Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. After your briefing, head out for your first introduction to Vietnam’s lively culinary scene. Stop at 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’. Pull up a chair and sip your tasty brew.
Start the day with a traditional breakfast of pho – a dish that originates in Hanoi – designed to awaken the senses and prepare you for the day. Join your leader on a city tour and tuck into some of Hanoi's renowned street food specialties before heading to a hidden tea house, learning about Vietnamese tea traditions from a true master. Afterwards, visit a local Xo community where an expert winemaker will lead a tasting of local Vietnamese varieties. You’ll walk down alleyways lined with French colonial architecture, passing by artist collectives, pottery workshops and back-alley fashion houses – you’re in the true heart of Hanoi now. Once arrived, head down into the basement of a 100-year-old French villa and into the world of Xo Liquid – an alcohol made of rice wine. Your expert wine maker will take you through his story and explain to you the process of making this traditional product – the knowledge and care for his craft is infectious. After your special wine experience, visit a traditional Vietnamese house, where you’ll be greeted by a local family and enjoy a meal which showcases fresh produce and regional vegetarian cuisine.
Travel by private vehicle 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 2000 limestone islands rising from the turquoise waters of Bac Bo Gulf. It spans an area of about 1500 square kilometres and is dotted with beaches and grottos created over thousands of years by waves and wind. Visit one of the lesser known caves, then return to your vessel late in the afternoon and enjoy a delicious feast 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 an opportunity beforehand 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 (approximately 8:30am), enjoy a classic breakfast of bun bo Hue – a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). After leaving your luggage at your hotel, embark on a tour of the city’s imperial monuments on the back of a motorbike! 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 plant-based 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, stopping en route to see the traditional preparation of My Quang – a Vietnamese noodle dish originating from the Quang Nam Province. The local expert will show you how it is made, then enjoy a tasting with your group. Afterwards, continue to Hoi An (approximately 4 hours, with your lunch stop). This beautifully restored city 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. Pop into the Reaching Out Tea House – the peace and quiet of this establishment stands in stark contrast to the bustling streets outside. The teahouse is a non-government organisation that supports the local deaf and mute community by providing employment and vocational training. While here you’ll sip some delicious teas in total silence – a tranquil experience you won’t soon forget. Your evening is free to do as you wish, and your leader can recommend the best local examples of Vietnamese cuisine.
Start your day with a walking tour of Hoi An, where you’ll see all of the sights, like the Japanese covered bridge and the Old Town’s maze of alleys. Afterwards, head to a rustic food market and keep your eyes out for things to buy – this is a great place to pick up Vietnamese cooking gadgets. In the afternoon, head to a small village called Cam Thanh. Be joined by a local chef at the village market, for a spot of ingredient shopping and to take in the aromatic herbs, vibrant fruit and vegetables, and local life. Head back to the home of our local chef and enjoy visiting their own edible garden, before rolling up your sleeves for a hands-on cooking class. Feast on your delicious creations, dishes that highlight the cooking of the Pho Hoi people.
Today is free for you to explore Hoi An at your leisure and of course your leader can recommend the best food and activities. For early risers, take the opportunity to visit the Hoi An fish markets – they are at their most vibrant in the mornings! 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, you could enjoy some seafood by the water, or jump on a boat for a barbecue feast on a nearby island.
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 Remnants 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.
Rise early for a morning temple visit. After a traditional Khmer breakfast, take a turn around the village food market with your local hosts. Select fresh vegetables, meat and herbs and help prepare a delicious lunch with your community hosts, picking up a cooking tip or two! After your lunchtime feast, depart for Siem Reap by private vehicle (approximately 4 hours). The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a short introductory walk around the centre of town and enjoy the atmosphere. With its cafes, bars, restaurants, food and drinks stands, Siem Reap caters for foodies of all persuasions. In the evening, take a motor remork around the hidden local street food treasures of Siem Reap: barbecued corn and meat on skewers; Khmer Fried Chicken; green mango served with chilli and salt; ducks eggs and more. Finish at a dessert stall where fruit shakes, fruit with sweetened condensed milk and baked puddings are the specialty.
Take a bicycle ride into the countryside. The ride is easy and takes in mostly shady roads through local villages. Along the way, stop and experience rice paper-making, fruit drying and preparation, production of the famous prahok (fish paste) and rice wine-making. Finish up at the best Kralan (sticky rice in bamboo) stall in the district. Then travel by private bus to the temple city of Banteay Chhmar, sometimes referred to as the Citadel of the Cat (approximately 3-4 hours). Some of the road is unsealed which slows down the journey, but it is worth it to visit this remote small community. The 9th century temple here is a top candidate for World Heritage Status, with the ruins here similar to the famous Bayon with their face towers, and surrounded by an impressive 9 kilometre-long wall. Experience true Cambodian hospitality by staying with a local family in a traditional Khmer wooden-stilted house. As the day draws to a close, enjoy a memorable traditional Khmer dinner by torch-light in the grounds of the temple. If traveling during the rainy season the temple grounds may be too wet so we will instead visit a local Community Center for a traditional dinner.
Travel by private bus to Battambang (approximately 6-7 hours including several stops). Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang (pronounced Battambong), is a pretty riverside town of French elegance, friendly Khmer people and beautifully preserved colonial architecture. The city is famous for its many statues of animals and divinities that decorate the streets and buildings. It also lacks the traffic of Phnom Penh and the visitor numbers of Siem Reap, so it’s a great place to get a real slice of Cambodia. Your leader can recommend activities for your free afternoon. Perhaps join a local Battambang foodie for a home-cooked meal, tasting local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry, and fried spicy chicken with homemade rice noodles.
Rise early to see the fishing boats arrive at the port with their daily catch. For breakfast, perhaps partake in a meal of crab, prawns or squid cooked up with Kampot green peppercorns and served with rice is. Alternatively try some of Kampot's tastiest baguettes on a visit with the owner of a small wood fired oven. This legacy of French colonization is ubiquitous – many roadside carts sell baguettes with meat, sauces and salad as a snack for workers.
After breakfast you’ll return to Phnom Penh (approximately 3.5 hours).
Meet a passionate chef for a guided tour of the markets, learning about the building blocks of Khmer cuisine. Enjoy a hands-on cooking class and master Khmer staples such as Samlor Machou Yuon (sour "Vietnamese" soup with fresh fish and tamarind) or Bok Svay (pounded green mango salad, usually served with dried fish or prawn). Feast on your creations 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 gs down.
Take a morning cyclo (cycle-rickshaw) tour around Phnom Penh, discovering some of the interesting sights, sounds and smells of the capital, including the wonderful art deco-designed Psar Thmei (Central Market). Along the way, taste some of the best street food in the city, like sticky rice with beans wrapped in banana leaf and spiced fried crickets!
Back to the hotel to freshen up, and check out. Before you leave Phnom Penh, confront Cambodia's tragic past on a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located in a former high school that served as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) for the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979.
You will also stop past the Killing Fields of Chung Ek which represent the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Afterwards, drive south by private vehicle, towards Kampot, one of Cambodia's most attractive old towns (approximately 3 hours). Arrive in Kampot by evening.
Famous for its pepper, Kampot supplied most French restaurants for many years during colonial rule. Today, the region is also renowned for its durian, a spiky, pungent fruit that either incites adoration or sheer loathing. Try it if you dare! In some free time, you might stroll along the riverside's French colonial architecture, or enjoy a coffee on the veranda of a riverside restaurant and admire the Bokor Mountain Range.
Check out of your hotel this morning and transfer to the airport for an unaccompanied flight to Phnom Penh. The flight will take around 50 minutes, after which you'll be met by another transfer driver who will take you to your hotel. The Cambodian section of your Real Food Adventure begins tonight with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm, where you'll get to meet your new leader and travel companions. Phnom Penh is set at the confluence 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 street food and enjoy the unfolding waterside entertainment. Food in Cambodia combines an eclectic mix of local and international influences and has a flavour all its own. Kick off this food adventure 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, you might like to grab a relaxing drink at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, or stroll along the well-known Sisowath Quay with some new travel pals – it’s up to you.
For those who fancy an early morning cycle, join your hosts on a ride to the nearby village market for breakfast supplies for the group, and then enjoy a meal back at the homestay. Afterwards, return to Ho Chi Minh City by bus. The rest of your day is at your leisure. If you've got energy left in the evening, you might choose to enjoy a final Vietnamese meal with your new friends.
Spend a full day temple-hopping with your local guide to make the most of your visit to the world-famous Angkor complex, built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in Southeast Asia. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap so you'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites. These include Angkor Wat, Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day. In the evening, enjoy a final dinner at a plant-based restaurant celebrating contemporary Khmer flavours. Using fresh produce from their own gardens, tuck into dishes like mushroom lok lak or rice noodle soup.
After breakfast take a tour of the countryside, tasting locally-grown, seasonal produce. Depending on the season, you'll be treated to durian or rambutan, plus lychee, pineapples, mangos or bananas. Next, visit the Kampot Pepper Project. Grown in Cambodia for centuries, Kampot pepper is considered among the world’s finest. Today pepper is also seen as an important symbol of Cambodian regeneration – the province’s pepper was almost completely wiped out by rice production during the Khmer Rouge period. Continue on to the lively Kep Crab markets, where crabs are kept fresh in pots that float in the Gulf of Thailand's warm waters. Enjoy a lunch of fresh crab cooked to perfection, eaten on a pier overlooking the ocean. After lunch, walk along the Kep beach and explore the old oceanfront buildings. Kep was once Cambodia's most popular and prestigious beach town, but the Khmer Rouge destroyed many of Kep's mansions and villas. The ghostly remains now stand as a silent reminder. Alternatively, relax in a hammock or swim in the warm South China Sea.
Your Real Food Adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities on your final day and you are free to leave at any time. If you are keen to continue your exploration of the Angkor complex, please speak with your leader about extending the length of your access pass.