And just like that, our time in Hoi An was complete. Next up, Halong Bay!
Since we opted to skip the Thai islands on this trip, we wanted to spend at least one evening in Cua Dai Beach along Vietnam’s coast. There were so many incredible hotels to choose from, but ultimately we decided upon the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort. This was definitely an indulgent stay, but worth every penny. We had a huge suite with unobstructed sea views. The hotel grounds were beyond beautiful — and the breakfast buffet, my goodness.
We took it easy at the Victoria – morning by the pool, afternoon at the spa, lots of banana smoothies (with rum) and platters of dragon fruit. It was seriously indulgent, and I kind of wish I were there right now.
I could wander outdoor markets for days, literally. Savoring each stall – the smells, the colors, the details. We walked and walked and walked and didn’t even cover the entirety of the market scene in Hoi An. We wandered through the meat market (not for the weak of heart), the seafood market along the river, and everything in between.
I loved coming across foods that I didn’t recognize. There were so many interesting fruits and vegetables, all so fresh and colorful. For our cooking class, we spent the morning at one market, buying items to use in our dishes. I made a vegetable curry and purchased coconut meat and water to make my own coconut milk. It was delicious – with just a hint of sweetness.
In my dreams, I’m wandering through Hoi An, market basket in hand and fresh flowers in the other. And on sunny days, I always order a Vietnamese iced tea.
Hoi An was magical.
Vietnam had long been at the top of my travel wish-list, but I couldn’t have prepared myself for how much I loved it. We traveled to three different parts of this incredible country – Hoi An, Hanoi, and Halong Bay.
By the time we arrived at Da Nang airport, we had been traveling Asia for a week. At this point, we had relaxed into that sweet, sappy vacation mode. We woke up daily by seven am (no alarm!), ready to chase the day through quiet moments and exchanges with soon-to-be new friends. I really do believe in timing, and in this moment, we were perfectly poised to explore Hoi An.
As a small city, Hoi An has expansive markets (more on that soon), restaurants overflowing with guests along the riverfront, and quiet streets that almost lead you to believe that you’ve wandered into someone’s backyard.
Three miles from downtown is the South China Sea – and long stretches of beach. For our first evening, we stayed at the incredible Victoria Hotel. We stayed at a variety of places throughout our trip – bungalows and guesthouses; hotels in downtown districts coupled with more indulgent resorts. We love the boutique feel, where you can feel somewhat immersed with the local culture. The Victoria was definitely more of a resort – but well worth a one-night stay. We spent the evening in a cottage directly on the beach. The views were breathtaking.
The rest of our time in Hoi An, we stayed in the rice fields, which was in between downtown and the Cua Dai Beach. We had a big marble bath tub that overlooked the fields and one of those incredible swing chairs that you could spend hours in. We also had bikes that we took out on mini-adventures around the perimeter of the city.
While in Hoi An, we took a cooking class, which was one of the highlights of our trip. We spent the morning at the market – choosing all of our ingredients – which was a really incredible experience. Hoi An is known for its custom tailors; everywhere you look, there’s a different tailor. We had a few items made and it really became a fun part of our trip. We would return each day to try on our pieces and have them altered accordingly.
The city was breathtaking. The people were the nicest. The food was mouth-watering (we went to this restaurant twice). I could go on and on.
The hospitality in Cambodia was unparalleled. Not sure if I’ll regret admitting this, but we went a little overboard in the massage department while in Southeast Asia. Honestly, though, it’s hard not to when the massages are incredible and $5 an hour, on average.
During our two week trip, we each got fifteen massages. The spa at our hotel in Cambodia was unreal. Traditional massages in Cambodia can be a little on the painful side, but I can’t even explain how much tension I was holding in. Before each massage, you bathe your feet and put on these traditional massage clothes. I feel like you can tell a lot about a culture based on food (yes!), markets (how do people run errands? manage the everyday stuff?), and indulgences (what will locals splurge on, if they can?). When we honeymooned in Morocco, it was fascinating to spend time at the hamam and really experience the culture that way. In Southeast Asia, we spent a lot of time learning about the culture – specifically through massage and food.
Our time in Cambodia was spent visiting temples and as a bit of respite in between our crazy travel schedule. Our hotel had an incredible pool, which we spent time sitting around. We ordered many Angkor Beer’s and banana smoothies with rum – and just sat back in the pool-side hammocks. We also took a cooking class, which was one of three classes we took while in Asia. More to come on that!
Next time, I’d love to explore a bit of the Cambodian countryside. There’s so much to see. If only there were more time!
When planning our trip to Cambodia, visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise was at the top of my list. Angkor Wat is one of those places – similar to my experience visiting the pyramids in Egypt – that you hear about as a child, stories told and re-told. It almost feels untouchable, like it exists in an alternate space that you can’t touch.
