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Responsible Eating in Southeast Asia

As we see it a tour of Laos or Vietnam, should include a tour of Lao and Vietnamese food so here’s a brief rundown on the All Points East meal thinking, or as we’ve titled it, responsible eating in Southeast Asia.

Local food and meals are an essential part of any culture therefore an essential part of enjoying new and different cultures is discovering their traditional food. That’s why on all our tours, meals are, as much as possible, based on authentic regional food eaten in local restaurants or even street food and whenever possible, we avoid eating in hotels and flashy tourist establishments. A Thai green curry eaten in a Western chain hotel is probably going to be altered for the Western palate and end up being identical to those found in many UK supermarkets, whereas one eaten in a bustling night market is going to be the real McCoy!

Hawker market, Georgetown
Hawker market, Georgetown

This means better and more authentic food, and also means our custom is going directly to small cafés and market vendors rather than big businesses – and again provides more opportunities for interaction with local people.

Breakfast in the market, Son La, Vietnam
Breakfast in the market, Son La, Vietnam

By eating in this manner we are encouraging local people to offer local alternatives to visitors and indeed to increase pride in their traditional cuisines. It’s a sad state of affairs, and perhaps a reflection on many tourists, that in many areas, local people are of the impression that all foreigners want to eat pizzas and drink Nescafe!? It’s nice to show the locals otherwise.

 Responsible Eating in Southeast Asia. Lunch in a Lanten village near Huay Xai, Laos
Lunch in a Lanten village near Huay Xai, Laos

Never fear, we won’t force anyone to eat fried bugs, (though please feel free to try them!) and hygiene considerations are always high on our priorities – as are traveller’s chilli tolerance levels! Note also that most Asian cuisine can easily accommodate vegetarian diets, and again with smaller groups, individual tastes can be far more easily catered for.

We also think it’s important to give our customers options so that’s why we introduced the idea of adding certain designated ‘free meals’ on all our itineraries.  Sure on a 3-week tour of Thailand, we understand you can get ‘riced-out’ and equally some people like a break from the group meal format, so occasional free lunches or dinners allow you to make the choice between eating local or a change of cuisine and going out as a group or doing your own thing.

Furthermore, many destinations we visit on our tours; be it popular tourist destinations such as Siem Reap and Luang Prabang or cosmopolitan cities such as Bangkok, Phnom Penh or Saigon have a huge range of cuisines covered by their numerous restaurants. Now admittedly many of these are beyond our tour budgets but we don’t want to stop you from having the option to take high tea at Raffles, sample gourmet French cuisine in Phnom Penh, check out a Chiang Mai fish ‘n’ chip shop or splurge on grilled lobsters at a 5* Thai beach resort! (Or for that matter sneak around the corner for a Big Mac!)

 Street vendors in front of Siem Reap's Le Grand Cafe
Street vendors in front of Siem Reap’s Le Grand Cafe

Finally but importantly it gives the staff a break too; the guide gets to go back home and eat lunch with the family or the tour leader gets to spend an evening catching up with his buddies in Chiang Mai and happy relaxed staff make for a good tour!

Anyway, we’ll add a separate post on some suggested eating spots for your free tour evenings since our Responsible Eating in Southeast Asia post is getting a bit long.