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Joshua Tree National Park in California has become one of our favorite go-to trips – either as a day trip or for a last minute weekend getaway. Through our many visits, we have found a few trails that we return to again and again. Below are the best Joshua Tree hikes for first timers with or without kids. These hikes can be completed by people of almost all fitness levels and are especially great for families as the interpretive trails provide great learning opportunities. Although the trails are family friendly, they are not stroller friendly. Much of the trails throughout Joshua Tree tend to be loose sand, which can be quite deep in areas making it difficult for a stroller to roll.


This is your rare chance to see water in the desert! However, due to the ongoing drought there is often not much water in the dam, but it’s still a fun little hike, especially for beginners. A relatively easy 1.5 mile hike that can be done as a loop or as an in/out trail to make it shorter.  To make this an in/out trail – once you reach the dam, return the way you came. Otherwise, continue on the loop trail back to the start.

The trail leads you to the dam and then through some of the old Keys Ranch land. The trail is not always well marked, however it is easy to find your way as there are usually plenty of people on the trail.

This interpretive trail is great for families in that you learn more about the history, plant and animal life in the area and throughout Joshua Tree. Don’t miss the petroglyphs on the rocks on the back end of the loop. Don’t worry, you will see the crowds!

If you haven’t picked up your Junior Ranger Booklet at the Visitor’s Center, do it! These are for kids and grown-ups, providing a fun way to learn more about the park and go home with a free souvenir!

#2 Hidden Valley

One of our favorite Joshua Tree hikes is at Hidden Valley. This is a moderate 1 mile walk around varying terrain. There are flat areas and places to scramble over rocks. It is a kid friendly hike, but not stroller friendly. At times you might feel you have lost the trail, no fear, you will meet up with it again fairly easily.

Take the path from the Hidden Valley parking lot that leads between rock walls into Hidden Valley. Once you have climbed through this gap in the rocks, you will reach the sandy desert floor and a T-junction. Pick a direction and start along the loop. We tend to go left as there are more rock climbing opportunities earlier before the little legs get tired. The fun of this hike are the many off trail rock scrambling opportunities that little kids cannot resist! Scramble up some rocks, take detours and return to the trail as you wish. This is always one of our top recommendations for things to do in Joshua Tree no matter how many times you have visited!

Additionally, around the circle drive parking area are picnic tables (often in the shade), making this an ideal location to stop for lunch. Behind the picnic tables there are even more places for kids to run around, climb and explore the rock formations without even going on an actual hike.

#3 Skull Rock & Jumbo Rocks Loop

Most people do not even bother with an actual hike here at Jumbo Rocks. Exploring Skull Rock and the crevices and rock formations behind it tend to provide more than enough for many adventurers. Kids, big and small, can spend a good deal of the day scrambling up and down the rough granite rocks.

However, if you do want a little more milage, this 1.7 mile loop will get you away from the crowds, into the campground and provide a pleasant view back over the road towards Skull Rock.

Follow the well marked trail from Skull Rock, parallel to the road towards the campground. After passing through the campground, the camp road is the trail for a short while before reconnecting with the dirt trail leading back to where you started.

#4 Ryan Ranch

Ryan Ranch Trail is a flat, easy 1 mile out and back hike that leads to the remains of Ryan Ranch. Even for non-hikers, this is a fun and easy thing to do in Joshua Tree. Families will enjoy spending time to explore the old adobe brick buildings and looking for the broken windmill, old fencing, ‘trash’ left behind by the settlers and so much more.

The trail is flat with little to no elevation gain and well marked until you reach the remains of the ranch. The is little to no shade on this trail, so it’s best to avoid during the height of the day’s heat.

#5 Indian Cove

For visitors to Joshua Tree that want a little something different and to see a different side of the park, Indian Cove is a good place to head for a quick hike. This Joshua Tree hike is actually just a short .6 loop trail with interpretive signs along the way. Be on the lookout for the elusive desert tortoise and road runners as they are known to be in this area! Have lunch or a snack on the nearby picnic tables.

This trail is not a commonly traversed trail except for people camping at the nearby campsite as it’s only accessible from the Twentynine Palms Highway, not from any other roads inside the park. If you are short on time, this is a great short hike if you don’t want to head all the way into Joshua Tree for the day. 

#6 Palm Oasis

If you are entering Joshua Tree from the Cottonwood entrance, stop in at the ranger station here for your maps and Junior Ranger books before heading off on this 1 mile hike near Palm Oasis. The scenery here is very different to what you will see on other Joshua Tree hikes and is worth a quick look before venturing further into the park to the more popular areas. It is interesting hiking this area as you won’t see any Joshua Trees, instead you will Palm trees which need water – most often you won’t see standing water, but seeing the oasis, you know it’s there somewhere! This trail has little to no shade, so best to avoid during the hottest part of the day.

#7 Silver Bell Mine

Our son was super into learning more about the old mines in Joshua Tree on our last visit. A ranger at the Cottonwood Visitor Center told us about a short hike up to an abandoned mine just off the main road. It is the second exhibit sign past Cholla Cactus Garden (coming FROM Cottonwood Spring). Look up on the left and you will see the remains of the mine.

To reach the mine, start off from the exhibit sign, where you will wander through the open desert and shrubs for almost a mile. It looks so much closer, but as you walk, you realize the hill in the distance isn’t getting close very quickly! There is no real path here but you will see where others have tread to not destroy the landscape. As you continue towards the mountain you will see a narrow path up the side of the hill that leads to the mine. This path is well-worn, marked by rocks on the edges and easy to see.

It looks like a steep incline, but it’s actually not too bad. Note however, there is almost no shade, which can make it more difficult in the height of the day’s sun. Once you make it to the top, spend some time at the top exploring remnants of the old mine, including plenty of copper ore scattered and other colorful mineral rocks left by the abandoned mine.

There are no facilities here on the road and the trail is not signposted. It would be rare to see anyone else on this trail to be honest, but it is a well worn path and easy to navigate. About 2 miles round trip with approximately 400 feet of elevation.

#8 Other Joshua Tree Hikes That Are Stroller Friendly 

If you can’t handle carrying the little one far and they just won’t (or can’t) walk, there are five loop trails that are each half a mile or less.

  • Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Bajada
  • Cap Rock
  • Oasis of Mara
  • Keys View

These four walks are all stroller friendly or easy for kids to maneuver. They are good alternatives to the above hikes if you are doing a quick drive through the park, but need something small to stretch the legs a bit, while also taking in some of the beauty of this spellbinding national park.

Don’t forget to get off the beaten path during your visit. Take a walk most anywhere you want. This is the beauty of Joshua Tree, you are free to roam any of the trails or non-trails you choose. It’s a beautiful park with so much to spark the imaginations of little minds.

For more detailed information about visiting Joshua Tree, see our recommendations for getting the most out of Joshua Tree on a one day visit.

Looking for a place to stay? There are some super cool glamping sites listed on Airbnb (see our post on glamping for our top picks) and GlampingHub.com as well as more traditional, in the quirky Joshua Tree way on Booking.com.


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OK, you are ready to set off with your kids for the first time or the 100th, but just haven’t figured out how to pack. Our top recommendation for traveling families to invest in a great kids travel backpack. Considering life on the road has its own obstacles to overcome, functional travel gear is a great way to help reduce everyone’s stress. 

Through the years we have found that backpacks instead of roller bags are more helpful while schlepping through airports or train stations. That said, my son used his monkey roller bag in over 15 countries for several years. It was a great bag which kids love, but it is not always convenient. My son often struggled getting on escalators and up and down stairs, which meant I was left carrying it along with my bag as well.  For parents with more than one kid, this is not fun to deal with as you run for your tight connections.

