Touring Vietnam with 3 kids

Claire Heaney travelled to Vietnam with Gap Adventures with her husband John and their three children; Lucy aged 5, Patrick, 8 and Hannah, 10. They joined three other families on Gap’s 12 day Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh led by local guide, Lap. This is Claire’s story:

The young girl comes closer, spinning her hands and fingers like a crazed spider trying to trap me in her web. "I make you more beautiful" she promises. My daughter, Hannah, 10, laughs nervously. It dawns on me that the fine thread she is flicking around is her toolkit. She is a beautician, practising the ancient art of hair removal by the threading technique.

Earlier, Lucy, nearly 5, has her foot run over by a motorcycle in what must be the quietest street in Vietnam. Having survived Hanoi streets, where you hold hands tightly and hope for the best, we have a false sense of security.

In Hoi An, in central Vietnam, the road is closed and our travelling party is meandering along when a motorbike speeds past. I shout to Lucy to be careful but it has the opposite effect; she walks into its path, letting out an ear piercing scream that has locals running with Tiger Balm. She’s fine but my nerves are shot and her plastic shoes are broken.We head to Hoi An Market for new shoes. They do not have the right size. But, "Wait" they implore, they will find some. I make the mistake of looking too intently at the boots. Soon color swatches are out and the tape measure is snaking around my sweaty calves. Lucy's shoes arrive. They head back to the hotel pool.

Hannah and I don't escape so easily. The beautician strikes, promising to thread every bit of facial hair she can see and then some. “Ouch” I say. “No pain no gain,” she says menacingly.My resistance is futile. It turns out to be one of the funnier moments of our action packed Vietnam adventure.

We start our Gap Family Adventure in Hanoi where we hook up with three families and our guide, Lap Nguyen. We want adventure without the hassle and headaches. We want sunny weather but we don’t want to laze around a pool for 12 days; so we have chosen an organised family trip with Gap adventures. The children buddy up and often entertain each other. My Lucy is the odd one out as she is the youngest.

Having explored the wonders of Hanoi, including an exciting cyclo tour through the famed Old Quarter, we head off for a much anticipated overnight stay in Halong Bay.The bus trip is long and my son suffers from travel sickness. Fortunately our fellow travellers are prepared with tablets.In the meantime, my husband, John, is nursing the sick bag, waiting for a chance to deposit it in a bin.

World Heritage Listed Halong Bay is magnificent. We hop on one of the junks and set sail.The cabins are comfortable and the kids are in seventh heaven.The stay involves sumptuous multi-course banquets and wonderfully attentive service. The kids are intrigued by the dragonfruit with its black spots."It’s very posh," observes 8-year-old Patrick, as he takes in the crisp linen. As the sun goes down, the older children jump into the water from the junk. After some time, Patrick takes the leap and then can’t get enough. “Jumping into the water from the boat was one of the best things I have ever done in my whole life,” he declares on a regular basis.

We make our way to Hanoi to catch an overnight train to Hue. We are amazed at the ability to fit just about anything precariously on a motorbike. We spot toilets, goldfish in plastic bags, eggs, seats and assorted cargo. The train ride is a hoot for the kids. Then we strike a landslide and find ourselves arriving late in Hue.

Hue, the former Imperial capital, is another extraordinary place with its Citadel. The next day we make our way to Hoi An which is particularly beautiful.

Another resounding hit is an optional cooking class. With our instructor, Nam, we go to the Hoi An market. Lucy, calls this the stinky market and I fear one of my trio is going to be ill they are so repulsed by the fish guts on the floor.At Nam’s Hong Phuc restaurant we create a feast. We stuff a fish which is grilled in banana leaves, make a tasty salsa and prepare and fry spring rolls. The kids rave about the taste of lemongrass and sample dishes that at home they would baulk at.“This is one of the best things I have ever eaten,” says Hannah, sampling the fish. I agree.

We learn of looming Typhoon Ketsana which delays our trip. There is only one thing to do. Shop. We spend the time sorting out some tailoring orders.

Later, Ho Chi Minh City immediately strikes us as much bigger, busier and modern than Hanoi. We are appreciative that our guide, Lap, is able to organize a Mekong Delta day trip. Yet another memorable day. We visit Coconut Island where an army of workers knead, shape, cut and wrap coconut sweets at break-neck speed.

Then it is on to Turtle Island. The children have snakes, harmless we are assured, wrapped around their necks. “I can’t wait for my friends to see this,” says Patrick as his dad snaps a picture.

Soon we say our goodbyes to our new friends and return home, sorry we did not make time at the end of the trip to explore Ho Chi Minh more.

The trip was a fantastic, comfortable and safe way to travel and the Vietnamese love children. My kids say it’s the “best trip ever”. And me? On other trips I’m tearing my hair out, booking flights, accommodation and car hire. That was all done for me.

Copyright Claire Heaney 2010