Cooking and Culture in Vietnam and Cambodia
Vietnam is a vibrant and diverse land with three main geographic regions, each of which you will visit during your unique Vietnam cooking tour: the temperate north, the dry central region, and the tropical south. Vietnam’s history and culture are fascinating, and its many centuries of Chinese rule, independent Vietnamese dynasties, and French colonial rule are on ready display in its architecture, cuisine, and culture. For many Americans, the idea of Vietnam has been frozen in 1975 with the fall of South Vietnam and subsequent unification following the Vietnam War. The last couple decades have, however, seen Vietnam’s economy grow, its place among other developing nations be solidified, and its tourism industry boom. Its cuisine, known throughout the world for its complex flavors and emphasis on fresh vegetables and herbs, is said to combine the fundamental tastes of spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet in every delectable bite.
Lying to the west of Vietnam is Cambodia, your other destination during this amazing Southeast Asian culinary vacation. A fertile and predominantly rural country, life there still revolves around the family, the village, the rice fields, and the local Buddhist temple. A majority of the Cambodians are Khmer, but minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, and Chams. During your Cambodian cooking school tour, you will visit Siem Reap, an intriguing city that boasts Chinese-style and colonial architecture and is the gateway to the Angkor region, home to some of the most amazing temples in Southeast Asia.
Cooking and Culture in Vietnam and Cambodia Itinerary
Please note that internal flights will be booked at time of confirmation. The order of events is subject to change dependent on flight times confirmed.
- Arrival in Hanoi and transfer to your hotel. Time to relax for a bit after the trip.
- This evening, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant featuring a large selection of traditional Vietnamese food – a perfect introduction into the local cuisine! You can taste a variety of dishes to acquaint you with the flavor profiles of Vietnamese cooking.
- Transfer to the Hanoi Cooking Center in the morning, where you will enjoy a cup of Vietnamese special La Han Tea before departing on your foodie market tour. Start your tour across the road from the cooking center for a taste of Pho, a typical food of Hanoi. Then take another short walk to Chau Long to visit the “wet market,” with its impressive display of fresh vegetable, live fish, frogs, eels, silk worms, and more, on sale for the kitchen. Stop to enjoy Banh Cuon (steamed rice noodles filled with mushroom and pork) and continue to Ngo Cho Dong Xuan to taste some of Hanoi’s famous foods, including “Bun Cha” (grilled pork noodle) and prawn cake. Finish at Yen Phu to visit a typical old cafe that was opened in 1936.
- After the food tour, enjoy a cultural tour of this amazing city. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Memorial Complex, which is a lovely park setting that is home to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (which can only be viewed from the outside), in which is entombed the embalmed body of Ho Chi Mihn. (The Mausoleum is closed on Mondays and Fridays, every afternoon, and annually June 15 to August 15.) Next see the Presidential Palace (also may be viewed from the outside only), then stroll through the park to the Ho Chi Minh Stilt House, the simple two-room dwelling where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1958 until his final days. Preserved in the same condition as during his life, it may be viewed through the windows. Visit the miniature One Pillar Pagoda. Also dating from the 11th century, this monument was rebuilt after being destroyed by the French in 1954.
- Next stop is the Temple of Literature, a peaceful series of walled courtyards and graceful gateways. This monument is one of the best-preserved examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, this was also the site of Vietnam’s first university. In one courtyard, giant stone tortoises bear stelae (columns) on their backs, listing the accomplishments of graduating scholars.
- Next, enjoy a Water Puppet Show, a marvelous local art form originating in northern Vietnam and best seen in Hanoi.
- Dinner at the traditional local restaurant made famous when Anthony Bourdain brought President Obama to it. You will enjoy this simple and delicious food just like the locals do.
- Breakfast and check out.
- Depending on the timing of your internal flight, you may have some time on your own in the morning.
- Short transfer to the Hanoi airport for your flight to Danang.
- Transfer to Hoi An and enjoy lunch at an authentic local eatery specializing in noodles.
- After lunch, take a unique “cyclo” and walking tour of Hoi An. Enjoy a 45-minute ride through the cobbled streets of Hoi An while you relax and someone else does the pedaling! You will see the low tile roofed buildings, the bustling central marketplace, and the small harbor where the colorfully painted boats are moored. Your tour will continue as a walking tour. See the Quan Cong Temple, founded 1653, the Phuoc Kien Pagoda, built around 1690 and restored in 1900, the Japanese covered bridge (first built in 1593 by the Japanese community of Hoi Ann), and the Tran Family Chapel. This house for worshipping ancestors combines Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese styles, and members of the same family have lived there continuously for eight generations in a traditional setting. Continue the tour at a typical Chinese-style Pagoda.
