An market in the rain

The hotel we stayed at, Botanic Garden Villas had great airy rooms, 2 swimming pools and  a pool table. It also offered free cooking course which Ingrid and I attended.

Unfortunately we never got to try out the pool because of the poor weather. We did however discover a great little deli , Dingo Deli with a playground and play room where we spent the afternoon with our new Canadian friends and their 2 children enjoying delicious coffee while the kids played.

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Friands in town

The persistent rain and flooded streets meant that we did not really get the opportunity to properly explore this beautiful town. When the weather is nice I can imagine it’s a great place for cycling and walking, especially round the old town.  It is also a place to get tailor made clothes and shoes at rock bottom prices.

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Hoi An old town by night

We spent our 3 days here doing schoolwork in the mornings and hanging out with our Canadian friends in the afternoons. Great for the kids to have some friends to play with and for Paul and I to have some adult conversation with people other than ourselves.

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It was fun and useful discussing the ups and downs of travelling for a year with kids, great to get some new ideas as how to do it  and  to just talk about all the practical issues and opportunities of leaving your life behind and planning to come back with fresh eyes a year later.

On our last day in Hoi An Dec 30th we had an amazing meal together at Morning Glory and finally got a taste of how amazing the Vietnamese food really can be.

The following day we spent New Year’s Eve on the 16hr , clean and modern, train to Ho Chi Minh city followed by a 6 bus to Phenom Penh. A lot of travel in 24 hrs but  we were keen to spend the first day of the new year in Cambodia leaving a grey and wet Vietnam behind us.

After a total of 26 hr travel we finally arrived in Phenom Penh excited to be back in the warm sunshine surrounded by friendly people eager to see what this country had to offer.

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Tuktuk to our hotel in Phenom Penh 
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Deep Water Soloing in Cat Ba, Vietnam – Best mum and daughter day ever

Ingrid 8, goes Deep Water Soloing – her one and only Christmas wish come true

We planned to stay in Cat Ba for a week over Christmas to give Ingrid her a very special Deep Water Solo climb for her Christmas present.

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Ingrid getting all set for her deep water solo Christmas gift

We hooked up the the AsiaOutdoors team as soon as we arrived on Cat Ba and booked in 2 days of climbing with a friendly discount that Rich the GM had promised us while climbing together in Chiang Mai a few weeks earlier.

Getting ready to climb our first ever deep water solo climb.

We arrived on Cat Ba quite late on the 20th and headed straight out to climb early on the 21st as this was the day with the highest tide for the duration of our stay here.

AsiaOutdoors run all sorts of outdoor activities here, mainly kayaking, climbing and hiking. The bus that took us to the harbour was full of people going out for the day doing different activities. We all got on a AsiaOutdoors junk boat where we would later be having lunch as well.

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ON the boat with AsiaOutdoors

On our Deep Water Solo boat was Rob, an AsiaOutdoors guide originally from NZ, Ash & Lilo, Ingrid and me. The grey morning skies were not looking too inviting and I was worried about the temperature of the water but I needn’t have worried.

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Feeling nervous as we head out to the crag

By the time got got to our 1st crag, Hawaii 5-0 the sun was starting to break through and our spirits excitement levels were running high.

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Sun shining as we approached our 1st Crag Hawaii 5-0

I was feeling excited and nervous not sure how Ingrid would react once we actually started climbing. AsiaOutdoors had never taken anyone under the age of 15 Deep Water Soloing before so Rob briefed us all on safety, especially for Ingrid to make sure we would all be able to help if needed.

AsiaOutdoors use local boatsmen to manage the climbing boats and they are very skilled at getting in and out close to the rock. This helped a lot in making us feel safe as well.

First climb on Hawaii 5-0

Ingrid was looking so nervous and I was trying to put on a brave face for her but I was a bit worried about what we had let ourselves in for. What is she freaks out on the wall, there is no option but to jump into the water…. Ash want first  followed by Ingrid then me.

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Ingrid getting onto the wall Hawaii 5-0 for her first climb

1st climb was a 6a+ traverse,  long, slightly overhanging but with good hand  holds along the main flake and with some sketchy feet. The climbing was not too hard but the nerves of knowing we would have to jump into the water below was making us tense and tired. I managed half the traverse before I took the leap into the water. Only 4 m up but still felt like a really big jump and it took forever to get back up to the surface again.

Ingrid was next, I was more scared for her then for myself. She got the first couple of holds then started to look down at the water freaking out, I want to come down! a few minutes hesitation and then into the water she want. She looked really upset when she surfaced again and the same happen on the next climb again. On climb 3 we set a goal of reaching a land mark 1/3 along the traverse and she decided not to look down. Once out of the starting blocks she just kept going and going and almost finished the whole route.