Enter, the best kids travel backpack options for all ages. When my son was smaller he would carry just his travel essentials (i.e. art supplies, toys and snacks) in his backpack. Now at age 8, he carries everything he needs for our trips on his own.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Mini Trek 6L Kids Travel Backpack

We were gifted the Mini Trek 6L Mountain Warehouse backpack years ago as part of a travel game gift set. The backpack was not even part of the gift set, but ended up as our favorite part of the package! Several years later, my son requested a second bag to replace his first.

The Mini Trek 6 liter backpack from Mountain Warehouse is small, but perfect for kids ages 3 and up. It is cheap (less than $15!), but durable, lightweight, has several pockets for goodies collected along the way, a water bottle holder and even reflective stripes for the dark. These bags have all the bells and whistles for little kids and allows them the space to hold just what they can carry. During our travels we even saw a grownup using the bag – so it’s not just for kids!

These bags are hardy, have all the necessary bells and whistles for little kids and can hold just what they can carry! We have used this bag through the ages from a main pack now as a daypack.

Looking for a cuter kid specific 6L option? The Dueter Kikki backpack comes in several adorable animal designs that will have all the kids swooning!

Skiphop Toddler Backpack

The Skiphop Toddler backpack is a cute backpack version of the Skiphop Roller bag that my son used for years. The roller bag was a hit in our family for ages, but often caused unnecessary struggles on escalators or going up and down stairs. We occasionally convinced our son to leave the roller at home in favor of the backpack which made our travels so much easier. The bag itself isn’t large and doesn’t hold a ton, but is perfect for toddlers who want to help out. They can keep their snacks, water and in flight/travel toys close at hand. 

If the little ones can’t carry it the entire time, it is small enough that you can easily strap it on to your backpack or roller bag with ease.

Fjallraven Kanken Mini Kids Travel Backpack

Do you follow the Bucket List Family like we do? If so, you know their kiddos all carry the trendy adorable Fjallraven Kanken mini kids backpacks. We love the stylish look of the Fjallraven Kanken Mini Travel backpacks. You might think there isn’t a ton of shoulder support with the thin straps however they are ergonomically designed to spread out the weight making them light and easy to use. Regardless, our suggestion is to use this mini bag for smaller kids who are just carrying along their little trinkets and toys for the road. This is not a backpacking backpack, rather just a fun, cute travel pack for easy flight days!

Osprey Jet 18 / REI Tarn 18

An 18 liter backpack is the perfect kids travel backpack for kids aged 4-9 who aren’t quite ready to carry all of their gear, but can handle more than just a daypack. The Osprey Jet 18 is a great starter pack for backpacking and/or camping families. My son loves that this bag can also be used with a water reservoir to replace his water bottle when packing lighter. There are several little spots for all the little keepsakes kids pick up along the way as well as the front pocket for jackets, lovies and more!

REI’s Tarn 18 is also a great option in this size range. It offers a compact size for kids to easily carry all day on the trail as well as a great hip belt which helps for heavier packing days. 

We have used both of these kids travel backpacks for long weekend trips and for day trips where we needed to bring bulky winter gear. Packed well, both of these can hold about a week’s worth of small kids clothes and typically weigh no more than 10 lbs.

Osprey Ace 38 

Yep, we love the Osprey brand. Osprey provides great bags for kids and adults, with a variety of sizes to choose from. The Osprey Ace 38 is the best kids travel backpack for kids, especially for backpacking families. My 8 year old LOVES this bag. He takes it on week trips as well as on our longer trips around the world. Pack it lighter for smaller kids and heavier as time goes on. By the end of our 4 month trip in Asia it reached 9.2 kg which my son was still able to carry.

The Osprey Ace 38 has an included rain cover, plenty of pockets for organization as well as a wide open top for loading. There is also a removable “shelf” towards the bottom to seperate things like sleeping bags or in our case swimwear, jackets and shoes.

For the older kids who need more space and have the capacity to carry more, check out the larger version of this bag with the Ace 50 and Ace 75.

Need More Help Packing? Check out our top travel items for long term family travel.

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The post The Best Kids Travel Backpack Options for All Ages appeared first on No Back Home.

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Vietnam with kids truly is the perfect trip for families looking for hands on educational and transformative travel. The country is teeming with unique activities and sites to visit that will appeal to all age ranges. From making things by hand to experiencing local life and immersing yourself in the culture through food, Vietnam really has it all for family travelers.

After a few weeks exploring the country, we have come up with our top 10 things to do in Vietnam with kids (or even without!).

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

1. Sample the Local Vietnamese Food

If you haven’t experienced Vietnamese food, you are in for a surprise. The food is not anything like you might expect. It is fresh, flavorful and for the most part not spicy. For picky eaters there is a ton to try, and even more for adventurous eaters. Each region of the country has their own speciality, so make sure to try as much as you can.

One of the best foods to try in Vietnam with kids is Banh Mi, (our favorite was in Hoi An) a meat filled sandwich on crusty fluffy baguettes. Families may also enjoy bun cha in Hanoi, pho all over the country and of course rice pancakes with all sorts of goodies inside. If you aren’t sure how to go about sampling all of the food on offer, consider a cooking class or street food tour to get you going.

Hanoi Food Tours


2. Attend a Water Puppet Show

Attending a traditional water puppet show in Vietnam with kids will be a highlight for both the littles and the adults. We saw one water puppet show in a local village that was quite basic, but still very entertaining.

The best show however is in Hanoi at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre by the lake. This is the real deal when it comes to water puppet shows. Live music accompanies the fun stories displayed on the blue lit water. My son was engaged and thrilled the entire show!

Tip: If you are in Hanoi for a few days, head over to the box office on your first day to book your tickets through the automated machines. If the expensive seats are sold out, try the cheaper side seats- they offer almost the same view for less! The theater isn’t big at all, so most seats are fine.

3. Crawl in the Cu Chi Tunnels

The main reason for our visit to Ho Chi Minh City was to visit the famous Cu Chi Tunnels used during the Vietnam war. My son didn’t know a ton about the war, but I had told him about these tunnels so he was keen to check them out. We highly suggest taking a boat tour (we went with Les Rives) to the tunnels rather than the 2.5 hour bus ride. It’s a nice change of pace and allows you to see life on the river as you go. 

During the tour, you will learn about the different tactics used in the war against the Americans as well as have the opportunity to crawl through the tunnels yourself. Definitely a fun experience for most kids even if they don’t fully understand much about the war.

Tip: If your visit to Vietnam with kids doesn’t take you all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, consider making a stop at the Vinh Moc Tunnels near the DMZ line.

4. Make Silk Vietnamese Lanterns in Hoi An

One of the best hands on experiences in all of Vietnam has to be making silk lanterns in Hoi An with the Lantern Lady. After visiting the town, you will surely become enamored with the beautiful lanterns hanging all over town. The lantern making class is a great way to learn how these are made as well as bring one home for a souvenir. There are two options – making one from scratch or the express version. We did one of each and loved it! My son could have visited every day, he enjoyed the process of making the lanterns as much as just hanging out at the shop. A must do for any visit to Hoi An.

5. Cruise the Emerald Waters of Halong Bay

Visiting the iconic and picturesque Halong Bay is on most families Vietnam itinerary for good reason. It is a beautiful excursion offering plenty of opportunities to experience this UNESCO world heritage site both on and off the boat.

To avoid the mass commercialization of the area, we recommend taking a cruise through the marvelous beauty of Bai Tu Long Bay. This area is on the east side of Halong Bay and is a much less crowded, providing unparalleled views of the area without the congestion of Halong Bay proper.

