Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City Arrival
Welcome to Vietnam! For the traveler who loves culture and cuisine, this Vietnam culinary tour will offer a comprehensive experience of the country’s tastes and flavours. Upon arrival, the guide will provide a meet and greet at the airport followed by a hotel transfer by private car. In the evening, enjoy 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. As North Vietnam is the cradle of Vietnamese civilisation, many of the country’s most famous dishes (such as pho) have their birthplace here. The North's cuisine is more traditional and strict in choosing spiciness and ingredients. The cuisine of South Vietnam has been influenced by the cuisines of the Khmer people and thus Southerners prefer sweet flavours in many dishes. The cuisine of Central Vietnam is quite different from the cuisines of both the Northern and Southern regions, not only in presentation but in flavour as well. Central cuisine is served as a course of many small side dishes, and compared to its counterparts it has a distinctive spiciness.
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City
Venture off the tourist trail and explore local, authentic Saigon life on this 2 hour market tour. Pick up begins at 8:30 AM with a short drive to the flower market entrance. Open day and night, this market sells flowers from all over Vietnam. Walk through small alleys and meander through countless flower stalls, taking time to learn the flower names, smell their exhilarating perfume, and interact with the vendors. Exit the quiet freshness of the flower market and delve into a bustling local market. Discover different types of local products such as vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, rice, clothes and jewelry. This tour is a wonderful, non-touristy glimpse into daily Saigonese life.
Step off the beaten track in the afternoon into the oldest quarter of the city. Explore Saigon’s well-kept secret, Antiques Street (Le Cong Kieu), followed by a visit to the Beaux-Arts Museum, a superb neo-colonial building home to various modern arts. Top off the visit with a taste of Ho Chi Minh City’s best ice cream. Fanny’s serves everything from durian ice cream to lychee sorbet in its French-parlor setting.
Experience the night life of Ho Chi Minh City the way locals do, all from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter! Begin at 18:00 with a pick up from the hotel before hitting the buzzing streets. The first stop will be a varied sampling of light evening snacks before continuing to a traditional quan (bia hoi) for dinner and drinks. Complete the evening out just like the locals- with a visit to a Vietnamese-style coffee shop. The night adventure finishes at 22:00 with a transfer back to the hotel.
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City – Mekong Delta - Ho Chi Minh City
Head out of the city in the morning for the 2.5 hour drive to the Mekong Delta town of Cai Be. Upon arrival, board the Victoria boat. Modelled after traditional sampans, these are the perfect way to see the Delta. The tour starts with the visit of Cai Be’s colourful floating market. Proceed on to visit some local industries crafting rice pop corn and coconut candy. The day’s journey continues with an excursion to Dong Phu, Binh Hoa Phuong, and Anh Binh islands. These evergreen islands among the Mekong River bring about large networks of meandering rivers, crossed with countless arroyos. Lunch awaits at a superb colonial style villa located in a quaint village. The specialty of the Mekong, ‘elephant ear fish’, will be served, grilled and wrapped in rice paper together with fresh herbs.
Following the meal, it’s back on board the boat to discover the beautiful landscapes along the river. After crossing the Co Chien River, the boat will dock and the trip will continue back to Ho Chi Minh City via road. The evening is free to discover the vibrant southern city.
Day 4: Ho Chi Minh City – Da Nang – Hoi An
Transfer to the Saigon airport for a flight to central Vietnam. From the Danang airport, take the 30-minute drive south to the ancient port town of Hoi An. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains relatively untouched since its heyday. A walking tour is the best way to see this marvellous town, paying visits to the former merchants’ homes, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, and the colourful market.
Enjoy lunch at Morning Glory Restaurant. Situated in an elegant traditional style building in the heart of Hoi An’s old town, Morning Glory offers ‘Street Food’ on the ground floor of the restaurant featuring Hoi An specialty foods. The upstairs balcony is perfect for small group as the views are excellent over the street.
Day 5: Hoi An Cooking Class
Chef and proprietor Duc Tram from Mango Rooms' creates eclectic and innovative flavours reflective of his worldwide culinary journey. Born in what was then Saigon in 1968, Duc went the long way round — via Texas, Latin America, Japan, New Zealand, Europe, and Australia. Fifteen years later, armed with learned skills and dedication, Duc returned to Vietnam to open Mango Rooms Hoi An in 2004. A passionate and extremely talented chef with in depth knowledge on the Hoi An food scene, join Duc on a half-day culinary journey embracing a combination of refreshing flavours, beautiful presentations, as well as a visit to Hoi An Market to meet the vendors who supply him daily with some of the finest and freshest ingredients in Vietnam.
Depart from the hotel early to meet Chef Duc at Hoi An Market at 8:00AM to choose some of the ingredients that will be used in the days lesson. Duc will introduce the various ingredients on sale at the market that he uses in his cooking as well as his favourite produce. The fish section (not for the faint hearted as the smell can overwhelm) is a hive of activity and it’s fascinating to see the range 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. Learn how to season and make Duc’s signature dishes: 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; Magnum Opus: blue fin tuna steak seasoned in garlic, onion, ginger, basil, sesame seeds, pan seared and served with mango salsa.
Day 6: Hoi An - Hue
Embark on the 3-hour drive from Hoi An to Hue. The scenic route passes through Danang, where a visit to the Cham museum is in order. Continue the drive over the Pass of Ocean Clouds, dropping down to the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co. 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 meeting specific culinary demands. Although the emphasis today is on presentation, the delicious flavours of the royal cuisine continue to tempt modern palettes.
