Northern Vietnam with kids: Use our itinerary to make yours

A delicious, family friendly vacation awaits in Vietnam

People travel with different priorities and under different timelines, but one family’s past trip can help another family put together their trip of a lifetime. While our trip to Vietnam with kids lasted a month, our Vietnam itinerary can be extended, snipped, and shifted around to work for your family too. Here’s how we traveled through Northern and Central Vietnam, from Hanoi to Hoi An, along with a few ideas for side trips and seasonal considerations.

Sample 14-night Vietnam family itinerary below

What’s a good itinerary for a trip to Vietnam? We stayed for a month, but you can customize your time in Vietnam for what works for you. Our sample 14-night itinerary below builds on our own trip and can give you ideas for getting a taste of Northern and Central Vietnam, starting in Hanoi, and finishing in Da Nang.

Before you go to Vietnam with kids

@learnersandmakers

Phong Nha, located in a national park in Vietnam. Its 7,729 meters long. We saw a tiny portion but left impressed. #vietnamtravel #familytravel #travellifestyle

♬ Stars in Catalina – Austin Farwell

When we talk about advance preparations for our travels in Vietnam, we are coming at it from the perspective of a family of four who are US citizens. Naturally, your own considerations are going to depend on factors such as your family makeup and country of citizenship. Here are observations from our experience:

Instead of a round-trip flight, consider a multi-city or open-jaw

 When traveling to Vietnam, your biggest considerations can be where you are flying into, where you are flying out of, and how long you’ll be staying in the country.

At the time of our travels, we were in Cambodia, so flew to Hanoi from Siem Reap (with a layover in Bangkok; don’t ask us why, but that’s how the route worked). However, we didn’t fly out of Hanoi.  Instead of backtracking all the way back up the country to Hanoi, we flew out of Da Nang, in central Vietnam. Both Hanoi and Da Nang have international airports. In addition to the main airlines you’re accustomed to, you might also be able to take flights on budget airline AirAsia.

You can do something similar. Wherever you’re traveling from to get to Vietnam, look into routes that are multi-city or open-jaw, so your itinerary could look like:

  • Your departure airport
  • Hanoi
  • Da Nang
  • Your arrival airport

Apply for e-visas in advance

Vietnam requires US citizens to apply for visas in advance, or in other words, they don’t offer a visa on arrival.

(We’ll caveat this from reading a traveler’s experience where he talked about flying to Vietnam on a whim, not bothering with a visa, and being willing to pay out what sounded like some not insignificant baksheesh to be let in. We’d rather pay the normal application fee instead of ahem, the ”on-the-ground premium” for four people.)

You can apply for a Vietnamese visa online, for each person in your travel party. Vietnam’s immigration website gives you good instructions. We found the process easy to follow, paid online for our visas with our travel credit card, and had our visas in our inbox within a few days.

Learn more and apply for your Vietnamese e-visa

Learn a few Vietnamese phrases

Many folks we encountered in Vietnam spoke English, and between their fluency and us using Google Translate, we could always get things figured out.

However, we consider it a priority to learn at least a few words in a culture’s language. Not only does it help us communicate, but it shows our respect as guests in someone else’s country. 

  • Hello, xin chào, or “sheen chow”
  • Thank you, cảm ơn bạn, or “gahm un ban”
  • Yes, vâng, or “vung”
  • No, không, or “khome”

There are lots of online guides to some basic Vietnamese, such as this list of traveler basics.

Get used to being a donganaire

Vietnam’s currency is the dong, and a good rule of thumb is that there are about 25,000 dong to one US dollar.

This takes some getting used to.

Many travelers to Vietnam joke the same way we did: “Oh, we dropped half a million on lunch. What’s next?”

When looking at a menu, for example, a coffee might cost 40,000 dong, or a little over US$1, and a soda might cost around 25,000 or 30,000 dong. Some entrees aren’t dissimilar in price from drinks, but often start at around 50,000 dong. Pricier entrees might be around 400,000 dong.

So yes, it’s entirely possible to drop six figures on a meal for a family of four, with drinks. It’s all good. It’s just part of being a donganaire.

How to build a Vietnam itinerary based on the time you have to travel

We loved traveling from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam to Da Nang in Central Vietnam. From the bustling city of Hanoi to the jade waters of Halong Bay, the hills and rice paddies of Tam Coc to the massive caves around Phong Nha, we got to experience a variety of landscapes, cities, towns, and rural areas.

Now, we were in Vietnam for about 30 days, which at the time was the longest visa we could get. We could have chosen to bustle more, take in more destinations, or perhaps continue our travels towards Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam. However, our own travels are less family vacation and more travel living. Plus, our December and January time in Vietnam coincided with birthdays and the winter holidays, so we also built in time to relax and do pretty much nothing at all.

