Epic Vietnam — a family holiday in Southeast Asia

Epic Vietnam — a family holiday in Southeast Asia

Hoi An (Copyright Aaron Joel Santos for Vietnam Travel)

LAST YEAR, 12.6 million international tourists chose Vietnam as their holiday destination, with numbers increasing threefold since 2022. Maria Boyle explores the country's lantern-lit towns, UNESCO World Heritage sites, delectable cuisine, 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.

Hanoi ( © Aaron Joel Santos)

Stop 1: Hanoi

Stay: 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 Hanoi www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com is the place to stay in Hanoi. Built in 1901, the hotel’s history is weaved into the city, having hosted royalty, presidents, and film stars. Charlie Chaplin honeymooned here in 1936, and Mitterand, Chirac, Catherine Deneuve, and U2’s Bono and The Edge have all been guests.

Our rooms 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.


Start with the Path of History at the hotel which includes a visit to its original air raid shelter where staff and guests retreated. Joan Baez played guitar to keep everyone’s terror at bay during the Christmas bombing of 1972.

Take a half-day tour to the Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison, and finish up at Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house, the Presidential Palace, and Mausoleum.

Take the 10 Tastings of Hanoi Street Food tour led by local Hanoian Ruby. Try pho, bánh mì and other local dishes at busy roadside food nooks, some of which feature in the Michelin Guide.  Finish with a drink at one of the cafes which sit inches from the railway tracks on Train Street as the train goes by. https://www.viator.com

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights

Ninh Binh - (© Aaron Joel Santos)

Stop 2: Ninh Binh

Two hours from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is one of the most historic provinces in Vietnam. Recognized by UNESCO for its cultural and natural heritage, it’s a playground for adventurers and an oasis for nature lovers.

Stay: Emeralda Resort Tam Coc https://emeraldatamcoc.com/opened last year and is a short walk away from the town of Tam Coc. Its 86 rooms look out onto 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.


Visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu and its temples.

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

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

Recommended length of stay: 2 nights

Ha Long Bay (courtesy of Vietnam Tourism)

Stop 3: 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 - Refined Waterway Voyages https://heritage-line.com/. Book a one-night cruise on Violet, which has six spacious suites, all with balconies. Staff of 20 outnumber the guests, ensuring exceptional service.


Onboard, guests can enjoy 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.

Hike to the top of Titop Island for stunning aerial views.

Recommended length of stay: 1 night

Hoi An Market - (© Aaron Joel Santos)

Stop 4: Hoi An

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

Stay: With 92 air-conditioned, contemporary-styled rooms and suites, Anantara Hoi An https://www.anantara.com/en/hoi-an is located less than a kilometre from the historic Old Town and makes a brilliant stop given it's a charming riverside retreat away from the bustling centre and also offers plenty of time to chill in the hotel’s spa and pool.

Breakfast is excellent: buffet style at the hotel’s Lanterns restaurant.  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.

Hoi An Food ( © Aaron Joel Santos)


Street food tour run by Eat Hoi An, organised by the hotel. Visit family run 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 through Hoi An's surrounding countryside and Tra Que village

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 the best in town: Yaly https://www.yalycouture.com

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights

Can Tho Mekong Delta (© Aaron Joel Santos)

Stop 5: Mekong Delta

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

Stay: Azerai Can Tho resort https://azerai.com/azerai-can-tho/ is set on a lush Con Au Islet, a private island on the Hau River 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 and makes for an incredible place to stay while exploring the region.

Can Tho (copyright Aaron Joel Santos)


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, and smaller boats selling coffee and noodles for breakfast.

Mekong Delta tour: 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 best.

Take a sunset cruise on Azeria’s beautiful boat and make the most of golden hour.

Recommended length of stay: 2 nights

Vietnam Fishing Boat - (copyright Aaron Joel Santos)

Stop 6: Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island and is a quick flight from Hanoi, Can Tho, Danang, or HCMC.

Stay: JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay https://www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/pqcjw-jw-marriott-phu-quoc-emerald-bay-resort-and-spa/rooms/ 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.  We loved it!


The resort offers complimentary daily activities and workshops for guests, with ‘student classes’ including massage lessons, calligraphy, and mixology classes.  There is a cinema and karaoke room which can be hired for a fun night out (highly recommend), a packed timetable of exercise classes, hiking and biking tours - one of the most popular is a visit to Coconut Prison, a 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 picture-perfect beach, water sports such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are free.  There is a beautiful 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 after the 1975 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.    https://www.viator.com/en-IN/tours/Phu-Quoc/Army-jeep-tour-to-explore-the-Southern-Phu-Quoc/d22452-234004P2

Jump on a free bus from the hotel and visit Sunset Town – a new development inspired by Mediterranean architecture.  Visit 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.

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights

Ho Chi Minh ( © Aaron Joel Santos)

Stop 7: 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 explore the city on two wheels with XO Tours https://xotours.vn –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 foods.  We could not have asked for a more invigorating end to an incredible family holiday.

Recommended length of stay: 1 night

Getting there

As it’s a long flight we chose to fly to Hanoi with Emirates — they cater for families exceptionally well. There’s an extensive inflight entertainment - 6,500 channels of content. Business class is excellent, spacious, and comfortable.

The service was the best we have experienced on any airline as a family. London to Hanoi in economy is from €1090.


Tailored packages for couples and families are available from Bushbaby Travel. Tel: 0845 124 4455 bushbaby.travel

With thanks to Vietnam Travel, Vietnam's national tourism board vietnam.travel

Hoi An Bridge (© Aaron Joel Santos)