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  • Writer's pictureDavid Natale


Food on the Charms of the Mekong trip

This week I had several questions about the food on the Charms of the Mekong adventure. People wanted to know a variety of things from what type of food is served to what is included and when are guests left to their own culinary devices. This is one of my favourite aspects of this trip and answering the questions let me re-live some of the great dining opportunities we had on each of my previous visits to Vietnam and Cambodia.

So let's start with all the meals that are included in the Charms of the Mekong adventure.

Like all other AmaWaterways cruises, all your meals onboard are included as part of the cruise fare and combine typical cruise favorites along with special selections of local recipes. One of my favourite parts of dining on the AmaDara each day is coming into the restaurant and being met by a beautiful presentation table. All the special dishes for each meal are laid out and arranged in an artful way, so you can see exactly what's on offer. You never have to guess what one of the local dishes are, and the fantastic staff on board is always happy to bring you a tasters size of any dish!

Every morning starts with a unique and special breakfast which combines Western favourites with the Vietnamese staple: PHO! Every day is a different Pho broth and selection of ingredients for both breakfast and lunch.

I've never been much of a soup fan, I must confess, but I found myself looking forward to each morning's special selection... and my husband Thierry loved every last drop. He even came home and started making his own Pho to try and recapture this healthy start to the day.

All the meals on the AmaDara are a delight, and you always have your fall back Western specials, but get ready for French, Vietnamese, Khmer and European cuisine to dominate your time in board. Of course, we also have a great Chef's Table experience with a delicious Asian flare.

So what about the land tours? Are all your meals on your own? Not quite.

This adventure combines a Saigon pre-cruise trip with a Siem Reap, Hanoi & Halong Bay post-cruise tour. As always, your breakfasts are included and are a luxurious affair... and breakfasts in the Sofitel hotels used on this trip are off the hook! You can fuel up for an entire week with all the choices and variety at these breakfast buffets which offer everything from fresh fruits and breads, Pho and other Asian specialties, eggs and omelettes, pancake and grill stations, and and and!

So this leaves some lunches and dinners on your own, but not all. Ama likes to bring their guests for some special culinary experiences and that starts in Saigon for the Charms of the Mekong trip.

The Sofitel Saigon Towers has several great restaurants, but their lunch is spectacular and Ama treats their guests to a very special seating during one of the tour days. Station after station offer delicious and tasty morsels and you'll find yourself indulging in some world class eats!

This leaves 1 lunch and 2 dinners on your own in Saigon. I am happy to suggest some of my favorite places to dine on your own.

Saigon: Hoa Tuc / my traditional organized optional group dinner. They also are the teachers of my cooking school.

Saigon: Citadel Saigon

Cooking School in Saigon at Hoa Tuc

One of my favourite things to do while in Saigon is participate in the Vietnamese cooking class by one of my favourite restaurants, Hoa Tuc. We start at the market for a practical introduction to ingredients (and how to shop for them at home) followed by an enjoyable and fully immersed hands-on class where we create and eat 3 different courses plus a dessert! You must arrive 1 day earlier than the Ama package to participate in this class, but it is loads of fun and definitely a great substitute for that other free Saigon oon-your-own lunch slot!

The ship will overnight in Phnom Penh and while dinner is available on board, some guests like to use this opportunity to enjoy one of the local restaurants in the area. Our hotel manager Markus helps everyone get a reservation at the more popular venues. It's not only fun to have these authentic experiences, but gives you the chance to support local businesses vetted by our incredible Ama family from the ship who go to these places themselves. It's special. You might even venture to Pub Street afterwards for some drinks and a look at the tourist party scene.

Siem Reap / Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort

Aside from the incredible culinary experiences all along this itinerary, my other favourite aspect of the trip are the fantastic hotels that Ama chooses. The Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort happens to be one of the absolute best! The atmosphere, service, and location culminate in a magical stay that makes the food all the more delicious.

During your stay in Siem Reap Ama you start each day with a truly magnificent breakfast buffet. You won't want it to end... but of course, you have places to see and things to do, but you'll start each day surrounded by tropical plants, soaring windows to the gardens and an array of options. You will also be treated to a very special dinner here at the Sofitel one night along with a traditional Khmer Dancing performance.

Note/Tip: Accor Loyalty Members are invited to free cocktails and appetizers every day in the Executive Club. If you qualify, simply show the hotel your membership card for entry (Ama can not arrange this for you).

That leaves one dinner and one lunch to figure out on your own while in Siem Reap. Most people spend their lunch by the giant pool with swim up bar and there is a variety of great restaurants close by and the concierge will be happy to help you arrange reservations upon your arrival. Almost all restaurants provide free tuk-tuk rides to/from your hotel.

Here are some of my favourites:

Siem Reap: Changkran Khmer Restaurant a great place for quality Khmer food

Siem Reap: Chanrey Tree is one of my regular spots and a short, free tuk-tuk ride from the hotel

Your time in Halong Bay includes both a lunch, dinner, and breakfast... so you then just have two dinners and a lunch on your own in Hanoi. Since I will be sending you all on a Gratis Street Food Tour with my friend Ha, that really only leaves 2 dinners. There are so many good restaurants near the Metropole as well as inside, you will have no problem at all finishing your adventure with great meals.

I recommend:

Hanoi: Club Opera Novel is right around the corner from the Metropole and a "go to" favorite.

Hanoi: Metropole Hotel is truly a great hotel restaurant. You can have a casual lunch by the pool and there is a great French restaurant.

Hanoi: Press Club is another great restaurant mere steps away from the hotel.

BUDGET: Food in Vietnam and Cambodia is very reasonable. Budget $15-$25pp per meal with drinks.

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