The upshot? You can build out your Vietnam itinerary based on your priorities and timeline. For example, if you’re not interested in the rice paddy country around Tam Coc and Ninh Binh, you could skip that—likewise for Phong Nha if caves aren’t your thing.

Talk through 7, 10, 14, etc days and things to consider for each. Also mention continuing from Da Nang into Southern Vietnam, if you have more time, such as around 30 days.

Sample 14-night Vietnam family itinerary (and remember seasonal considerations)

Our Hoi An lantern making class has been one of our favorite activities.
Our Hoi An lantern making class has been one of our favorite activities.

Based on our trip through Hanoi, Halong Bay, Tam Coc, Phong Nha, Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An, here’s how we might put together a 14-day trip to Vietnam, along with a few suggestions on places to eat or things to do.

Seasonal considerations come into play too.

The Sapa area, outside of Hanoi, is a popular place for visitors to go to see iconic rice country. However, rice farming and what those farms look like varies a lot season to season. What could be green and lush before harvest might look very different when harvest is done, plants are cleared, and muddy rice paddies are in between plantings.

Vietnam might be in Southeast Asia, but that doesn’t mean it’s warm and sunny all the time. During our December and January visit, for example, we encountered cool, rainy days similar to what we know from Western Oregon (though Vietnam was still warmer). You’ll want to get an idea for what the weather might be like for the time of year you want to visit.

Fly into Hanoi, 3 nights: Old Quarter!

  • Drink coffee at Hope Coffee, Tranquil Books & Coffee, and Kawa Coffee
  • Dine with a view at Oriana Restaurant, top floor of the Oriana Hotel
  • Dessert: Chimney Cake By Jinhouse
  • Take a Hanoi street food tour
  • National Vietnam Historic Museum
  • Take in some serene nature at Ngoc Son Temple and Hoan Kiem Lake… and don’t miss the 2 massive preserved freshwater turtles at the temple
  • Water Puppet Show
  • Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

Depending on your timeframe and from how far away you’re traveling to Vietnam, you might also consider blocking in a down day when you first arrive. That gives some breathing room for everyone to rest up and start adjusting to a new time zone. Instead of doing a bunch of activities the first day, we often prefer to use our first full day to rest, exploring our immediate neighborhood, and of course, finding wonderful things to eat and drink.

Halong Bay, 2 nights

@learnersandmakers

Day in the life of a travel family. Jodie and Connor ended up swimming the next day. Would you? #halongbay #vietnam #familytravel #fulltimetravel #travelfamily

♬ Adventure – André Branney

Tam Coc (Ninh Bình Province), 2 nights

  • Take a boat tour
  • Go for peaceful wanders around the river in town
  • Wander the caves and paths of the Thung Nham Bird Garden

Phong Nha, 2 nights

@learnersandmakers

The giggles! If this deosn’t bring a smile to your day, I’m not sure what will. #familytravel #vietnam #phongnha #theduckstop

♬ Doop-Doo-De-Doop – Blossom Dearie
  • Take a boat tour of Phong Nha Cave
  • Feed the ducks (and feel how weird it is to get your feet pecked by their round bills) at The Duck Stop

Hue, 2 nights

  • Wander the hilltop grounds of the Thien Mu Pagoda
  • Tour the Imperial City

Hoi An, 1 night

  • Take a lantern-making class
  • Wander the night market
  • Make a wish, light a candle, and set it adrift on a rowboat

Da Nang, 2 nights

  • Take a nighttime river tour
  • Watch the dragon bridge fire and water show (usually weekend nights)
  • Wander the beach
  • Get cool perspective illusion photos at Art in Paradise
  • Explore restaurants, cafes, craft beer, and more
  • Fly out of Da Nang

Where to stay in Vietnam with kids

Vietnam is full of hostels, bargain hotels, homestays, apartments, and more. This map can give you insight into ideas on places to stay with your family:

Check accommodation dates and availability

More about family travel in Vietnam

We loved traveling in Vietnam, and here are some other articles we’ve written and videos we’ve made about it:

Vietnam is an amazing family vacation destination

Our first family trip to Vietnam with kids was very much our first. For example, we’d love to go back to Hue, and we could spend a month in Da Nang alone. Throughout our month in Vietnam, we met friendly, industrious people, enjoyed incredible food and drink, and took in lush natural scenes of hills and rivers.

In short, a month made us feel like we were barely getting started in Vietnam. No matter how long you can spend there, you can get so much out of your trip—and be ready to plan the next one.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

Leave a Comment