- Finish with a visit to a tailor’s shop.
- Free time for shopping or relaxing.
- Dinner tonight at a local wine bar and restaurant, one of Hoi An’s best new restaurants. .
- Breakfast, then depart for an authentic cooking experience with three generations of a local family. Take a boat ride to a village located on a small island in the river delta. You will be warmly welcomed by the family before proceeding to the open air kitchen to learn how to prepare typical regional Vietnamese dishes. Try your hand at using the family’s stone grinder to transform rice into rice flour, see how rice paper is prepared, and learn about village life. Lunch will follow in Grandma’s garden based on the dishes you prepared.
- Transfer back and free time to shop, rest, or explore, or to revisit the tailor for any adjustments to clothing you have ordered.
- In the late afternoon, enjoy a private two-hour sunset fisherman’s cruise on the Thu Bon river. Transfer with your guide to the pier and experience the most precious part of a local fisherman’s day – the late afternoon, when they set out in their colorful boats hopeful of a generous catch. Your sunset cruise will take you to where the mouth of the Thu Bon River meets the Cua Dai Sea. You will be party to two special daily rituals: the passing parade of the local fishing fleet setting out to sea, and the magic of the sun slowly sinking in the western sky. Enjoy a complimentary Vietnamese snack and a cold beer or soft drink while enjoying the sunset.
- After the cruise, transfer back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.
- Dinner tonight in one of celebrity chef Duc Tran’s restaurants featuring modern Vietnamese gastronomy.
- Breakfast and check out before departing early (around 8 am) for a very special excursion. You will hop on a bike to travel through the surrounding countryside to the Tra Que Village, located on a quiet and peaceful stream. Tra Que village is famed throughout Vietnam for the quality and variety of its vegetables and herbs, grown using a special method of organic farming. You’ll spend the morning participating in various farming activities; perhaps join the farmers in preparing the land and fertilizing it with algae from the local lake. Continue getting to know the local way of life by helping with other activities such as raking the ground, sowing seeds, watering greens, picking vegetables and many more gardening activities. Return to the farmer’s house and learn to harvest and wrap the vegetables for lunch. Bid farewell to your new friends and cycle back to your hotel (the distance is about 5 miles/30 minutes by bike each way).
- Transfer to Danang airport for your flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
- Upon arrival in Saigon, transfer to your hotel for check in.
- Transfer to a local restaurant for dinner at one of the top-ranked restaurants in Saigon. It is known for its authentic cuisine, unique menu, and excellent service. Following dinner, back to your hotel and overnight.
- Breakfast, then depart for a full-day tour of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City. A vibrant metropolis, Saigon teems with energy, activity and motion. Everywhere you look, you see the convergence of traditional and modern life. The emerging modern skyline stands toe to toe with colonial buildings and traditional temples. Outside on the streets, young professionals zip by on motorbikes and chat on cell phones; inside the quiet temple courtyards, worshippers pray amidst clouds of incense. Begin the tour of this exciting city with a visit of the historic center, strolling along Dong Khoi Street, formerly known as the Rue Catinat, the main shopping thoroughfare and heart of old colonial Saigon. Pass by classic European-style landmarks such as the ornate City Hall (Hotel De Ville), the old Opera House (both may only be viewed from the outside), and pay a quick visit to the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.
- Afterwards, dive into modern history with a tour of the Reunification Palace. Formerly the Independence Palace of the South Vietnamese president, this 60s-style building was famously stormed by tanks on April 30, 1975, signifying the fall of South Vietnam. It has been preserved in its original state, and the original tanks remain on display near the entrance gates.
- Next visit the Emperor of Jada Pagoda, one of Saigon’s most interesting Pagodas, before heading to the bustling “Cholon” (Chinatown). Walk through the lively quarter where many generations of Chinese live and run their businesses. Continue to Thien Hau Pagoda, built by the Cantonese congregation, and end at the central Ben Thanh Market, where vendors display an amazing array of handicrafts and goods.
- Lunch at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant, a real hidden gem offering the most authentic Vietnamese cuisine. You can sit with the local to enjoy the gastronomic specialties of Saigon and enjoy the strong Vietnamese coffee that will make your pulse race. (French colonists are thought to have introduced coffee to Vietnam but it quickly became a local habit. The Vietnamese put their own spin on it, however, and make coffee drinks that include yogurt, eggs, and even fruit.)
- Return to the hotel to rest, or explore on your own. If you are interested in the Vietnam War, you might want to stop at the powerful and harrowing War Remnants Museum, which comprehensively documents the travails of the long Vietnam-American War. Inside are detailed photographic exhibitions; outside is a collection of tanks, planes and weapons.
