Snaking up from the Gulf of Thailand in the south to the mountainous northern border, this culinary immersion is truly something to get your teeth into. The 12 days encompass every aspect of the Vietnamese gastronomic experience with guests sampling star attractions like pho (beef noodle soup) as well as unsung heroes such as mi quang (Danang shrimp and pork soup with turmeric noodles).
Upon arrival guests will be greeted by their guide and transferred by private car to their hotel for check-in. There will be time to freshen up before heading out for a sumptuous dinner at one of the city’s finest restaurants.
Vietnamese cuisine can be divided into three categories, each pertaining to a specific region. With North Vietnam being the cradle of Vietnamese civilization, this region is also the birthplace of many of the country’s most famous dishes, such as pho. The North's cuisine is more traditional and strict in in its use of spices and ingredients. The cuisine of South Vietnam meanwhile, has been influenced by the Khmer people and often features sweeter flavors. As a new land, the South's cuisine is more exotic and liberal, using a wide variety of herbs. The cuisine of Central Vietnam is quite different from both the northern and southern regions, not only in presentation but also in flavor. Central cuisine tends to be served as several small side dishes and has a distinctive spiciness.
- Liberty Central Riverside
- Villa Song
- Ngon Restaurant
- La Villa French Restaurant
Venture off the tourist trail and explore local, authentic Saigonese life. This two-hour tour offers a wonderful insider’s view of local life with an exclusive discovery of the intriguing wholesale flower market and a walking tour through the busy streets of a typical Vietnamese market.
Guests will be picked up from their hotel at 08:30am for a short drive to the flower market. Open day and night, this market sells flowers from all over Vietnam. Guests will be able to walk through small alleys and past countless flower stalls, and should take the time to learn the flower names, smell their exhilarating perfume and talk with the vendors about where the flowers come from and how they are used. Then leave the quiet freshness of the flower market and delve into a bustling local market. Crossing tiny streets, guests will make their way through the stalls, rubbing shoulders with the locals and discovering the different types of local produce on offer, including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, rice, clothes and jewelry. The tour continues to Vietnam's first traditional medicine museum, FITO Museum, which displays an amazing collection of 3,000 items relevant to the development of traditional Vietnamese medicine.
After lunch, step back off the beaten track and take a stroll to the oldest quarter of the city. Explore Saigon’s Antiques Street (Le Cong Kieu), a well-kept secret where genuine antiques are mixed with fakes, such as oil lamps, carved wooden chests, Marelli copper fans, opium pipes, abacuses, etc. Guests can also find military cast-offs from the Vietnam War, and, if they look hard enough, relics from the French Indochina era. Then stroll down a typical street to reach the Beaux-Arts Museum, a superb neo-colonial building that houses various works of modern art. Explore the art galleries surrounding the museum, where local artists display their talent. And a visit to Ho Chi Minh City would not be complete without a taste of its best ice cream - Fanny’s. This quaint and atmospheric little French parlor serves everything from durian ice cream to lychee sorbet.
Saigon after dark: 18:00 – 22:00
Experience the nightlife of Ho Chi Minh City the way locals do, all from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter. Stops include a traditional quan, where locals congregate for their evening street food meal with friends and family, and a Vietnamese-style coffee shop. The evening ends at one of the city’s local clubs where excellent live acoustic music is played.
Main Attraction(s) today: Exploring the local's daily life, visiting the market, tasting Vietnamese cuisine
This morning, leave Ho Chi Minh City and take a 2.5-hour drive to the Mekong Delta town of Cai Be. On arrival, board the boat to visit to Cai Be’s colorful floating market, before continuing to some local cottage industries, including those making rice popcorn and coco candy. The journey continues with an excursion to Dong Phu, Binh Hoa Phuong and Anh Binh islands. These evergreen islands are formed by the Mekong Delta’s vast network of meandering rivers. Lunch awaits at a superb colonial-style villa located in a quaint village, where guests will able to sample the local Mekong specialty of ‘elephant ear fish’, which is grilled then wrapped in rice paper together with fresh herbs. Following the meal, it’s back onboard the boat to discover more of the river’s beautiful landscapes. After crossing the Co Chien River, the boat will dock and guests will head back to Ho Chi Minh City by road. This evening guests are free to discover this exciting city at their leisure.
