Because of Ho Chi Minh City’s past as the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina; and, later as the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, this largest of Vietnamese cities is a place rich in history and political meaning. What it is not usually known for is being a great destination for children. That is why it surprises many visitors to my hometown that Ho Chi Minh City has¸ in fact, several attractions that children will enjoy and that will bring out the child in you.
At Somerset Ho Chi Minh City, we leverage on the city’s child-friendly attractions to draw families. We have playrooms for children to have indoor fun, a large playground for them to romp around in, tennis courts, a children’s wave pool as well as a jacuzzi.
We also organise monthly activities just for the kids: swimming lessons called Rubber Duckies, for parents and their babies and toddlers incorporating songs and games; Pajama Movie Nights where the children get to stay up late to watch movies; cooking and flower arrangement classes; iRobot sessions where children learn about electricity and get to assemble their own robots; fun fairs; treasure hunts around the city we call Mega Hunt; and in-house water puppet shows where puppets dance in water are a great hit. Our kiddie residents can become members of the Cubbies Kids Club as well and enjoy even more fun activities.
Fun in the Water
One of the best places for children and adults alike to enjoy Vietnam’s tropical sunshine is at Dam Sen Water Park, half an hour from Somerset Ho Chi Minh City. The watery wonderland has an impressive collection of wet playgrounds, water slides that range from the mild to the manic, swimming pools, jacuzzis, wave pools, and an artificial river.
For more aquatic fun, half an hour from my serviced residence is Suoi Tien Theme Park. The world’s first Buddhist-themed water and amusement park has several attractions based on the country’s history and legends such as mountain fairy, Âu Cơ; the dragon king from the sea,Lạc Long Quân; and the Battle of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh (the Mountain God and the River God).
A stone dinosaur garden, a man-made beach with a giant waterfall featuring the face of an emperor on the rock front, a crocodile kingdom with 1,500 of the live reptiles that visitors can feed with a long pole plus a zoo ensure a whole day of fun and excitement for the family.
Another water-based attraction children will love is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre show, also a half-hour ride from Somerset Ho Chi Minh City. Water puppetry is a long-practised Vietnamese art form that dates back to the 11thcentury. Originating from the villages of the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam when village puppeteers performed in flooded rice fields, the wooden puppets are supported underwater and appear to move over the water surface. At the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, several shows a day portray local life, Vietnamese legends and folklore accompanied by live traditional Vietnamese music.
From life on stage, to real life - get a glimpse of life by the river against the modernised backdrop of the city as you take a boat ride up the Saigon River. The river flows from Cambodia through South Vietnam before flowing into the South China Sea close to the Mekong Delta. There are plenty of houses by the waters and you can peek into the homes of the locals and even earn a smile or two as you cruise along.
The shorter trips take you through the city canals while some of the longer excursions get you to the Cu Chi tunnels, the underground network developed by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, as well as up the Mekong Delta. Dinner cruise options are available, complete with performances like fire dances on board.
The Mekong Delta cruise lets you have a look at an authentic slice of Vietnamese village life. Take in the sights of colonial architecture, tropical jungles and small waterways as you go along. Stopovers at a riverside market, a pagoda, a handicraft centre are usually included.
Fun on Land
You cannot go to Ho Chi Minh City and not visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. The infamous landmark is a two-hour drive outside the city but it is well worth the trek. If you want a more child-friendly and scenic route, take a river taxi or a Saigon River cruise to the tunnels. While the site is a sober reminder of bitterly-fought wars, it is also an educational place for the children to learn about local history.
Kids will, no doubt, enjoy crawling through the 250 kilometre-long underground labyrinth that once served as crucial communication routes and a hiding place for the soldiers. The structure, consisting of several layers and fitted with an effective air filtration system, also once housed meetings rooms, schools, kitchens, hospitals, operating theatres and mess halls. You can also try your hand at firing an M16 assault rifle, and sample meals the fighters once subsisted on.
Having gone underground, why not try going up? At X-Rock at District 2, about 20 minutes from Somerset Ho Chi Minh City, the entire family can attempt to scale a 26-metre high structure of reinforced poly-concrete, rebar and steel mesh for that top-of-the-world feeling. This is a challenge the older children will enjoy and there are beginner routes for the novices that go up to only four metres.
Fun with Shopping and Food
Less than 10 minutes from the serviced residence is a local market that you can go to pick up Vietnamese souvenirs. Ben Thanh Market is one of the most popular markets in Ho Chi Minh City with hundreds of stalls selling anything from souvenirs like silk products, handicraft carved from wood, and sand painting to jewellery, clothing, DVD and local food and snacks. Wooden dolls and lacquer candy boxes make great kiddie souvenirs. For moms and dad, Vietnamese coffees are sought-after because of their rich, deep-roasted flavour. If you want to dress your child in the national costume, you can buy an Ao dai, which is a traditional Vietnamness costume made up of a tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pantaloons, at the market, too.
For some parent-child bonding, pick up some fresh ingredients at the market and go to the Vietnam Cookery Centre for their children’s cooking classes. The school is conveniently located at the heart of the city about 10 minutes from Somerset Ho Chi Minh City.
At night, you can sample local street foods to your heart’s content at Ben Thanh Market. Local cuisine is particularly child-friendly. There are plenty of soup-based dishes like pho ga (chicken noodle soup) and pho bo (beef noodle soup) that is pure comfort food. Pho 24 outlets are all around the city and make for a fuss-free place to have your fill of pho . Spring rolls filled with pork, shrimp, crab and vegetables and then deep fried will satisfy juvenile cravings for Western fast food which are hard to come by in the city.
History-rich, culture-soaked Ho Chi Minh City may be drawing adults with its sights and local delights but there are lot of places to go and things to do that will make it big fun for the little ones, too.
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