- Tonight you will have a very unique dining experience at a restaurant where you dine in total darkness. Your senses of smell and taste will be your guides on this unique and mind-altering culinary experience. (Too adventurous for you? Don’t worry, we can substitute a more traditional dining experience on request.)
- (We can also arrange an optional vespa tour by night instead of your dinner out for an additional cost of $200 per person (minimum 2 people). Saigon comes to life after dark, and there’s no better way to explore the dynamic city than ridding pillion on a vintage Vespa. You’ll start the night with drinks at a popular bar, and get to know the drivers. Then hop on the back set and see the city by street lamp. You’ll smell the aromas wafting from the street-side restaurant and pass by important sites like the Notre Dame Cathedral and City Hall. Stop for bites to eat at local eateries for seafood appetizers and drinks, as well as a barbecue dinner with Southern rice pancakes and fresh spring rolls. End the night in several hidden cafes and bars that are popular hangouts for the Vietnamese, and listen to live unplugged music. Please note that you must sign a liability waiver to participate in this activity.)
- Transfer back to your hotel and overnight.
- Early breakfast and check out, then transfer to the Saigon airport for your flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
- Arrival in Siem Reap and transfer to your hotel with time at leisure.
- Lunch in a local restaurant known for its traditional Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine.
- Time at leisure to explore your surroundings until it is time for your afternoon sightseeing in Angkor, where you will watch the sun set over the Cambodian countryside from the upper terraces of an ancient Angkorian temple.
- Enjoy dinner tonight with an Apsara Dance Performance at the Angkor Village Hotel/Restaurant.
- Breakfast, followed by a tour of Angkor. The crown jewel of Khmer architecture, Angkor Wat is the national symbol and the highlight of any visit to Cambodia. The largest, best preserved, and most religiously significant of the Angkor temples, Angkor Wat impresses visitors both by its sheer scale and beautifully proportioned layout, as well as by the delicate artistry of its carvings. To approach the temple, first cross the vast moat, continuing along a broad causeway lined with naga balustrades. Upon entrance to the main building, ascend through a series of galleries and courtyards before reaching the central sanctuary, which offers beautiful views back over the causeway and across the surrounding countryside. On the way, stop to enjoy the intricate stone carvings that adorn nearly every surface, with some 1,700 Apsaras, or celestial dancers, sculpted into the walls. Along the outer gallery walls run the longest continuous bas relief in the world, which narrates stories from Hindu mythology, including the famous Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
- Lunch at a local restaurant that specializes in Khmer and French fusion.
- The fortified city of Angkor Thom covers an area of 10 square kilometers. Enclosed by a wall and wide moats, the city includes many of Angkor’s most popular sights. Enter by the monumental South Gate over a causeway lined on either side by statues of demons and gods, each carrying a giant Naga (Hindu semi-deity). Continue to the Terrace of The Elephants and the Terrace of The Leper Kings, former spaces for public ceremonies, both adorned with dramatic bas reliefs. Visit the ruined Baphuon, Royal Enclosure, and Phimeanakas before continuing to the mysterious Bayon Temple. In this temple, one of the most popular and compelling in Angkor, explore the galleries of beautifully preserved bas reliefs and ascend narrow stairs to reach the central sanctuary, where giant stone faces smiling enigmatically down from every angle.
- Your last stop is Ta Prohm, one of the most popular attractions of Angkor, as much of the jungle has not been cleared and it looks very much like most of the Angkor monuments would have appeared when European explorers first stumbled across them.
- Transfer back to the hotel to rest.
- Enjoy a special foodie tour around 4 pm. We invite you to rub shoulders with the locals and join in the fun on a typical early night out for some local food delicacies. During this 2-hour street food tour you will see deep fried water beetles, stuffed frogs on sticks, deep fried bananas, and bright pink and green toffee-crusted rice cakes—and these are just some of the delights you will find! You’ll be introduced to some intriguing foods and see the streets come alive with atmosphere and the vibrancy of the local Khmer hanging out and having a great time.
- Return to the River Garden to sit poolside amidst our beautiful jungle setting where you can share your treats while enjoying a drink from the bar.
- After your adventurous foodie tour, time for dinner at one of Siem Reap’s most highly rated restaurants serving traditional Khmer cuisine in a contemporary atmosphere.
- Breakfast and check out.
- This morning, enjoy one last cooking class before your departure. Start with an authentic Khmer market visit, after which you will prepare Khmer delights with a Khmer chef, learning how to cut vegetables and make a nice presentation with a fully hands-on experience. Afterwards, enjoy your own delicious dishes for lunch.
- Time at leisure to shop or have a drink before your transfer to the Siem Reap airport by mid- or late-afternoon.