Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh city with kids

I was always under the impression that you either  loved Hanoi or Ho chi Minh city. But I love both!! Ho chi Minh city is another lovely place to explore. I’d heard reports beforehand that there was crime, but I don’t know a city that doesn’t and we never saw anything to make us feel unsafe.

I loved where we were staying in district 1, in the heart of the city. It was near lots of the main sights and plenty of Nightlife.

You can easily spend a few nights here to enjoy the highlights that this city has to offer. I’ll share our own walking tour which we did too. 

Much of our time here we spent learning more about the Vietnamese war from their point of view. It broke my heart to see some of the images! The US had dropped more bombs than in World War II!! Crazy.  

The Vietnamese showed they were a hardworking, clever and dedicated nation. We visited the cu chi tunnels and were amazed at the harsh but astute way of life they created! 

 

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh city

If you’re on a budget then there are a number of small hotels in District 1 near September 23rd park. The hotels are basic but in a good location. The alleyways they were situated in didn’t feel dangerous (even at night) as they were always busy. But they did feel a little seedy – it was fine.

We stayed at a lovely family friendly hotel called Ta Thanh hostel. We had a clean, quiet and comfortable room with 2 large double beds & ensuite. 

The owner was very friendly and booked us a tour for 90,000 dong to cu chi tunnels.  She also directed us to a laundry place when we needed a quicker wash than she could organise.  It made it stay even more comfortable.

As the hostel was in the middle of the city we were close to many delicious eateries had easy access to the main sites.

Where to eat in Ho chi Minh city

We stumbled on this eatery on the first night in Ho chi minh city. It was perfect, in fact we went back 3 times!! Delicious, fresh & a great price (especially their daily specials)! Nha Trang Asian kitchen was fabulous and the boys loved the beef skewers! It was situated only a few alleyways away from our hostel.

We also enjoyed a great breakfast at the Sun cafe & bar on a couple of mornings. It’s only a small place with a handful of tables but they do the best eggs & bacon and Vietnamese phin coffee – delicious!! 

You’ll be spoilt for choice, although at night time I wouldn’t suggest eating on walking Street as the music pumping out of the bars is soooo loud! 🙉  Gosh I’m getting old!!

 

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh city

Cu chi tunnels

Having organised a transfer tour for only 90,000 dong pp (£3) with our hostel I wasn’t expecting much. This fee only paid for the transfer to the tunnels, which took 3 hours. You then had to pay 120,000 dong per person to enter.

Our transfer pick up was prompt but there was confusion when we were being allocated to buses. It wasn’t an issue but you could see lots of head scratching. We jumped on the first bus to avoid any issues!

We stopped en route to the tunnels for a snack/toilet stop along the way. It also happened to be a workshop for disabled people and they were creating artwork using traditional Vietnamese methods with egg shells. Very interesting to watch & as expected we were guided through a shop at the end, but they weren’t pushy. Soon we were back on the the bus and then another hour we arrived.

First we handed over payment for the tickets to our guide, who organised this on our behalf. We were then ushered onto our tour.  There were lots of other tours and our guide provided a very quick insight into the events throughout the war and life in the tunnels.

There’s was a bit of coercing into the rooms and waiting in line to have the famous picture in the hole in the ground (see below)or on the tanks! It was a tight squeeze into the hole and even more of a struggle to stand back up! But it’s manageable even with my big bum! But wow… They did this every day in the war – it doesn’t bear thinking about!!

 

The whole place is so touristy, but it’s what we signed up for! To be honest when I went into the underground hole I was shocked at the size of it. No way could I have gotten into those tunnels. I could barely get out of the hole!! Shocking!

After this we saw a tank and then were walked through the different traps that were created by the Vietnamese and how they worked. They really were quite ingenious, but very effective and a bit gruesome!

After a while we were soon ready to head into the tunnels. These have been widened to fit tourists but they are still cramped and a tight squeeze. You have to be guided by a soldier. We had a gentleman with a bad knee and he went first and left the tunnel at the first entrance. We were encouraged to continue.

Note: you don’t have to do this but it’s worthwhile to understand what they went through during the war.

We headed down and found it a tight squeeze, more than I thought it would be. I had a little wobble but took a deep breath. I exited at the second point as it was a little too claustrophobic. Keith was struggling with his height, but also the fact that he had his backpack on too!  The boys however, demanded that they continue and as some others were carrying on we let them. I mean they were small enough to actually enjoy it!

We then arrived at the kitchen area and shown the type of cooking they did. We were also given a taste of some of the food they are. It was like potatoes with salt and peanut.

The last part of the tour was a break right next to the very noisy and ear piercing shooting range. You could pay to have a go at shooting an AK-47’s. Not for us though! We sat, had an ice cream and stuck our fingers in our ears until we were ready to leave! Sooo loud. Again, I couldn’t imagine hearing that every day for 20 years in the war!

Overall the tour was very interesting, but be prepared to be ushered along with hundreds of other people and queuing for your tunnel photos! I’m glad we saw it though.

 

Walking tour

As I mentioned above, we did our own walking tour of the city. We were based on District 1 so we our Wanderers through September 23rd park. There were lots of locals exercising around here. After this, our first point of call was to head to Ben thanh market. It’s crazy in there. Great to have a little peep, but be prepared to be jumped on by every stall holder. I did end up buying a pink ‘non adidas’ t- shirt in there for just under £3.

Then we headed past the ornate peoples committee building and side stepped into a nearby mall to cool off in their air conditioning!  

Taking a left after this, we headed to the Saigon post office & Notre dame cathedral of Saigon. The post office is a very ornate building and photographed quite a lot. We hadn’t intend to find it open on a Sunday but glad we did as we sent a parcel from there and our postcards! Job ticked off.

 

We then walked towards reunification palace, but didn’t go in before we arrived at our final destination the war museum.

On our return journey we wandered through some of the nearby parks. You can stop at the temple of goddess mariamma. It’s an ornate Indian Hindu temple, but we were all a bit weary at this point and walked back to the hotel to rest.

 

War museum

What an interesting museum and especially to see the war from the point of view of the Vietnamese! I recall mention of the Vietnamese war even I was growing up but it was tailored to the American view.

We paid XXX dong to enter the museum. The exterior has a range of military vehicles that you can get close to include war planes & weapons. The boys enjoyed seeing them.

Inside the museum there are 3 floors.  You need to start at the top floor and work your way down.

Note: there are lots of graphic photos. We had to skip some areas as it wasn’t appropriate for the kids and even I didn’t enjoy seeing them. Awful!!  I didn’t even enter the orange room (impacts of the chemical warfare! Just disgusting and very sad) .

The ground floor was the reflection element of the mysterious with the message that the Viatnamese have no resentment and just want peace.

Walking Street

An energetic place to wander at night. There are lots of restaurants (which looked quite expensive to me!). But, I have no idea why anyone would choose to eat here, let alone sleep here. I could barely hear myself think! I’m clearly getting old! But it was fun to wander along.

It closes on the weekend to transport (well apart from scooters, as they are a law unto themselves 🙄). So you can wander freely, but keep your eyes open. At one point we saw 2 young boys performing flame tricks with petrol. It wasn’t my favourite place but interesting for a night walk.

 

Conclusion

I loved the vibe of Ho chi Minh city; you only need a couple of days to explore the area. If you feel like it you can tag a trip to Can Tho on or a cruise along the Mekong River. 

I loved learning a different perspective of the Vietnamese war. It was enlightening and also humbling.

I liked that you could explore the city easily on foot and that there were so many sites to visit. It was such a nice end to our Vietnamese adventure.

 

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