Intrepid Travel Offering 20 Percent Off All Food-Centric Trips Through August 31

Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel – known for its cultural and food-focused trips to remote corners of the planet – is now offering 20 percent off over 350 of their trips, including the newly-launched Food Adventures. The discount is good for all trips departing before August 31, 2013.

Last fall, Intrepid partnered up with The Perennial Plate, which documents these culinary adventures in bi-weekly video clips. If that’s not inspiration enough, check out these “Summer of Adventure” trips on offer: Northern Spain (Barcelona to San Sebastian), India (Delhi to Goa), and Vietnam (Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City).

The trips run from four to 14 days, and have been designed in collaboration with renowned chefs, cookbook authors and other food experts, including Susan Feniger and Tracey Lister. Trip prices include accommodation, ground transportation, a local guide, activities listed on the itinerary and, in many cases, cooking classes, meals with locals and trips to local markets.

[Photo credit: Intrepid Travel]

Photo of the Day: Monday morning in Ho Chi Minh City

Each morning in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, mobile street vendors brave the city’s frenetic traffic to hawk breakfast specialties like banana patties, pho, and other popular Vietnamese street foods. A typical Monday morning scene is captured in today’s monochrome Photo of the Day from Flickr user Jeryc Garcia.

Does your photo belong here? Upload your favorite travel shots to the Gadling Group Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Video of the Day: Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietman

Everyone I know who has spent any time in Vietnam has bemoaned how challenging it is to cross the streets there. It’s like a game of Frogger, but the stakes are much higher. This time lapse shows just how chaotic and frenetic the streets of Ho Chi Minh City actually are. The number of motorbikes along is staggering. Add to that roundabouts, limited traffic signage and pedestrians and you have yourself some organized chaos. We recommend that you look both ways (heck, look up and down while you’re at it) before crossing the street.

Vietnamese street food tastes better by motorbike

There are few things I enjoy more than perching on a plastic, Playskool-size stool on a steaming sidewalk, surrounded by clouds of carbon monoxide. Why do I so enjoy impersonating a contortionist and inhaling carcinogens? Because it means I’m somewhere in Southeast Asia, eating street food.

On my first visit to Vietnam, I flew up to Nha Trang, on the South Central Coast. I found a cheap hotel several blocks off the beach, and set about giving myself a crash course in Vietnamese street food. I was familiar with staples such as pho and banh mi (baguette sandwiches with pork pate and a variety of condiments). Yet I was soon overwhelmed by the array of comestibles being hawked from carts and storefronts, despite frequent thumbing through my Vietnamese food guide.

Compounding the issue was the lack of recognizability of many of the ingredients. No one could ever accuse me of being squeamish, but I like to know what I’m eating, if only for curiosity’s sake. The mysterious, meaty hunks stewing in battered, aluminum stockpots, and hanging behind Plexi-glass shields gave no indication as to their origin. Clearly, I needed someone to help me achieve Vietnamese street food cred.

%Gallery-100653%I had already planned to visit the Evason Ana Mandara & Six Senses Spa later in the week, because they had a well-regarded “street market dinner.” Since 2003, a gaggle of local women–all food vendors known for their version of a specific dish–prepare their respective specialties at one of the property’s three restaurants. It’s a fun way to educate less-adventurous guests about traditional Vietnamese cuisine. The bi-weekly dinners provide steady income for the women and their families, which is critical during inclement weather.

The privately-owned Evason-Soneva luxury property group has a core philosophy of green building design and operations, and emphasizes the hiring of local people in order to support the economy. They also make donations of revenue proceeds to community social projects, including education and health care for children.

Much of the produce and botanicals used in the restaurants and spa treatments are from the sustainable gardens at nearby (stunning) sister property, Six Senses Hideaway at Ninh Van Bay. Ana Mandara also offers market tours and cooking classes as a way to introduce guests to regional Vietnamese cuisine and ingredients.

When I finally checked in to Ana Mandara, I asked if they offered personalized food tours through one of the local guides they contract. And that’s how I found myself on the back of a motorbike at sunset, whizzing through the back streets on my very own tasting tour of Nha Trang.

