A culinary journey through Vietnam that reveals a deceptive simplicity to a cuisine renowned for its fresh, natural ingredients, aromatic appeal and delicate balance of flavours. From savouring the freshest seafood in Halong Bay, sitting with the locals while sampling the best of street snacks in Hoi An, cycling through the herb gardens of Tra Que village, joining a family for a night spent on the Mekong Delta, to trying your hand at mastering a variety of regional dishes, this trip ensures that you make the most of this food lovers paradise. Each day is packed with culinary-based experiences that are best rewarded with a bia-hoi (local fresh beer) and a perch on the street-side bars to absorb the fascinating culture of this gastronomical land.
Day 1 - Start Hanoi
Today is free to stroll amongst broad tree-lined avenues dating from the French period. There is a faded colonial charm where baguettes and good coffee are sold from doorways of grand buildings of a past era. There will be a welcome briefing this evening with a group dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 2 - Sunrise walk around Hoan Kiem; lakeside breakfast. Market visit and evening cooking class.
Today is a jam-packed day of culinary-based activities. We start our day with a sunrise walk around the Hoam Kiem lake in the middle of Hanoi. We’ll join the throngs of locals as they come together for a daily morning activity – this could be laughing yoga, Tai Chi or street aerobics and all are welcome to participate in this communal gathering before we sit for a quick bowl of breakfast Pho, a steaming noodle soup that is the standard breakfast fare. After breakfast we’ll walk to nearby Dong Xuan market to learn about local fruits and vegetables and to have the opportunity to touch and taste many of the staple ingredients we will come across throughout our trip. This afternoon we pay a visit to the Truong Xuan teahouse. This is one of the last traditional teahouses in Vietnam and we partake in a tea ceremony. Late afternoon we’ll transfer to the KOTO (Know One, Teach One) cooking school, a training school for disadvantaged youths. The KOTO chef will teach us how to prepare spring rolls, a variety of seafood dishes and even dessert. We will of course end the perfect gastronomical day by enjoying our self-made feast!
Day 3 - To Halong Bay; overnight on boat with candlelight seafood dinner on top deck.
We make an early start for the approximately 4-hour journey to Halong Bay. This is one of the most stunningly beautiful sights in South East Asia with roughly 3,000 limestone peaks rising directly from the clear emerald sea. We cruise amongst this amazing karst scenery and enjoy a seafood dinner on board by candlelight. Halong Bay is rich in seafood and offers dishes ranging from horseshoe crab to grilled squid and fresh lobster, dependent on the catch of the day that morning. We overnight on board in twin share cabins with en-suite facilities.
Day 4 - Return to Hanoi; fly to Hoi An, an atmospheric town of Chinese temples and crumbling colonial architecture.
We continue to cruise around Halong Bay this morning before returning to port. We then drive back to Hanoi pausing for lunch before heading straight to the airport for a flight to Da Nang. Overnight in Hoi An, our resting place for the next three nights. A charming small town, Hoi An largely escaped the destruction of successive wars and its backstreets with traditional architecture are a delight to explore on foot as many are off-bounds to cars and motorbikes.
Day 5 - Walking tour of Hoi An; sample the street food delights at a local restaurant.
This morning will include a walking tour of Hoi An, the original European trading port in Vietnam dating back to the mid-sixteenth century. It is now a living museum, with attractive wooden merchant's houses and pagoda-style temples with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European architectural influences. We will stop for lunch at Bale restaurant to sample some street food delights. Very popular with the locals, this restaurant tucked away in the backstreets really is a hidden gem. We will work our way through the menu sampling pork sate’s, sizzling seafood and sumptuous Vietnamese pancakes. This afternoon is free, one popular option is to jump on a bike for a ride through the countryside past local markets, schools and villages before continuing on to My Khe Beach (5 km). Hoi An is also a marvellous place to wander around and enjoy the thriving riverside market and great silk, clothes shopping. If you have anything you want made up in mind, you should consider taking a picture of it along with you.
Day 6 - Leisurely cycle ride to Tra Que herb village; cooking class.
Today is a real hands-on day. We set off early by bicycle to the Tra Que Village, famed for its avenues of herbs, so fragrant you can smell them before you see them. We’ll visit lots of small producers to learn about the process of making the local specialities; a Cao Lau noodle maker and a bean sprout growers home as well as the local market. En-route we will cycle by water buffaloes and an abundance of bird life, two wheels being the optimum way to appreciate the rolling paddy-field countryside. We will visit the market restaurant to watch some live cooking demonstrations before partaking in another cooking class, this time learning all about Central Vietnamese cuisine. This afternoon is at leisure with time to further explore Hoi An. Alternative transport options are available for those who would rather not cycle, there will be a small extra cost, please speak to your leader. Cycling distance approx 12km on flat terrain.
Day 7 - Fly to Saigon; city tour. Optional dinner in a converted colonial villa.
We drive to Danang and then fly to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), an exciting and absorbing city where scooters pack the streets and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, it is now a bustling free market city where anything goes. Our hotel is in the heart of this incredible city. We include a visit to the Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and War Remnants Museum. The Museum has an interesting photographic record of the Vietnam/American War. Please be aware that some images at the museum are very graphic. After the city tour we will visit Ben Thanh market; the most central of all the markets the surrounding streets compromise one of the city’s liveliest areas. Everything that’s commonly worn, used or eaten by the residents of HCMC is piled high here; from scorpions in alcohol and flashy jewellery to hardware and piles of spices and fruit and vegetables. The ‘wet market’ at the back is for the brave only; expect to see clutches of live frogs tied together by the legs, heaps of pigs ears and snouts and baskets wedged full of chickens.
Day 8 - Mekong Delta boat ride; overnight in homestay, dinner with the family.
In the morning we drive to Vinh Long in the Mekong Delta, known as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam. This region produces most of Vietnam's fruit, sugar cane and coconuts. We take a boat trip on the mighty Mekong River to Cai Be. En route we pass many orchards and friendly locals also travelling by boat. We stop to see some small cottage industries such as rice paper and coconut candy, getting a chance to sample the local produce along the way. The evening is tranquil as we have dinner on an island and enjoy some 'Delta' hospitality. We spend the night sleeping at a simple guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided.
Day 9 - Return to Saigon; meet the legendary Mrs Van and learn about south Vietnamese cuisine.
An early start today as we head to the floating market of Cai Be. Visually intoxicating this bustling river market is the only way to understand life on the Mekong. We’ll watch all sorts of wares being traded and of course will have the chance to taste some of the local produce; the Durian fruit should be sampled but for many one taste is enough! The market is set to the backdrop of miles of paddy fields punctuated mostly by agricultural holdings although there is a huge Catholic cathedral on the riverside that is worth a visit. We will transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City for our final cookery class in the centre, this time learning the intricacies of South Vietnam cuisine which is often sweeter due to the use of coconut and palm from the tropical climate.
Day 10 - End Saigon
For those on group flights these depart late in the evening so there will be a full free day at leisure to continue exploring the frenetic city of Ho Chi Minh. There will be some optional acitivies for those who would like to partake; you may wish to visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels. Used by the Viet Cong during the war the network covers 3 levels and approximately 240km of tunnels. Traditionally these were very narrow but some areas have been widened to allow tourists to explore the system. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine!