Southeast Asia is a dreamland for adventurers, photographers, and foodies. With some tips and insider's secrets, I can show you the best ways to discover this region. This involves following three rules...
Explore with your eyes. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to rice paddies galore, from motorbike-laden cityscapes to archipelagos, and from waterfalls in the highlands to thousands of kilometers of coastline, Southeast has an abundance of glorious vistas. Keep your eyes peeled--because there is so much life and vibrancy in every direction.
Explore with your tastebuds. As my Vietnamese cousin once put it, Southeast Asia is full of skinny people who are obsessed with food! Why? Because the cuisine is varied and sensational: salt and pepper crab in Cambodia's southern coast, grilled pork and vermicelli in Vietnam, Hainanese chicken and rice in Thailand. Explore food with an open mind because Southeast Asian delicacies, ranging from street snacks to pan-Asian fusion to tapas, are sure to surprise and delight.
Explore with an open heart. For centuries, Southeast Asia has attracted people from around the world seeking business and life adventures in an emerging market. The region's magnetism lives on in what's been left behind by the droves drawn there over the years, in times of both peace and war. When you take in fresher cultural transplants and hybrids (e.g. Singaporean fusion restaurants, Asia MTV, or HCMC's first Starbucks), make sure to keep in mind the region's rich and powerful history that is infused throughout the cultural landscape--from its architecture to linguistics to cuisine.
It's impossible to go to SE Asia without visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. Wake up early for a sunrise bike ride through majestic ruins and spend an afternoon exploring hidden and off the beaten track Wats with a Vayable guide. Take a boat ride through floating villages on the outskirts of Siem Reap.
Ferry to Phi Phi island, one of Thailand's most beautiful escapes. Spend the day kayaking to Monkey Beach. Take a long-boat trip to Phi Phi Leh, a smaller island nearby where "The Beach" was filmed in Maya Bay. Hang out, lie around on the beach and walk the short jungle trail to a secluded, small beach on the other side of Ao Toh Ko.
Bangkok is a bustling and flavorful. During your visit there are definite must-sees, like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew--the royal residence and home of the reclining Buddha. Any Bangkok tour is incomplete without a visit to the famous weekend market, Jatujak. This literally has everything in the whole world (and make sure to try the amazing coconut ice cream!). In addition, there are also great adventures to be had off the beaten path, like spending an afternoon in canals. Though tourists overlook the city's watery channels that locals use to get around, this is a phenomenal way to explore--especially the sacred area of Old Bangkok, where all the ancient temples. For the adventurous eaters, I'll give you instructions for finding the most delectable street food. My favorite is a master wok chef, who stirs up the best fried noodles on the planet!
With its crowded streets, savory grub, and bustling trade, Saigon is a city pulsing with energy. Besides the appeal of year-round sun and a famously friendly vibe, people flock to Saigon for a variety of reasons, ranging from its status as one of the world’s fastest growing markets to its burgeoning art scene, swinging nightlife, and mouthwatering street food. Explore the city's back alleys by motorbike, take a private tour of HCMC's hidden street food, and then spend the evening cheering for a Saigon Heat game (US basketball culture has arrived!). There are museums and galleries galore--as well as modern, urban windows into the art community for those who want to workshop, dance, mingle, or skateboard in retrofitted shipping containers. Whatever adventure you choose, I'll give instructions for how to find secret cafes to escape the midday sun and beat your jetlag with Vietnam's best coffee.