If your budget allows, definitely consider a luxury overnight cruise. This was one part of our trip that we did not skimp on price and it was worth it. We loved the on board cooking lesson, kayaking sessions each day, fishing for squid at night and soaking in the pool while cruising through the beautiful emerald waters.

6. Ride in a Basket Boat on an Eco Tour

Hoi An is a family dream destination with many hands opportunities like lantern making, pottery workshops and experiencing village life just outside the town. One of the best activities on the myriad of village tours offered here is riding in a basket boat while fishing for crabs on the river. This is one of the only places in Vietnam where you can experience these unique boats. With only 2-3 people per boat, you will have a fun time spinning your way down the river searching for crabs. Just be careful the crabs don’t get loose in your boat like ours did!! We took a tour with Hoi An Village Experience, but there are many others as well.

Other Hoi An Village Tours


7. Experience Local Life in a Village Homestay

Another top experience in Vietnam with kids is a village homestay where you can experience local life just like the locals. While there are many such offerings for village visits, our homestay with IndoChina Junk at the Yen Duc Village allowed the perfect combination of cultural exchange opportunities and hands on activities like rice husking, fishing with a bamboo basket and learning how to make a broom from rice stalks. Furthermore, riding bikes around tiny village lanes has to be one of the best experiences to be had in Vietnam with kids of all ages.

8. Stay in a Shack in Ninh Binh

Needing a break from city life, the best bet is to head south of Hanoi to Ninh Binh where you can stay in a ‘shack’ while also giving back to the local community. The popular Nguyen Shack here offers an off the beaten path experience with its natural surroundings as well as their mission to give back to local communities in financial need.

Guests sleep surrounded by karst mountains on a private lake, can bike through ride paddy fields and hike to spectacular viewpoints all miles away from the hectic buzz of Vietnam’s city life. A perfect escape from the crazy streets of Hanoi en route to the South. Or if your route is taking you South to North, a nice retreat before you reach the craziness of Hanoi!

9. Navigate Through Old Town on a Cyclo

Exploring in Hanoi can be a hair raising adventure for families due to the insanity of the streets. With more than 50 million motorbikes, even the sidewalks aren’t safe zones here! Don’t fret though, you will get used to it quick enough. Top tip – walk across the streets slowly, with a clear direction. Motorbikes will then know how to move around you.

That said, until you have mastered the roads, hop on a cyclo (a bicycle with a seat for 2 in front) to experience the mayhem from a different perspective! No, you don’t have to navigate it yourself, the cyclos are operated by experienced drivers with insanely strong legs! It’s the perfect way to get a feel for Old Town and try to spot shops to return to later.

10. Explore Some of the World’s Largest Caves in Phong Nha

Photo via Flickr

Vietnam is known for having an extensive network of massive caves dotting the country. Phong Nha is home to the largest cave in the world, but at $3000 per person is quite prohibitive to visit! However, this area still boasts some other impressive caves making a visit on your way to/from Hue worth the effort. Families will enjoy exploring Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave easily. The truly adventurous families can try ziplining (for 10 and over) through the Dark Cave, ending their visit with a mud pit bath inside.

While there are plenty of places to stay here, we recommend the Nguyen Shack Eco Resort if you have the budget. Located a few kilometers from town, this nature focused hotel will provide a relaxing..

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We have been on the road now for several months, with a real on the road test of what are essential travel items for RTW family travel. My main go-to items for travel that are on my ultimate gift guide for traveling families are still some of my favorites. However longer term travel definitely has its own set of requirements, which has prompted me to write this post.

Below are our favorite must haves for everyone hitting the road for short and long term travel with kids.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

My Top 3 Travel Essentials for RTW Family Travel Skyroam Solis

Recently someone asked me my top travel essentials and I have to say that my Skyroam Solis is at the top. Traveling as a solo mom with my 8 year old means I need to feel secure. Being connected online while we are out exploring helps bring that peace of mind for me. I always have access to Google Maps, local taxi services or even Skype to make phone calls to hotels or tour companies. It has been essential for continuing to work while on the road. (As I write this post on a beach watching my son play!)

I currently subscribe to the $99 a month subscription which is the best for our needs right now, but I have also used the day passes for shorter trips. If you use this affiliate link (and code NOBACKHOME) you get 10% off the purchase of your own Skyroam.

Grayl GEOPRESS Water Purification /Filter

The next item on my essentials list is my new Grayl Geopress water filter/purification bottle. I also have their previous bottle that was a filter, but this new iteration is said to be 99.99% effective against all bacteria, viruses, and harmful products found in water all over the world. They say that it can be used to purify water from Vietnam to streams around the world.

I will admit I was a bit nervous to use this on our first stop in Bangkok, but since that first run through (after not getting sick!) we have used it daily throughout SE Asia and love it! It is so easy to use that Cian usually does it himself. Fill the bottom container up with water and then press the top one down. Within 8-10 seconds you have clean purified water.We use it to make ice, to refill our other bottles and to clean things in the room that we don’t trust in tap water. After 6 weeks in Asia, we can say it’s amazing! A must have travel item.

It’s still on preorder, but put your name down. You will love it!

Patagonia Hip Pack

My son laughed at me at first for getting a hip pack, but now that we have been traveling around he has seen how useful it is AND how popular they are!

With one internal zipper pocket and two outside pockets it is easy to keep all your items organized. I keep my current day’s budget on the front pocket with extra cash and cards on the inside zipper pouch. My phone also easily fits into the big pocket as well as chapstick and a small sunscreen which means we always have just what we need!

I love this pouch! It has become a must have for me while traveling.

Travel Luggage for RTW Family Travel Osprey Nova Daypack

A friend of mine has an Amazon Basics laptop bag that seemed perfect for our travels. I took it on the first leg of our trip and loved it. But as usual, I overstuffed it and used it a bit too much that it got a hole in the water holder after just 6 weeks. Since I loved it so much, I set out to find one similar but stronger. Enter Osprey!

The Osprey Nova (for women) or Nebula (for men) are both very similar in that they have all the pockets you need to keep life organized and a lifetime guarantee. I absolutely love it. I have my laptop, our homeschool folder, iPad, camera gear, water bottle (the Grayl and my regular bottle), and so much more in it. There is also a secret top pocket where I keep our passports and extra cash too. The price point is much higher than the Amazon bag, but after 6 weeks on the road it is showing absolutely no wear and tear and I still love it. Someday perhaps I can not overpack it with electronics and use it as an overnight backpack!

Osprey Ace 38 Backpack for Kids

After months of research and even purchasing several bags, we finally settled on the Osprey Ace 38 Backpack for my 8 year old. It is a little tall for his small frame now, but it will grow with him through the years. The fit is great and even though we could overstuff it, we had been good about keeping it to no more than 12 lbs for him to carry easily, but after a few months in the road it has definitely gotten heavier!

So far on our adventures he has used it as a travel backpack and even for an overnight camping excursion on a volcano! It worked perfectly for both instances and has been a favorite for both of us. We highly recommend this bag for traveling families.

REI Tarn 18 Day Pack for Kids

If you aren’t looking to backpack, but would rather get a daypack for your kids, we love our REI Tarn 18 Daypack. It holds so much stuff, has a waist belt and plenty of bells and whistles for kids to enjoy. My son particularly loves the little pockets on the waist belt where he can hide his collection of rocks he picks up on the way! This fits a decent amount for a weekend away as well if you want to start testing your kids out on carrying their own gear.

