Get the lowdown on north, central and southern Vietnamese cooking with some of the country’s leading experts. A street food tour of Hanoi takes you to the best spots in town to sample northern specialties like pho, bun cha and the golden-yellow xoi xeo (sticky rice with mung bean and fried onion). Get around the romantic riverside town of Hue in true local style – on the back of a motorcycle. With two nights in Hoi An, there’s plenty of time to take in magic of this standout destination. Take a cooking class, cycle through herb gardens and be dazzled by the Ancient Town
Chop, slice and chomp your way through the diverse flavours of South East Asia on this mouthwatering Real Food Adventure from Vietnam to Cambodia. From pho and ancient buildings in Hanoi to banh khoai and imperial citadels in Hue, banh xeo in the lantern-lit streets of Hoi An to banh canh in the pulsating markets of Ho Chi Minh City, become intimately acquainted with Vietnam’s cuisine and its tightly woven place within its culture. Then cross into Cambodia where – with a delicate balancing of peppers and by drawing influence from French and Thai cooking – the nation has created an unpretentious but delectable cuisine all its own. Combined with tours of the spectacular Angkor Wat Temple complex, homestays in the Mekong and an overnight cruise around Halong Bay, this really is a Real Food Adventure with the lot!
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. Next head out for your first introduction to Vietnam’s lively culinary scene. Stop past a family-owned restaurant and savour a bowl of noodles with an unexpected secret ingredient! After dinner, enjoy a bia hoi. This foamy, light beer is made fresh each day and served in basic, open-walled ‘brew halls’. Take up a brightly coloured plastic chair and sip your tasty brew.
Start the day with a traditional breakfast of pho, a dish that originates in Hanoi and is designed to awaken the senses and prepare you for the day. Then it's time for a guided tour of Chau Long Market, where you will learn all about the ingredients and flavours of northern Vietnamese cuisine. Be sure to sample the local coffee, typically served with condensed milk - or for the more adventurous - egg! Tuck into some of Hanoi's renowned street food specialties and finish at a hidden tea house, learning about Vietnamese tea traditions from a true master.
In the evening, get hands on learning to prepare northern Vietnamese dishes. Discover some old Hanoian favorites like caramel pork as well as some lesser known dishes from the highlands. Enjoy the fruits of your labour for dinner.
Travel by private minibus to the spectacular World Heritage-listed site of Halong Bay (approximately 4 hours). Set sail on emerald-green waters, gliding between limestone karsts and soaking in the old-world tranquillity. Halong Bay is a secluded harbour with 2,000 limestone islands rising from the turquoise waters of Bac Bo Gulf. It spans an area of about 1,500 square kilometres and is dotted with innumerable beaches and grottos that were created over thousands of years by waves and wind. Visit one of the lesser known caves, then join a family on their boat to learn about the fishing culture which has been the way of life here for many, many generations. This activity is exclusive to Real Food Adventure Vietnam. Return to your vessel late in the afternoon and enjoy a delicious feast exquisitely prepared by an onboard chef.
Take a bus back to Hanoi (approximately 3.5 hours), then board an overnight train bound for Hue (approximately 12 hours). Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a rewarding experience. It's an efficient way to travel long distances and a great way to get a sense of the country.
Most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, but some travellers take the opportunity to stock up on fresh bread, cheese and fruit prior to departure.
Hue is Vietnam’s former royal capital and its cuisine is considered by many Vietnamese as the best in the country. The food is influenced by its imperial heritage (small dishes and a focus on aesthetic presentation) and its strong Buddhist heritage, reflected in the high proportion of vegetarian restaurants in the area. On arrival, enjoy a classic breakfast of bun bo Hue, a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). After checking in at your hotel, embark on a tour of the city’s imperial monuments on the back of a motorbike (or in a car if you would rather). Stop past Thien Mu Pagoda, an active Buddhist monastery since 1601. Here you'll see a car that belonged to one of the self-immolating monks of the 1963 protests. A dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River (approximately 40 minutes) will be followed by a special lunch stop for a vegetarian Buddhist meal at a pagoda, finishing with a visit to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. The evening is free for your own food adventure. Perhaps ask your leader for the best place to try imperial street specialties like banh hue (rice flour cakes stuffed with shrimp, pork and spices).
