Countries around the Mekong are offering some of the most fragrant cuisines of the world. Over the years, gastronomy is turning into a serious activity. As governments recognize cooking as a national cultural asset, national dishes have been promoted in each GMS country. But it also fostered a new mindset in the private sector: talented chefs are offering specialities in high class restaurants, cooking courses are offered to travellers and programs are also in places earmarking national dishes or restaurants proposing a choice of national dishes.
Thailand has been so far the most advanced. Bangkok but also Chiang Mai or Phuket offer culinary courses with Thai chefs and have a vibrant restaurant scene. Many DMCs propose also culinary courses or food tasting in local and ethnic communities, particularly in mountainous areas of Northern Thailand.
Cambodia is also promoting its local food. They are many restaurants and cooking schools in Phnom Penh and most particularly in Siem Reap linked to education programs for kids. Travellers not only can taste and learn cooking but they also contribute to finance education programs for impoverished children.
Laos is also providing gastronomy tourism packages, particularly in Luang Prabang as well as in Vientiane where NGOs and schools operate restaurants for visitors.
In Myanmar, Inle Lake communities are developing gastronomy tours with agriculture farms settled over the lake. It is possible to taste local cuisine and provide an income to local farmers.
Vietnam is turning increasingly sophisticated in its gastronomy. Vietnamese cuisine is well known for its fragrant and healthy food using fresh ingredients. Cooking courses are proposed in many hotels but also by private restaurants and NGOs. They are also gastronomy tours looking at the various Vietnamese specialties.
Fresh markets visits
They are great vegetable markets in all GMS countries some being even hosted in old colonial style buildings such as in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh or Yangon.
The most pictorial markets are floating markets along the Mekong River Delta (Phung Hiep and Cai Be are two famous markets) as well as in Thailand (very famous are Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak around Bangkok). They are also itinerant floating markets along the Tonle Sap in Cambodia as well as on Inle Lake in Myanmar. In Myanmar, floating markets change locations according to the lunar calendar.
Spectacular landscapes of green fluo paddy fields are some of the best photo memories for travellers and at the same time provide an opportunity to experience traditional farming culture. In China, spectacular rice terrace landscapes can be seen in Yuanyang County in the Ailao mountains. Considered as a National cultural landscape, Honghe Hani Rice Terraces are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Visitors will be able to learn about farming from the Hani ethnic living in this area. In Guangxi, The Longsheng Rice Terraces (Dragon Rice Terraces due to a dragon backbone shape) are located in Longsheng County, about 100 km (2 hours drive) from Guilin. The most popular are Ping An Rice Terrace and Jinkeng Rice Terrace. The 500-year old terraces are the result of both the wisdom and hard labour of the Zhuang ethnic minority.
In Chiang Rai province in Northern Thailand, beautiful rice terraces can be seen up to the border to Laos. Stunning rice fields in terrace are also visible in Northern Vietnam in Sapa area and can be easily combined with a stay at Halong Bay and/or Hanoi.
GMS specific products
Pepper from Kampot with many farms cultivating this product which is now a registered brand. Catfish from the Mekong and Tonle Sap can also be discovered with local fishermen.
Yunnan is where Pu-erh black tea was first discovered and produced, as well as being famous for its deep and melodious taste. The four main production areas of tea there are called: Xishuangbanna, Pu’er (Simao), Lincang and Baoshan.
Traditional Chinese Medical herbs: Thanks to its natural and geological conditions, Yunnan nurtured approximately 10,000 kinds of TCM herbals, accounting for 70 percent of those of China. Production centres can be visited.
Coffee plantations from the Bolaven Plateau in the South. Introduced by the French during colonization, the production declined during the war years, but has now been revived.
If Thailand is not automatically associated with wine production, but vineyards landscapes to be visited as well as wine domains can be visited in the region of Nakhon Ratchasima/Khao Yai national park, in Loei (Northeastern Thailand) as well as around Hua Hin Hills
Buffalo mozzarella; another surprising niche production is buffalo mozzarella from Murrah Dairy Farm in Chachengsao province. The farm can be visited.
Royal projects of Thailand. Under the intiative of HM the King of Thailand, organic farms have been set up all across the Kingdom, particularly in the North where traditional vegetables and fruits are cultivated but also foreign agricultural products such as strawberries or avocados.
Tea plantations in Vietnam are mainly concentrated in the north and north-central mountainous regions with up to 6 million people live on tea farming and processing. Thai Nguyen region (Northeastern Vietnam) is considered as the cradle of Vietnamese tea with small tea farms existing for many centuries before the establishment of large tea plantations by the French in the late 19th century. Raspberries and blueberries from Dalat are very famous due to the cool climate of this resort station.