Or if you still carry their gear, this will hold their flight essentials, snacks and a sweater easily!

Travel Essentials for Kids (Chosen By A Kid) Buff for Kids

My son was gifted a buff this summer and it has become his number 1 travel accessory. He uses it when he’s hot to keep his hair back and when he’s cold to cover his head and ears! He wears it almost every day, which if you know him is a total change from his normal hat wearing days! There are tons of options on Amazon, but we also love the ones sold by our favorite traveling family – The Bucket List Family.

Age Appropriate Camera

My son has transitioned over the years from a toddler camera to a sturdy rough and tumble point and shoot to now a digital mirrorless camera. Giving kids a way to document their own travels is such an amazing gift. I find it so wonderful to go through my son’s photos to see what he thought was interesting and important about our trips. Depending on the ages of your kids there is something out there for everyone. I have also found that having a camera helps him focus more on where we are even if it may not be the most interesting typically for kids!

The ones we have had and loved are:

VTech Kids Camera  – This is a great little camera for the littlest of the bunch who want to look like their siblings or parents. We had this as a starter camera for the first few years and my son loved it. It definitely helped his love of photography develop.

Nikon Coolpix W100  – This camera has been a hit for 2 years. All of my son’s friends have even purchased it seeing how much fun my son had with his. This camera is waterproof, shockproof and in my view kidproof! My son has dropped this thing a million times and it’s still going strong.

Sony Alpha a6000 – This camera was mine, but has now been handed down to my son who is LOVING it. It is super light, easy to carry around and takes great shots even with the kit lens. Unless you kid is responsible and/or super into cameras I would probably just give them a hand me down or look for a used option. But this is a great camera to get more serious about changing settings and understanding photography.

Gift Cards for Photos Books

This summer I realized that my son has been to so many places in the world, taken so many photos but doesn’t always remember the places we have visited. I thought a great way for him to remember his trips a bit better would be to start making photos books of our excursions. So far he has made one for Brazil, Borneo and Singapore. He often talks about taking certain photos because he wants to add them into his book. We use the iPhoto app on the Mac, but you can also use online services like Shutterfly for kids who are a little more computer savvy.

Garmin VivoFit

My son got the Garmin VivoFit for his birthday and it has been HUGE on our travels so far. He absolutely loves being able to track his own steps each day, as well as his sleep. In addition to that, he loves having it as a watch and a timer. He uses all the functions almost every single day. It’s been a nice addition for me as well to keep track of his sleep to see how much our travels are impacting his sleep patterns and if we need to slow down a bit so he can catch up on sleep. His current step record is almost 30,000 steps.. not sure when we will beat that one!

The benefit of this “fitbit” versus other ones made for kids is that this does not need to be charged! It uses a watch battery so should last about 1 year. Also, it is waterproof. My son has swam with it and takes a shower with it most days. After testing out several, this was the best fit for a busy lifestyle.

Apple iPad Mini

The Apple iPad Mini may not be something for everyone’s budget, but having an iPad Mini has been great for being on the road. On this trip my son is carrying all of his own gear, including his iPad. It is imperative that everything he brings along is light and easy to pack. He has been reading books downloaded from the library on the Kindle app as well as doing his homeschool work through different online programs. It’s been amazing and I highly recommend getting a small version for the kids if you can. (Don’t forget a slim, but protective case as well!)


I cannot tell you how many pairs of headphones we have gone through during our travels over the last 7 years. Too many! The current favorite are these JBL headphones we picked up at Singapore airport after we broke another pair (the second of those even!). They are light, fold up well and provide safe sound technology so I don’t have to worry so much about how loud he is playing his music or shows. So far these headphones have been with us for almost a year and to more than 7 countries and they show no signs of wear and tear yet!

Essential Travel Clothes for RTW Family Travel Patagonia Jacket for Adults

One of my favorite purchases over the past 2 years has been my Patagonia down jacket. I know it is so cliche, but seriously this is one of the best purchases you can make. I can’t tell you how many times I have used this. It is so small and light that even packing with only carry-on during our Central America trip, it has come with me. 

Even in warm Guatemala where I thought I wouldn’t need it, I used it twice to climb volcanoes! I have also used it in Ireland and Iceland and Wisconsin in just the last 3 months! It comes with a hefty price tag, but it is worth it for the lightness and ease of traveling.

North Face Rain Jacket for Adults

Both my husband and myself have this North Face Rain Jacket. It is lightweight, folds up well and is pretty water resistant. I used it in torrential downpours in Borneo and the part that my jacket covered was the only part of me still dry!.

Puffy Down Jacket for Kids

Just as for us adults, this puffy down jacket has been a perfect travel accessory for my son. It packs so small, keeps him warm in a pinch and has been perfect to layer over other things to provide even more warmth. Combined with his rain jacket, he has been set even in the cold of Iceland (well, with 5 layers underneath!) We have one from REI, but reading the contents on the label, it is the same make up of down as the ones above on Amazon!

Kids Marmot Rain Jacket

My son’s Marmot Rain Jacket has come in useful all over the world as well. He has worn in in the jungles of Borneo to the wet waterfalls of Iceland. It is lightweight and can be used as both a wind jacket and a rain jacket. It is his final layer for the cold climates and used for the rain. This is definitely a great buy for traveling families who will be in a variety of locations.

Merrell Hiking Boots for Kids

If you know my son, you know that at home he lives in his cowboy boots, but when we are on the road he takes only two pairs of shoes – his Teva..

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One of the things we loved most about our visit to Hoi An are the many hands on activities throughout the area. The Thành Ha pottery village Hoi An is a perfect example of this. This riverside pottery village in central Vietnam is located just a few miles outside of Hoi An’s old town. If you have budding potters or are just looking for something to do, this makes for a good visit. That said, be prepared to come out with a handful of things you probably don’t need!

The village consists of narrow pathways that form a maze through simple riverside homes. You will see all sorts of pottery in various stages of production stacked by the entrances, from cups, jars, bowls and more. Even if you don’t buy anything or try your hand at making things, this is a fun morning excursion when you have the time.

How Much Does the Hoi An Pottery Village Cost?

If you do not intend to practice any pottery or purchase anything, you do not need to pay the entrance fee to the village. However, for less than $2 (35,000 Dong at writing) for adults (kids under 16 are free), it is worth it to pay before you enter just in case.

At the top of the main road, before the Terracotta Park (which requires an additional entrance fee for both adults and children) you will see a little yellow stand. Thai is where you purchase your entrance tickets.

Included with the ticket is a souvenir gift and the ability to try your hand at pottery at any or all of the potters homes in the village.

Do I Need to Book a Tour to the Pottery Village Hoi An?

No! However if you have a tour in which it is already included, then even better. Otherwise, there is no need to book a tour to visit. The village is quite small and easy to navigate on your own.

The only benefit to having an English speaking guide is to provide more information at each home as well as translate conversations.

We visited and had a good time chatting to the local potters without any assistance.

How Do I Get to the Thành Ha Pottery Village Hoi An

The biggest issue in visiting the Hoi An pottery village is deciding how to get there. For those on a tour, your transportation is included. For those going on your own, you can bike from town or take a Grab. We took a Grab which was easy enough to get one out to the village, but took a little bit of time to get one returning. As always with Grab, just keep refreshing the page and searching for a driver again. Worst case, you can ask someone at the Terracotta Park to call a taxi for you.

What to expect at the Hoi An Pottery Village

During our visit close to the start of Tet, the pottery village was quite empty with only a few tourists strolling around. This also could be because it was morning when most tours tend to arrive later in the day on the way back to Hoi An.

