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Vietnam With Kids – Hoi An & The Victoria

I visited Hoi An over ten years ago and was utterly charmed by this beautiful Vietnamese heritage town.  Thanks to direct flights to Danang Airport, Hoi An is much easier to access, especially if you are travelling with kids.  It’s a great spot for a relaxing cultural getaway and Claire shares her recent trip with us below:

Victoria Hotel Hoi An

Who: Claire, husband, 18 mth son and husband’s parents

Where: The Victoria Hotel, Hoi An
When: 5 nights over the National Day holiday: 26th Sep – 1st Oct 2013

Weather: Varied.  It was ‘low season’ so we weren’t expecting 5 days of blistering hot rain and blue skies, but if we had been going there just to sunbathe we would have been disappointed.  As it happened, there was rain (but mainly at night – including some spectacular thunderstorms) and the days were mostly overcast, but this suited us as none of us are sun worshippers these days and it was a perfect temperature for a toddler to play on the beach and in the pool.  We did have an almost direct hit from a typhoon on day 3 which did scupper some plans, but the worst was overnight and by the morning we virtually carried on as if nothing had happened.

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Holiday Booking
We booked it through our travel agent (Jo Chapman at FlightCentre on Caine Road) who knows our requirements well and always does a brilliant package for us.  I chose the Victoria after several other mums recommended it as being good for kids.  Jo also arranged the transfers to and from the airport with us.  She could have also arranged the visas, for a fee.

Getting a Vietnam visa
I got our visas from the Vietnamese Consulate in Wanchai, Hong Kong.  They were HKD $500 each (British passports) and I just downloaded the form from the consulate website, filled it in and stuck on a passport photo.  I went around 11am on a Monday and waited around an hour.  I picked them up 3 days later and that took 5 minutes.  You can get a visa on arrival, but the queues were long and I’m glad we didn’t do that.  My in-laws got their Visas in UK by sending them off to an agency – they paid almost double what we did.

Immigration on arrival at Danang Airport
Immigration was fine – a little slow but glad we had got our visas in advance.  Danang is actually a really good airport – we were seriously impressed!

How was the flight?
Our flight from HK to Danang was at 7.55am which meant a 5am start.  We got up at 5am and got a taxi at 5.30am to be at the Airport Express about 5.45am.  We checked in at AE and took the train to the airport.  At that time of the morning everything is quiet and it was easy.  My husband and in-laws panic ordered at McCafe and had some revolting bagels, but I went a bit further along the food court and had a delicious muffin from Panopolis – highly recommended!  My son had a croissant to tide him over.  We went to the gate and there was a children’s play area and TV right next door so he burned up the last of his energy there before falling asleep for 50 minutes of the flight. The flight time was only 1.5 hours which was absolutely wonderful – very manageable – and, with the 35 minute transfer to the hotel – we were in the pool by 10am!  We flew Dragonair direct to Danang and were really impressed by the service – my FIL even said the breakfast on board was delicious (??!)

Airport Transfer
Our travel agent had arranged a private van for us as we were 4 adults, a toddler, 5 suitcases and a buggy.  The driver met us at the airport and drove us the 35 minutes to the hotel.  Very easy!  As Vietnam is an hour behind, we gained an hour so it was brilliant!  I’m sure the hotel can arrange transfers if needed.

Did you request any baby items in advance?
Yes, our travel agent arranged a cot for us.  It was a proper wooden cot – not a flimsy travel cot – and had a proper mattress.  They also provided a mini pillow and duvet which matched our bed which was really sweet (although we used neither).  I used a snooze shade for the cot (see photo) as the blackout blinds were not perfect, but if you have a less fussy child they’d be fine.  

Snoozeshade Travel Cot

I also found the snooze shade to be useful so he couldn’t see us if he woke up in the night – he resettled really well and we didn’t have to get up at all.  It also meant he’d stay in there for a while in the morning as he couldn’t see us so that was a major bonus!  Massively recommend it!  On the first night the cot did rattle and squeak a bit but, with a bit of sellotape and a bit of card, it was easily fixed and he was happy in there.

What did you think of the room at the Victoria?
We had wanted a seafront room, but there was none available.  So we had 2 garden rooms which were inter-connecting.  After my initial disappointment, I was actually glad we didn’t have seafront rooms as the sea was very noisy even from our room.  I think if the weather was calm it might have been OK, but the water was quite frightening during the typhoon and I was grateful for our extra 20 meters away from the shore!  The beach was only 30 seconds further than if we had managed to get those rooms so it was absolutely fine.  The rooms were quite large and well equipped.  We had a ‘deluxe’ room but there was still no bath.  They did provide a little red baby bath which was a nice touch.

