A culinary journey through Vietnam, experiencing a variety of delicacies from the freshest seafood in Halong Bay to the best street snacks in 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 your leader followed by an optional group dinner at a local restaurant. *May De Ville Old Quarter Hotel or similar*
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! *May De Ville Old Quarter Hotel or similar*
We make an early start for the approximate 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. *Overnight Boat*
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. We then transfer (approx. 1 hour) to 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. *Hoi An Silk Boutique Hotel or similar*
This morning will include a walking tour of Hoi An, the original European trading port in Vietnam dating back to the mid-16th 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. *Hoi An Silk Boutique Hotel or similar*
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. *Hoi An Silk Boutique Hotel or similar*
We drive to Da Nang 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. 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. *Asian Ruby Luxury (Asian Ruby 1) or similar*
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. Recently, Cai Be floating market has become less crowded and smaller as fruit trading is mostly now done by trucks due to the bridge being built. However, this is still a great opportunity to see a local market and the trade being conducted traditionally on a smaller scale. 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. *Homestay Guesthouse*
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. *Asian Ruby Luxury (Asian Ruby 1) or similar*
For land only clients, the trip ends this morning after breakfast. 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 admire the view from the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Vietnam or 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!
* Travel by private minibus and boat plus 2 internal flights * Group normally 4 to 16 plus leader * 7 nights hotels, 1 night boat and 1 night homestay guesthouse
9 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 5 dinners are included. Thanks to the tropical climate, the long coast and the gigantic range of mountains, Vietnam is blessed with numerous varieties of culinary offerings and consequently maintains its reputation as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world that still packs a punch with delicious, fresh and fiery flavours. Vietnamese food relies on fresh fish, vegetables, rice and a whole myriad of verdant herbs and spices; lemongrass, ginger, basil and lime all play an important role in the cuisine. The Chinese and French influence is felt throughout the country where you are just as likely to be offered a Banh Mi (stuffed baguette) as you are a hot steaming bowl of Pho (noodle soup). Each dish is prepared with the Asian principle of Wu Xing in mind (the five elements); meaning that the perfect combination of spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet is the ultimate aim. Be sure to also seek out the national beverages; Vietnamese coffee is served iced and sweet with condensed milk, a real sugar and caffeine hit, and beer hoi (local beer, brewed daily) is served on most street corners in the North out of large plastic jugs that are perfect for sharing. Food is cheap in Vietnam and you can generally avoid the spicier food if you wish. Western food is readily available almost everywhere, with the exception of the night in the Mekong Delta. Vegetarian food is widely available, however the offering will be fairly similar in most places. Please advise at time of booking if you have any dietary requirements.
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