• Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Vietnam Vacation

Saigon Scene
June 4, 2014
By , Families Contributor

While Vietnam is at the top of our list for a romantic honeymoon, if you’re already married up with kids, Saigon is also a great place for families. It’s filled with friendly, easy-going people who are eager to show you around – which can be a make-or-break factor when lugging two kids and their accoutrements across the world. Speaking of – parental packers rejoice; you don’t need more than comfortable shoes, a good camera and a healthy appetite to fully appreciate Saigon.

Good for: Adventurous families seeking exotic excursions and cuisine

The highlights:

  • Sampling local flavors – of which there are many – with Saigon Street Eats
  • Navigating the floating markets along the Mekong Delta
  • Getting your tai chi on at Tao Dan Park
  • Tying one on (as in, a silk scarf) at Khai Silk
  • Learning to prepare vanilla bean macarons at the Park Hyatt French Pastry Experience

Suggested stay: 5 days

What to know: The vast majority of the tourist industry in Vietnam is operated by the government, so tours are standardized and tightly regulated. Any “official” tour will have you stuck on a bus, subject to a scripted narration and a series of tourist-trap destinations. To really experience Saigon and its surrounding areas, hire a private local guide and do your touring by foot, scooter and taxi.

A Day in the Saigon Life
Start your morning early with an almond croissant or a lemon tea cake from Opera restaurant in Park Hyatt Saigon and join a community tai chi class at Tao Dan Park. Then explore District 1 as you make your way to Ben Thanh Market. (You’ll quickly learn that kitschy souvenir shopping is exponentially more manageable before the masses get out and about). Prices are intentionally high, so be prepared to put your bargaining skills to work on that ao dai you always wanted. Once the sun is high, head indoors to the History Museum, followed by a late-afternoon stroll around the adjacent zoo and botanical gardens. Mastered your surroundings? Then make your way to District 5 and spend a few hours exploring the markets, teahouses and pagodas of Cho Lon (Chinatown). Don’t miss Chua Ba Thien Hau, for its exquisite carvings and dioramas, and the Giac Lam Pagoda, for a quiet respite with a magnificent view of the city.  

Definitely save a day for a trip out to the Mekong Delta. It will feel like you’re going back in time as you ride through acres of rice paddies. Take a guided rowboat cruise through the canals and explore floating markets and tropical orchards, then hop a horse-drawn cart for an old-school jaunt through country villages.

Street Eats
No trip to Saigon is complete without a culinary tour of the street food stalls. Explore the Pho Trail with Saigon Street Eats and try some interactive dishes like snakehead fish spring rolls and Vietnamese hotpots. Families with older children can take a private tour on the back of a xe am (scooter taxi) for a full-spectrum experience of street stall sights, sounds and smells.

If you prefer indoor dining, Hoa Dang highlights fresh local produce on its innovative vegetarian menu, and Square One, at the Park Hyatt, features the best of traditional and Western dining, as well as an unparalleled wine selection. If the fam is feeling adventurous come dinnertime, have an open-air, riverside meal at The Deck. Along with regional food, it’s got a “martini club” and live music – and if you call ahead, they’ll arrange a boat to transport you from city center straight to your table.

Show Time
A trip to Vietnam would not be complete without viewing out a “culture show” highlighting Vietnamese culture and tradition. Check out an impressive display of acrobatics at The A O Show at the Saigon Opera House. The Hon Viet – Soul of Vietnam – presents an exhibition of folk tales performed through song and dance. And for younger audiences, the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater is very entertaining.  In case you missed your early-morning shopping window, Ben Thanh Market hosts a night market as well. It’s a great place to grab a post-theater snack or cup of Vietnamese coffee. The crowd is very local and the vibe is much more relaxed.

Silk and Shopping
Whether you prefer your finery off-the-rack or custom-tailored overnight, you can’t go wrong with Saigon’s silks. Khai Silk offers an elegant array of silk scarves, from head wraps to clothing to bedding, as well as leather goods. Once properly swathed in silk, take a stroll down Le Loi Street and check out the new Indo-chic offerings at Valenciani. For haute souvenirs, browse eco-boutique Villa Anupa, which is tucked away in a cozy residential alleyway. Treat yourself to matching mother-daughter leather bags or exquisite lacquer tea caddies.

Ho Chi Minh Hospitality
For elegant, impeccably appointed hotel rooms, delicious food and phenomenally attentive staff, head straight to the Park Hyatt Saigon. A day here begins with a lavish breakfast display of exotic fruit and French pastries at Opera, and ends with the finest fine dining at Square One. Early-bird explorers can take a mid-afternoon break from the bustle of the city and relax over high tea, while surveying the impressive collection of local artwork in the hotel lobby. For a quick respite, try an exotic fruit smoothie by the pool, a lemongrass martini at 2 Lam Son, or a bamboo or coffee scrub treatment at Xuan Spa. Finish off your trip at a cooking class with the hotel chefs, which comes with your own Vietnamese cookbook and special recipes to share with your less-adventurous family and friends back home.