Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City with Children

We spent a total of 16 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, passing through 3 times (due to our slightly illogical & unplanned trip to Hong Kong). However, each time we ended up wanting to stay longer, as there are simply masses of things to do there, many of which children will really enjoy. Travelling with children is easy in HCMC. Here’s what we got up to with our 8 year old triplets.

“Kiz Citi”

The website is in Veitnamese, but shows the address, location & phone number.

Our No 1 favorite activity has to be Kiz City. Located just a short taxi ride from District 1 (about 40k dong, just over the bridge into D4). Entry is just over 400k dong for a family of 5, and you can stay all day. Don’t be afraid to go at the weekend; it wasn’t too crowded at all, and it’s open until 8.30pm, with very few people still there at that time we almost had the place to ourselves.

The concept is a city where kids do all the jobs. Children are either paid in ‘Kizo’ notes for doing jobs e.g. firefighters, nurses, doctors, post delivery, bankers, police, army etc (there are dozens to choose from); or they pay in Kizo to do activities like art, ice cream making or learning to drive. There’s uniforms for all the jobs and the children adored getting dressed up and learning about what people do at work. What a fabulous idea!

English is widely spoken, but the majority of the instructions are in Vietnamese. It caused some minor problems with a couple of activities, but overall there was enough English spoken for our kids to join in. They even learned a smattering of Vietnamese by the end of the day.

Parents stay outside the rooms, but can watch through the glass windows. There’s an air con café, lots of meals and snacks etc available to buy (very cheap). Bring a book, as it’s the easiest day out you’ll ever go on. Be prepared to spend about 8 hours relaxing on a bench watching your kids have an amazing time!

If that’s not enough fun, there are a couple of really good playgrounds in the area too, one in each direction from the front gate.

Avoid the restaurant directly opposite (with the fish tanks). We had an evening meal there, and it became slowly apparent as the evening went on that we had accidentally brought our children to, at best, a ‘pick up’ joint. Oops.

23/9 Park

As this is close to the central backpacker district in D1, we visited the playground here most days. It’s pretty well designed, with ‘cushioned’ flooring like you get in Europe and all the usual playground acitivities. There’s some exercise equipment for grown ups nearby e.g. exercise bikes, pull up bars if you feel the urge! Also, there are public toilets in the park, and a newly opened McDonalds just over the road, plus a fairly authentic fish and chip restaurant nearby. Feels almost like home!


Hanging out in 23/9 Park

War Remnants Museum

Learn about the Vietnam war, or rather the American war as it’s called here. And if you’re homeschooling, you can do a great deal of work on spotting bias in writing here too, which is on the year 4 curriculum.   There’s some exciting war planes & bomb shells outside, and lots of brilliant old photographs inside. Entry is only 60k dong for a family of 5.

The museum gets fairly graphic on floor 2 with shocking displays of what Agent Orange did to the country, but there’s a helpful play area there too, so that you can drop the kids off and explore these horrors. I personally don’t feel comfortable leaving the children with strangers, so we took it in turns to watch them while the other went off to have a look around. The displays are definitely not suitable for children.

Independence Palace

Most people have one image of the Vietnam war that they can recall: the tank crashing through the gates of what is now called Independence Palace, signaling the end of the war and victory for the communist North Vietnamese regime. It helps if you can show this image to your children before visiting, and explain the history. It then becomes amazing to be ‘in’ history! We loved it here.

The building has been left exactly as it was on that historic day in 1975 (except the gates have been repaired, and the tank is now a replica just inside). It’s fun to see the old telephones, the war room where plans were made, and read about the Viet Cong insider who worked in secret in South Vietnam and stole an American plane to bomb the building. Good war stories for children, without too much horror.


History Museum

Worth a visit of an hour or two, especially if you are also going to visit the temples of My Son, Angkor, Borobudur or Bagan in your trip. The museum helped our children to understand the place in history of some of these ancient sites; and how the map of SE Asia changed from 1000 AD to the modern day.

Entry was 45k dong for all 5 of us.

HCMC Museum

We visited this museum towards the end of our stay in HCMC, which was great because by then we felt we’d got to know the city a bit, and could make more sense of the old maps etc. It was fun to find out that our favorite park 23/9 used to be the old railway station, which explains it’s long, thin shape.

