If you have enough trouble getting your kids out of the house in the morning, dragging them thousands of miles away might seem like an insurmountable challenge. But family travel can be immensely rewarding, giving you new ways of seeing the world through smaller pairs of eyes.
The rough roads of Vietnam can be a bit much for little ones, and concerns about communicable diseases in rural areas should certainly be weighed (be sure to check with your healthcare provider and be vigilant about updating all vaccinations). However, more accessible destinations and larger cities offer a glimpse into ancient civilization and varied culture that delights the kid in all of us.
Traveling families report no unique hassles to bringing the kids along to Vietnam. Most families choose to fly from place to place within the country, though, and avoid overcrowded local transport (though the trains, especially to Sapa in the far north, are pretty doable and a good adventure). Most hotels can arrange extra beds at little additional cost, and connecting-room capability is common.
The larger resort destinations -- the better hotels in Nha Trang, Hoi An, and the Furama Resort in Danang -- are quite kid friendly. Many families choose a comfortable hotel and make culturally rich Hanoi a hub for trips to Halong Bay and Sapa, but the whole length of Vietnam's coast is open to exploration by the adventurous traveling brood. Kids love eating ice cream in the many open-air joints surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, and war tourism seems to spark something in boys (of all ages). The War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City -- with tanks, planes, and artillery in the large courtyard -- seems to delight kids and is a highlight, but be forewarned: There are also many grisly images in this museum. Kids love crawling through the tunnels in Cu Chi or Vinh Moc and the Central Highlands town of Dalat, which, with its tattered Disney-like sights and fun day hikes, is a favorite for kids. Kids always enjoy rapping with the hilltribe people in Sapa -- a fun clash of culture because the young ethnic hilltribe folks speak English well and are eager to chat with foreigners their age -- this also means that your kids might come home with a few words of Hmong, Dao, or Vietnamese, and maybe even a pen pal.
The big hotels all have pools, oceanside resorts are great places to play, and every major city has a big water park that, though sometimes a bit grungy, appeals to both parents and kids wanting to escape from the heat and connect with locals. You'll find willing -- and affordable -- babysitters in even the smallest hotel or guesthouse, and Vietnamese dote on children, meaning your clan will get lots of attention everywhere you go. Some parents are surprised at how easily kids adapt -- much better than parents sometimes -- adventurously hopping on boats and fearlessly meeting with locals.
A note of warning: People generally love kids in Vietnam, and foreign children are sure to attract lots of attention -- sometimes far too much, actually, and it can be a bit overwhelming. With the most friendly of intentions, Vietnamese often like to touch foreign kids, tousle their hair, or brush a cheek and dote like your favorite auntie does back home, which can be disconcerting or confusing for kids (even from auntie). It's a good idea to warn your kids that this might happen, and it's also okay to step in front of people and kindly but firmly say "No" or Khong tich (he/she doesn't like that) while brushing away a hand. You might also find yourself in "walking zoo" moments, where groups of Vietnamese tourists want photos of themselves -- and this is most common at the big sights -- with foreign people. Again, this can be overwhelming, and saying no is fine, but you can also just warn your child about it and roll with the punches. As much as possible, talk with people; this takes away the freaky "sideshow" vibe and puts you on a level of "relating," as all parents do, rather than comparing your differences.
For further details on requirements for children traveling abroad, go to the U.S. State Department website (http://travel.state.gov).
Recommended family-travel Internet sites include Family Travel Forum (www.familytravelforum.com), a comprehensive site that offers customized trip planning; Family Travel Network (www.familytravelnetwork.com), an award-winning site that offers travel features, deals, and tips; Traveling Internationally with Your Kids (www.travelwithyourkids.com), a comprehensive site offering sound advice for long-distance and international travel with children; and Family Travel Files (www.thefamilytravelfiles.com), which offers an online magazine and a directory of off-the-beaten-path tours and tour operators for families.