Today's highlight(s): Cai Be floating market, river cruise to visit Dong Phu, Binh Hoa Phuong and Anh Binh islands
Transfer to the airport for a flight to Central Vietnam. From Danang Airport it’s a 30-minute drive to the ancient port town of Hoi An. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the center of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. A walking tour is the best way to see this marvelous town, allowing guests to visit the former merchants’ homes, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge and the colorful market.
Lunch is served at Morning Glory Restaurant. Situated in an elegant traditional-style building in the heart of Hoi An’s old town, Morning Glory’s ground floor specializes in local Hoi An ‘street food’, while the upstairs balcony is perfect for small groups as the views over the street are excellent. Evening at leisure.
- Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort
- Vinh Hung Riverside Resort
- Morning Glory Restaurant
- Mango Mango Restaurant
Guests will depart from their hotel early this morning, in order to meet Chef Duc at Hoi An Market, to choose the ingredients that will be used in the day’s cooking class. Duc will introduce guests to the various ingredients on sale at the market as well as his favorite produce. The fish section (not for the faint hearted as the smell can be overwhelming) is a hive of activity and it’s fascinating to see the variety of seafood on offer.
After visiting the market, stroll through the ancient streets of Hoi An to Mango Mango Restaurant where the hands-on cooking class will take place. Guests will learn how to make Duc’s signature dishes, including ‘Lust in Translation’ (tuna rolls double layered with nori and rice paper sheets served crispy and topped with yogurt, passion fruit, and mint), ‘Pearl of China Sea’ (large prawns battered Japanese-Vietnamese style tossed in with onion, green bell pepper, garlic and butter) and ‘Mangnum Opus’ (blue fin tuna steak seasoned in garlic, onion, ginger, basil, sesame seeds, pan seared and served with mango salsa). And once the class is finished, guests can sit down to enjoy their creations!
The afternoon is free to relax on the beach or browse for souvenirs in Hoi An’s art galleries and silk shops. The evening is free for guests to discover Hoi An.
Main Activities today: Joining cooking class, visiting the local market for the ingredient, cooking & tasting your dish
This morning, guests leave Hoi An for Hue for the three-hour drive to Hue. This scenic route passes through Danang, where a stop will be made at the Cham Museum, which houses the world’s finest collection of traditional Cham statues and works of art. The drive then continues over the Pass of Ocean Clouds before dropping down to the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co, and finally arriving in Hue. No culinary tour of Vietnam would be complete without a visit to Hue. Regarded as the best in the country, the ‘royal cuisine’ of Hue originated with in the days of the Nguyen Dynasty, when the rulers were served lavish meals to meet their exacting culinary demands. Although the emphasis today is on presentation, the delicious flavors of the royal cuisine continue to tempt modern palettes. Lunch at Ancient Hue restaurant.
Guests are picked up from their hotel by cycle and transported to dai noi, the ‘Old City’, and Tinh Tam Lake where the emperors used to come to relax. Full of lotus flowers in summer, this lake is also surrounded by many local coffee shops where university students come to study. Continue by cyclo to Tay Loc Market, which is located in the northwest part of dai noi. This market is mostly used by locals and is rarely visited by tourists.
From here transfer by vehicle to the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers, while also bearing the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern. The citadel was badly damaged in the latter stages of the Vietnam War, but retains a sense of grace and majesty even today.
Tonight guests will dine at the private nha vuon, or “garden house”, of one Hue's most famous architects. This traditional-style house, which is set in a large and attractive formal garden, has connections with the ancient Hue Royal Imperial Court. The traditional architecture has long been associated with the natural environment and the ancient belief of ‘feng-shui’.
- Pilgrimage Village Hue
Main Attraction(s) today: Visiting fishing village at Lang Co, Cham Museum, Hai Van Pass, Tinh Tam Lake, Imperial Citadel
This morning starts with a visit to Thien Mu (Celestial Lady) Pagoda overlooking the Perfume River. Constructed in 1601, the 21-meter-tall tower is the centerpiece of the pagoda and represents the seven reincarnations of Buddha. In the grounds of the pagoda is an Austin car made famous in 1963 when a resident monk drove the vehicle to what was then Saigon to protest against the southern regime. The photo of his self-immolation was captured and became one of the most famous images of the war. Continue to the tomb of the former emperor Minh Mang, which is located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds.