We decided to book a guide for the day and I’m so glad we did. There is so much history (some quite sad) and the experience was made more meaningful having someone to provide context. The tuk tuk ride through the Angkor Archeological Park was magical enough – visiting the temples inside was a bonus. Unlike the pyramids in Cairo, the temples in Siem Reap are a few minutes outside of the frenetic city streets. The city can provide an incredible contrast, but there was something so peaceful about being surrounded by grass and trees.
We walked up crumbling steps, saw monkeys (who stole our lunch basket right out of Matt’s hands!) and just basked in the beauty of these incredible temples. The elaborate detail was just amazing. The way the light hit the stone and cascaded throughout was a nice respite from the hot and humid air.
Although Cambodia was not my favorite stop on our Southeast Asia trip, the temples were incredible.
While in Laos, we wanted to get out of the city and experience life in the country. If we had more time, it would have been amazing to do an overnight stay outside of the city. I love moving slowly throughout the day, just watching people as they go about everyday activities. Nothing is ordinary when seen through a different lens – a task as simple as going to the market for dinner ingredients is beautiful.
Visiting the Kuang Si waterfall was high on our list of things to do while in Laos. One of my favorite parts was actually the ride out there. We took a tuk tuk and for an hour (each way) the wind whipped through our hair as we breathed in our incredible surroundings. The waterfall was the most exquisite color; I’ve never seen a body of water so blue/green/clear. Kuang Si actually consists of a few different waterfalls, each one taller than the last.
Ever since going to Costa Rica, waterfalls remind me of letting go. We went on a propelling trip in Costa Rica and it was one of the most frightening activities I’ve done. I felt like I was going to slip, fall, die. It was terrifying. Once I got to the bottom, I felt energized. And seriously proud of myself. Waterfalls represent the idea of how freeing it can be to just let go.
When we arrived at the largest waterfall, we decided to wander a bit. We came upon this steep hill that promised a lookout point at the top. It looked like no one had walked this trail before – it was incredibly steep with no where to grasp. It was like rock climbing on the most slippery cliff. It was a little terrifying to be honest, but so worthwhile. Once we reached the top, we had the most stunning view of the country – waterfalls and all.
Laos really stole a chunk of my heart.
a few more photos from our time in luang prabang (more photos here). next up: the waterfalls!
Where to begin? Laos was simply incredible. From the sprawling evening market to delicious roadside sandwiches and fresh juices to the magic of Mount Phousi (officially one of my favorite places now).
We didn’t have too much time in Laos, so rather than jump around, we stayed in Luang Prabang for the entirety. We did take a day trip – but more on that later.
In the evening, we’d stroll the city streets and witness first dates, groups of friends and families, enjoying dinner across restaurant patios that lined the streets. The Mekong River runs through Luang Prabang and to cross to the other side of the city, you have to walk over a rickety bamboo bridge. Once the sun sets, the bridge lights up and stands like a beacon.
On our first evening, we wandered through the evening market (we bought so many incredible gifts in Laos) and found ourselves in a cave of street food. Literally. It was incredible – the colors of each dish was more vibrant than the last. Friends gathered in groups – laughing and chatting as they enjoyed a heaping plate of food and Lao Beer.
Luang Prabang really struck a chord with me. I could have easily seen myself spending an extended period of time within its city walls. In fact, there are quite a number of expats. But from my point of view, they seemed to be rather intertwined with the locals, which isn’t always the case. Luang Prabang is well known for its buddhist culture and many tourists and locals wake early to witness the buddhist almes. At 5am, we arose in our sleepy bungalow by the river, hopped on our bikes, and rode into town. I’ll never forget that bike ride. The sun had yet to rise, and the air was cool yet humid. Southeast Asia is a bit frenetic – cars, pedestrians, cyclists, animals, and tuk tuks move in harmony. There are no street lights or “right of way”, but rather an understood rhythm. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to be a part of – the chaotic pattern that works. Quite honestly, we decided to go to the buddhist almes because it is something you do while in Luang Prabang. I wasn’t sure if we would feel uncomfortable or whatnot, but it was an incredible experience. It was especially heartwarming to see monks offer food to other monks.
Our guesthouse was a lot of fun. We opted to stay in a bungalow which had its own little deck overlooking the garden. The guesthouse sat a few miles outside of town and was a nice way to relax after walking around all day. Located directly on the river, you could relax down by the water or in the garden. The breakfast was incredible, too. In addition to fresh fruit, bread, homemade yogurt and juice, we had soup. Matt chose a chicken soup each morning. I had the egg drop soup. It was incredible. We also went to a small pizza place that is owned by an expat. The backyard restaurant is seriously romantic. You have to cross the bamboo bridge to get there and the yard is only lit by candle and flickering lights.
More to come.
PS. Just booked a late summer trip to France and Turkey. I’m on a serious travel kick right now.. or all the time. Where would you travel right now? Plus, any Turkey tips out there?
Our trip to SE Asia involved three countries, seven cities, and many airports in between. It’s hard to sum up all the incredible things we experienced and the inspiration felt while abroad, but I’m going to do my best!