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One of the most appealing aspects of Hanoi for families is that it is as much fun for kids as for adults, and there is no shortage of things to do. As in any unknown city, parents need to keep an eye on their offspring to make sure they don't get lost or fall foul of the unpredictable traffic.
But in general there is no need to worry about kidnapping, theft or assault as Hanoi is usually very safe. Like all Asian cultures, the Vietnamese go ga-ga over kids and Western children are so exotic to them that youngsters are likely to be spoiled by everyone they meet, from tour guides to hotel receptionists to waiters in restaurants.
Fun activities for kids in Hanoi
Water puppet shows: this unique form of Vietnamese entertainment originated in the area around Hanoi around 1,000 years ago, and watching a performance of these endearing characters should be top of any family's list of evening activities.
It is thought that the development of water puppets, which are controlled by a complex arrangement of rods and pulleys beneath the water, took place in the rice paddies. So farmers adapted their entertainment to a watery environment and the craze took off around the nation.
In modern theatres, a large tank of water provides the stage for a sequence of very visual skits, accompanied by traditional musicians. The whole experience is guaranteed to have mum, dad and the kids hooting with laughter, so much so that some nippers will want to go back the next day.
Exploring the Old Quarter: though it's true that kids won't enjoy all of Hanoi's sights as much as the adults (museums being a good example), the chaotic activity in the narrow lanes of the Old Quarter, with their fascinating sights and smells, is likely to excite kids as much as their parents.
They are almost certain to spot some quirky souvenir in the shops that proliferate in the area to give them a special memory, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to rest up in when they get tired. The main dangers here are the hectic traffic weaving through narrow lanes and the possibility of getting lost while distracted, so parents should not let toddlers out of their sight.
Boat rides on the lakes: the best way to explore Hanoi's central districts is on foot, but short legs can get weary quicker than long ones, and a great way to relax after a tiring walk is to take a boat ride on one of the city's lakes.
There are pedal boats for rent by the hour on both Bay Mau Lake in Lenin Park and on West Lake (Ho Tay). On the latter, the boats take the form of giant swans. Children are sure to enjoy gliding over the lake's surface, and are likely to insist on more even after dad's legs are all pedaled out.
Visit to a shopping mall: chances are that if you're a shopaholic, your kids are infected with the same disease. If this is the case, the best therapy for all the family is to visit one of the city's flashy new malls and spend lots of money on bargains for yourselves and gifts for the folks back home. However, if you have difficulty resisting all the goodies on offer, leave this activity till the end of your holiday, or your budget might be blown too soon.
Selected museums: if you try to drag your kids round all Hanoi's museums, they are sure to be yawning and doing everything they can to get out. But with a bit of forethought, you could plan a day looking at a few that have definite youth appeal.
The first of these is the Museum of Ethnography, where you can learn about Vietnam's colourful minority groups – their dress, lifestyle and housing. This may take a bit of persuasion but the kids will definitely be glad they went.
The wreckage of planes and exploded ordnance outside the Military History Museum will surely fascinate youngsters, and the exhibits in the Ho Chi Minh Museum are sufficiently bizarre to keep kids bug-eyed, though you'd better hope they don't ask you to explain it all, as much of it is a mystery, even to adult eyes. More on Hanoi museums.
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