After you have paid your entrance fee at the yellow house, you can just freely potter around. As you pass each workshop, you will often be asked if you want to try your hand at some pottery. Some homes only have a pottery wheel while others only have clay art by hand.

My son enjoyed trying his hand at each and every home! Some helped him make small pots, some bad clay set up for larger pots and then he even made a little pig for Lunar New Year!

You can leave your art to dry while you walk around, but chances are you will have to transport it wet. The different workshops have boxes and or bags for easy transport.

The issue is deciding how much you really want to return home with! We decided on two pots and the pig in the end.

Once you take it home, it will still need another 1-2 days to fully dry. Therefore, if you plan to visit the pottery village in Hoi An, make sure to do it a few days before you leave so that it is easier to transport!

Have you been to the pottery village? Share your thoughts with us! Are you headed to Vietnam? Check out our other posts to help plan your trip!

An Unforgettable Overnight Halong Bay Cruise

Experiencing Village Life in Vietnam

Top Things to do in Hoi An (with or without kids)

Make Hoi An Silk Lanterns

Our Top 5 Hoi An Restaurants 

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The post A Morning at Thành Ha Pottery Village Hoi An appeared first on No Back Home.

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Vietnam was a total surprise for us in many ways, but especially in the food department. Vietnamese food is fresh, varied and absolutely fantastic. The problem when you arrive to a town like Hoi An is there are SO many places to eat that it is often overwhelming choosing where to go. Obviously, even with a week in town we did not become experts on where to eat in Hoi An, but we found a few favorites that will get you off the main circuit and eating some delicious food in between searching for your own favorite eateries!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Our Top 5 Hoi An Restaurants Morning Glory

In researching where to eat in Hoi An, I kept coming across blog after blog mentioning a restaurant called Morning Glory.  This is the go to restaurant recommendation online as well as from many hotels in the Ancient Town area. While it was decent, and we think you should go just for the atmosphere, I will admit we found similar quality food at sidewalk cafes where the locals eat, for a fraction of the cost! But I am recommending Morning Glory to give you a great spot to eat while you are in Ancient Town wandering around. There are two restaurants opposite each other so feel free to pop into either one. We tried the rice pancake (pretty great!), Cao Lau with tofu (first time to see it with tofu instead of pork!) and a version of my son’s favorite Bun Cha. 

Bale Well

While in Hanoi, we visited a local cafe with a friend and sampled a ton of different Vietnamese dishes. One of the best from that night was pork on a lemongrass stick. Ever since that meal, we continued our search. When I asked the Lantern Lady if we could get this dish in Hoi An, she immediately recommended Bale Well. This ended up being one of our favorite Hoi An restaurants. 

This garden cafe hidden down a small alley is always buzzing with locals. A set menu means no choices to stress you out. The waitresses are super helpful too in showing you how to properly eat the myriad of dishes delivered to the table.

The set meal includes two different type of pork on a skewer that you wrap in rice paper, rice pancake and garnish with cucumbers and lettuce with a little kimchi too. This was our favorite Vietnamese dish throughout the country and one we continually search for!

Mr Hai Noodles Photo credit: 117 imagery

The Lantern Lady also suggested another local favorite, Mr Hai Noodles as a great place to sample the local dishes at a local price! The recommended dish here is the Mi Quang (turmeric noodle), which is also a variety of pho. However Mr Hai Noodles also serve the Cao Lau, the local Hoi An specialty. We tried both and preferred the Mi Quang. Cheap and cheerful. This is a great place to visit after making your lanterns or while cruising around outside of the Ancient Town area. 

The Best Banh Mi Restaurant in Hoi An

If you follow us, you will know that we LOVE Anthony Bourdain and try to find his favorites in all the countries we visit. If you are a fan and a foodie, than you also cannot miss Anthony Bourdain’s favorite in town, Banh Mi Phuong.

While this is not a secret spot at all, it is well worth the effort to visit. Our tip – don’t wait in line, instead head inside for a seat to avoid the long takeaway line.

I had the bacon Banh Mi, but you can also have a mixed meat or even a tuna banh mi! There were so many options, that you will surely find something you like. For less than a dollar, you can eat here every day several times a day without breaking the budget! I was so sad that I only ate it my last night. It was delicious and will be a banh mi I will forever crave.

Dingo Deli

If you are looking for the expat scene, great western food and a place for the kiddos to be kids for a while,Dingo Deli is your place. We lucked out and stayed just down the street from here, otherwise I am not sure we would have ever found it. As much as we love eating only local food, it is also nice to find a place with a great sandwich, french fries and delicious breakfast options. 

This place is buzzing with the local expat and worldschooling communities, so if you need a little English language time, you will definitely find someone to chat to here. Dingo Deli also makes a great space to work as they have dedicated office space with fast WiFi.

The kids spent an entire day here one day playing on the play structure which was a great reset for all involved!

There are a ton more Hoi An restaurants to check out, and even more we sampled, but these were out standout favorites. Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy these awesome restaurants in Hoi An as much as we did!

Do you have any local favorites visitors should try? Share them with us below!

Are you headed to Vietnam? Check out our other posts to help plan your trip!

An Unforgettable Overnight Halong Bay Cruise

Experiencing Village Life in Vietnam

Make Hoi An Silk Lanterns

Top Things to Do in Hoi An

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The post Where to Eat in Hoi An | Our Top 5 Hoi An Restaurants appeared first on No Back Home.

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Hoi An is a picturesque UNESCO Heritage town on the central coast of Vietnam. Even being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam, Hoi An continues to showcase a well preserved example of an ancient port town. It’s traditional wooden buildings provide a beautiful backdrop to experience all the things to do in Hoi An with kids (and without too!).

Even though much of the ancient town in Hoi An is filled with shops geared entirely to foreign visitors, the lanterns, cute shop fronts and small lanes continue to lure visitors with it’s great food and fun energy, especially once the tour buses have left for the day!

To escape the crowds a bit, here are our top picks what to do in Hoi An with kids.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

TOP 13 THINGS TO DO IN HOI AN WITH KIDS Lantern Making with The Lantern Lady

Hoi An is known for two things – tailors and lanterns! The entire town is covered in lanterns so what better activity to do here than make your own Hoi An lantern. While there are a myriad of classes around town, hands down the best one is with The Lantern Lady.

Thuy, *the* Lantern Lady is so sweet and helpful that you will not want to leave her little workshop. There are two options for lanterns, making one from scratch and the express version which starts at the point of adding the silk fabric.

My 8 year old did one from scratch, while I just enjoyed doing the express version. It was such a fun activity, my son wanted to return each day to make more! I have to admit we both love looking at our beautiful creations. The perfect hands-on activity that also acts as a souvenir.

Explore Ancient Town in Hoi An with Kids

One of our favorite things to do in Hoi An is to wander around the Ancient Town, especially in the late afternoon and evening as the lanterns begin to light up the night. Most of the old town is filled with shops primarily for tourists these days, but it’s still fun to explore the tiny shops and people watch. We even found our favorite Japanese candy in one shop!

During the day, the town will be full of the tour groups who arrive by the bus loads. Avoid it at that time and head over as the tour busses leave for the night. Start at the river and work your way away from the river towards ‘regular’ life! There is a massive market towards the end of the river past all the lantern boats that is fun to explore as it’s bursting with locals.

Cruise in a Hoi An Lantern Boat

In days gone past, the Hoi An Lantern Festival was a monthly occurrence coinciding with the full moon. These days however it seems to happen every night. Even though this tends to be mostly for tourists, you will still see locals setting off their candle lit lanterns before the tourists arrive for the evening.