The beds were comfy and huge, but because of the weather everything felt quite damp.  Also there was no bedhead so it was quite hard to read in bed.. a very minor quibble!  Overall, great space and the inter-connecting rooms were a godsend for the iffy weather and the babysitting.  I asked the hotel for cartons of UHT milk to keep in the minibar for the baby and they were very obliging.

How were the facilities?
We didn’t get to use a lot of the facilities as we didn’t really have the time.  However, the spa looked lovely and they gave us a discount coupon as we arrived for a massage each.  There were bikes to hire, but they didn’t have one with a baby seat so we didn’t do that – there’s also motorbikes (with sidecars!) and a vintage car and van!  We are divers, but the weather wasn’t conducive…  there was a small dive shop on site though.  The pool was lovely and there was also a great kids pool (good depth so he could walk all the way across it) and a jacuzzi. The private beach was stunning and the sand was really fine – perfect for sandcastles!  It is part of a 40km stretch of beautiful beach and it stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions!

Sandcastles in Hoi An

There is a ‘Kids Club’ which is basically a playroom which you can send your kids to unaccompanied (the ladies that run it are lovely) and the kids can even eat there (for free!) so you can have a real break.

The private babysitting service was brilliant and only cost USD4/hour so it was a complete no brainer for us to leave him when we went into town every evening for dinner.  We could easily have a leisurely dinner and drink in town and be back within 2.5 hrs.. winner!  There was a free shuttle bus to and from town which was brilliant, but a lot of the other guests used the hotel bikes and we got a taxi back a few times which was around HKD$30 so that was really easy (15 mins).  The hotel had a great library and a great games room with snooker tables, beautifully carved wooden chess and backgammon sets.  There was a free cyber corner with computers and free wifi throughout the hotel.

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What activities did you do outside the hotel?
Hoi An old town was just gorgeous and we spent hours wandering the streets.  The town specialises in tailors and we couldn’t resist having a few things made.  We had decent ment’s shirts for USD 10-15 and quite complicated men’s wool jackets for USD$45.  My MIL had a couple of pairs of trousers copied too – so I would make sure you take things you want copying – really fun and done in less than 24 hours.

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We ate in a different restaurant for lunch and dinner in the old town every day… eating was our main activity!  I let my son take a nap around 10am for 30 mins and gave him a snack, and then he ate lunch with us every lunchtime around 12.  H then had another hour after lunch around 1.30pm in the sling while we explored and shopped and got back to the hotel to have a lovely afternoon in the pool/on the beach.  It worked out brilliantly for us.  I would have liked to have had a boat ride as there were lots of options for that kind of thing and the river was lovely, but it wasn’t easy with a toddler who doesn’t sit still!

How was the food?
The food was the definite highlight of this trip.  I can’t remember a holiday where I have eaten more consistently delicious food.  We ate at establishments that had been personally recommended, but the choice was endless!  The one night we ate at the hotel (because we were stuck by the typhoon) and we were initially gutted as we’d earmarked a particular restaurant to eat at in town, but we had an absolutely delicious dinner in the hotel’s (only) restaurant… one of the gastronomic highlights of the trip!  I should add that the hotel breakfast and was excellent and caters for everyone – it is open 6-11am.

Specific restaurant recommendations are: Morning Glory, Mango Rooms, Cargo Club (great ice cream, patisserie/bakery as well), Ancient Faifoo.

My son ate room service or by the pool every evening and the menu was great  The kids lasagna was a particular favourite!

How were the staff at the Victoria?
Outstanding – genuinely warm and friendly from the manager to the maintenance man.  They wer all so sweet with my son and always went the extra mile.  They always recognised us and remembered all our little requests from day to-day.  During the time when the typhoon was approaching the staff left no stone unturned as they prepared the hotel for a potential direct hit.  There was no panic – just quiet efficiency and superb management.

What stood out for you?
The old town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is just so charming.  There are so many lovely places to eat and drink and it feels really safe.  

From Hong Kong it is an easy visit – the flight is short, transfer is short and the flight times could not be better for maximising your time there.

Downsides?
We were unlucky with the weather.  For parents of young kids, the old town isn’t massively buggy friendly and the roads are quite busy with typical Vietnamese moped drivers!  I carried my son every day in the sling when he wasn’t walking and didn’t take the buggy.  Within the old town itself there are no cars (although omnipresent mopeds seem to still be rife) so that’s a real plus.  Oh, and the hotel is lovely and lush and green which means, of course, lots of mozzies!

In Conclusion!

IMG_7466 I would recommend this hotel unreservedly to families.  It is charming, old colonial style with a lovely feel to it – it isn’t super glossy, but it is friendly and relaxed.  We had a really super time.

We are already planning to go back with friends for a long weekend to try out the restaurants we missed!

NB: on the return journey, the airport food is pretty bad so try to take something from the hotel (and there’s not much to do while you wait.

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