Travelling Vietnam with a 6 month old baby
When my husband and I were making plans to holiday in Vietnam many people commented on how brave (Or crazy) we were since Vietnam is a third world country and we would be travelling with our six month old baby daughter.
My husband and I are relatively experienced travellers, but we are first time parents and had never travelled with a child before. We saw it as an exciting adventure, and planned a reasonably luxurious holiday, beginning in Saigon and then flying on to the beach resorts of Nha Trang and Hoi An.
After our Passports and Visa's were approved and our travel plans were in place, we attended our family Doctor to enquire about what Vaccinations we may need to have prior to leaving Australia. Our Doctor informed us that while we could be immunised for Cholera, Hepatitis and Malaria, our baby was too young for these Vaccinations. She could only have the usual six month vaccinations given to Australian babies. The Doctor advised us that in particular Hepatitis can be contracted by eating contaminated food. Because of this he suggested we take all of our baby's food requirements with us. He also advised us to protect her against mosquito bights due the risk of contacting Malaria and not to let her touch any of the animals.
Our baby is heavy for her age, too heavy to carry for long periods. She weighed almost 12kg at the time of our trip and had become too big for a baby sling or carrier, so I purchased a small light-weight pram for our trip, one which reclined so that she could sleep in it if we were out of the hotel during her nap times. You can purchase a framed back-pack style baby carrier which suit babies up to two years of age, but I doubt they would be comfortable to wear all day, or that a baby would be comfortable in them for continuous periods of time. They are also quite bulky. The pram was also was convenient to use as a high-chair. Vietnam is dirty and dusty, you probably wouldn't want to stop to feed your baby on a footpath or even sit them down in some local restaurants, most of which do not have high-chairs available. I'm glad I didn't travel with her regular pram though, which is quite wide and bulky, because there are a lot of motorbikes in Vietnam and they often park them on the footpath, making it difficult to navigate even my small pram around the bikes at times. I found I was quite often dodging people too, as many will cook and eat out on the footpaths. The footpaths are not always in a good condition either. I found them to be quite bumpy nearly everywhere we went with the pram, so the small wheels of a little umbrella style pram may not be suitable either. During our three week stay I only saw one other pram. I never saw a car seat or baby capsule, or a Taxi with seat-belts. Our daughter sat on our laps whenever we travelled by car.
Babies under two years old cannot have their own seat on a plane unless you bring a baby seat or capsule with you. We decided against this and sat her on our lap during our flights. She had no problems during our flights, she probably enjoyed having more cuddles than usual! We gave her a dummy for the flight as it is meant to help babies when their ears pop during air travel. The baby formula I use can be purchased in small individual packets, so I took empty bottles on the plane along with several packets of formula and disposable spoons for mixing them. On board I used bottled water to fill the bottles, and sat them in a cup of hot obtained on board to warm them. This is where my husband came in very handy as with a baby on your lap there is not enough room to pull down the tray in front of your own seat.
Baby food purchased in Saigon
Motorbikes parked on the pavement
Pampers purchased in Hoi An
I packed tins and tetra-packs of baby food, packets of rusks and apple juice. The baby food, formula and nappies I packed weighed over 10kg in total, taking up a significant portion of my baggage allowance. I also packed a packet of disposable plastic cups, to use to serve her meals in, so that I did not have to wash out bowls.
Our holiday was for three weeks and our daughter had been on pureed food from four months. I started to introduce her to tinned baby food before we left for our trip, as she had been eating fresh fruit and vegetables prior. I packed the majority of the food into a large plastic container in my suitcase which had a lid. I would use this container with the Miltons tablets I had also packed to sterilize her bottles. You cannot drink the water in Vietnam and I found it smells a little 'swampy' therefore I wasn't confident with just wrincing out any of her items in plain water. The rest of the food went into my carry on luggage as baby food does not have the same liquids restrictions as other items.
My baby health nurse advised me that it may be difficult to obtain disposable nappies in Vietnam, due to the general population being relatively poor. She said they would most likely use cloth nappies. I was grateful for this advice since I found this was the case. Still, I ran out of nappies during the last few days of our trip, and they were very difficult to obtain. I was also down to my last few tins of baby food and onto my last tin of baby formula. I feared I might run out of it on the plane trip home. After speaking to a local women in Hoi An about this she told me about a market store about a 20 minute taxi ride from our resort. I found a Vietnamese version of Pampers there, they were a very large size, too big for our daughter but they would be okay to use for just a few days. They did not sell baby food there, apart from rice cereal.
During our entire trip I never saw a large grocery store the likes of which we have in Australia, it seems most of the local food is grown fresh and bought from market sellers but there is the odd small Seven Eleven style store with imported groceries in the cities near tourist areas. When back in Saigon before our flight home we were able to find one of these stores which stocked jars of pureed fruit for babies as well as packet formula, in the Hipp brand. They also sold rusks. There was limited English writing on the labelling, and I needed to have someone translate it for me, especially regarding measuring out the formula. Although rare to find, the baby food in Saigon was extremely cheap at around 30c Australian per jar.
Although we had booked a cot for our daughter, and confirmed this request with each hotel via email prior to leaving Australia, only one of them was able to provide us with one when we arrived. It was an old wicker cot which would have been dangerous had our daughter been a few months older and able to stand up. It was quite shallow and she would have been able to fall out. There was no matress with this cot, or any baby bedding. The other hotels could only offer us a single bed. We stayed at four star resorts and hotels but they did not have baby facilities. This seems to be the way it is throughout Vietnam. Most airlines will let you take a portable cot on International flights at no extra cost. This was also the case with my pram.
Our daughter adjusted immediately to our holiday life-style and seemed to enjoy all of the new surroundings, but the problem we found travelling in Vietnam with our baby was quite unexpected. Everyone tried to touch our baby. Smack, pinch, grab or rub - even when I had her pram covered with a fitted mosquito net to try to avoid this from happening, they would reach under it, or at least try to (Usually after we had walked past, so that we wouldn't notice). I sometimes pushed peoples arms away from her.
This country has not caught up with our hygiene standards and besides this, with our daughter not being fully immunised against the diseases in their country it was quite off-putting seeing hands reaching out to touch her constantly. The Vietnamese don't seem to mean any harm in doing this though, it's almost like you're walking down the street with a celebrity when you're with your baby and it's not enough to say "Hello", they've actually got to touch! Some people will see you coming and start to shout "Baby!" to alert their friends nearby. My husband and I seemed almost invisible, they paid us no attention for being foreigners, just our baby. One lady tried to wheel my pram over to her friends when I stood still for just a moment, and many got out their mobile phone and took photos of her. They do not ask permission. I don't quite understand why, but both the men and women, hotel and customs staff, everyone, everywhere you go will do this.
I kept the mosquito net over her pram whenever we were outside of the hotel. If the weather had been cooler I would have draped a cheesecloth wrap over it. I still had to constantly re-position the pram, or where we stood around her whenever we stood still so that it was difficult for someone to reach in and touch her. Small crowds formed around us whenever we were dining out so in restaurants so I'd seat her in her pram between myself and my husband and facing the table, or we'd all sit facing the corner of the room so that we wouldn't be constantly interrupted. I tried to ask several Vietnamese about why everyone was trying to touch our baby and the only response I received is "Because your baby is so beautiful". So, we never really figured out why they all do this, but it almost seems like if they touch a foreign baby they think they will receive good luck. Our daughter ended up learning to wave to everyone as we walked down the street, like she knew she'd become pretty special in this country!