The best way for kids to enjoy this fun cultural event is to hop on a boat and cruise up and down the river to deposit the lanterns.

You need to bargain hard or luck out to find someone who starts at a fair price! For myself and my son, we were able to bargain down to 50,000 Dong but we actually ended up going with a lady who started her prices at 60,000! This included two lanterns as well which was nice. The ride is only 15- 20 minutes so this can easily be done after dinner while out for an evening stroll. 

Eat All the Vietnamese Food in Hoi An

There are so many restaurants and sidewalk cafes in Hoi an that it is often overwhelming trying to figure out what to eat. If you are new to Vietnamese food, we highly recommend a food tour where you can learn more about all the local specialities. We have loved our tours with With Locals in other cities, so if they offer one here, give it a try. Otherwise, there are tons of great food tours to check out.

I’ve also written about our favorite Hoi An restaurants if you want to check out where we ate. We loved our recommendations from The Lantern Lady as well as sampling our way through the small stalls along the river. Whatever you eat, make sure you try the local speciality Cao Lau. These wide noodles in a soup with pork and crispy noodles on top are so delicious and only found here in Hoi An!

Experience Local Village Life

There are a multitude of villages to visit, but the most popular seem to be ones that show guests how the local farmers work and to ride in a basket boat. We looked at a few options, but finally settled on Hoi An Village Experience with Mr Chu based on personal recommendations. He is hilarious and really focuses his energy on giving back to his local community as well, which we always admire.

Mr Chu picks you up at your hotel, where you then ride bikes through rice paddy fields, stopping along the way to take photos. You will ride a buffalo, plow a muddy rice field, prepare the ground for rice planting and then plant some rice. It’s all set up for tourists so that it can be done at any time of the planting season, but the kids did not care! They just LOVED being able to do hands on work.

From there we visited a small community where we went fishing in small bamboo basket boats while cruising peacefully along the river. Last, we headed to Mr Chu’s house to learn how to make rice pancakes before eating a beautifully prepared dinner. We would highly recommend Mr Chu, or at the least doing a similar tour as it’s very enlightening for adults and kids!


Take A Day Trip to My Son Sanctuary

If you don’t have a visit to Cambodia and Angkor Wat planned, a day trip to My Son Sanctuary should be on the cards. This ancient Hindu complex of temples is a fun day trip to explore ruins and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

If you have already been to Cambodia or have it on your list, you could give this a miss if you are short on time. Otherwise, there are a ton of tour options like a full day tour with cooking lessons, a My Son tour with Pottery Village tour added on and more. 

Take a Hike with Pure Paths

My son was missing nature, so we decided to head out on a local hike with Pure Paths. We had a lovely day hiking in the forest, visiting a waterfall and just soaking up the forest views. There was not another person in sight – just the guide Nicko and us. It was such a beautiful escape from the city. This is a perfect hike for adults and for kids. 

Visit the Big Hand at Ba Na Hills

We did not make it to Ba Na Hills but heard from everyone who went that it was a fun day out. A bit cheesy in ways, but picturesque and worth the afternoon. You can ride the world’s longest cable car and cool down at the top where it’s much cooler. There are amusement park rides for kids, massages for parents and of course a fun Instagrammable photo of the big hand! From Hoi An, you can do a day trip easily.

Get Messy at a Pottery Village

Warning, do not go to the pottery village if you don’t want to bring home lots of pottery! Thanh Ha Pottery Village located about 15 minutes from town is a fun outing for kids interested in pottery. Admission to the town is 35,000 Dong for adults with kids under 12 free. This admission price gets you a souvenir gift and as many pottery sessions as you feel up to.

After two pots and a pig, we were done only because our baggage couldn’t handle anymore! My son loved it, even though the workshops are quite basic. Different homes offer different types of pottery – some using the wheel with others making things by hand. My son loved seeing how they make things that he’s seen on the roadside. Well worth a morning if you have the time to spare.

Get Cooking with Goian

If you haven’t taken a cooking class in Vietnam yet, Hoi An is the place to do it. There are a variety of options offered all over town. You can combine a village visit with a cooking lesson or a market visit with cooking as well. We have heard great things about the Eco Country Cooking Tour as well as cooking classes from Goian. With either of these classes you get a choice of menu options as well as a visit to the local markets. This is a fun way to get kids to test out more Vietnamese food if they haven’t already fallen in love with it!

Cuddle Kitties at Jack’s Cat Cafe

Ever since my son first heard of the concept of animal cafes he has been keen to visit one. Once we saw there was one in Hoi An, we had to make a stop. Jack’s Cat Cafe isn’t quite like others in the world in that it’s actually a cat rescue center first and foremost. The cafe part comes in to play as an avenue to raise money and bring awareness to the cat meat trade in Vietnam. It’s heartbreaking to read the stories of some of the cats here, but it’s also heartwarming to see the amazing work that is being done.

It is also quite fun to cuddle some kitties for a bit! Admission is 100,000 Dong for adults and includes a free drink. This allows you to stay for 90 minutes. The cafe closes at 3 pm, so come early. It is also highly recommended to book and/or email in advance as the cafe only allows a certain number of guests at a time.

Relax at a Hoi An Beach

There are so many things to do in Hoi An that we had a hard time fitting it all in..

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Hoi An, located in central Vietnam, is known for two things, tailors and beautiful silk lanterns! When you visit, you must experience Hoi An lanterns in some form or another. You can do this by just walking through the streets admiring the brightly colored lanterns hanging over head, by launching your own candle lit paper lantern on the river or by making your own beautiful Hoi An lantern.

During our visit, we ended up doing all three. Wandering around Hoi An soaking up the beautiful lanterns that are seemingly hung from every tree and strung across the roadside is magical. You feel like you are walking into a fairytale. While this is fantastic, our favorite experience of all was making our own silk Vietnamese lanterns with The Lantern Lady.

History of Hoi An Lanterns

In Vietnam, it is believed that lanterns bring good fortune and happiness when hung in front of your house. In Hoi An you will see beautiful silk lanterns draped in front of homes, across the road and hanging from trees.

According to some, the lanterns first made an appearance here in the late 16th century when Hoi An was a bustling commercial port filled with Chinese and Japanese settlers. During this time, silk was one of Hoi An’s top commodity’s which is what the lanterns were made of. The hanging of the lanterns were thought to bring good fortune to the town, which based on current day tourism levels I would say it worked! 

Hoi An’s lanterns are made by hand using bamboo, wire and silk fabric. These days you can see all shapes and sizes of lanterns throughout the town. They are such an ever present symbol of Hoi An, that it makes the perfect souvenir to take home. And even better when you make it yourself!

Lantern Making Class with The Lantern Lady

As I mentioned previously, one of the best ways to experience Hoi An lanterns is by making your own. There are several classes offered in Hoi An, but honestly, the only place you need to know of is The Lantern Lady! Thuy is amazing and her classes are SO much cheaper than the other classes offered in the hotels around town.

I had first heard of The Lantern Lady from a fellow blogger who had heard of her from another traveler. This is how she gets most of her business. I’m reluctant to write about her class only because I don’t want her to be overrun with tourists, but hey, my blog isn’t that busy and honestly if I can help her get more business I’d love to. 

The owner, Thuy is just the sweetest person ever. She is so calm and gentle and absolutely welcoming to all. We had a wonderful several hours at her workshop and did not want to leave.

The Lantern Lady does not require advance bookings, but it is recommended that you email her in advance to see what the best time to arrive would be. We did this, but during our visit, several families showed up without bookings and it was fine.