For lunch, guests can try some traditional Hue specialties at Huynh Anh Kim Long. Frequented only by the locals, this restaurant specializes in banh uot, a steamed rice pancake stuffed with delicate, finely chopped pork, and bun thit nuong, a rice noodle dish served with grilled meat. In the afternoon, guests will drive out to Bao La Village, on the road to Thanh Toan Bridge. Bao La Village is a 500 year-old bamboo weaving village where local people are very proud of the quality of their handmade products. Bao La villagers work hard to meet the demands of the foreign and domestic market and are highly specialized.
After visiting Thanh Toan it’s another hour’s drive north to the 500 year-old village of Phuoc Tich. Once famous and prosperous because of its pottery, the village has dozens of homes that are from up to 200 years-old and several old temples, pagodas, worship halls and communal houses. Many imprints of Champa and ancient Viet cultures are still preserved, such as lingas (a very complex symbol of Hinduism). The religious culture of the village is demonstrated by local families, which have their own ancestral worship halls, each worshiping five direct generations. At the end of the afternoon guests head back to their hotel and spend the evening at leisure.
Today's highlight(s): Thien Mu Pagoda, King Minh Mang' Tomb, Bao La Village, Thanh Toan Bridge
After a morning at leisure, guests will transfer to the airport for a short flight to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Upon arrival, they will be met by a guide and private car and transferred to the hotel for check-in.
Depart the hotel for a tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, also known as the ‘36 Streets’. This walking tour passes through the charming Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake. Stop at Ngoc Son Temple. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers and is great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities.
Continue to the Temple of Literature. In 1076 Quoc Tu Giam - Vietnam's first university, also referred to as Van Mieu - was established within a temple to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. Next is the mausoleum of the father of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (viewed from the outside) and visit the former president’s stilted house where he lived from 1958 to 1969. His former home illustrates the modesty of this Vietnamese revolutionary. Visit the small but iconic One Pillar Pagoda before heading back to the hotel.
Tonight, guests dine at La Verticale which is located in a charming villa that dates back to the 1930s. The cuisine is considered artistic, uncluttered and extremely diverse in flavor. Acclaimed chef and owner Didier Corlou has lived in Vietnam for 15 years and has a clear love affair with Vietnamese food.
- Movenpick Hanoi Hotel
- Sheraton Hotel Hanoi
Guests will be met at their hotel at 0945 by Daniel and and driven to Chợ Hôm or Chợ Chau Long market to learn about and taste some of the ingredients used in the local cuisine. Daniel will introduce guests to some of the vendors, explain the ingredients for sale and assist with the purchasing of any items they may wish to take home.
Then enjoy a Vietnamese cà phê (coffee) or trà (tea) with the locals at Daniel’s favorite spot, Cafe Thọ - one of the many sidewalk cafes in the historic French Quarter. Daniel will offer guests an overview of the Vietnamese food scene, particularly in Hanoi. Continue to Truc Bach Lake to sample phở cuốn, a grilled beef and rice noodle roll with fresh herbs, along with several other local snacks.
Lunch with Daniel at one of Hanoi’s best bún chả establishments. Situated down a narrow lane, guests will sit on tiny stools at low plastic tables along with the regular crowd of bún chả aficionados and enjoy traditional grilled pork and rice vermicelli noodles with fresh herbs and greens like true Hanoians. Very few foreigners ever find this eatery so it is a very special treat. Transfer back to the hotel at 1400. Evening at leisure.
Today's Attraction(s): Joining in our Hanoi Traditional Cuisine Tour , tasting Bun Cha, Pho Cuon...
After breakfast leave Hanoi for an overnight boat trip in Halong Bay. The journey there passes through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta, where guests can observe the everyday life of Vietnamese villagers as they work the rice fields, take pigs to the market on bicycles and plough the fields with water buffaloes. Arrive in Halong City in the late morning and board the boat for the overnight journey into the bay. Lunch will be served en route. The cruise will pass rock formations with such names as Sail, Dog and Dinh Huong (incense pot).
Towards the end of the day, the boat will set anchor for the night. A dinner of fresh seafood, salads and fruit is served on board as the sun sets over the bay. Overnight on Halong Bay.
- Indochina Sails
- Au Co Cruise
For early risers, complimentary tea and coffee are served on the sundeck followed by a tai chi class. Guests can then enjoy wholesome brunch as the boat weaves its way through strange-shaped limestone rock formations on the way back to Halong City. Upon disembarkation, guests will be met by their driver and transferred back to Hanoi. Afternoon and evening at leisure.
Today is departure day. A private car and guide will be at guests’ disposal for some last-minute shopping, or guests can simply relax before their transfer to Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport for the onward flight.
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