Vietnam Family Adventure from North to South

Why Vietnam should be your next family adventure by Maria Boyle

Beaches, Culture & History, Gastronomy, Southeast Asia

Writer Maria Boyle travels the length of the country, taking in lantern-lit towns, UNESCO sites of world heritage, delectable food, and one of the best beaches in the world. Here are her best places to stay and things to see and do on a family journey across the country.

Stop 1: Hanoi

Located in the heart of the old city and only a minute’s walk from the Opera House and Hoan Kiem lake, Sofitel Legend Metropole is the place to stay in Hanoi. Built in 1901, the hotel’s history is weaved into the city given its incredible history, having hosted royalty, presidents, world leaders and film stars. Charlie Chaplin honeymooned here in 1936. Mitterand, Chirac and Catherine Deneuve are former guests and, while we were there, we spotted U2’s Bono and The Edge.

Our rooms for the stay were in the hotel’s restored and newly refurbished Heritage Wing. Interiors ooze luxury, blending French colonial with Vietnamese influences. Rooms are spacious, beds incredibly comfortable, Italian marble bathrooms have walk-in showers, free-standing tubs with Balmain amenities.

The hotel has everything you need to get over jet lag including a spa, gym, outdoor pool and seating. There are plenty of lounges to relax in plus six bars and restaurants to choose from.

Breakfast is either a la carte breakfast or buffet – our girls loved the latter given its endless choice of freshly baked pastries, juices and smoothies, a menu of coffees and exclusive tea blends, tropical fruits and live cooking stations.

Sommerset Maugham Suite, Sofitel Metropole


Start with the Path of History at the hotel which includes a visit to its original air raid shelter where staff and guests retreated. One of its most famous guests was peace activist and singer Joan Baez who played guitar to keep everyone’s terror at bay as B52s flew over during the Christmas bombing of 1972.

For a deeper dive in to Vietnam’s history, take a half day tour to the Temple of Literature, considered Vietnam’s first university, Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton, for an insight in to prison life up to the 1950s, and finish up at Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house, the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the former President’s final resting place.

Mix culture and local cuisine and learn to cook with a Vietnamese grandmother in a family house located in the Old Quarter of the city. Master traditional Vietnamese recipes including spring rolls, salads and grilled fish and enjoy dinner with the family.

Take the 10 Tastings of Hanoi Street Food tour led by local Hanoian Ruby. Try phở and bánh mì at busy roadside food nooks, some of which feature in the Michelin Guide, and finish with a drink at one of the cafés which sit inches from the railway tracks on Train Street as the train whizzes by.

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights

Stop 2: Ninh Binh

Two hours from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is one of the most historic provinces in Vietman. In 2014, it was recognised by UNESCO for its cultural and natural heritage and historical significance and is a playground for adventurers and an oasis for nature lovers.

Stay: Emeralda Resort Tam Coc just opened last year and is a short walk away from the town of Tam Coc and its busy restaurants, bars and shops. Its 86 rooms look out on to limestone karsts and the Ngo Dong River. As well as a little spa, guests can chill by the outdoor pool and watch locals going up and down the river in skiffs, using only their feet to row.

Do: Visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu and its ancient temples.

Take a paddle boat ride from Trang An and explore caves, temples, pagodas, limestone karst mountains, and ambling waterways.

Head to Mua Cave early and before it gets too hot and climb Ma Yen Mountain’s 486 steps for one of the best views in Vietnam.

Recommended length of stay: 2 nights

Stop 3: Ha Long Bay

Halong Bay
Ha Long Bay

Stay: The best way to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay is by boat. One of the most luxurious and established charter companies is Heritage Line. Book a one-night luxury cruise on Violet which has six spacious suites, all with balconies, making it perfect for small ship sailing around the islands and islets of Ha Long Bay. Staff of 20 outnumber the guests so service and all food and drinks served are exceptional.

Do: On board, guests can do as much or as little as they want to. We decided on the latter and enjoyed a chef demonstration on deck, cocktails at sunset, squid fishing in the evening, and Tai Chi at sunrise. Visit Ha Long Bay pearl area and Cua Van floating fishing village and community. For one of the best aerial views of the Bay, hike to the top of Titop Island.

Recommended length of stay: 1 night

Stop 4: Hoi An

Hoi AnThe UNESCO-listed Hoi An is a living museum in one of the most active seaports in Asia between 15th and 19th centuries.

Stay: With 92 air-conditioned, contemporary-styled rooms and suites including a split-level living area and outdoor balcony day beds, Anantara Hoi An is located less than a kilometre from the historic Old Town and makes a charming riverside retreat away from the bustling centre.

On offer are a range of activities including lantern making and painting classes, as well as plenty of time to chill in the hotel’s spa and pool.

Breakfast is buffet style at the hotel’s Lanterns restaurant and ticks all the boxes. The Riverside restaurant offers an array of traditional and speciality dishes with the bonus of being able to watch the flotilla of lantern-lit boats sail by during dinner.

Do: Street food tour run by Eat Hoi An, organised by the hotel. Visit family run street stalls where only the locals go. Try dishes including escargot in lemongrass and garlic, barbeque octopus, white rose dumplings and avocado ice-cream during an evening led by the entertaining Mr Phuoc.