There’s some fantastic photos in here, and the building itself is a wonderful colonial style mansion, complete with original flooring and staircase. It’s magnificent.

Entry was 45k dong for all 5 of us.


Snap Café in D2

Although it’s a long ride in a taxi (around 150 dong from central D1), this is an excellent place to go if you want to meet up with adults and be able to chat! We met an old friend here, and were able to have a really good catch up while the kids played & played. The food’s OK, nothing special, but the playground is excellent, comprising mainly wooden climbing frames, sand pits and a playhouse. It’s also an interesting insight into the main ex-pat area of HCMC, with a Lego shop, a butchers with refrigerated meat (first one I’ve seen in Asia), and a very cute kids clothes shop (at European prices). Feels like a very safe, if somewhat un-natural, slice of Europe.

Swimming at the Workers Club

For an authentic HCMC Saturday afternoon experience, try the central ‘leisure centre’. We just used the swimming pool, but there’s tennis and badminton courts here too. The changing rooms are, frankly, horrible, but the pool is clean and it’s good to be amongst the locals rather than just in a hotel swimming with other tourists. There’s plenty of seating around the pool, and a cheap eats café with cold drinks etc. At 80k dong for 5 people, it’s almost free.

There’s lot of options to swim in hotel pools in HCMC, if you fancy somewhere a bit more classy. But I would recommend the authentic experience just for the people watching fun!

Take a look at this website for more public pools, some of them look better than our choice!


The Hungry Pig

Although not strictly speaking an ‘activity’, a visit to the Hungry Pig is a sure way to cheer up any homesick young (or old) travellers. Having come from Indonesia, we were ready for some bacon, and this place really exceeded our expectations. Located on the edge of the backpacker area (144 Cong Quynh), the main attraction here is the ‘make your own’ menu, where you get a pen and a pig with tick boxes for what you want to include in your sandwich. We set a price limit of 100 dong per person, and everyone could get exactly what they wanted in their sandwiches (choices of bread, different cures of bacon, veggies, pickles, sauces, cheeses…yum!). So good we went twice, and wanted to go again. Lovely, lovely food. Oh, and you got a free beer with each sandwich (which they swapped for a soft drink for the kids), making it good value for such high quality food.

10 Pin Bowling

At the top of the Diamond Plaza mall, there’s a 10 pin bowling alley where we spent a rainy afternoon. It cost 375k dong for 1 game for 5 people, including shoe hire and disposable socks. At the speed we play, this was excellent value for money, as it probably took the best part of 2 hours to take all our turns!

There’s also a token-based amusement arcade which looked a lot of fun, but we were out of time so we didn’t try it out.

Pho 24

A chain of Pho shops across the city that (nearly always) has colouring pictures and pens available. We found this place by chance when we dived in during a downpour, but then sought out various branches to repeat the experience. They always have a special Pho for 29k dong, and spring rolls are just 16k for 2. Water is free if you ask for a glass of water (refuse the bottle). If you stick to this you will get a delicious, filling meal at a bargain price, with the comfort of air con and happy colouring kids! What more can you ask for?

Professor McGonagall Tower

OK, that’s not really its name. It’s called the Bitexco Financial Tower, but looks just like Professor McGonagall’s hat, according to our children. The tallest building in HCMC by some margin, you can choose between going to the restaurant for a drink or meal, or going to the viewing platform. We went for a drink, on the basis that a couple of beers each was the same price as the entry to the viewing platform, and according trip advisor, the view’s the same, making the beers free! However, be warned, the drinks are VERY expensive so you need to be prepared to nurse them if you want to stay there a while and watch the sunset and the city light up, like we did. The kids loved being high up, and watching the traffic snake around the streets. All in all, a worthwhile activity.

Scoozi Pizza

Sunday night is buy one get one free at Scoozi, a great fun way to spend the evening with kids. The list of ‘free’ pizzas is pretty limited, but the quality of the pizza is very good and the atmosphere is friendly. Book ahead if there’s a few of you, we were lucky to get a table.

Suoi Tien Theme Park

You know you’re in Asia when you’re at a Buddhist themed waterpark! This is definitely a full day out; partly because it will cost you around 320k dong in a taxi just to get there. However, it’s a lot of fun!

