Cu Chi tunnels


Vietnam is a fantastic place for families to visit! It is exciting, exotic, inexpensive, and offers a rich tapestry of history, culture, food, adventure, and fun.

I recently spent three weeks exploring this vibrant country with my 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. I felt it was largely an undiscovered destination for Australian families. We generally tend to visit Bali and Thailand, yet Vietnam is so accessible, cheap, and very interesting.

I spontaneously bought tickets on a whim one evening – $1500 for three of us including travel insurance to fly with Scoot Airlines via Singapore. What a great decision that was!

I wasn’t familiar with Scoot, Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier, but it was adequate, despite ingratiating reviews. It was, however, delayed several times and we were compensated with a $90 meal voucher at the airport. The flight was comfortable, professional, and drama-free.

We spent five days in Singapore en route to Ho Chi Minh City.

Downtown Ho Chi Minh City

There is so much to explore in Ho Chi Minh! After complications with my initial accommodation booking, we ended up in the backpacking District 1 – this in itself was an adventure, exploring the nightlife of discos and pole dancers, as we sauntered through the zesty, lit streets filled with music and action. The energy was high and colourful.

Shops and street food fare were open until the wee hours as a mix of tourists, backpackers, and locals took to their delights along the streets, dodging the motorcycles.

The biggest challenge I found in Vietnam was the traffic mayhem and the absence of English-speaking people. A translating app was a Godsend; and crossing the streets was a feat!

After a quick Google phone search, I found a local hotel that had a roof-top pool – this was a priority as the humidity was sweltering.

Cityscape from rooftop pool of Prague Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City
Cityscape from rooftop pool of Prague Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City

We stayed at Prague, which was a budget hotel situated in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, within short walking distance to the nightlife, restaurants, and bars. It only cost $60 a night for the three of us and included a nice breakfast of fresh fruit, toast, cereal, and hot Vietnamese dishes. Fresh spring rolls to start the day were delicious! The rooftop pool was small but clean, and comfortably warm, and offered interesting views of the motley Ho Chi Minh cityscape.

Rip-off designer sunnies from Ben Thang markets and acrylic nails from street salon
Rip-off designer sunnies from Ben Thang markets and acrylic nails from a street salon.

I enjoyed having an assortment of cheap massage and nail salons on our doorstep. $18 for a terrific Vietnamese full body massage, compared with the $85 I pay in Perth, was a treat. We walked to the Ben Thanh markets and purchased impressive replica Prada handbags, Converse and Nike shoes, a North Face jacket, designer T-shirts, activewear, and Ray Ban sunnies.

We had a short-hour flight to Nha Trang for around $70 per head, where we soaked up the quintessential tropical palm-lined, enduring soft sand beaches.

The waves were abundant, and the water was warm. Nha Trang is an interesting centre – many Russian tourists and menus are written in Vietnamese, Russian and French. English speaking was sparse.

Nha Trang beach
Nha Trang beach

We stayed at Novotel, which was ideally situated beachfront in the town centre, so within walking distance to the markets where we bought $9 bikinis and $18 pearl necklaces. The food was exotic and experimental as we deciphered the local menus through a translation app. It was so cheap. Our first night, I had two large cocktails, the kids each had a mocktail and we shared three large main dishes for $20. The service was great despite communication challenges.

Peppered with bars and eateries on the sand, the beachfront in Nha Trang is terrific with bay views of the islands.

It is a resort town popular with the Vietnamese for holidays and international travelers. We were there in May during the Independence Day celebrations so accommodation was scant and travel services such as trains and buses were booked out. (It is advisable to reserve travel plans well ahead if travelling at this time, a rookie mistake I made.) We were unable to get a train or bus on our preferred dates and last-minute accommodation options were limited. We stayed at The Ibis, which was clean, modern and adequate, although not luxury.

Island views from Nha Trang beach

As such, instead of road or rail transport, we flew to the popular beachside resort city of Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, where we stayed at a basic hotel, A25, for only $40. It was clean, included robes and tea and coffee facilities, an ensuite and breakfast.

I lost my credit card at an ATM in Danang and amazingly someone found it and tracked me down through the company details on my card. This was a great testament to the honesty and kindness I experienced throughout Vietnam.

I hired a private driver to take us from Danang to our next destination, Hoi An, which was an hour away and cost $20.

