Culinary Delights of Vietnam
• Saigon • Mekong Delta • Cooking Classes • Market Tours • Hoi An • Hue • Hanoi • Halong Bay
Vietnamese cuisine is fresh, fragrant and feisty; highly regarded as one of the world's best. Few realise the delicious regional variations that are found in the South, Central, and Northern styles. Experience it all on this 12 day journey up the coast. Enjoy exclusive cooking classes, market tours and meals at top restaurants. Explore the Mekong Delta, ancient Hoi An with its famous tailors and the UNESCO listed Imperial Citadel of Hue, and cruise Halong Bay on a traditional junk to immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture and history. Delightful luxury hotels combined with the opportunity to experience the Vietnamese culture, history, beaches and cuisine will make your trip to Vietnam a dream!
Day 1: Saigon On arrival in Saigon, you will be met and transferred to your hotel by private car. Dinner tonight is at Koto Restaurant.
Day 2: Saigon Cooking Class at an Ambassador's Former Residence Start your day with a Vietnamese cooking class in the former residence of Mr Henry Cabot Lodge, the American Ambassador to South Vietnam in the 1960s. Head to Ben Thanh market to buy all the fresh ingredients before continuing to this historic home for a private hands-on cooking demonstration. Enjoy an orientation tour of the fully restored villa while your chef prepares the ingredients. Learn typical Southern style dishes such as fresh spring rolls and fish in clay pot. The chef will show you how to serve each dish after which you can savour your own culinary creations.
After your meal, embark on a city tour to admire Saigon's historic landmarks. See the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires based on the original construction from Paris, then head across the square to the Central Post Office, designed by the French architect, Gustav Eiffel. Continue to visit the former Presidential Palace, the headquarters of the Saigon Government during the American war, revealing the history of Saigon during its turbulent recent past.
This evening, discover what this thriving and exciting metropolis can offer in terms of street food, all from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter. Stops include dinner and drinks at Saigon's best authentic street food, and a Vietnamese-style coffee shop. Drive to District 4 to taste various snail dishes which are very popular in Saigon. Then it's back to District 3 to sample the southern Vietnamese specialty of banh xeo - rice pancake with pork and prawns. Finally, head to a coffee shop and enjoy a local coffee.
Day 3: Saigon > Ben Tre > Saigon Depart on a 1.5 hour drive from Saigon to Ben Tre, situated in the Mekong River Delta. Take in the lush surroundings of rice paddies and fruit farms as you leave the busy city behind. Embark on an excursion by motorboat, passing houses built on stilts and local fish farms along the way. Stop at a small brick workshop where the locals still use centuries-old traditional methods to make the bricks by hand. Next, enjoy a leisurely bike ride (5 to 7 km) on the flat terrain around Phong Nam village. Stop at a local house to learn about coconut processing, as well as a rice noodle factory. Next, take a leisurely walk through the village, visiting a local house for fresh tropical fruits and honey tea. Continue on your journey by sampan through a maze of small canals and enjoy a lunch of Mekong delicacies at a local restaurant. Your afternoon of exploration includes stops to see how crispy rice paper and sticky rice are made. At the end of the day, return by boat to Ben Tre where your vehicle awaits to transfer you to Saigon.
Day 4: Saigon > Danang > Hoi An Enjoy a morning at leisure before transferring to the airport for your flight to Danang. On arrival you will be met and transferred to Hoi An. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Hoi An was a prosperous trading port. Today, this World Heritage-listed ancient town boasts well-preserved buildings, pedestrian streets and unique cuisine, allowing visitors a glimpse of its illustrious past. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant situated in an elegant, traditional style building in the heart of the old town. Your afternoon is dedicated to the lantern, a simple yet colourful item that is now an essential part of Hoi An culture. Lanterns here are hand-made by local artisans and are meant to bring good fortune. A recent revival of the art has been led by an experienced artisan who will give you a brief introduction to the history, shape, and colour of the lanterns as well as the stages of production. Try creating your own lantern and take it home as a souvenir.
Day 5: Hoi An Cooking Class with Chef Duc This morning's tour is of one of the most colourful local marketplaces in all of SE Asia. Chef and proprietor Duc Tran from Mango Mango restaurant creates eclectic and innovative flavours reflective of his worldwide culinary journey. A passionate and extremely talented chef with in-depth knowledge of the Hoi An food scene, Duc will take you on a culinary journey embracing a combination of refreshing flavours and 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. Join Duc in an intimate hands-on class at his boutique restaurant, and reward yourself with a wonderful meal at the end of your lesson.
Day 6: Hoi An Street Food Tour with Mr Dean > Hue This morning, save your stomach for a shared street food tour with other guests. Meet with your culinary expert, Neville Dean, and visit a local market in Hoi An to enjoy the tantalising sights, smells and flavours of local produce. Then walk through the alleys to savour real street food as the local people do. Along the way, engage in conversation with Neville to understand his passion for food and experience the local culture through the eyes of an expatriate. Gather at a local restaurant to examine and taste traditional Central Vietnamese dishes and learn more about this fascinating region.
After your food tour, depart for a 3.5 hour drive over the Hai Van Pass and on to Hue. The Pass offers a spectacular panorama of the central coastline at the summit, with numerous photo opportunities. In Hue, visit the former home of Princess Ngoc Son, a daughter of Emperor Dong Khanh - when she married, her father granted her the land to build a home. Today, it is one of the best garden houses in Hue and has been maintained largely in its original form. The present owner also has a fascinating collection of artifacts and mementos from the days of the former Royal Empire. Enjoy a meal of traditional Hue specialties prepared by the family at their historical home while you unearth Hue's fascinating past.
Day 7: Hue Salt Rice with Ms Nhu Huy Salt Rice, one of the most opulent and symbolic dishes in the former Imperial capital of Hue, has made a comeback thanks to the Master Chef Mme Nhu Huy. There are up to nine kinds of salt with flavours such as sesame, lemongrass, galangal and shrimp, and the dishes are prepared by frying, steaming and braising. Talk with Mme Nhu Huy, who grew up in a Royal family, to understand her effort to search for and preserve ancient recipes. And of course, you will have the chance to enjoy this delicacy at Mme Nhu Huy's home. It is necessary to enjoy these dishes slowly to enhance the fragrance of rice and the salty, peppery, sweet, and sour taste of different types of salt rice.
This afternoon enjoy a city tour of Hue, which served as an imperial capital to the Nguyen Lords, a feudal dynasty which reigned from the 17th to the 19th century. With splendid emperors' tombs, ancient pagodas and the remains of the Citadel, the city retains its royal charm. Start with a 10 minute cyclo ride from your hotel to the Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO listed site. Enter through the towering main gate and appreciate the magnificent architecture and gardens while your guide explains the events and the intrigue of the former royal court. Despite being bombed heavily, there are some incredibly well preserved sections still intact and others which are being lovingly restored. From there, drive to Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue's best-preserved religious monument. Standing on the riverbank with its seven-storey tower, the pagoda is a sight to behold.
Day 8: Hue > Hanoi Transfer to the airport for your flight to Hanoi. On arrival, you will be met and taken on a tour of the city. With ochre-coloured colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes, Hanoi is full of charm. Start at the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument lavishly built using marble and granite, and where the preserved body of "Uncle Ho" resides. Behind the Mausoleum, you can see Ho Chi Minh's House, a simple wooden structure in a tranquil setting where he lived and worked. Ho Chi Minh's belongings are on display and you can walk up the steps of his house to see his bedroom. A short walk away is the lotus shaped One Pillar Pagoda - resting on a single stone pillar emerging from the water. Wind your way afterwards to the Temple of Literature, the first university for the sons of mandarins, for an overview of Hanoian culture and appreciation for ancient Vietnamese architecture.
Finish your day with a visit to the home of a musician couple, located in a quiet lane. The husband is a flutist in the National Orchestra and his wife is a piano teacher. Enjoy a meal hosted in their cosy dining room to understand the important role meals at home play in Vietnam. Chat and share life experiences with them through their lovely family photo album. After the meal, your hosts will entertain you with a melodious performance of flute and piano.
Day 9: Hanoi Cooking Class with Chef Dzung In the morning, meet with Mr Dzung, a key member of the Hanoi Chef Association, for a market tour. With many years of experience working at a noted 4-star hotel, he can show you how to select the freshest local ingredients. Enjoy the sights, sounds and flavours of the market, then drive 20 minutes out of Hanoi to his beautiful home for a private hands-on cooking class and stories of his participation in culinary festivals in France. Taste your own creations at lunch.
Day 10: Hanoi > Halong Bay Embark on a 3.5 hour drive to Halong Bay with a quick rest stop at Hong Ngoc Centre - the best place to stop and stretch your legs en route. On arrival in Halong Bay, board your deluxe junk, settle into your cabin and prepare your appetite for an enjoyable lunch on deck. Mid-afternoon you will visit the mysterious atmosphere of Tien Ong cave, adorned with stalactites and stalagmites, then continue to the Cua Van fishing village, the largest community on the bay. This will allow a closer look into the lives of local fishermen before you transfer to a bamboo boat and are rowed slowly through the village with a museum and a school among floating houses. Back on the boat, a cooking class is offered with the chef. Enjoy sunset cocktails and canapes on the top deck before you are served a wonderful dinner on board tonight.
Day 11: Halong Bay > Hanoi Wake up early and partake in a Tai Chi class which is held on the upper deck. Visit Soi Sim Island, where you can relax in the azure water of Halong Bay or climb up 200 steps for a panoramic view of the whole bay. Return to the boat and cruise towards the shore while brunch is served. Arrive at the jetty late morning and transfer back to Hanoi with a light snack provided en route. Opt to visit a traditional pottery workshop along the way.
Day 12: Hanoi Free time at leisure until your private transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
• Tailor-made journey with local English speaking guides • 10 nights' in your selected category of accommodation • 1 night aboard a traditional junk boat in Halong Bay • Flights Saigon > Danang and Hue > Hanoi • Transfers and transportation • Sightseeing and entrance fees • Cooking classes • Halong Bay and Mekong Delta boat trips • 11 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 5 dinners
Pricing (per person) $NZD
Booking conditions • Itinerary also operates in reverse
• Surcharges apply during TET Vietnamese New Year (February) and other public holidays
• Itinerary also operates in reverse • Surcharges apply during TET Vietnamese New Year (February) and other public holidays