International Admiration

Sharing smiles and toys in Tavan Village, Vietnam.

A family vacation through Vietnam

Story and photos by Jessa Mayhew

It was 94 degrees with 88 percent humidity and scattered showers in the forecast. We’d been walking for three hours over rocky hills and still had several miles to go. I have never seen my boys happier.

Tributaries to the Red River are used for tourism, mobility and subsistence agriculture by local people. Trang An, Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam.

My family functions best when breathing unfamiliar air. Vietnam is 11 hours ahead of Eastern time and about 20 hours flight time from the central United States. The cultures of the Indochina Peninsula are metaphorically that far removed from American culture.

We did not have lofty goals for this trip. We wanted to disconnect from our daily stress, reconnect with each other and open our boys’ hearts and minds to the human experience of another culture. In this moment – with tiered rice paddies to our left and right, bamboo forests rising above and a generous Hmong woman leading our crew through the trails – it felt like we had more than exceeded those expectations.

One of the few roads in the valley between Sapa and Tavan in Northern Vietnam.

International travel with children is not an inevitable disaster, but it does take some meticulous preparation, a willingness to slow down and flexibility. I put my family of four into three carry-on packs for this two-week adventure, making us a nimble crew. My husband and I recognized that this wouldn’t be the trip to take a shot spiked with snake venom (which is a real thing). But we could embrace the chaos in Hanoi, the country’s capital, and still find peace in the hills of Tavan.

Felix (13) walks a footpath in Tavan. Lao Cai Province, Vietnam.

Life doesn’t stop when you have children; it expands. Watching my 2-year-old light up over herds of water buffalo and the chance to ride an overnight train was a gift. Witnessing my teenager’s ability to share himself through impromptu language exchange and listening to his evolving understanding of foreign economies and human connection was inspiring. This is what it’s all about. Through the eyes of our children we cultivated a deeper love for our global community, and in that unfamiliar air our children learned that we are all far more alike than we are different. VT


A water buffalo grazes the hillside of Cat Cat Village. Lao Cai Province, Vietnam.

Women plant rice in a field in Cat Cat Village, Vietnam.

The mountain town of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.

A kind soul fans Harper (2) on a hot Hanoi day.