My 29-year old guide, Nguyen Quoc Nam, was born and raised in Nha Trang. He took me to some of the city’s best spots for eating regional dishes–most of them popular street foods. Our first stop was the poetically-named, sidewalk eatery Phúc, which specializes in banh canh, a fish and rice vermicelli soup. The rickety sidewalk tables were crowded with patrons enthusiastically slurping soup and fried mackerel head–the other specialty of the house.

Like most Vietnamese, Nam is obsessed with food. Throughout our three-hour feeding frenzy, he gave me the history, preparation method, and eating technique for every dish we sampled. We ate banh beo, “leaves” of rice noodles topped with succulent grilled pork, herbs, and chile; sinh to, fresh fruit and yogurt shakes; banh xeo, lacy rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric crepes stuffed with grilled squid, shrimp, quail egg, and bean sprouts, and chao tom, grilled, seasoned, ground shrimp on sugar cane skewers.

At lively Quan 52, the sidewalk tables were wreathed in aromatic smoke from an adjacent grill. We were served a plate of still-sizzling strips of pork, which we used to make nem, a kind of DIY spring roll. We soaked crisp rice paper sheets in water, then layered them with the meat, nuoc nam, julienned cucumber and green banana, pickled shallots, rau hung (spearmint), diếp cá (fish mint), and ngo gai (saw leaf herb). I was utterly hopeless at constructing the tidy little packages made by fellow diners; even Nam seemed amazed by my lack of fine motor skills. Fortunately, my appetite compensates in these situations.

Our final stop was Pho Bo 81. Despite being painfully full, I managed to devour their heavenly pho (traditionally a beef noodle soup from Hanoi, it’s a staple throughout Vietnam and can also be made with chicken). The restorative broth was greaseless and fragrant, redolent of lime, chile, and star anise.

The next morning, Nam took me on a motorbike tour of the villages and rice paddies in the surrounding countryside. Rice is more than just the staple of Vietnamese cuisine, although it is eaten at every meal in some form. Rice is also intricately linked to the country’s culture, folklore, festivals, and social mores. Around noon, Nam pulled the bike up to a roadside shack beside the Cau Lung Bridge. There, we ate plate after plate of banh uot, a Nha Trang specialty of steamed rice noodle sheets, garnished with powdered dried shrimp and scallions.

After lunch, we visited Dien Thuy village, where I helped make rice paper at the home of a woman who supplies the local community. She soaked, then milled the rice by hand, Next, she mixed it with water to make a batter, and poured frisbee-sized circles onto a bamboo and cloth steamer fueled by the rice husks. The disks were then set to dry on woven bamboo ladders.

Next, we visited the Vinh family, who operate a small rice noodle factory out of their home. Outside of the major cities, rice paper and noodles are made in similar factories, often by hand (the Vinh’s had just purchased a machine to cut the noodles). It’s repetitive, exhausting, time-consuming work. My two-day motorbike journey took me into the origins of not just my beloved street food, but the very soul of Vietnamese culture.

Ana Mandara’s culinary motorbike tours are approximately $40.00, and are offered only by personal request. Cooking classes and market tours also available.

Click here to learn how to make banh cuon (steamed rice crepes with ground pork and mushrooms).

South by Southeast: Top 10 Southeast Asia

There’s a lot to see in Southeast Asia. Over the past five months, as I’ve traveled through this amazing region, it’s something I’ve experienced firsthand. From mind-blowing jungle ruins to outstanding food and world class beaches, there’s a never-ending wealth of curiosities for visitors. But with so much to see and do, it’s hard to know what to prioritize. Is Angkor Wat really as awesome as you’ve heard? Where should you go in Vietnam? Is it safe to eat the street food?