Making Hoi An Lanterns

Once you arrive to Thuy’s small studio down a little alley opposite Orchids Hotel, you will be asked which lantern you wish to make. Choose between an express class that already has the bamboo sticks prepared beforehand or make one from scratch. We chose to do one of each. My son doing the full version, and I the express.

This class is appropriate for kids and adults, however some children will need extra assistance. My 8 year old managed to make his Vietnamese lantern almost entirely on his own with a little help from Thuy.

Making the Hoi An lantern from scratch consists of approximately 11 steps starting with attaching the bamboo sticks with  wire, shaping the bamboo, threading with the hangers and hammering in each of the pieces including the tassel hook. My son loved doing all of these steps as it involved hammering and using his muscles.

Once you have made your basic shape, you will move on to adding the silk fabric. This is where the express class starts and where I began making mine.

At this point, you will choose what color fabric you want to use. Thuy will show you how to add the glue to the bamboo sticks, cut the excess fabric and repeat on all the sides.  This is pretty easy for even smaller kids to do, so for younger children I would recommend starting at this level. Last, you add ribbon and a colorful tassel to give it a finishing touch. 

This project does require patience and some skills with scissors, but overall, I would say it is a fun craft for most ages.

Wait! How do I get this home? Do not worry as Thuy has thought of everything.  The lanterns collapse a bit making it easier to pack and travel with. As worried as my son was, folding it does not ruin the fabric or lantern. 

How Much Does the Lantern Making Class Cost?

There are a few lantern classes around town, but this is the best by far. The owner is amazing, as are the clientele. But most importantly for many, it is also the most economical!

At the time of writing (2019), the full class is $6 with the express class costing $4. Definitely a bargain to make your own lantern and get a souvenir in the process. I am not sure you could even purchase a lantern for these prices in the market without serious bargaining!

Other Ways to Enjoy Hoi An Lanterns Walk Around Ancient Town

The old area of Hoi An is called Ancient Town. You will know it by the fact that it’s mostly car free and is beautifully decorated with lanterns all over. One of our favorite things to do in Hoi An was stroll around the streets around dusk as the lanterns all start coming on. It’s such a beautiful sight to see. One of our favorite streets is just off the river near the restaurant Morning Glory. Make sure to also get away from this main street and head off down smaller roads leading away from the river as they are all beautifully decorated as well.

Lantern Boat Ride

If you are like us and enamored by the lanterns, you will want to also take a lantern boat ride on the river. The boat rides are only 15-20 minutes as the area they can go on the river is quite short. However, it proved to be the perfect amount of time to experience this unique part of the culture. 

We spent a few days walking along the river, casually bargaining with the boats on offer. On our first night we were able to get a boat down to 50,000 dong for myself and my son (Exchange rate of 20,000 Dong to the USD). We weren’t really interested in going at that point, but that gave us a good starting point to know for when we were ready to go for a ride. The following night, a lady approached us and offered her boat for 60,000 so we took it with no bargaining at all!

The price of the boat should also include at least 1 small paper candle lit lantern per person. Our boat even gave us a third when I accidentally drowned my upon release!

Choose a boat, hop on and enjoy the scenery stroll past. It’s a beautiful way to take in all the lights of the town along the shore.

Have you been to Hoi An? Were you as obsessed with the lanterns as we were?

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The post Making Hoi An Lanterns with the Lantern Lady appeared first on No Back Home.

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A bit late, but here we go, our gap year recap for month 4! January has been a short month of travel since we only left the US on the 15th, but it has been full of adventure and feels like we have been gone for ages already!

Bangkok, Thailand

Our first stop was to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. I have been a few times, but was looking forward to visiting again as it’s always been one of my favorite cities.

Immediately upon arriving at the airport we met another traveling family. We felt the trip was already off to a great start to meet people here unlike in Central America where we didn’t meet any other families!

Bangkok was the perfect start to our trip. We arrived at 2 am, but since Bangkok is a late night city we were able to walk around, pick up some milk and get the lay of the land before crashing for a few hours!

We spent our days exploring neighborhoods by bus, tuk tuk and the train. Basically I am realizing that any city where you walk around and take public transport ends up being high on Cian’s favorites list. We had an Airbnb here and really felt like we lived in town. Even after 5 days we felt we could have stayed even more.

The food was so good. But we knew that if we were on our own, we would stick to our favorites of curry and chicken satay. So, we took a street food tour which turned out to be perfect.

We also visited lots of temples, ate a ton and took a day trip out to see the floating markets. You can read more about our top things to do in Bangkok to get an idea of what we were up to!

I was so excited to meet up with other travel bloggers here as well. I met them last year on the India Palace on Wheels trip, so it was fun to meet again on their turf. They took us to an amazing food market where we ate tons and chatted the night away. I’m pretty sure this is part of the reason Bangkok is now one of Cian’s favorite places in the world!


The last time to be chilly for a while!

Next up was Vietnam. I have a friend who lives in Hanoi who was only in town for a bit before Tet (Vietnamese New Year) so we had to head over before carrying on with the rest of our Thailand trip.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Vietnam. It’s a trip I’d wanted to do for years but always put off due to lack of time, but for this trip I did very little research in advance knowing we wouldn’t have a ton of time. I figured we would hit the big spots and see what we liked to return again another time. The must do places are Hanoi with a side trip to Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh. We skipped Hue, but will have to return another time to check it out as it’s super cute.

Turns out we love it! The country is beautiful. The people are fantastic. The food is amazingly fresh and quite easy to eat even for novice foodies! And it’s cheap! Oh so cheap.

After Central America, we are loving Asia because food is so insanely cheap. In Central America we were lucky to get away with a $20 meal for the two of us. Here we can easily have a meal for $2-5 with our most expensive meal costing $12 and that was at a western place.

It’s also surprisingly fun. We love the hands on activities. Cian made a broom from scratch at a village homestay we did. He made a lantern in Hoi An that is awesome. And he even rode a buffalo and fished local style.

We loved meeting and seeing so many other traveling families. We loved the quality of accommodation for budget prices. Can you tell we fell in love with Vietnam? Now I definitely need to return to do all the hill tribe towns we haven’t had time for due to Tet.

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Overall I felt this month we had been below budget, but once I figured in flights and visas for Vietnam and India, we ended up being right on target with our budget. Darn it! I was really hoping to be below because I know I am already way above budget for Feb due to traveling with a friend and moving much quicker than we have been doing.

The positives of the month were, we stayed with a friend for a few days which definitely helped out, as well as ate locally almost the entire time which also reduced our food budget. We did a big ticket trip to Halong Bay and Yen Duc village which wasn’t cheap, but were definitely the highlights of the trip, so worth it.

Accommodation has been tricky only in that we have been staying in places around $50 a night, but in Hoi An another family turned us onto a $20 a night place that we loved. It has helped us move into a little lower category of accommodation meaning we have more for flights and other activities. 

We also haven’t done much most days other than hang out with other families and walk around, so that also helped keep our budget in check.

I think if we were here in Southeast Asia for longer (yes, longer than 6 weeks!) we could spend even less. It is easy to spend very little in some places if you don’t move around too quickly. This is by far the cheapest part of the world we have visited thus far. You can live pretty nicely for budget prices and even better if you have a hefty budget.


One the boat in Halong Bay. This is where Cian would do some school work!

Homeschool has gone a bit better this month with a few changes. One is that Cian must write in his journal every day and read a book every day. He is also doing most of his math online this month which helps a bit since his biggest struggle with math was always asking me to explain the directions more thoroughly. This means though that his iPad time has gone from 30 minute a week to several hours!

