When Jen privately contacted me to share photos of her family’s holiday in Vietnam, I asked her if she’d be happy to write a guest blog so their family’s experiences may benefit others. I know family life is always busy so I appreciate it when our readers contribute and it sounds like Jen’s family had an incredible time in Vietnam. It’s great to read the highlights, challenges and the way they managed to holiday in a country not well equipped for wheelchair users. Jen shares their experience below.
We are a family of 5 from Melbourne. Justin and I have three kids – Emily is 14, Kynan is 12 and Imogen is 10. Imogen has a condition called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia which affects her legs and limits her mobility. She can walk but is very unsteady and uses a manual wheelchair for activities out of the home.
We enjoy holidays that allow us to see different things and pull us out of our comfort zone a little. Having said that, we do like comfortable accommodation and don’t generally travel very light!
We chose Vietnam because none of us have been to an Asian country before and we were all really keen to experience a completely different culture. This was our first overseas trip where we had to consider the wheelchair so even though we knew Vietnam isn’t a generally accessibly country, we thought if we stayed in one area we could make it work. We chose Hoi An in central Vietnam because the Ancient Town looked amazing and we’d heard wonderful things about it.
For this trip we were after partly accessible accommodation. We didn’t need to have accessible bathrooms (although I would try to get them for our next trips) but we did need to ensure access to our room with elevators if we weren’t on ground floor accommodation. We also needed to make sure the areas of the hotels such as the pool area and the restaurants were accessible. Knowing that Vietnam isn’t set up for accessibility the way we are used to here in Australia, I was prepared to get the chair up and down one or two steps at our accommodation if we had to, however we didn’t have this issue at either of the places we stayed in Hoi An.
There is plenty of information on Vietnam and in particular Hoi An but finding info on accessibility was particularly hard. Thankfully a blogger I follow (Bron from Smiths Holiday Road) had just returned from Vietnam with her family and I was able to gain lots of insights into the options, and find things that I hadn’t otherwise considered to research. For the most part generally I trawled photo galleries of the areas we wanted to go looking for the realities of taking a manual chair there so we were prepared.
We travelled Vietnam Airlines and had exactly zero issues with them. The chair was no problem, we had wheelchairs at each plane and staff members who took us around the terminals. We always boarded first and disembarked last and the attendants were lovely.
Both the hotel and resort we stayed in were suitable for us and the manual chair, however we didn’t see the accessible rooms so I can’t speak to those. We stayed at Silk Luxury Hotel near the Ancient Town for three nights and were very happy there. The service was wonderful and they bent over backwards to help us and make sure we were happy. The wheelchair was no issue for them. No ramp into the pool itself but we were able to get the chair into the pool area without problems and same with the restaurant. No issues there.
Our second stay was at Vinpearl Hoi An which is a new and huge resort on Cua Dai beach. It was very accessible in most aspects with well made paths throughout the resort. Again I can’t speak to the accessible rooms, but our Villa was suitable for us, despite having an upstairs bedroom. Two bedrooms and bathrooms were on the ground level so it wasn’t as issue as Imogen had access to everything on that level. I didn’t see a ramp into the main pool area, but the restaurant was easy to get to and navigate and again the staff were more than happy to help us with anything we needed. Or with things we didn’t need in the case of Imogen wheeling herself around the buffet breakfast and attentive staff members making sure they helped her back to the table despite her being perfectly able to manage herself. It was always intended as helpful though so we just smiled and thanked them.
I arranged everything we did and we didn’t use formal tours because I wanted to control the issue of access as best I could and have flexibility for our family. So private guides and drivers were the way to go. I found it was really helpful having organised private airport transfers and private guides for different things we wanted to do. We needed a 7 seater van anytime we drove anywhere thanks to the wheelchair, so it was very easy to just have them ready to go at the specified times. Private tours with English speaking guides were good too again for peace of mind in terms of access, and extra pair of hands to help with manoeuvring the chair and for being able to convince Vietnamese tourism operators to let you and your family have priority access when necessary. We also had flexibility which was so handy, and the prices of anything in Vietnam are so cheap that private guides and drivers are very much affordable options. With the benefit of hindsight, in some cases we didn’t really need the guide, but the peace of mind it gave me in knowing I didn’t have to try to communicate needs or worry about more complicated access was good.
Ahhh the highlights – where to begin?! The Ancient Town was just wonderful, so beautiful and quaint as well as busy and hot! The lanterns at night are just an amazing sight hanging everywhere en masse in small shops, to being strung between shops and over alleys. The river there was beautiful too. The atmosphere of the whole Ancient Town is really just wonderful.