Hoi An night artisans

Hoi An is a magical city, rich in culture, the arts, and history. It is renowned for tailor-made clothing services. I could have a dress made to measure within 24 hours for under $20! The old town centre lights up at night with a buzzing nightlife, markets and artisans selling their wares. Iconic French-Vietnamese restaurants and music-filled bars are plentiful.

We stayed at Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa which was a perfect blend of traditional Vietnamese architecture, style, and sophisticated elegance. Nestled between the beach and lagoon, with water winding through the hotel grounds, and a sparkling swimming pool, there was a peaceful naturalistic ambiance that created a feeling of harmony and peace.

Poolside Victoria Hoi An Resort & Spa

We then had a fun train ride of 3.5 hours to Hue. I booked a second-class sleeper berth which was comfortable with six beds, which we shared with several local women.

The views were magnificent – high cliffs over the ocean, dense valleys and hilltops, and small villages amidst emerald fields and jungles, were the scenic entertainment.

Scenic views from the train

Food trolleys rolled outside our cabin and there was a small food service area that offered basic refreshments. I wasn’t game to try the local warm Vietnamese street food on offer but we enjoyed packets of nuts and popcorn.

2nd class 6 berth train carriage

Hue is unique – the Imperial city – abundant in culture and history. We visited the Citadel and took a tour of the old palace which had been home to 13 Emperors and maintained an aura of majesty and regal tradition. The tour was fascinating, learning about the old ways of Vietnamese royalty where one such Emperor had 400 wives and 142 children. I found the history of eunuchs disturbing, learning that adolescent boys born of servants were selected, and had their testicles removed without anesthetic medicine. Many other truths were shared including how the ancient civilization was destroyed by French colonialization, and again by US bombings during the Vietnam War.

Street food in Hue

Aside from the Imperial history, Hue is a rich hub of the Arts. The riverside markets display the artisanship embedded in this city – painting, jewellery, music, and fantastical food creations stream the walkway.

Azerai La Residence

We stayed at the majestic Azerai La Residence, which was the French Governor’s residence and then an embassy, and has since become a luxury resort offering 122 elegant rooms and suites. It offers views over the Perfume River and Citadel and is in close proximity to the downtown shopping and entertainment region.

Azerai Ke Ga Bay
Azerai Ke Ga Bay

We flew back to Ho Chi Minh City and drove out to Ke Ga Bay to the newly opened Azerai resort hotel. It is an oceanside sanctuary of peace and luxury, with a private beach and expansive ocean views. Set on 4.5 hectares of unspoiled landscape, this white stone resort has clean air, open space, and serenity. It has three swimming pools including an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

After a few relaxing days at the peaceful coastal resort, we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City where we stayed in a modern two-bedroom suite at the Residences, Intercontinental Saigon. This is an exclusive luxury hotel with stylish décor, furnishings and modern facilities. The Residences are ideal for families due to their spaciousness and privacy.

Residences Intercontinental Saigon

We visited the War Museum which was a highly educational but very confronting account of the Vietnam War. It challenged my thinking on the allied forces’ (USA, Australia etc) involvement in the war. The atrocities were illustrated graphically – soldiers’ brutality, Napalm bombings, and Agent Orange – sights that sear the mind. My son didn’t fare well, he chose to sit outside through most parts, my daughter was silent but intrigued and I sobbed through the whole experience.

War Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

I met a local Vietnamese-Australian man, Linh Le, who is the owner of Luxperia, a bespoke travel company that specialises in tailoring travel packages to suit the individual. He was very helpful with our travel arrangements, including a fantastic tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels and a magnificent stay at Mia Saigon.

Cu Chi Tunnels

We took a speedboat tour down the Mekong River to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, which illustrated how Viet Kong conducted warfare from beneath the earth’s surface during the Vietnam War. It was incredible, eye-opening, and worthwhile.

Mia Saigon

We spent two delightful nights in the Presidential Suite at the superb Mia Saigon, a refined boutique hotel situated on the Saigon River. This was a luxurious treat to complete our wonderful trip through Vietnam.









While traveling with my children in Vietnam recently, I was fortunate to meet Linh Le, the fun and knowledgeable owner of Luxperia, a bespoke travel company that tailors holiday experiences to the needs of the individual.

Principal of Luxperia, Linh Le, with Kate Durack, Offspring Magazine at Villa Royale Antiques & Tea Room, Saigon.

