Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. Next head out for your first introduction to Vietnam’s lively culinary scene. Stop past 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’. Take up a brightly coloured plastic chair and sip your tasty brew.
Start the day with a traditional breakfast of pho, a dish that originates in Hanoi and is designed to awaken the senses and prepare you for the day. Then it's time for a guided tour of Chau Long Market, where you will learn all about the ingredients and flavours of northern Vietnamese cuisine. Be sure to sample the local coffee, typically served with condensed milk - or for the more adventurous - egg! Tuck into some of Hanoi's renowned street food specialties and finish at a hidden tea house, learning about Vietnamese tea traditions from a true master.
In the evening, get hands on learning to prepare northern Vietnamese dishes. Discover some old Hanoian favorites like caramel pork as well as some lesser known dishes from the highlands. Enjoy the fruits of your labour for dinner.
Travel by private minibus 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 2,000 limestone islands rising from the turquoise waters of Bac Bo Gulf. It spans an area of about 1,500 square kilometres and is dotted with innumerable beaches and grottos that were created over thousands of years by waves and wind. Visit one of the lesser known caves, then join a family on their boat to learn about the fishing culture which has been the way of life here for many, many generations. This activity is exclusive to Real Food Adventure Vietnam. Return to your vessel late in the afternoon and enjoy a delicious feast exquisitely 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 the opportunity 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, enjoy a classic breakfast of bun bo Hue, a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). After checking in at your hotel, embark on a tour of the city’s imperial monuments on the back of a motorbike (or in a car if you would rather). 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 vegetarian 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, to Hoi An (approximately 4 hours). The beautifully restored Hoi An 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. In the evening check out one of Hoi An's fabulous restaurants or pull up a plastic chair at a communal table alongside locals and learn how to make one of central Vietnam’s most celebrated dishes, banh xeo.
Start your day with a guided bicycle tour of the extensive herb gardens that lie on the outskirts of town, followed by a trip to a rustic food market. This is a great place to pick up knives and other Vietnamese cooking gadgets. Head back to Hoi An for a hands-on cooking class in classic central Vietnamese dishes, followed by lunch.
The rest of the afternoon is free for your own exploration.
For early risers, take the opportunity to visit the Hoi An fish markets They are at their most vibrant in the mornings. In the later afternoon, be welcomed into the home of a local family to learn to prepare My Quang (Quang noodle), a specialty of this city, followed by lunch. 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, perhaps 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 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.
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 goes down.
For those who fancy an early morning cycle, join your hosts on a ride to the nearby village market, then return to Ho Chi Minh City by bus. The rest of your day is at your leisure. Perhaps sample some of the delights on offer at KOTO cafe. This is an inspiring initiative that helps support the area’s street kids by offering them training in hospitality. If you've got energy left in the evening, head out to enjoy a final Vietnamese meal with your new friends.
Take a transfer to the airport and fly to Phnom Penh – this flight is included – then transfer to your hotel. There will be another group meeting at 6pm tonight, and here you can meet your new leader and any new members of your group.
The sensational Angkor ruins may be the main attraction, but Cambodia’s exquisite temples, charming villages and magical markets deserve lots of attention too. Phnom Penh is set at the meeting point 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 the street hawkers food and enjoy impromptu waterside entertainment. If you have free time, perhaps stroll the broad tree-lined boulevards dotted with old colonial villas and explore the city. The National Museum and the Silver Pagoda are both worth a visit. Or consider Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a hill for which the city is named. With genuine locals always ready to share a sincere smile, Cambodia will steal your heart and enrich your spirit.
Cambodian food is often overshadowed by focus on Thailand and Vietnam, when in fact Khmer cuisine is one of the world's oldest living food cultures. The Cambodian cooking pot combines an eclectic mix of local and international influences and has a flavour all its own. Kick off this food adventure ‘eating for a cause’ 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.
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 lunch.
Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Before you depart, 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 Choeung Ek which represent the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Afterwards, drive south by private vehicle, along National Road 2 through the town of Takeo towards Kampot, one of Cambodia's most attractive old towns (approximately 2.5 hours). Arrive in Kampot by early afternoon.
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.
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 pepper corns and served with rice is a Cambodian favourite. 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 take a tour of the countryside, tasting locally-grown, seasonal produce. Depending on the season, you'll be treated to durian, or rambuttan, 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 Kep, and it's 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. Return to Kampot by early evening.
Today you’ll return to Phnom Penh (approximately 3 hours). Take an afternoon cycle-rickshaw (cyclo) 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 – fried cricket snack anyone? During free time this evening you might choose to have a relaxing sunset drink at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, or stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while observing the busy river traffic – a great way to while away the final hours of the day.
Travel by public 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. There are a number of activities for your free afternoon. There’s also the chance to join a local Battambang foodie for a home-cooked meal, perhaps tasting local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry, and fried spicy chicken.
Note: The Bamboo Train rail is currently under construction until further notice, and no longer a possible optional activity. The project to repair and relocate the rail is forecast for completion by 2020.
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 kralanh (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.
After a traditional Khmer breakfast, take a turn around the village food market. Collect some ingredients and help prepare lunch with your community hosts, picking up a cooking tip or two! Enjoy a lunchtime feast before farewelling your hosts and departing 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. A visit to the old market is a must, even if you're not looking for souvenirs; wandering through the stalls and surrounding shops, the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes.
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. Continue on to a local restaurant for more tasty treats, before finishing at a dessert stall where fruit shakes, fruit with sweetened condensed milk and baked puddings are the specialty.
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 South-East 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, the 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, perhaps enjoy a final dinner with new friends at a restaurant celebrating contemporary Khmer flavours.
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.