I had never really considered Vietnam as a vacation destination. Call it ignorance, call it naivety. But after 9 days there, my perception and opinion was forever changed. In addition to the amazing people, long history, and post card like scenery, I was also attending and officiating one of my absolute best friend’s wedding. Talk about the ultimate trifecta.
For the months leading up to the trip, my excitement and anxiety grew exponentially. I had traveled to many countries before and had many unbelievable life changing adventures. But I had never been involved in actually being a part of joining two people for the rest of their lives. I couldn’t tell if I was more nervous or more excited. Adding to my nervousness was the fact that this would be a multicultural wedding with over 1000 people in attendance. The heat was on. On the plus side, I knew that I would be in the company of some of the most beautiful and fun people I know. We would all travel from various corners of the world to share and be a part of this once in a lifetime experience.
I coordinated with my best mate Chris to line up our travel and lodging in an attempt to save a little money and add to the fun and of course, the bromance. I was also in luck since Chris had just spent a week in this area of Vietnam the summer prior and had the inside scoop on all of the best and least expensive restaurants and activities. Things couldn’t be any better.
After a layover in Tokyo, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and cleared the confusing debacle known as Vietnamese Customs. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. I was then greeted by the bride and groom to be who gave me a ride to my hotel where I met up with Chris. Man, was it hot! Even at midnight it was over 90 degrees with what felt like 100% humidity. I got to the hotel, chatted with Chris about our plans for the next few days and passed out. The last 15 hours of travel and heat had zapped the energy right out of me.
The next couple of days were spent walking around the markets and landmarks of Ho Chi Minh City and touring the tunnels of the Cu Chi tunnels. It was humbling to say the least to know that I was walking in the same forest where our fathers, uncles, and brothers fought and died some 40 years ago. The entire experience was surreal and emotional. I spent the shuttle ride back to the hotel thinking about my experiences in war and what the countries that I fought in will be like in 30 or 40 years. Only time will tell.
The day of the wedding was hectic to say the least. I received Cory and Phuong’s vows and got a quick run down on how things would go. There would be the traditional tea ceremony at Phuong’s family’s house outside of Ho Chi Minh City which involves an exchange of gifts between the bride and the groom’s families as well as an exchange of traditional rings. Cory and Phuong as well as all individuals in the weeding party were dressed in traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony attire. We were completely immersed in the Vietnamese culture and it was AWESOME!
Next up was the western wedding ceremony just down the road from Phuong’s family’s house. This place was amazing. This combined with amazing weather, a beautiful sunset, and over 1000 friends and family… It was going to be a good night.
The time had come. I stood on a small stage under an tree/flower arch with Hollywood-like spotlights shining brightly in my face. I wasn’t alone though, I was with the rest of the groomsmen, the groom, and the bridesmaids that included my interpreter for the ceremony, Tracy. Phuong made her way down the aisle and looked just as beautiful as ever. Unfortunately, the next 20 minutes or so were a bit of a blur, however I do remember listening to the most beautiful, heartfelt and funny wedding vows I had ever heard. The experience was almost overwhelming. Vows were exchanged, rings were exchanged, and a kiss was exchanged. Boom! That just happened!
What followed over the next few hours was more exciting and more fun than I could have imagined. I had been told and even warned about Vietnamese weddings. “They are wild!” “Craziest experience in my life!!” “Oh boy! You’re in for a treat!” just to recall a few. “Exhausting” is how I would describe it!!! What a ride! I don’t even really recall getting back to the hotel that night, but a picture taken of me resembled some type of crazy extreme mattress planking event. I hadn’t slept that hard in quite a while!
This was only the beginning though. The next day nearly 50 people boarded a plane for Da Nang, then caught a cab about for a 20 minute ride south to the jaw dropping town of Hoi An. The next and remaining few days were spent learning about the rich Buddhist history at Marble Mountain, scuba diving in the Channel Islands, cruising the streets of Hoi An on scooters, and eating some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Many other friends and family would leave Vietnam en route to other amazing destinations. Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, etc. Unfortunately, my next destination would be back stateside as work was once again pulling me away from another amazing adventure. I have made myself a promise. I will return to this amazing country and I will forever be thankful to Cory and Phuong for inviting me to be a part of such a beautiful and amazing moment in their new life together.