Linh is a Vietnamese-Australian man who was raised in Canberra and has been living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for 12 years. As such, he is a rich source of local travel information who also possesses a deep understanding of what appeals to Australian tourists. His intimate knowledge of travel opportunities in Vietnam, as well cultural understanding, make him a valuable resource for local travel.

Linh’s travel company, Luxperia, creates customised travel packages to suit a range of interests and travel styles such as art, culture, culinary, entertainment, adventure, and relaxation, covering everything from tours and experiences to accommodation and transportation. They will tailor travel arrangements according to travellers’ budgets from standard to high-end luxury.

Linh has many contacts in the travel industry and his friendly, affable approach makes him so easy to communicate with when trying to work out the most suitable places to visit in Vietnam and other travel destinations including Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, and Japan.

Army tank from Vietnam War at Cu Chi Tunnels

Linh and his team’s local expertise was very helpful, enriching our travel experience in Saigon. They arranged for a fabulous guided tour of the famous Cu Chi Tunnels – the fascinating underground tunnel system created during the Vietnam War by Viet Kong. This tour was so educational and interesting for my children and me and definitely a worthwhile experience for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City.

Cu Chi Tunnels

We arrived by speed boat which provided breakfast and a scenic tour along the Mekong River, during which we viewed the range of housing from elite mansions through to riverside shanty homes. Leaving the arrangements in the capable hands of Luxperia also meant we arrived early in the day for our private tour, compared with later in the day when it was swarming with people later in the day. When we finished the tour, we enjoyed a delicious hot Vietnamese lunch.

Another advantage of having Linh’s team involved with our travel plans was the personalised and VIP “fast pass” airport service which was seamless and stress-free. We were collected from our hotel by a private driver who took us to the international airport where we were met by a concierge who escorted us through check-in and a fast-track immigration process.

A real delight of our travel in Vietnam, also arranged by Linh, was our stay in the Presidential Suite at the exclusive boutique resort, Mia Saigon – a luxurious embodiment of olde worlde glamour.

Mia Saigon

Luxperia will create a tailored itinerary depending on a traveler’s interests, desires, and budget, and can be involved in a small part of a travel experience or an entire tour could include:

  • A sample itinerary for a family traveling to Vietnam could include:
    Day 1 Cu Chi tunnels tour by Speedboat
    Day 2 Saigon City tour – The Reunification Palace, The Opera House, Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Ngoc Hoang Temple.
    Day 3 Cruising the Tan Phong islet by a local rowboat. Lunch is served on board. Visit Cao Dai temple at Sa Dec and explore local markets.
  • Day 4: Visit the famous Cai Rang Floating Market
    Day 5: Da Nang. Visit the Golden Bridge, sightseeing Flower Garden, visit a former French wine cellar, Mythology Garden and Sakyamuni Buddha.
    Day 7: Hoi An. Visit the majestic Kwan Temple, Phuc Kien Chinese Assembly Hall, Tan Ky Old House, Japanese Cover Bridge, and the Historic and Cultural Museum. Traditional music performance and a visit to Hoi An’s handicraft workshop.

  • Day 8: Wooden boat tour to Cam Thanh water coconut village, learning about the daily life of Vietnamese fishermen, their families, and their community.
    Day 9: Phong Nha. Visit UNESCO-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Tour Elephant Cave, swim into Ma Da Crystal Lake, and visit Tra Ang Cave.

  • Day 10: Halong Bay cruise. Visit World Natural Heritage site Bo Nau Cave and Sung Sot cave and Titov Island.
    Day 11: Sapa. Visit Silver Waterfall, Heaven Gate and Tram Ton Pass, the highest mountain pass in Vietnam. Visit a lush farm in O Quy Ho where different kinds of vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, and medicinal plants are grown.
    Day 12: Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a historic Buddhist temple One Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, and a Hanoi Street Food Tour.

Villa Royale Antiques & Tea Room

Villa Royale Antiques & Tea Room, Saigon

Linh and his partner, David, have also created Villa Royale Antiques & Tea Room – a gorgeous High Tea establishment in the trendy ex-pat area of District 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.

The range of fine teas is remarkable and David has extensive knowledge on the health benefits of various teas. These teas can be paired with delicious homemade cakes, slices, and pies, including Red Velvet cake, decadent chocolate, lemon meringue pie, and cheesecake.

The setting is worth a visit in itself. Olde Worlde colonial furniture, ambient lighting, and atmospheric music complement the precious antiques and collectibles, which have been sourced from around the globe, and are available to purchase.