Vietnam on famil, en famille

Playing with restaurant staff at Temple Club, Saigon.
Last week, I travelled in Saigon and Hanoi for work, with a 17-month-old in tow. News flash: we survived.

It's not often I do a blog about the family, mainly because the term 'mummy blogger' makes me cringe, and also because I think most people would be bored with twee tails of my junior assistant. But if you're not, here goes:

Living in Australia and wanting to holiday with kids, conventional wisdom says you holiday either at your local beach, in Queensland or, further afield, in Bali or Fiji. Lovely places all of them, but hello? How limited is that?

What little advice I read about babies and Vietnam was a truism in the Lonely Planet that the main problem is controlling what they put in their mouths.

So true, especially when I watched her throw her dummy onto the ground in Saigon's main wet (very wet) fish market. A kind trader hosed the dummy down with cold water and then watched carefully to see if I'd reinsert. I diverted the awkward situation by pausing to give the baby a drink of water after thanking the trader and walking off, mid-drink.

Fiji trades on its affinity with children: the same should be said for Vietnam. The staff on Vietnam Airlines played with her curls incessantly, taking lots of photos and trying to stuff her with chocolate cake, and it was no different throughout the country. As another traveller said to me recently, "Asia is far more patient with children than our Western countries."

Chilling out in a bassinet aboard the Vietnam
Airways flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
The minute we walked into hotels, restaurants, galleries or shops, a smiling person would drop to their knees and say hi to the baby, leaving me free to shop, check in, or check out the menu. Baby chairs were everywhere (compared with the icy reception I received from a Sydney maitre'd recently: 'No, madam, we do NOT have high chairs'), and people, you could order off-menu to suit the child!

I stayed in four and five-star hotels, so paid accordingl: the going rate for babysitters was $8/hour, comparable to Bali's five-star hotel rates. Thanks to the three-hour time difference, the baby slept around 7 or 8pm, as the sun was going down, and I organised babysitters to co-incide when she'd be sleeping: easier on her, easier on them. I also spotted plenty of shops in the big cities selling bottles, dummies, wipes and nappies: babies are big business in Vietnam.

The main issues were the same ones we adults encounter: keeping hydrated and avoiding the hottest and most humid times of the day. In August, Saigon was cooler and drier, whereas the noise and heat of Hanoi's Old Quarter meant two hours outside at the most. Any more than that, and there were tears. I thought rooftop cafes would be a good, breezy escape, except there were so many escape routes - mainly over the side of unfenced terraces. Not so good.
 
A few pointers:
Most milk sold in Vietnam is sweetened, so ask for non-sweetened for babies' bottles.
I have had success with night flights, as the baby is so exhausted, she'll sleep all the way home, unless another kid starts bellyaching (which happened recently coming home from Bali. No fun for anyone, especially his parents).
In Hanoi, I used our pram for cool, early morning walks around the lake to watch the locals play badminton and do martial-looking exercises. Otherwise, the sidewalks are almost non-existent, so baby carriers make more sense, though kids do get hot if squished against you for a long time.
Gorgeous tropical fruit is everywhere - the usual rule applies to peel everything.

Essential packing items:
Dummy cord (see fish market above).
Baby food tubes (Rafferty's Garden etc - they're not packed in glass so they're unsmashable, and sometimes kids like a taste of home such as spag bol or lamb casserole, no matter what the age. They're great squirted over rice for a bigger meal.)
A toybag with short colouring-in pencils, books for the plane and favourite soft toy. 101 Dalmations, on Disney Channel, was invaluable, with plenty of time spent woofing at the screen.
Photos of family from home, so she didn't miss her papa or nana.

(PS: if you're wondering about the headline, 'famil' is short for 'familiarisation', slang for a press trip.)

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