The Bites, Sights, and Nights of Southeast Asia
Street Eats in Hoi An, Vietnam
In the bustling streets of Vietnam, where the motor scooter reigns as the king of the road, embarking on a food tour with Vespa Adventures was an obvious choice for exploring the culinary delights of Hoi An. With our skilled driver navigating through the chaotic traffic, our only mission was to indulge in the authentic street food of the city.
Before embarking on this street food odyssey, we met our guide, Tien, at a popular backstreet bar. Overcoming our initial hesitations, we enjoyed cocktails and prepared ourselves for the culinary adventure ahead. While food vendors were aplenty throughout the city, Tien’s expertise and carefully selected dining venues ensured our comfort and safety.
Our first stop was under a makeshift canopy of tarps, where steaming cauldrons of Pho’ awaited us. Sitting on small red plastic stools and tables reminiscent of nursery school furnishings, we eagerly savored plates filled with fried spring rolls, marinated meat strips, and heaping servings of rice topped with tantalizing morsels. Armed with chopsticks, we dug in with hungry determination.
Leaving our pavement-level seats, we hopped back onto the scooters and made our way to Tran Tuan Ngai, a third-generation master of the secret White Rose dumpling recipe. With guidance from our waiter, we formed the shrimp dumplings ourselves before delighting in this unique culinary creation. A fried shrimp wonton bathed in chili sauce accompanied by a cold local Larue beer followed, giving us the perfect blend of flavors.
To give our stomachs a break, we took a short cruise on one of the paddle boats gliding along the river. The flickering lanterns illuminating the shores and the myriad of lantern-lit paddle boats created a mesmerizing spectacle of colors.
Refreshed and ready for round three, our scooter squad ventured deeper into the city’s backstreets, arriving at a local house-turned-cafe. Sautéed squid, grilled corn, and a mussel salad topped with peanuts appeared before us as we took our seats. Finding room in our ever-expanding stomachs, we set off for our final destination, relishing shredded beef cooked inside a bamboo tube seasoned with a secret blend of herbs and spices. A night with Vespa Adventures proved to be a celebration that seamlessly blended cultural immersion with a delicious culinary adventure.
The Sights of Angkor Wat
When compiling a bucket list of must-see destinations, certain landmarks are considered obligatory, such as the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, and iconic cities like Rome and Athens. However, to overlook the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia would be a great misfortune.
Due to the vastness of this UNESCO-protected site, attempting a self-guided tour would be futile. Hence, we once again turned to Vespa Adventures to curate a day’s journey into the world’s largest religious monument. Zipping around on scooters with private guides afforded us the advantage of secret entrances, secluded roads, and insider knowledge about lesser-known temples.
While Angkor Wat is the most renowned temple in the area, it is just one of over three hundred temples, shrines, and tombs scattered across 400 square miles. Our visits to the Linga Monument, Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, and the jungle trek to the Ta Prohm ruins, where massive tree roots intertwine with ancient stone walls, allowed us to uncover the rich history of Cambodia as recorded in the carved sandstone and lava rock.
Suite Nights in Siem Reap
Given Cambodia’s tumultuous past, it may seem inconceivable to associate luxury travel with the country. However, a stay at the Bensley Collection Pool Villas in Siem Reap brings forth an upscale elegance that is hard to match. Architect Bill Bensley has brought the boutique property to life, seamlessly blending Khmer design with contemporary chic. Surrounded by palm trees and frangipani blooms, these nine ultra-luxurious residences epitomize tasteful opulence.
The modern elements never overshadow the signature Khmer influence evident in the furnishings and details. Each villa features a captivating stone wall inspired by the flowing robe of King Jayavarman VII, leading into a private lap pool.
While it may have been difficult to tear ourselves away from the luxurious daybeds in the villa’s upper-level lounge, surrounded by lush hanging ferns, we couldn’t resist exploring Siem Reap’s culinary scene. Although the street food can be quite adventurous, featuring scorpions, cockroaches, and skewered snakes, we opted for the refined Kroya restaurant at the adjacent Shinta Mani Angkor property. Here, Chef Chanrith’s degustation menus took us on a gastronomic journey through Khmer cuisine, delighting our taste buds.
Traveling through Southeast Asia overwhelms the senses with its diverse flavors, awe-inspiring sights, and unforgettable experiences. Cambodia and Vietnam prove themselves as leaders in every category, leaving travelers longing for more.