If you’ve been thinking about that dream trip to Southeast Asia but didn’t know where to start, today’s post is for you. We’re going to run through ten of Southeast Asia’s most amazing attractions, from the outstanding food to the best adventures and most awe-inspiring sights. Expect to find a few of the Southeast Asia’s most famous spots, along with my favorite “off-the-beaten path” Southeast Asian destinations from more than five months on the road. Ready to visit one of the world’s most fascinating regions? Keep reading below for our top ten picks…#10 – Bangkok’s Khao San Road
You simply can’t make a top 10 list on Southeast Asia without mentioning Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Love it or hate it, it’s the standard first stop for most Southeast Asian itineraries. The sheer volume of travelers, sizzling street food and range of shady characters ensure there’s always a good time and a story waiting to happen.

#9 – Street food in Ho Chi Minh City
The variety, quality and value of eating in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is beyond compare. From the freshest ingredients to crispy French baguettes to the most extreme culinary adventures, the food scene in Saigon is sure to amaze and delight. Check out Gadling’s “South by Southeast” investigation of eating in Saigon if you want to learn more.

#8 – Thailand’s Tarutao National Marine Park
It’s really hard to pick a favorite island in Thailand. There’s literally hundreds of them. But when we saw the secluded beauties that make up the Tarutao National Marine Park in Southern Thailand, we were hooked. This chain of wild, jungle islands offers beach camping, peace and quiet and some amazing snorkeling. Though Ko Lipe has gotten rather busy, Ko Adang, Ko Tarutao and Ko Rawi remain delightfully undeveloped.

#7 – Exploring Angkor Wat
With almost two million visitors a year, it’s clear that Angkor Wat is one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist attractions. When you first set eyes on the stone giant that is Angkor’s main temple, you’ll understand why. The intricate carvings and sheer size of this ancient archaeological marvel are simply mind-blowing. If you’re heading to Cambodia for a visit make sure to check out our 5 Angkor Wat tips.

#6 – Burma’s Taunggyi Balloon Festival
Burma (Myanmar), is the forgotten country of Southeast Asia. Visitors stay away because of the country’s hard-line military government. But those who make the trip inside this cloistered country come away awestruck by the sights and humbled by the friendly, welcoming citizens. This is particularly true at the annual Balloon Festival at Taunggyi, where hundreds of giant hot air balloons are launched into the sky over an eight day event. Make sure you read up on responsible travel to Burma if you want to go.

#5 – Wandering Luang Prabang
Is Luang Prabang the world’s most beautiful city? Achingly beautiful colonial French architecture, serene Buddhist temples and elegant palaces make this former royal capital of Laos a must on any Southeast Asia itinerary. Make sure to enjoy the town’s top-notch eating at spots like Tamarind and enjoy Luang Prabang’s buzzing night market.

#4 – Motorbiking the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle, a remote region bordering Northern Thailand, Laos and Burma, just might be one of Southeast Asia’s last great exotic destinations. The area’s curvy mountain roads and remote villages make it haven for motorcycle trips. Increasingly popular routes, reliable maps and cheap bike rentals make it easy for even novice cyclists to grab a helmet and hit the open road. Check out our guide to motorcycle trekking to get started.

#3 – The Gibbon Experience in Laos
Want to feel like a kid again? Try sleeping in a tree house and flying around on zip lines in the jungles of Northern Laos, home to the legendary Gibbon Experience. This one-of-a-kind eco park is pioneering a new model of forest conservation and sustainable tourism. Not to mention you might get to see some wildlife and it’s a crazy good time too.

#2 – Trekking in Luang Namtha
Chiang Mai has Southeast Asia’s most popular treks, but they are often overcrowded and disappointing. Instead, head to Luang Namtha in Northern Laos, an increasingly popular base for hikers looking to visit remote hill tribe villages. Imagine waking to the sound of roosters, bathing in a river and drinking moonshine with a village chief.

#1 – The ruins of Bagan
Move over Angkor Wat. There’s a new champion in town. The ruins of Bagan, a stunning complex of over 2,000 deserted temples in Myanmar, is quite possibly the world’s most amazing sight. Spend your days exploring the ghostly structures by horse cart or bike, discovering ancient Buddhist murals and climbing hidden staircases to gorgeous 360 degree views. If you want to read more about Myanmar, check out our guide to ethically visiting this fascinating country.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann spent the last five months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.