The place is split into the theme park, and the water park. I would give the theme park a miss, and make a day of the water park. We paid once to get into the main gate (280k dong for 4), and then again to get into the water park (320k dong for 4).

The theme park is giant – I mean really huge, over a massive area. However, the rides don’t look particularly well maintained. Safety standards here are not well enforced, so I would be cautious. We tried out just 2 rides, which had to be paid for individually.

First we did try the Harry Potter Castle (150k dong for 4)…but it was a disaster. Scared the life out of my 8 year old kids…definitely not for younger ones! It’s like a ghost train that you walk though, in almost pitch dark, with things that reach out and hit your legs and head. It’s disorientating and claustrophobic, with extremely loud noises and no exits in sight. Not great with panicking children!

Secondly, we tried the ‘high speed’ rollercoaster (240k dong for 4), which the pictures show with a loop the loop. Evie has been wanting to go on an upside down rollercoaster for ages now, and she’s finally tall enough, so I thought we’d give it a go. It was terrifying, for all the wrong reasons. As we sat down, I pulled down the safety U-shaped restraining bars. They didn’t lock into place. I pointed this out the men working the ride, who said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry!” as the ride set off. OMG. I was panicking so much! There was also a car style lap-only seat belt that did work, but I was seriously worried that it wouldn’t hold us in – this is a loop the loop for goodness sake! How am I going to ring my parents and tell them we’ve had another serious accident on this trip? I was hyperventilating by the time the ride reached the highest point, then down we went…very slowly and gently. It turns out that the pictures are nothing like the actual ride, and it’s little more than a gentle ‘big dipper’ style rollercoaster, barely getting above 15mph I would estimate. A relief for me, a huge disappointment for the girls, and the end of our experimenting with the theme park.

The water park, however, is a different story. It is excellent! The main attraction is the slide that you have to ride down on your choice of various inflatables, or head first on a mat if you dare! You then emerge from a serpent’s mouth amid peals of laughter. This entertained the children for approx. 6 hours and they would have stayed longer if I’d let them. Elsewhere, there’s stepping stones, smaller slides, buckets that empty water onto your head etc… the usual stuff, but really well done. The changing rooms are a bit grotty (actually, they’re awful) and we seem to have managed to hit some kind of national holiday, so the place was packed. But if you can time it for a weekday (check for holidays) I bet it would be have been even more fun.

One other point to note – you have to pay for a locker, and then if you want to get something out, you have to pay again to put your stuff back in, so try to be organized and not keep going back like I had to. Only 15k dong a time, but it adds up!


As well as 23/9 park, we also found really good playgrounds at Tao Dan Park and outside Kiz City. Look out for the park wardens! They come along with a whistle and tell you off for various things (sometime we weren’t sure what)! They make sure teenagers don’t hog the swings etc which is really nice, and probably ensure that the parks don’t get vandalised like the do in the UK, where we take so many good things we have for granted.

Get a ‘Proper’ Hair Cut

As one of the most style conscious cities in SE Asia, HCMC is full of great value salons.  The skills of the hairdressers here rival Europe and the USA, at a fraction of the cost.  So, for the first time in their lives, our girls were treated to a grown up haircut!  Cost was 200 dong each.


Eat a Burger Bigger Than Your Own Head

As everyone knows, Miss Piggy advises never to eat anything bigger than your own head.  But there are exceptions to every rule, and the Black Cat Big Cheese burger has to be one of them.  Weighing in at half a kilo and costing 439 dong, it definitely classifies as an activity rather than a meal.  You could make a day of it.

Overall, we were surprised how many things there are to do for families in this big city.  Another big plus is the abundance of air con metre taxis, which are a cheap way of getting around and avoiding having to cross the roads too often!  HCMC would definitely make it into my list of most ‘liveable in’ places in Asia, although I do think the motorbikes would drive me crazy.

Cambodian and Vietnamese History: How Much is Too Much for Kids?