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Happy about our climbs getting ready for the next ones

Epic 12m climb & jump off 3 Brothers Crag

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Ash, Lilo, Rob, Ingrid and me having a blast on the DWS boat

Next crag, 3 Brothers offered more of a range of climbs but with all routes vertical we had to jump from much higher heights to get back down again. We had all overcome our nerves by now and started enjoying climbing up. I was surprised to find that wet climbing shoes did not slip too much but Im glad I wasn’t using my own. Ingrid did 4 routes here ranging from 4c to 6a and did not hesitate climbing or jumping into the water. The last 2 climbs and jumps were over 12m high!!

I loved the feeling of climbing without gear and the thrill of falling into the deep blue water and Ingrid was having such a great time. The least enjoyable part was sitting on the little boat between climbs a bit cold with the constant engine noise and rocking.

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The beautiful spot where 3 Brothers Crag is

The last climb was epic as Ingrid and I climbed side by side and jumped into the water together from 12 up! After almost 4 hours of climbing we headed back to the junk boat and had an amazing lunch together with all the other climbers and kayakers.

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What a day! What a girl! Cant wait to climb some more!

Great Family Adventures in Cat Ba – a very different Christmas

Exotic food in the smog of Hanoi

Great breakfast at Hanoi 3B Homestay

A lovely welcome by the taxi driver and the 3B homestay in Hanoi set us off on a great start to our 4 week stay in Vietnam.

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Feeling like Christmas at 3B homestay

Paul had booked the penthouse in 3B Honesty which was, clean, big and amazing. First feel of crisp cotton sheets that we’ve had in a long while, soft mattresses and one of the best breakfasts on our trip so far.

2 days in Hanoi with kids

We spent 2 days wondering the streets of Hanoi trough the old quarter, the french quarters, around the lake as well as exploring the many little shops and street stalls.

The first day of wandering around here we were marvelling at the exotic feel of this place, much more like China then Thailand, not quite what we were expecting.

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One of many food stalls where to local hang out and eat

We were surprised to find that the thick grey skies covering Hanoi gave us all a cough and a headache already by lunchtime on day 1. Even more surprising to find that heavy smog and thick air pollution is not mentioned anywhere in the Hanoi travel guides.

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Thick blanket of smog in Hanoi

Exotic and tasty street food in Hanoi

Despite the smog, we enjoyed some of our most exotic food on our trip so far here. Our first lunch was at a little street stall in the old quarter where we had, among other things, shredded pork which a constancy of candy floss that simply melted  away in your mouth.

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Candy floss beef for lunch in Hanoi

In the evening we enjoyed some more tasty street food in the old quarter. Warning! Although the food was good, we got ripped off big time here by the friendly owner who pretended he had no menu to show us, then served us the most expensive food he had and magically producing a menu when he gave us the bill to prove he was entitled to charge us a ridiculous amount of money. Never eat in Hanoi without establishing the price first!

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More street food – BBQ pork ribs!

The following day we had lunch at a little street full of stalls serving food. Scott opted for snail soup, which was interesting but not that tasty.

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Selection of snails for lunch

We had promised the kids we would enjoy some french desserts here so In the afternoon we went hunting for French Patisseries and ended up in an expensive hotel eating creme brûlée and creme caramel. Delicious!

Awful traffic & thick smog – time to get out of Hanoi

Beautiful water puppet theatre in the afternoon followed by traditional Vietnamese style dinner. Although we enjoyed exploring the streets and the food, the noise and smog from the never ending hoards of traffic, make any time spent here pretty grim. We all had headaches, sore thoughts and felt generally ill from the thick layer of smog that covers the city. Its especially hard work spending time here with the kids as you have to focus on keeping them safe from traffic at all times.

Traffic does not stop here you simply have to take a deep breath and walk out into the street hoping the cars and motorbikes will drive around you, which they do most of the time.

Escaping the pollution – Vietnamese home stay in Ba Vi National park

We had planned to go North to Sappa from Hanoi, but we all felt tired from travelling and from the craziness of Hanoi and so opted to go to Ba Vi National Park, close to Hanoi instead. You can get there by local bus, but we paid a taxi 1m dong (£30)to drive us there.

In Ba Vi 1.5 hrs north west of Hanoi, unfortunately the smog was still like thick carpet overhead. Not until we got to the top of Ba Vi mountain could we take a breath of fresh air while gazing dow  at the lid of pollution below.

The homestay was a bit rustic, with little help or service for us and too far away for us to walk or cycle anywhere. It’s so not a homestay we would recommend but it was a good experience all the same.

The kids enjoyed the adventure of sleeping in the cold air under double covers in the bamboo barn while my back ached from the rock hard bed. Although the hosts here were keen to make sure we were looked after, this place lacked any comforts you need as a family to stay here, from hooks or shelves for your clothes to lunch, choice of breakfast and dinner.

The only other place to eat along the busy main road only had dog on the menu, so that was not a success either.

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Dog for dinner? No Thanks!

Back to Hanoi the next day before heading out to the coast, we opted for western lunch to lift our spirits. Its amazing what a simple burger and chips can do when you are feeling a bit run down.

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Beautiful burger

Next stop Cat Ba.