Salapao is a classic Chinese staple and every Chinese ethnic group has its own recipes and styles. I make Teochew style steamed buns. It’s different from how people in Hong Kong make it. The Cantonese like their Salapaos filled with BBQ pork, red bean and custard. It has a fluffy texture while the Teochew version is gummier. We also add sweet potato to give the steamed buns a softer texture.

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Journey of the Senses

Journey of the Senses is a social enterprise in hospitality businesses in Ho Chi Minh that makes a positive social impact on people with disability. The business operates various innovative hospitality projects including restaurants, café, flower shop, and spa business as a means to support visually and hearing-impaired staff for a better life.

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The Family Tree

The Family Tree is fully operated under the principles of Fair Trade by putting people and planet as top priorities. The fundamental principles that are evidenced in all of their businesses are promoting fair trade; promoting culture and communities; and promoting green products and the environment. Their handmade crafts are of high cultural values, eco-friendly and uniquely designed.

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Living Irrawaddy Dolphin Project

iving Irrawaddy Dolphin Project is a social business promoting sustainable practices under the license of Burma Dolphins Ltd., a local travel company in Mandalay, Myanmar. The project was set to protect the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and preserve a unique tradition of cooperative fishing while creating job opportunities in local areas through community-based tourism.

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Laos Buffalo Dairy

Laos Buffalo Dairy (LBD) is the first and only buffalo dairy in Laos PDR, producing a wide array of artisanal cheeses and milk products which are directly sold to local and international customers. Located near Luang Prabang, the farm offers visitors a unique opportunity to visit dairy and production facilities, taste delicious cheeses and get up close with buffaloes and other farm animals.

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Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat (YMR) has been widely recognised by a number of international travel magazines as one of the ‘must visit’ hotels on earth. Situated on the banks of the Yulong River in Yangshuo county, near Guilin city of China, the lodge develops a strong business model that focusses on sustainable tourism, cultural conservation and community development. Through the beauty of surroundings, the place offers high quality of customer services, and sustainable business practices that have a positive impact to environments and local communities.

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Elephant Valley Project

The Elephant Valley Project (EVP), the original elephant sanctuary in Cambodia, is dedicated to rescuing captive elephants and supporting conservation work protecting wild elephants. Visitors get an opportunity to observe elephants in their natural habitat and learn more about the conservation in the local area.

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Neal Bermas

NB Portrait HoiAn 2copy

Neal Bermas

Special Advisor (Social Enterprise)

What excites you about the Mekong Region?

Simply put, what doesn’t excite me about the region? Since my first visit 20 years ago, the sites, smells, colors, energy … the markets, the people, the foods, and the spiritual have captured my attention. That largely remains the same. It’s exciting to be part of preserving all that Mekong specialness for others, too.

Tell us about your Background

For the last dozen years, I have lived and devoted myself to sustainable hospitality and tourism in Vietnam and the Mekong region. I have been an international hotel and gaming consultant, a restaurant owner and operator, and lectured widely at top US universities and culinary schools.

I established and ran STREETS International, an ambitious social enterprise providing vocational hospitality and culinary training to poor, marginalized, orphaned, and trafficked youth from Vietnam and Cambodia. The STREETS residential program included two authentic Vietnamese eateries based in Hoi An, Vietnam. Pre-pandemic, we served approximately 15,000 guests per year. We have over 350 graduates at the best hotels and resorts throughout the region.

I have been a speaker and award recipient from Destination Mekong a number of times. I know its importance and also the potential.

How do you want to make an impact for the region?

I want to continue to build on the impact Destination Mekong has already made. I want to be part of realizing the possibilities beyond a conventional RMO (regional marketing organization) to being a bona fide leading tourism organization that stands for responsible, sustainable tourism and travel. There are development threats but also opportunities to collaborate with local communities.

The opportunity is to strongly differentiate Destination Mekong as a model of impact, marrying sustainable tourism and sound economic development. The slow travel movement is sustainable tourism at its best and it fits the terrain of the countries in our region perfectly. I want to see this movement gain momentum.

The concentration of successful travel-related social enterprises in our region is unique worldwide. It’s a platform that we should celebrate. I want to be impactful by supporting social entrepreneurs to market and expand sustainable tourism social enterprises. Most importantly, as a Special Advisor to Destination Mekong, I want to do everything I can utilizing sustainable and best tourism business practices to return our region to the robust pre-pandemic environment and beyond.