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When we ask our readers what they want to hear more about, the same topics tend to crop up time and time again – and at the very top of that list is food. Is it any wonder? Vietnam is an acknowledged giant of the culinary world, known all over the globe for its mouthwatering pho, fresh spring rolls, and liberal use of herbs and spices – and the cuisine of Cambodia and Laos is hardly less delicious, sharing as it does in many of the tastiest features of its culinary neighbours: Vietnam, Thailand and China.
Of course, food is an exciting feature of any trip to Southeast Asia – but if you want to do more than just eat it, here is our pick of the top gastronomic experiences across the region…
1) Dine with a local in Vietnam
Dining in the home of a Vietnamese host is a fantastic experience for so many reasons. Firstly, you’ll be treated to proper, home-cooked food – the stuff Vietnamese people eat every day. Secondly, you’ll have an unparalleled chance to get to know the locals – to experience dinnertime the way the Vietnamese do it, and to learn about their everyday lives and culture. As wonderful as Vietnamese restaurants are, these are experiences you just can’t get anywhere else.
These dinners can be arranged with English-speaking hosts all over Vietnam, and depending on where you choose to visit, your host may even take you to the local market to buy ingredients before your meal – or get you involved in cooking it! Click here to find out more.
2) Take a cookery class
It’s all very well being cooked for, but sometimes you really want to get stuck in and have a go yourself. It’s not everyone’s bag (personally I prefer to lie back and be wafted with palm leaves while someone feeds me grapes), but if you’re the hands-on type it’s a fantastic way to get acquainted with the cuisine of any destination.
We have several favourite places to try a cooking lesson in Indochina. The Red Bridge Cookery Class includes a cruise on the Thu Bon River, while a private cookery class with the charismatic Chef Duc makes for a fantastic introduction to fusion cuisine in Hoi An. Alternatively, you might like to learn about imperial cuisine at one of the beautiful garden houses in Hue, or hop across to Siem Reap in Cambodia for a crash course in Khmer cooking.
3) Eat bugs
Slimy yet satisfying?
They’re not for the faint-hearted – but you might have to get used to them, as bugs may well be the protein source of the future! Insects have long been a delicacy (or a dare) in many Asian countries, including Cambodia – where it’s not uncommon to find fried tarantula, crickets, and even cockroaches on the menu (as our Jim found out on his recent trip). We most certainly wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t fancy a nice crunchy spider with your beer, but for the culinary daredevils amongst you it’s a traveller’s rite of passage that’s not to be missed.
4) Enjoy a sunset dinner cruise
If the idea of swallowing creepy crawlies sets your teeth on edge, never fear – there are plenty more leisurely culinary experiences out there. How about a sunset dinner cruise, for example? Setting off from Luang Prabang, Laos’s beautiful World Heritage city, you’ll watch as the sun goes down over the Mekong while you sample several courses of traditional Lao cuisine, to the accompaniment of a live band and local dancers.
If you’re staying in Cambodia rather than Laos, we suggest a similar cruise beginning in Phnom Penh, where you’ll have the chance to watch as the riverbanks spring to life at dusk.
5) Vespa street food tour
Finally, we come to my personal favourite experience – the Vespa street food tour. Run by our friends at Vespa Adventures, these tours can be taken in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Siem Reap, and each offers a different gastronomic experience. With your own dedicated driver, you’ll hop on the back of a vintage Vespa and zip through the streets of your chosen city, where your English-speaking guide will introduce you to some of the area’s best bars, restaurants and delicacies.
I tested out the Hoi An version when I was in Vietnam last June (you can read about it here!) and loved it so much I’ll be taking my whole family on one in March.
Any or all of these experiences can be organised by InsideVietnam Tours, so if this has whetted your appetite don’t hesitate to get in touch. If you’re a real foodie, you may be interested in one of our unique Insider Experiences – how would you like to learn the secrets of Khmer cuisine from a talented Cambodian chef? Alternatively, you may be interested in our Culinary Vietnam itinerary.