I’m trying to be more chill in the school front with more focus on just having him write in his journal each day and read a book. As long as those two are done, I’m not stressing. I feel better about this level of work, but in the back of my mind know that I need to be doing more still!

This month we have had a good time. I haven’t been annoyed with Cian much which is amazing considering it’s been pretty hot and humid which are my push buttons! We feel like are in a pretty good groove now. We are definitely moving slower now with some days lazing around at the hotel until mid day. For us this is huge to not be running out of the door first thing! We are still loving it and already feel like time is flying by too quickly!

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One of the best experiences on our trip to Southeast Asia was a village homestay in Vietnam with Indochina Junk. This ended up being a highlight of our Vietnam experience as it offered wonderful insight into the culture and local life of many in this country. One of our goals of travel is to find educational and transformative activities that give hands-on opportunities for learning and this fit the bill perfectly.

A visit to Yen Duc village can be added on to your overnight Halong Bay cruise or as a stand alone option. We did it as part of our Halong Bay trip and it worked out well as it’s located between Halong Bay and Hanoi. If you have time, we would highly recommend making a visit to Yen Duc village with Indochina Junk as it really was a great way to experience this fascinating country and to experience life in a local village.

Experience the Best Hands-On Homestay in Vietnam Yen Duc Village Homestay with Indochina Junk

Yen Duc Village is a decent sized village of around 5000 people. The village is located between Halong Bay and Hanoi making it an easy stop between the two. 

The main source of income for this village revolves around rice production. As soon as you enter the area you will see rice fields in all directions. This makes Yen Duc a great place to learn about rice.

The village is quite a bit larger than we had anticipated with much higher quality homes than we imagined. It does not feel like a feel a poor area, even though it has definitely felt the effects of younger generations leaving for the cities.

Indochina Junk offers visits to this village in conjunction with their Halong Bay cruises as well as a trip on it’s own.

Accommodation at Viet House Homestay in Vietnam

Accommodation in Yen Duc is at Viet House, which is a small 4 room property at the entrance of the village surrounded by fish ponds and rice fields. It is the most picturesque homestay in Vietnam. Technically it’s not quite a homestay, as it’s not an individual person’s home, but Indochina Junk have established the rooms in the house as they are in traditional Vietnamese homes giving guests the feel of a real homestay with all the comforts of a hotel.

The rooms can be provided with two twin beds or one large king size bed. Otherwise all 4 of the rooms are identical and beautiful. We loved the details with the use of the traditional flat wooden bed frames seen in Vietnamese homes with the addition of the mattress on top. All rooms come with hot water showers, AC/heaters, a mini fridge as well as hair dryers.

Each building also has a small living area between the two rooms for relaxing between activities which was a nice place to relax in our downtime.

This hotel was such a treat and one we highly recommend to visitors!

Activities Included on the Homestay Village Visit

Apart from the gorgeous rooms, the main reason for visiting Yen Duc village is to learn about the local culture through a variety of hands on activities. This fit perfectly into our family travel goals of educational and transformative travel.

During our 1 night, 2 day visit, we packed in several great activities that allowed us opportunities to ask questions and delve deeper into the Vietnamese culture. Without the tremendous insight into the community that we gained from this homestay in Vietnam, our trip would have been much less enjoyable.

Ride Bikes Around the Village

During your visit your mode of transportation will be on bicycle, just like the locals. While there are a few motorbikes and the occasional car passing through the village, it is mostly occupied by walkers and bicycle riders. The village itself is not too large, however it is helpful riding a bicycle as it allows you to move between the large rice fields to different sections of the village more easily.

Indochina Junk has bikes available for kids as well as adult bikes with baby seats in the back. Unfortunately they did not have one with training wheels for my son, who is just teetering on riding solo, but perhaps if advance notice is given they may be able to organize this as we did see many kids in the village with training wheels.

Regardless, kids can easily ride on the back of the bikes like locals if they don’t know how to ride! My son actually preferred this as he felt he would have been nervous on some of the roads on his own bike.

Family Home Visit

One of the first things visitors will do upon arrival is grab a bike to head to a local villagers home to learn more about how the people in this community live. During our visit, we visited the oldest home in Yen Duc, which is currently occupied by only the matriarch of the family. We found it quite interesting to see the traditional home and hear more about how her life has been. We also loved looking at their family ancestry chart which provided insight into how marriage and families have operated here through the years.

Indochina Junk works with several families in the village, so you never know which house you will end up with, but they are all interesting and have plenty of stories to share!

Learn About Rice Making

The next stop on our first afternoon was to a small workshop area that displays the traditional methods of rice husking. Today most villagers take their rice to homes that can husk the rice by machine. However, I am sure there are still people who do this by hand, but not quite as many as in the olden days.

Regardless, it was quite interesting to see how much work goes into preparing what many would think of as a simple rice dish!

Not only do you get to see these old techniques, you get to also try it yourself. I will say, it is much harder than it looks and much more time consuming than I ever imagined. Learning about this stayed with us throughout our Southeast Asia visit and helped us gain deeper understanding into how the different areas do things as well as let us understand what all the woven baskets we saw actually were!

Fishing with a Bamboo Basket

My son’s favorite activity of the day was learning how to fish with a bamboo basket. We arrived to a small murky pond behind a family home where we were supplied with waterproof pants to pull over our clothes, given one glove and a bamboo fish trap.

Off we entered into the muddy pond to try our hand at catching fish for dinner! It again looks quite easy, but is extremely tiring as you are constantly bending over.

Within a few minutes we had managed to catch a few. And after about 45 minutes all we came out with was 5, although a 6th was caught but escaped my son’s hands as he transferred it to the bowl!

This was so fun and such a unique opportunity. We later learned that an Australian family managed to catch 66 fish in their allotted time. I feel like we need a do over to compete properly!

Market Visit in Yen Duc Village

On day two, the morning begins with a visit to the local market. This is a daily market where locals buy all their products as well as come to chat and hang out. We had a great time exploring with our guide Gi who gave us loads of information on all the different types of items for sale. We tasted tamarind, watched a fish seller prepare her fish and chatted with a tiny lady who was turning 81 in a few days. Again, having a guide to lead you through a simple market makes such a world of difference!

Broom Making

Next on our hands-on activities list was a visit to a local broom maker’s home to learn this traditional art. One, it’s fascinating to visit the local homes to get a peek into how they live. Two, it was so fun to see how something so essential can be made from dried rice plants. Again this is something that stuck with us throughout our trip as we began noticing all the different types of brooms around and could understand exactly how they were made.

This was my son’s highlight for day 2. He couldn’t stop looking at his very own broom that he made from scratch. We really felt like this was a great hands-on activity that lends itself so well to family travelers.

Water Puppet Show

Our final activity on the agenda was a visit to the local water puppet show. This is something that is on most visitors list of things to do in Hanoi. It was great to have it included here.

The show itself is only about 30 minutes long, but is cute and quite entertaining. My son loved trying to figure out how each of the characters worked and how it was being operated behind the scene.

The show has a series of stories focusing on life in Vietnam from rice harvesting to fishing and marriage and family life. A great end to our two days in the village.

Food at the Homestay in Vietnam

Indochina Junk does a lot of things wonderfully, and the food they provide is no exception. The food is always above and beyond. During the village homestay, you will get dinner, breakfast and lunch. These are all multi-courses providing ample opportunities to sample many dishes and fill up.

Our dinner and lunch both had 7 courses which were all delicious. Breakfast started off with a bowl of pho followed by eggs as you wish and a soft baguette.

Note that drinks are not included in your stay, except 1 cup of tea/coffee with breakfast.

Why We Loved Our Homestay in Vietnam Village Experience

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