Pick up from hotel by cyclo and head to dai noi ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake (a former emperor holiday spot). Continue by cyclo to Tay Loc Market, located in the northwest part dai noi. This market is mostly for 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. The ancient citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern (the Royal Citadel was badly damaged in the latter stages of the war) but retains a sense of grace and majesty even today.
Dinner this evening will be held at the ‘garden house’ known locally as ‘nha vuon’. This traditional style house, which is set in a large and attractive formal garden, has connections with the ancient Hue Royal Imperial Court. A traditional Vietnamese greeting will be encountered on arrival, followed by an extraordinary meal prepared by the lady of the house. Meal is served privately in the traditional manner in the private gardens of the home.
Day 7: Hue
The morning starts with a visit to the Thien Mu (Celestial Lady) Pagoda overlooking the Perfume River. Constructed in 1601, a 21-meter tall tower is the centrepiece of the pagoda representing seven reincarnations of Buddha. Also located within the grounds of the pagoda is the Austin car made famous during the 1963 self-immolation of a resident monk, one of the most famous images from the American War. Continue the visit to the tomb of emperor Minh Mang, located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds. For lunch, enjoy some Hue specialty food at Huynh Anh Kim Long. Frequented only by locals, this restaurant serves banh uot, a steamed rice pancake stuffed with delicate, finely chopped pork and bun thi nuong which is a rice noodle dish served with grilled meat.
Proceed in the afternoon to the 500 year old weaving village of Bao La, on the road to Thanh Toan bridge. Bao La villagers work hard to meet the demands of foreign and domestic market and are proud of their dexterity, creativity and passionate expressions. They possess a high degree of specialisation in production process liked material treatment, bamboo bases, bamboo rims, finishing touches and decorative details. Built two centuries ago, the covered bridge of Thanh Toan is unique in that only two exist in Vietnam (the other being in Hoi An). Built as a tribute to the villagers by the wife of a high ranking Mandarin, the bridge has survived storms, floods and wars.
After visiting Thanh Toan, take the hour drive north to the 500-year-old village of Phuoc Tich. Once famous and prosperous for its pottery, the village has dozens of homes that date back 100 to 200 years, in addition to several old temples, pagodas, worship halls and communal houses. The religious culture of the village is seen via families, which have their own ancestor worship halls, each worshiping five direct generations.
Day 8: Hue - Hanoi
After a morning of leisure, transfer to the airport for a short flight to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Upon arrival, a guide and private car will provide transport to the hotel for check-in. Head into the city to visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter, also known as the ‘36 streets’. Take a walking tour through charming Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake, stopping off at Ngoc Son temple. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It's a great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities.
Continue on to the Temple of Literature, the first university of Vietnam. Established in 1076, Quoc Tu Giam was established within a temple to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for an incredible 700 years and its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past. Continue to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the historic figure and father of modern Vietnam, and visit the former president’s house on stilts where he lived from 1958 to 1969. Continue on to the small but iconic One Pillar pagoda before heading back to the hotel.
Dine this evening at La Verticale, located in a charming villa dating back to the 1930’s. The cuisine is considered as artistic, uncluttered and extremely diverse in flavour. Acclaimed Chef and owner Didier Corlou has lived in Vietnam for 15 years and has a clear love affair with Vietnamese food.
Day 9: Hanoi Street Food Tour With Blogger
Begin the food tour with a stroll through the Old Quarter passed the old east gate to Thanh Ha market. Along the way, sample delicacies and strange food items, all while listening to an explanation of Vietnamese food practices. This busy, eclectic market is buzzing with the sights and sounds of Hanoi and is the essence of Vietnamese culture. Continue through the streets of the Old Quarter to Dong Xuan market to sample some local treats such as pho tiu and bun dau. The guide will explain the routine of Vietnam meal times and some of the indigenous/unusual ingredients eaten.
Walk down to Hang Than Street to view ceremonial cake stalls and taste a special French influenced dessert. Continue back into the Old Quarter via Hang Cot Street, sampling special fruits along the way, before heading to Phung Hung Street. Wander temporary market stalls where the changing market scene of Hanoi is ever apparent. At the end of the tour, stop at one of the Old Quarter's busiest (yet smallest) coffee shops for a well-earned sit down and coffee before transferring back to the hotel.
Day 10: Hanoi – Halong Bay
After breakfast leave Hanoi for an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay. Journey there through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta, observe everyday life of Vietnamese villagers as they work the rice fields, take pigs to the market on bicycles and plough the fields with their water buffaloes. Arrive in Halong City late morning and board the boat for the overnight journey into the Bay. En-route lunch will be served. Following cruise by rock formations with such names as Sail, Dog and Dinh Huong (incense pot). Towards the end of the day set anchor for the night. As the sun sets over the bay, dinner is served on board with fresh seafood, salads, and fruits.
Day 11: Halong Bay - Hanoi
For early risers, complimentary tea and coffee are served on the sundeck followed by a Tai Chi class. On the cruise back to Halong City, enjoy a wholesome brunch as the boat weaves through strange-shaped limestone rock formations. Upon disembarkation, the driver will provide a private transfer back to Hanoi.
Day 12: Hanoi Departure
Today is departure day. A private car and guide will be available up until the final departure to the airport.