A short flight from Hanoi landed us in Huế for the start of the South Vietnam portion of our trip, situated just south of the DMZ (17th parallel).

Huế was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty and the national capital from 1802 to 1945. I had viewed Huế as a mandatory stop on our way to Hoi An, thinking it was going to be more heavy lifting than delightful. I was very wrong — we loved Hue! The Imperial Citadel (photo above) and the Forbidden Purple City were amazing to see. The Emporer’s Tombs and the Thien Mu Pagoda were impressive. The old city had a great vibe. Cycling in the countryside was wonderful.

We also got a glimpse into political differences in different parts of the country. We learned that the “war” went by a few names depending on where you were located:

  • In the north – The Vietnam War (Ho Chi Minh’s-led fight for a unified Vietnam)
  • In the south central (Huế, Hoi An) – The American War
  • In the south (Saigon) – The Civil War (their fight for independence)

In Hanoi, we often saw communist flags flown beside the Vietnam flag. Not so in Hue.

Royal tomb of Khai Dinh the 12th Emporer (built 1920-1931)
Mandarins (people of importance) – Warriors in the front row, civilians in the 2nd row
Pagoda at the Forbidden Purple City
Gate in the imperial palace
Crypt at Emporer’s mausoleum
Lavish interior of Khai Dinh’s mausoleum
Gate at the citadel. Middle entrance reserved for the Emporer
Thien Mu Pagoda

We also loved our bicycling adventure in the countryside. By now you should know that a hallmark of Zipster’s Travel is a bicycle trip in every city we visit. It wasn’t possible in Hanoi (much too crazy) and Cambodia (much too hot), but we cycled in Sapa, Hue, and Hoi An.

A family pagoda in the countryside
Typical village temple
Duck farm surrounded by rice fields
17th-century bridge in a farming village

Dong Ba Market: We made an early morning visit to Dong Ba Market – the main local market in Hue. Very colorful and quite large!

Dried squid and other goodies
Wondering if they feel exposed…
Vegetables you don’t see in Boston
Colorful spices
Decorations for ancestor shrines
Chili shrimp
Enormous selection of colorful fabrics
Fresh fish and veggies sold out front

Our hotel is worth a mention

We stayed at the La Residence hotel which was a real treat – It’s a beautiful hotel on the Perfume River with a gorgeous pool (we loved), table tennis (which we played) and a basketball court (which Alec used for hours one day!). It’s located within walking distance of the old quarter and the bustling night market and restaurants. The walk to the old quarter was along a beautiful river path with a few street crossings. We felt fortunate we had gained our street crossing skills in Hanoi or it could have turned out not so good for us!

We loved Huế and could have stayed here longer.

We left Huế with a drive across the scenic Hai Van Pass and down through Da Nang & China Beach (My Khe).

Next stop – Hoi An 

Hoi An

I was really looking forward to Hoi An – Vietnam’s ancient and most significant trading port during the 16th century – a UNESCO world heritage site, full of ambiance and nearly perfectly preserved. This was going to be the “lay low” portion of the trip and we weren’t going to want to leave — minimal historic sites, minimal guide assistance, recharge, bike to the beach.

It turned out partly true.

Hoi An is one of those places that Rick Steves (the Europe guide book guy) would have said: “sometimes places are touristy for a good reason.” Ah, true. Unfortunately, during a good part of the day and night, Hoi An is soooo crowded, you can’t see the beautiful buildings thru the mobs of crowds.

Getting past this we discovered that later in the evening the crowds are low and you can experience the magical ambiance, actually see the beautiful buildings in the narrow streets, and sit out with a beer at a pub on the river and take it in.

Colorful boats waiting to be filled with tourists
A view across the river
IMG_0820 2
Quite beautiful at night

We really enjoyed our cycling trips to the countryside. Rice fields, vegetable villages, a pottery village. Very, very nice. Our cycling trip to An Bang beach was scenic until we arrived at the actual beach. Nothing to recommend about their most popular beach.

The Zipster crew on wheels
Tra Que vegetable village
Grazing water buffalo
Alec showing off his skills during a visit to the Pottery Village
I purchased this vase that this artist created

During our last night in Hoi An we enjoyed a private cooking class at Miss Vy’s Market & Cooking school. It was a lot of fun and our food came out delicious. We learned a few things too! I’d recommend it if you visit there.

Don’t we look professional?


Next stop – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

How could we travel halfway around the world to Vietnam and NOT make a stop in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, one of the largest and most awe-inspiring religious monuments in the world?

We’re so glad we did.

We spent only 2 days in Cambodia. On the first day, we visited the 3 most famous temples that were the heart of the Khmer empire: Angkor Wat (the most famous one), Ta Prohm (the Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider temple), and the Bayon in Angkor Thom.  Each was unique and spectacular.

We started our day at 5am to see Angkor Wat at sunrise (photo above.) We weren’t alone!

Already crowded at 6am
One of 5 towers. Each tower represents one of the Himalayan mountains.
Courtyard inside the Angkor Wat temple. At one time this was filled with water.
Me getting blessed by a monk
Ta Prohm temple
The most famous photo at Ta Prohm
Tree roots are other-worldly
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Bayon at Angkor Thom
96 faces at the Bayon

On our 2nd day, we headed out into the countryside. We visited the Beng Melea temple which was the primary Tomb Raider filming site. Beng Melea is in the thick of the jungle and was only recently cleared of land mines.

