Siem Reap food tour, Cambodia: Why night-time markets are the best for Khmer food

Born to be wild! There's something about riding a motorbike in a foreign country after dark that's incredibly invigorating and absolutely thrilling – even if the reality is as pillion on a Vespa.

You still feel the wind on your face and a frisson of fear in your heart, at the same time as clearly hearing, smelling and being part of the chaotic world going on around you.

Get your motor runnin'. In most cities in Australia today, young people on scooters bring food to you. But in an increasing number of Asian hotspots now, they take you to the food.

Head out on the highway. And why ever not? Travelling on a jazzy little Vespa is a great way to see the sights close up and, on a night-time foodie tour of Cambodia's Siem Reap outside Angkor Wat, sniffing the stunning aromas of food sizzling at 500 roadside stalls.

"Khmer food is an extremely important part of our culture," says Heang, one of our driver-guides for the evening.

Cambodians certainly enjoy their food. Everywhere you go, you see people eating, whether in markets, in outdoor cafes, at stalls and often all hunkered down together around a pan on the pavement. The markets during the day seem constantly filled with people buying food too.

"But they're even more busy at night," Heang tells us. "Most Cambodians don't have fridges so they'll visit the market two or three times a day to buy food or to eat. So night-time markets are the best to see."

Lookin' for adventure. Vespa Adventures' Siem Reap After Dark food tour looks a great way of sampling a variety of different foods, and to join locals in their national pastime.

The four- to four-and-a-half-hour tour, with all food and drinks included, can run for singles, couples, families or groups, depending on how many book for an evening, and personal preference. Helmets, insurance and raincoats are supplied and the tour is escorted by orange-clad drivers and guides. We're just two people on ours.

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To warm up our appetites, our first stop is at the Siem Reap Brew Pub, the only craft brewery in the country, which produces a selection of what turn out to be quite delicious beers. We opt for the beer sampler set, with beer-sauced or flavoured bar snacks, and decide our favourites are the ones brewed with local organic wild honey and the Saisong, with a touch of rye malt, a delicate lemongrass aroma and a Kampot peppercorn aftertaste. Sadly, no room left for the beer cocktails!

We then drive through town and along the riverside checking out what's going on until we end up at the oldest night market in Cambodia, the Angkor Night Market. This is a huge sprawling place, almost a city in its own right. We cruise along the stalls, then stop at a number – oh, the joys of parking a Vespa with such ease – to sample their wares, or simply gawp.

There's fish, meat, fruit, vegetables and a huge range of cooked food stalls. With cold beer and soft drinks from the Vespa's icebox, we stroll around with beer in hand sampling a huge variety of foods. We give the barbecued stuffed spiced frogs a miss, and the deep-fried insects which are a Khmer speciality from the lean war years, but I can't stop eating the fruit marinated in salt and chilli which I think is the most delicious I've ever tasted.

Happily, there's then a break from eating with a couple of games at fun fair stalls where you throw darts at balloons for a prize, and another where you fire a pellet gun at cans.

Appetite restored, we then sit down at our choice of little kitchens with stools to try the speciality Cambodian rice pancakes and vegetables, before taking the Vespas to the huge Ratama Restaurant, a favourite, it seems, of locals.

Our final stop is the Asana Wooden House, a gorgeous Khmer cocktail bar made in the style of a traditional home, where we toasted ourselves and our Vespas, and mulled over what we'd do the next day with what else but an Angkor Sunrise.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Qantas, Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airways and AirAsia all fly regularly to Cambodia's Siem Reap.

STAY

The Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa in Siem Reap has two restaurants on site and very large rooms. See victoriaangkorhotel.com

TOUR

Vespa Adventures runs a number of different tours. The Siem Reap After Dark tour lasts for 4-4.5 hours, and costs $72 per person. Phone (+855) 1788 1384; see vespaadventures.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/Cambodia

tourismcambodia.com

Sue Williams travelled at her own expense.

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