“Once you love it, you love it forever, it grabs you and never lets go.” ~Anthony Bourdain on Vietnam
We left off on our trip around Southeast Asia saying goodbye to Thailand and flying into Siem Reap in Cambodia. Not the official capital, but it's certainly the tourist capital of Cambodia. This becomes evident right away when we find out the preferred currency in Siem Reap is the good ol’ American dollar. We are here in Cambodia for the temples, specifically, the Buddhist temple complex of Angkor Wat, a true wonder of the world. Our first day starts early around 4am, the lovely people at our cottage hotel prepare a breakfast to go as our driver and tour guide are already waiting for us. We were told we didn’t want to miss a sunrise at the main temple of Angkor Wat.
It was a stunning view! We hadn’t expected so many other tourists, but there were well over a thousand other people waiting to see the sun peak out behind the great temple. However, we didn’t have any time to waste, as our tour guide was going to take us in the opposite order that people normally see all of the temples in order to bypass the crowds.
It was safe to say we took more than our fair share of pictures around the temples. I can’t express to you how huge Angkor Wat actually is. Also, a small travelers tip, if you are traveling around Southeast Asia be prepared for occasional torrential downpours. Although I will admit there was something truly majestic about hiding from the rain in an ancient temple.
Exhausted from our temple touring, we decided it was best to relax at our amazing hotel tucked away in a lush alcove that consisted of half a dozen luxurious cottages (for lack of a better term). The staff brought us dinner on our cottage patio with a dessert of fresh dragonfruit. We also awoke to a beautiful breakfast the next morning.
We wish we could’ve spent more time in Cambodia, but the next leg of our journey was calling to us and that was Vietnam.
Our first stop there was Ho Chi Minh City.
Really anywhere is Southeast Asia, the first thing you notice besides the incredible amount of humidity is the smell. I really don’t mean this in a bad way, but it’s the smell of exhaust from the thousands of motorbikes, it’s the smell of fish sauce and other fermenting things, the smell of grilling meats, and the smell of incense all made more intense by the aforementioned humidity. We take a taxi to our hotel down one of the many alleyways that crisscross all over Ho Chi Minh. Out the window you see people riding on motorbikes sometimes 4 or 5 people to 1 bike. It’s morning time and everybody is out getting ready to start the business of the day. We quickly change and head out because we are meeting a local chef who is going to give us a tour of a local market named Ben Thanh Market. They have everything, and I mean everything.
My most sincere apologies to vegetarians and those that might be a tad squeamish, but it is important to understand that this is a culture that does not let anything go to waste. Yes, that includes brains as pictured above.
We skipped the organs, but we did pick up a few things to cook with our chef, and not before sampling one of my favorite soups ever. A bowl of Bun Bo Hue, a delicious spicy broth with several different pieces of beef, bean sprouts, green onions and rice noodles.
Similar to Pho, Bun Bo Hue really is just its spicy cousin. So delicious!
With so much more left to see, we say goodbye to our new friends and head back to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
The best way to see Vietnam is on a motorbike, so we took a small group tour via vespas to many food-friendly and fun local spots.
One of my favorite dishes were the Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with beans sprouts, tiny shrimp, hot chilis, and whatever else you would like. French influence remains in Vietnam primarily in architecture and food. There are still a lot of bakeries with a dominant French influence and of course, one of Vietnam’s most famous sandwiches is Banh Mi. Made with a French style baguette stuffed to the brim with pate, head cheese, pork, chilis or jalapenos, pickled carrots and daikon, with spicy mayo.
Nothing was better closing out our last night in Vietnam with a roadside Bia (beer) and Banh Mi, watching the river of motorbikes and people pass by while locals cheer on the Vietnamese national soccer team behind us. Reminding us of a simple truth, people are all relatively similar despite where we come from.
If you can’t quite make it to Cambodia or Vietnam yet, The Chopping Block offers a variety of classes and private party menus to help sate that foodie travel bug. We'll teach you how to make a quick version of Pho in our Cold Weather Soups and Stews demonstration class coming up at Lincoln Square on: