My husband and I are planning a 3-4 month "culinary experience" trip towards the end of this year to either 1 – Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia or 2 – India and Sri-Lanka. (At the moment we're leaning more towards option 1, but we have not made a final decision yet) We’d rather go for budget and stay longer than for luxury, as we have unlimited time, but limited funds.
For us, the most important thing we want to experience is the local cuisine, local produce and markets. We also love fishing and a bit of snorkelling and would rather see islands, beaches and natural scenery than temples and architecture.
We are not huge party animals, but we like to socialize and have a drink with friends, so we want to see lively places as well as secluded and less travelled areas.
Can you please recommend a few places to see, dishes to try, and give us some general advise? Budget and food wise, which option would you pick if you were us? Also, roughly how much money do you think we will need per person per day?
Thank you very much!
I haven't been to South Asia yet, so all I know is Vietnam, Laos and Thailand (4 trips). The large cities such as Hanoi, Saigon and Bangkok are considerably more costly than the small villages, but by Western standards, it's all very affordable (but rising). 2 can also live much cheaper than 1, so I would say bare bones at $30. a day, $45. comfortably. I do it on about $50. and live like a king. You will save quite a bit by eating where the locals eat and avoiding places where you see tourists eat. Westerners are often charged more than locals, but this happens in much of the developing world. In Vietnam, the local fresh beer, Bia Hoi, is actually cheaper than bottled water - maybe $.50 a glass. Seafood is quite inexpensive. I found farmed shrimp to be cheaper than chicken. The area is crawling with cooking schools. The foodie cities in Vietnam are Hue and Hoi An for Vietnamese, and Dalat and Hanoi for French. Saigon has the best street food, but I find Hanoi to be the most interesting city in all of Indochina. The best beaches are in Thailand (by a mile). Laos is the most laid back country, and also the most undeveloped with a great deal of poverty. The middle class is increasing in both Thailand and Vietnam, and China is causing major problems by diverting the waters of the Mekong. Life revolves around food in all of SE Asia. Thailand has the tastiest and spiciest food, but Vietnam has the best coffee and friendliest people.
(Vietnam has the worst drivers in the entire world - be careful!)
My favorite places are Hanoi, Hoi An, Sapa and Dalat in Vietnam, and Luang Prabang in Laos - PLEASE, TREAT YOURSELF AND SEE THEM ALL!
(for Vietnamese food, see the Noodlepie, Stickyrice and Savour Asia websites)
[ Edit: Edited on 24-Apr-2011, at 22:44 by Daawgon ]
Thanx for the tips and info Daawgon! Didn't think to go to Laos too, but will def consider that now!
Both of your choices are interesting culinary experiences with a lot to offer in terms of food, beaches, sightseeing and socializing.
I guess perhaps the spice factor can be a deciding factor. If you can hold spicy food as well as enjoy them, then visit the Indian sub-continent, particularly Sri Lanka
You would probably also enjoy Malaysia since that culture incorporates Malay, Chinese and Indian food. I understand that Penang, the Chinese city of Malaysia, is a foodie paradise. Penang is on my list of places to sample in the near future, but Malaysia is considerably more expensive than other SE Asian destinations (with the exception of the most expensive - Singapore).
I am currently living in Sri Lanka, was in India for 3 weeks this past December, and spent 2 months in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia three years ago.
The single best food option is India, especially if you like spicy. It's probably also the more complex food to make if you're planning on taking cooking courses. Vietnam and Thailand are also very interesting (I did cooking classes in both, and Vietnam especially has tons of diverse region food options). Cambodia and Laos were... hit and miss. Rural locations were instant ramen noodles, and nicer places had food more reminiscent of Thailand. Sri Lanka thus far has been a big disappointment. Last night I ate the best meal of this past month - at the restaurant India Hut. Everyone talks about the rice and curry and the spiciness of the food, but it's largely been boring and bland (at times spicy, but more in the hot way without being flavorful).
If forced to choose I would do option 1, though my top two places for food would be India and Vietnam.
Best of luck and safe travels.