Few images are as romantic as the terraced rice paddies found throughout Southeast Asia, but whether witnessing an eccentric harvest ceremony outside the National Museum in Phnom Penh or sampling the most royal of rice in Hue, we recommend going beyond the pretty vistas to discover what makes this simple crop so special.
5 ways to learn about rice in Southeast Asia
1. Insider Experience: Salt Rice with a Culinary Master, Vietnam
High society food… Caviar? Gold leaf? Saffron? How about rice and salt? While they may seem like two of the kitchen cupboard’s simplest ingredients, in the historical Vietnamese town of Hue, com muoi (salt rice) is a revered royal cuisine. Meeting with a culinary master, you’ll discover the complexity and work that goes into the 10 salt dishes (and why it’s normally saved for special occasions!)
2. Royal Ploughing Ceremony, Cambodia
While the National Museum and the Royal Palace might seem like the bastion of high society in Phnom Penh, once a year the guests of honour are none other than a group of oxen.
These unusual city slickers leave the field to play an important role in the capital; while the technique may seem less than scientific, a selection of food is presented before the group, and whichever takes their fancy is used to predict the weather and conditions for the following year’s harvest. Congregate outside the National Museum in Phnom Penh to see this unique ceremony and see the King plant the first seed of the season.
3. Insider Experience: Rice Farming and Fishing, Cambodia
Get involved in rural Cambodian life with this hands-on rice farming experience. Take part in every step of the process, from ploughing, to threshing the land, and finally (most importantly!), tasting the finished product. While it has the feeling of being blissfully remote, this serene farmland is just 40 minutes from Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor temples.
Rice farming is seasonal, and only available from June to early November, but the area has opportunities to try everything from blacksmithing to musical instrument making, so there’s no shortage of opportunities to get stuck in!
4. Insider Experience: The Living Land, Laos
Leave your glad rags at home and prepare to get muddy at this organic farm just outside Luang Prabang. Depending on the time of year, you’ll either squelch through thick mud to help plant rice alongside Lao farmers, work with Rodolphe the buffalo to plough the land, or thresh and bundle the rice. If the rural life suits you, a night or two at the homestay is the perfect antidote to Southeast Asia’s big cities.
5. Moon Garden homestay at Ky Son, Vietnam
While just 40 minutes outside Hanoi, the country’s capital city, Moon Garden Homestay in Ky Son is the perfect place to experience Vietnamese village life. As well as helping with the rice harvest, you’ll reap the rewards with a cookery class where you’ll craft your own take on the famous Vietnamese spring roll. You can also take a bike to see more of the village, including small temples and pagodas, and take part in a relaxing yijinjing class.
Who knew that rice had so much to offer?! To plan your trip (with a hearty helping of local activities), get in touch with our team of Southeast Asia travel experts.