Somber entryway. 438 anti-personnel mines and 809 unexploded ordinances cleared in this small area alone
Beng Melea

Also out in the countryside, we visited an NGO site that is a partnership between the Dutch and Cambodian governments consisting of a health care center and school. I can’t say enough about this experience. One reads about health care centers and schools established in remote and rural areas for underserved populations in developing countries. It’s another thing to see one in person. At the health care center – 2 nurses delivering vaccinations,  examining sick patients  (70 cents), mid-wife baby deliveries ($15), and transportation to the hospital in the city for more critical needs. A doctor visits weekly as well.

At the school, they teach the children a traditional curriculum in the morning, and in the afternoon they teach them English. With a command of English, the children can grow up to work in the city of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh in the Tourism industry and achieve a better economic outcome.

We spent time in a classroom with a group of 90 children ages 6-12, playing a game that helped them learn English. Working with these kids was a wonderful experience – a highlight of our trip.


In Siem Reap we stayed in a wonderful hotel that I’d recommend (Shinta Mani Shack –, within walking distance to great restaurants and the popular Pub Street and night market. We ended the trip with dinner at Belmiro’s Pizza pub in Siem Reap that was owned by a former Boston guy. Fun talking with him! As much as we loved the Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine throughout the trip, we’d had enough and a comfort food night was in order. The pizza was excellent and a walk along Pub street afterward provided a great ending to a great trip.


Next stop – back home to Boston!

Our trip was great! It was cultural, culinary, educational and inspirational. And as with any great trip, it helped us grow as individuals and connect more strongly as a family.

A big shout-out to the folks at ATJ who put together this custom journey for us and provided great guides and logistical support along the way.

And as with every trip, we depart with fond memories, a renewed sense of adventure and an eagerness to share what we’ve learned with others. Thanks for reading.

3 Days in New Orleans

Our family trip to the Big Easy before Christmas was a big hit! It had been years since I’d last visited, and the first visit for our teenage son (15).

We stayed in the Garden District at the Ponchartrain Hotel which I would recommend highly. The Garden District is a nice reprieve from the busy French quarter, yet easy to get to and from using the Charles St streetcar or Lyft. There are lovely areas within walking reach of the hotel and if you love to walk like we do, it’s almost limitless. The Silver Whistle Cafe serves fabulous breakfast, and the Bayou Bar pub is perfect for a beer or cocktail after returning from your evening adventure. There’s also the Hot Tin rooftop bar (indoor/outdoor) but the vibe was not our thing.

Pontchartrain Hotel (credit: hotel website)

So what made this trip great? The variety of activities, the music, the vibe, creole cuisine, the history. And some time to reconnect as a family after a hectic Fall season.

Highlights of our trip:

Garden District self-guided walking tour. Beautiful homes, and my son got a kick from seeing Eli Manning’s family home and John Goodman’s home. Here’s a great interactive map you can use from your cell phone

One of many beautful homes in the Garden District

French Quarter. The usual – Jackson Square, St Louis Cathedral, Beignets & Cafe au Lait, and a touch of Bourbon Street. A rowdy evening on Bourbon Street wasn’t on our agenda for this trip. I think many people choose to avoid visiting NOLA thinking that it’s all about Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street craziness. There is so much more to this city!

Jackson Square

Bicycle tour – A hallmark of Zipster’s Travel is a guided cycling tour in every city we visit. It’s what we love to do. We booked the Creole & Crescent tour with FreeWheelin’ Bike Tours. It did not disappoint.

City Park

Frenchman Street– Frenchman street is the heart of the music scene. We heard live music at Snug Harbor and at the 3 Muses. We chose these venues because teenagers are allowed. Snug Harbor was a top highlight of our trip and we loved hearing jazz guitarist Dave Stryker. Be sure to make a reservation and then arrive early for great seats.

View from our seats– we were right up front!

National World War 2 museum – You may get lucky like we did and have the perfect rainy day to slot this. But even if the sun shines brightly every day, be sure to go! Imagine a highly interactive, state of the art museum that people like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg put muscle behind. This is a museum where you can spend an entire day, but if you’re like us, you can only handle half a day in ANY museum. I’d recommend starting your visit to the museum with the film Beyond All Boundaries.

World War 2 Museum (© The American Legion)

Magazine Street – over the course of our 3 days we walked the entire length of Magazine street from Tulane, thru the French Quarter to Frenchman street. Funky, great restaurants, interesting shops, a real joy.

Hope to see Drew Brees & Tom Brady in Superbowl 2019!

Lafayette Cemetary – These above ground tombs are very interesting to see. Imagine what would (and did) happen when graves are buried below ground and water levels rise? We saw a similar cemetery in Buenos Aires where the water tables are also very high.

Lafayette Cemetary

Holiday decorations. Early evening was the perfect time of day to see the best hotel holiday decorations in the French Quarter. Our favorites were the Roosevelt Hotel, Ritz Carlton and Hotel Monteleone.

Gingerbread street car

Tulane University and Audubon Park – We enjoyed walking through Tulane – it’s a beautiful campus! – and then thru Audubon Park. We arrived via the Charles St streetcar from the Garden District and walked back via Magazine Street.

Tulane (credit:
Audubon Park

And as with every trip, we depart with fond memories, a renewed sense of adventure and eager to share what we’ve learned with others.