Michael is a tall, strapping man from New York City who had wanted to visit Southeast Asia for years, and much to the delight of his fellow travelers, he was able to join Zoom on our recent tour! Here is what he had to say about his experience.
Zoom: Why did you decide to take this trip with Zoom Vacations?
Michael: I had wanted to visit Southeast Asia for a long time, and to see Angkor Wat in particular. And I have friends who had raved about trips they had been on with by Zoom. So, when another friend suggested he and I join the Zoom trip to Vietnam and Cambodia — with the add-on of Laos — I jumped at the chance. And I’m so glad I did.
Zoom: Are Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos countries that you wanted to visit for a long time?
Michael: Yes. I was particularly interested in seeing Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and also interested in exploring Vietnam. When I learned a bit about Laos and the fact that it is relatively not touristed, that sealed the deal.
Zoom: What was your highlight of the trip?
Michael: Our visit to Angkor Wat and other temples nearby were highlights of the trip for me. Halong Bay and Hoi An in Vietnam, and the old royal city of Luang Prabang in Laos, were also extremely beautiful and fascinating. But there were many other highlights and surprises designed and flawlessly orchestrated by Zoom Vacations — including a visit to an elephant reserve in Laos where a dedicated team is working to increase the elephant population, a moped ride through Saigon at night, an afternoon swimming in gorgeous limestone pools below a waterfall in Laos, and a cruise up the Mekong to two caves filled with thousands of Buddhas……
Zoom: What surprised you about these destinations?
Michael: I knew very little about these countries before signing up for the trip, apart from some of the history of the US in what the Vietnamese call ‘the American War”. I read up some before we left but there is so much to see, learn, experience. Every day of the trip was eye opening and often surprising — the history, the architecture, the food, the warmth of the people, the natural beauty of the countryside, the dynamism of the cities (Saigon in particular). And while I knew they would be spectacular, the temples near Siem Reap blew my mind.
Zoom: How were the accommodations during the trip?
Michael: It was clear from talking with Bryan Herb, Zoom Vacations’ co-owner, who accompanied our group, that he and his business partner Joel Cabrera have amazing first-hand knowledge of the places where they lead Zoom Vacation — including the pros and cons of the best hotels. We stayed in some gorgeous hotels on our trip; I especially loved the Belmond properties in Luang Prabang, Laos and in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the resort outside Da Nang on the South China Sea.
Zoom: A lot of the group was very surprised about how good the food was, especially in Laos. What do you think made it so special, and what were some of the favorite things you ate?
Michael: The food in all three countries we visited was exceptional. It made all the difference that Zoom chose hotels with amazing breakfast spreads (I’ve never seen anything like those breakfasts), and that they chose (or recommended when we were on our own) authentic, non-touristy restaurants wherever we went. In Laos I especially loved the minced spiced chicken stuffed inside lemon grass. In Cambodia the curries were beyond delicious. And in all three countries the spicy papaya salad and many other dishes heaped with fresh herbs and vegetable were absolutely fantastic.
Zoom: Was it easy to make new friends with other people in the group? Do you feel like you walked away from this trip with new friendships?
Michael: Our group of 11 included men from different backgrounds with differing interests and personalities — some laid back and low key, some gregarious, all friendly and easy to talk to. The small size of the group and Bryan’s thoughtful attention to each of us helped ensure that we got to know each other. And yes, I not only met some great guys but made some new friends, one of whom I’m meeting for dinner next week.
Zoom: If you could go back to any city or town that we visited and spend more time there, which would be?
Michael: Hands down, Siem Reap to spend more time visiting the amazing temples complexes nearby. We visited a number of temples, including two not visited by most tourists which Zoom Vacations arranged for us to visit after hours (one we had just to ourselves before a special Zoom farewell dinner nearby in a small village), but there is so much to see…..
Zoom: How did you like traveling as part of a gay group?
Michael: I had traveled with gay friends of course, but had never been on any kind of organized group tour (gay or straight) so I didn’t know what to expect. But from talking with friends and colleagues, including some who’ve been on very high end trips, I feel confident that the attention to detail and quality of our Zoom Vacations trip were every bit as good, and probably better, than any group tour out there, gay or straight. The fact that we were a gay group just made the trip more fun and fabulous and relaxing!
Zoom: Where do you think you would like to go next with Zoom Vacations?
Michael: Zoom Peru (esp. Machu Picchu) and Zoom Egypt are high on my list.