The Vietnamese Army's Newest Recruits

The Vietnamese Army’s Newest Recruits

We all know, as adults, that Vietnam and Cambodia have traumatic pasts. And the people of those countries haven’t forgotten either. We’ve just arrived in Phnom Penh and with only one day here, we’re wondering what museums and memorials are appropriate to take kids to. S21 – the prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured so many prisoners before their execution – clearly not. The Killing Field, though? It sounds crazy to suggest a mass-execution site and pile of 8000 human skulls as somewhere to take children, but it’s an important part of this country’s history and a reminder to us all of how dangerous political extremism can actually be. Should we also not teach our kids about the Holocaust for fear of upsetting them?

When I was a child, my family were living in Iran when the revolution happened. I remember being shot at by soldiers of the Revolutionary Guard. It was confusing and frightening but it was also real. History doesn’t pass children by. It sweeps them up, along with everyone else. In many ways, children were the greatest victims of both Vietnamese and Cambodian conflicts.

We had the same decision to make in Vietnam. At the War Remnants Museum there were galleries devoted to the effects of Agent Orange: walls of shocking photographs showing deformed children, and jars containing still-born human fetuses. Needless to say, we didn’t take our kids in.

But we were in a war museum, and I really didn’t want to just show them the cool tanks and fighter planes and have them come away thinking how exciting and glorious war is. We did let them see photographs of carpet-bomb blasted landscapes and American soldiers flame-throwering villages. And we talked about how the war came about; about communism and Americas “domino effect” theories; and we tried to point out ways in which the museum was biased, only showing things from the victorious North Vietnamese perspective.

But maybe the Khmer Rouge’s Year Zero atrocities are just a little bit too recent. I’d have no qualms in telling my kids that thousands of slaves died building the Ancient Egyptian pyramids. But Year Zero happened in my lifetime. There are still people alive for whom it was the defining event of their lives. It’s a personal tragedy, not just a statistic.

[NB. I wrote the following part later, as we were leaving Phnom Penh…]

In the end, we decided against visiting S-21 or the Killing Field. I’m mostly certain that my girls could have handled it, and would have come back having learnt something important. But it wouldn’t have been fair to run the risk of traumatizing them.

Instead, we went to the National Museum where we laid the groundwork for our visit to Ankor Wat by learning more about Khmer history, then we went to the royal palace to see how the royal family live nowadays, as well as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha where as well as the “Emerald” Buddha, there is more gold reliquary than I’ve ever seen in one place and the vast hall is floored with 1kg solid silver tablets.

It’s better, I think, to stick to ancient history until their older.

Food, Glorious Vietnamese Food


After a month of eating “Indo”, arriving in Vietnam has been such a relief. A relief I can describe in just two words: vegetables and not-deep-fried.

Indonesian food had some pleasant surprises. Tempe – fermented soya beans – is delicious, a much tastier, meatier alternative to tofu; I don’t know why it’s not more well known.

But generally it was an much more extreme version of other SE Asian cuisines we’ve tried. The fried food was very, very fried, anything with shrimp paste used so much that your cheeks imploded, the chilli paste served with most meals (sambal) reduced your tongue to ashes, meat was prepared using Malaysian-style attack-it-madly-with-a-cleaver filleting techniques… but what got really tiring was how difficult it was to buy any food containing vegetables or that wasn’t battered and deep fried. It was like being in a tropical Scotland, and after a while mealtimes began to become something of a chore as we pounded the streets looking for something that wouldn’t make us sink like a brick if we went swimming afterwards. When we saw deep fried ice cream on our last day, not one of us was surprised.

And the fact that food hygiene doesn’t seemed to have reached much of Indonesia didn’t help. Oily meat and fish prepared who knows how many days earlier sitting in the baking sun in tin trays amid small troops of flies made even my hardened stomach wary.

But here in Vietnam we’ve had not only veges but salad! And there are noodles that haven’t been immersed in oil! And fresh, light, balanced flavours! And the cafés and street stalls look clean. It’s heaven.

Plus, Vietnamese coffee is amazing. I had no idea before we got here, but coffee is massive in Vietnam, and apparently it’s the world’s second biggest producer. Coffees I’ve bought on street corners here have been some of the best I’ve ever drunk: rich, chocolatey, dark.

We loved lots of things about Indonesia, but the hassle and food got rather wearing; travelling with children there is tough for everyone. We’re only three days into Vietnam and but we love how chilled out and delicious we’ve found it to be so far.