Travelling abroad doesn’t mean you have to fill days with spending money on keeping kids entertained. In Vietnam, we enjoy many days exploring areas, hanging with locals, or eating cheap eats that cost very little and our five year old loved it.
Depending on where you stay, we recommend you spend a couple of days in or near Pham Ngu Lao. The western area of District 1 is known as the backpacker’s area. Some families love backpacker areas, and others don’t. If you are not into staying in backpacker standard hotels, you can wander across the park and find 3 stars or higher hotels within walking distance to the infamous budget area. We have stayed in both and enjoyed both for various reasons.
Cheap things to do in Ho Chi Minh City for Families
DIY walking tour
Every time we book flights to a new country we purchase a Lonely Planet guide. Why? Its full of information I need without having to spend hours on google finding similar information. Once loaded on my laptop and mobile device, I can read information without internet access which is important while travelling.
With our Vietnam Lonely Planet Guide, we had access to a fantastic Free DIY walking tour. Straight up the book paid for itself, and we enjoyed walking tour set at our pace, picking out what we wanted to see and in the cooler hours of the day.
Highlights of our walking tour included Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Post Office, Ben Thanh Market and Independence Palace. Our family favourite was the oldest Chinese Pagoda in Saigon – Thien Hau Temple
Children will love walking the streets interacting with locals, reading maps, photographing and seeing new sites, and learning about their surroundings. Saigon has so much history and provides children with an opportunity to learn first hand.
Walking Tour – FREE
Entrance Fees will be applicable
Comfort – Can easily be done in a morning or take your time and spread out over the day stopping for refreshments and lunch around the streets. Add in a Cyclo if children get tired and want some added excitement.
Tip – When hiring Cyclos, negotiate and agree on inclusions, price and drop off point.
Over the years of my travels to Vietnam, I learnt very quickly that the same tour differs in price depending on where you are staying. In 2008, a lady got quite upset on tour after finding out she paid $25 USD pp for the same trip that cost us $6 USD pp.
If you want to see the Mekong Delta, don’t book at higher standard hotels. Head over to the backpacker hotels and ask for their tour prices. In 2008 we paid $6 USD pp for a full day tour, in 2016, we paid $7.50 USD pp. The tour had improved, lunch was less is size but still enough. Price included everything including lunch. Tips were encouraged but not obligational. However, we felt very pressured to tip the row boat ladies, so have cash ready. There are various opportunities to purchase products throughout the day. The tour is worth every cent and more.
Children get to enjoy a full day of adventure and interesting things to see and do.
Mekong Tour – $7.50 USD – (2016 prices)
Additional Costs – There are plenty of items to purchase throughout the day, including our favourite coconut candy. Bring smaller changes for tips and purchases.
Cu Chi Tunnel Tour
With a lot of war history in Sai Gon it’s worth taking the trip out the Cu Chi Tunnels with kids. Charlotte at five years old found the tour interesting and kept entertained throughout our time there. Guides move quickly throughout the tour stopping at points of interests, educating on how Vietnamese set traps, built underground tunnels, cooked in underground kitchens without the enemy and dogs able to trace their location. American bombs left craters and even an old American tankers resting place after a mine destroyed it. The tunnels have been widened to allow tourists to enter and you can walk underground up to 50 metres. There are various opportunities to exit along the way.
Toward the end of the tour, you can approach a rifle range and have a chance to shoot an AK47. An additional cost of course. The noise is quite confronting and loud. I kept Charlotte at a safe hearing distance as it was a little intimidating for her. A round of firing bullets was $20 USD
We included our Chu Chi Tunnel visit in a full day tour that including visiting the War Museum, a revisit to our favourite Pagoda and a wholesale market and was better value for the whole day. We left at 8 am and arrived back around 7 pm that evening.
Cost – Our tour was $32 USD for all three of us but did not include any entry fees.
Tunnel entrance fees – $11 USD for 2 Adults 1 child
Water Puppet Show
The infamous Vietnamese Water Puppet Show originated in the Northern Vietnamese countryside. If you are not heading to Hanoi, we recommend taking children to this delightfully entertaining show in Ho Chi Minh City. Even though it’s in Vietnamese, children and adults of all ages will be entertained, humoured and left wanting more. A MUST DO.
Cost – Around $10 USD
Get up and head out for a morning massage. By walking around the Backpacker area streets in the morning, we were offered massages at crazy cheap prices. Afternoon and evenings, plenty of customers mean prices are generally not negotiable. Don’t limit yourself to only using street shop salons. Some of the best massages we got for our money were at the back of or on top of restaurants, walking up dingy stairwells, minding our heads on low-lying ceilings then walking into a cool oasis air conditioned room with beautiful smelling essential oil aromas. Who would have though the alleyways lead to such places? Our best value massage was for all three of us in the one room, a fantastic quality hour massage $5.50 USD each.
Even children love massages. You can easily find places that accommodate you and your child in the same room. We often had to wake our little one after we had finished.
Cost – $5 – $10 USD
Eat Street Food.
Get out of those “safe” restaurants and get good local street food into your belly. The best street food we loved for lunch was the infamous Vietnamese Rolls found on most streets being sold by lovely local ladies. For 12,000 Dong (.60 cents) you can feed a child or two.
We ate nightly at local restaurants that lined the streets with cute tables and seats and ate good food for less than a few bucks.
Head to the local Parks
There are wonderful parks all within walking distance to District 1. Every time we head to Ho Chi Minh City we spend at least several hours in the park across the road from the central area. Interact with local Vietnamese, watch exercise classes, let the kids find local friends. We have even seen one family walk their lizard on a chain. There are endless things to see and do, quality park play gyms for kids and a great spot to sit and enjoy your takeaway lunch or dinner. Even at night, the parks are a hive of activities.
Uber is now in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. We discovered UBER late in our trip and kicked ourselves. UBER provides clean, safe transport easily and quickly all organised through your smartphone UBER APP. By using UBER, you have a cheap transportation option to get to and from places of interest. Many drivers do not speak English, in which case, a translation APP will be your best friend.
Families with older children can get a taste of scootering around the busy streets of Saigon via UBER. Simply have a destination and choose Scooter as your transport option. We were quoted 250,000 Dong ($12.50 USD) for a scooter experience. Through UBER, a similar experience was 30,000 Dong ($1.50 USD)
Cost – Varies depending on transportation chosen and route
Are you considering visiting Vietnam? We highly recommend you read our other posts to get more useful tips and see more of our travels.
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