We had a ride on some basket boats which were so much fun! We had the girls in one and the boys in another and each boat had a local who did the rowing and steering. We stopped by some large reeds and they made us all some wonderful creations out of the reeds – grasshopper rings, a flower headpiece… so clever! We got to see how traditional fishing nets were cast and we did a little crab fishing ourselves which was great until ours escaped it’s upturned hat enclosure and ran around the boat much to Imogen’s horror!
We also did a morning street food tour which was such an experience being that the Vietnamese have dinner at breakfast. We tried so many traditional dishes and met some lovely people. We had traditional Cao Lau which can only be made authentically using water from a particular well in Hoi An. We were also lucky enough to be able to visit the home of a local lady who had prepared some dishes for us and helped us to make our own rice paper rolls as well. It was so special to be welcomed into her home.
The accessibility is something that you need to be VERY aware of in Hoi An. As long as you’re prepared to be flexible in managing, and potentially handling things in a way you wouldn’t expect to in Aus, then it’s a wonderful place. Going with too high expectations for access would seriously dampen enjoyment of the trip.
The traffic was something that shocked us when we first arrived. The idea was fine until we decided to walk to the Ancient Town the day after we arrived (we specifically found a hotel only 300m from the Ancient Town so we wouldn’t have access issues) and only got so far as the road side outside the hotel! We looked at the chaos of cars, motorbikes, scooters, buses and taxis and had no idea how we could possibly cross the two lanes of traffic that seemed to have no organisation or regard for road rules. We turned around and dejectedly headed back to our room completely overwhelmed and wondering how on earth we’d make the next few days work. After some discussion between Justin and myself and the lovely lady at the tour desk, we discovered that it wasn’t as daunting as it seemed and that despite the apparent chaos, it all just worked. So we tried again. Stepping out into the road for the first time is the hardest part. Once you’re on the road, it just works with a little common sense. Definitely a challenge to begin with, but we quickly got used to it and we were frequently sharing the roads with all the other users without issue.
Another challenge we found was visiting My Son Sanctuary which is home to ancient Cham temple ruins. It’s an hour drive from Hoi An and is a fantastic place in the jungle. We did find it very hot and tiring there, and the access was very hard for more than seeing the main ruins site. We had a Freewheel on Imogen’s chair and it was an absolute must for the terrain. We did still have issues with stairs and some narrow paths, but we were determined so I piggy backed Imogen in those situations and the chair was bumped up or down stairs. I also piggy backed Imogen when we explored the ruins themselves at various sites. Again, it wasn’t ideal but it worked for us and made it so that all five of us could have the same experience. Imogen didn’t miss out, and the other kids weren’t restricted either.
One challenge that was interesting to say the least was heading to Ba Na Hills. It’s essentially an old French town styled theme park and is a very quirky mix of Vietnamese and French influences. It’s about an hour or so out of Hoi An and is on the top of a mountain. To reach the top you take a series of cable cars and I have to say, if they were the only thing we did that day it still would have been a success – the views were spectacular! The cable cars were accessible and we didn’t have any issues other than moving the chair on and off quite quickly seeing the car doesn’t stop moving. The top of the mountain itself was really lovely and interesting, but incredibly steep with many uneven paths and a TON of stairs. I hardly saw any ramps. So that was a lot of work in terms of the wheelchair. We did most parts but didn’t bother with some just to keep stress levels to a minimum and everyone still had a great day. Much like the trip to My Son, there was a lot of manoeuvring and piggy backing involved. Not sure I’d do it again, but it was much cooler there than the heat and humidity of Hoi An so that was a welcome relief!
Imogen really loved experiencing the Vietnamese culture, seeing how they lived differently to us and ate different foods. She loved the Ancient Town and all it’s beautiful lanterns. Her favourite activity though was definitely Jack’s Cat Café. Imogen is absolutely in love with cats and despite owning cats ourselves, Jack’s was her highlight. It is a volunteer run shelter for homeless cats where you can have a drink and a snack and play with the 72 cats who roam around freely. Needless to say she was in heaven! Access there wasn’t easy either, but once up the two front steps, the uneven stones/paving was manageable with the chair.
A big thanks to Jen and her family for so generously sharing their experiences and photos. It’s fantastic to be able to showcase the travels of other HWWT families. If you would like to share your travels with us I am happy to send you some question prompts. Just email me at [email protected]