Start your day with a visit to the Imperial Citadel, which includes the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war. Head south by bus through coastal rice paddies and traverse the mountainous Hai Van Pass, to Hoi An (approximately 4 hours). The beautifully restored Hoi An retains the feel of centuries past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it. Take the chance to indulge in some shopping and perhaps have some clothes tailored. There's a great array of original paintings, handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and fabrics on display. On arrival, your leader will take you on an orientation walk around the Ancient Town. In the evening check out one of Hoi An's fabulous restaurants or pull up a plastic chair at a communal table alongside locals and learn how to make one of central Vietnam’s most celebrated dishes, banh xeo.
Start your day with a guided bicycle tour of the extensive herb gardens that lie on the outskirts of town, followed by a trip to a rustic food market. This is a great place to pick up knives and other Vietnamese cooking gadgets. Head back to Hoi An for a hands-on cooking class in classic central Vietnamese dishes, followed by lunch.
The rest of the afternoon is free for your own exploration.
For early risers, take the opportunity to visit the Hoi An fish markets They are at their most vibrant in the mornings. In the later afternoon, be welcomed into the home of a local family to learn to prepare My Quang (Quang noodle), a specialty of this city, followed by lunch. Afterwards, if the weather's fine, perhaps hit the local beach for a swim (a great way to get there is by bicycle, which you can hire in town). In the evening, perhaps enjoy some seafood by the water, or jump on a boat for a barbecue feast on a nearby island.
Ho Chi Minh City
Take the short flight to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 1 hour). Take a guided tour to get a feel for the city's frenetic, fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. You will notice a strong French influence in Ho Chi Minh City, which means excellent coffee and baguettes. Stop past the War Museum, GPO and Notre Dame Cathedral, finishing up at one of Vietnam’s most pulsing markets, Ben Thanh. This is the perfect place to pick up any last-minute snacks, cooking utensils, ingredients, or presents for friends and family. Tonight take part in a cooking class where you'll learn some contemporary twists on traditional Vietnamese dishes with a passionate chef. Sit down and enjoy the delicious feast you've prepared over dinner.
Take a private bus out to the Mekong Delta (approximately 2–3 hours), then cruise up this mighty river on a sampan (traditional boat), one of the most common forms of transportation in these parts. Glide past farms and orchards, to your guesthouse, set alongside a family home. Meet your hosts and take some time to wander the garden, relax or lend a hand with dinner preparations. Enjoy a southern Vietnamese feast on the wide verandah overlooking the garden as the sun goes down.
Ho Chi Minh City
For those who fancy an early morning cycle, join your hosts on a ride to the nearby village market, then return to Ho Chi Minh City by bus. The rest of your day is at your leisure. Perhaps sample some of the delights on offer at KOTO cafe. This is an inspiring initiative that helps support the area’s street kids by offering them training in hospitality. If you've got energy left in the evening, head out to enjoy a final Vietnamese meal with your new friends.
Take a transfer to the airport and fly to Phnom Penh – this flight is included – then transfer to your hotel. There will be another group meeting at 6pm tonight, and here you can meet your new leader and any new members of your group.
The sensational Angkor ruins may be the main attraction, but Cambodia’s exquisite temples, charming villages and magical markets deserve lots of attention too. Phnom Penh is set at the meeting point of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, and life centres around the lively river-front area where the locals come to take in the air, snack on the street hawkers food and enjoy impromptu waterside entertainment. If you have free time, perhaps stroll the broad tree-lined boulevards dotted with old colonial villas and explore the city. The National Museum and the Silver Pagoda are both worth a visit. Or consider Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a hill for which the city is named. With genuine locals always ready to share a sincere smile, Cambodia will steal your heart and enrich your spirit.
Cambodian food is often overshadowed by focus on Thailand and Vietnam, when in fact Khmer cuisine is one of the world's oldest living food cultures. The Cambodian cooking pot combines an eclectic mix of local and international influences and has a flavour all its own. Kick off this food adventure ‘eating for a cause’ at an inspirational hospitality school that provides vocational training for former street youths in Phnom Penh. It’s a great opportunity to sample some tasty modern Cambodian cooking.
After dinner will be free time to choose between having a relaxing sunset deink at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, or stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a cocktail or coffee at one of the many cafes while observing the busy river traffic.
Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country's past struggles and successes.