Cycle tour: Hop on a bike and discover the tranquil pace of life and beautiful scenery of Hoi An’s surrounding countryside and Tra Que village. Pedal across rice paddies and coconut groves, crisscrossing small waterways. Book via

Get some clothes made: Hoi An is known for its bespoke tailors and the ones in the main cloth market are great value and all family run. For high end, visit Yaly.

Head to the old town at night, walk around its narrow, lantern-lit alleys, with some 800 preserved ancient building. Enjoy a sundowner, take a boat ride on the river, release a lantern and make a wish.

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights

Stop 4: Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s farming heartland and the place where Southsast Asia’s mightiest waterway meets the ocean.

Stay: Azerai Can Tho resort is set on a lush Con Au Islet, a private island on the Hau River and in the Mekong Delta. With 60 spacious rooms and five pool villas, an infinity pool, a shaded bar and restaurants, it is accessible only by boat and offers seclusion and privacy.

Do: Cai Rang floating market is the biggest in the Mekong Delta. Rise early and take a boat tour from the hotel to see wholesalers specialising in different types of fruit and vegetable, independent farmers selling produce boat to boat and smaller boats selling coffee and noodles for breakfast.

Go on a Mekong Delta tour and discover more about region’s culture and way of life with a guided visit to My Hoa village. Wander through local plantations and see tropical fruits growing including papaya, mangoes and pomelo. Enjoy tea with local Mr Tam and experience rural hospitality at its absolute best.

Take a sunset cruise on Azerai’s beautiful boat and make the most of golden hour with drinks and nibbles.

Recommended length of stay: 2 nights

Stop 5: Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island and is a quick flight from Hanoi, Can Tho, Danang or HCMC. It’s becoming one of Asia’s travel hot spots with hotels and resorts all springing up.

Stay: JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay is Phu Quoc’s most elegant and quirky five-star hotel with its own private white sand beach – one of the most beautiful we have been on. The resort takes inspiration from the former Lamarck University with architect Bill Bensley breathing new life into the site, playfully harnessing the university and campus theme and transforming it much to the delight of guests. We loved it!

Do: In line with the university theme, the resort offers complimentary daily activities and workshops for guests, with ‘student classes’ led by local experts including massage lessons, cupcake and cookies class, calligraphy and mixology classes, plus there is a cinema and karaoke room which can be hired for a fun night out (highly recommend). The hotel also has a packed timetable of exercise classes, hiking and biking tours – one of the most popular involves a visit to Coconut Prison, a harsh and notorious facility built by the French in the 1940s, followed by a visit to Phu Quoc’s famous Fish Sauce Factory.

Enjoy some down time on the beach, water sports such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are free. There is a beautifully designed spa, gym, a choice of swimming pools and even a running track and mini football pitch to keep everyone entertained.

Take a tour in a jeep used by the US Army during the Vietnam War. Head to the mountains for a cocktail at sunset, visit Doung Dong Night Market, and go off-the-beaten track and try Phu Quoc’s signature noodle bun quay, a seafood noodle soup that tastes like no other

Jump on a free shuttle bus from the hotel and visit Sunset Town – a new development inspired by Mediterranean architecture. Enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset from the new Kiss Bridge where the sun sets between two overhanging bridges. Try local foods at the Vuifest Bazaar Night Market, take in a Vietnamese water puppet show, and finish the night off with multi-media lights and firework show.

Ride on Hon Thom Cable Car, which travels 7,899.9 metres and is the world’s longest three-wire cable car.

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights (more if you can!)

Hon Thom Cable Car

Stop 6: Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is synonymous with street food and motorbikes and, after two weeks in Vietnam, we finally got used to being overwhelmed by mopeds, so much so we decided to get a taster for the city on two wheels. We booked a food tour with XO Tours – the first all-female motorbike tour company in Vietnam. Think Charlie’s Angels on wheels! For our girls, this was the best tour of the holiday as they had a chance to ride pillion around HCMC, learn about life in the city, explore different districts and taste incredible food. We could not have asked for a more invigorating end to an incredible family holiday.

Recommended length of stay: 1 night

Bespoke packages for couples and families available from Tel: 0845 124 4455. Prices from £3,300 per adult sharing including flights from the UK, accommodation and selected transfers and tours


As it’s a long flight – we chose to fly to Hanoi with Emirates, the world’s largest international airline, due to short connection times at Dubai and the fact that Emirates caters for families well. Teens were delighted with the huge choice of inflight entertainment – 6,500 channels of content, the world’s largest entertainment library in the sky! Business class is excellent, spacious, and comfortable and service was the best we have experienced on any airline as a family, and travelling on its A380s was incredible. Boarding direct from the lounge was a first and real game changer. London to Hanoi in economy is from £905.

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Maria on the beach

Maria Boyle

Maria Boyle is a luxury travel writer and also runs her own PR business, advising luxury brands. Her passion for travel started in her teens and has taken her around the world many times. Top destinations include Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa, the Greek islands and Italy. A lover of skiing, spas and gastronomic experiences, Maria also enjoys going off the beaten track. She lives in London with her husband, three daughters and dog Bertie.

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