What started as a quick Facetime call back when Ben was deployed, somehow ended with a flight booked to Vietnam. A few months later we were on a marathon journey to Asia and I am not complaining one bit.
With the past year filled with mostly stints of us living apart this little springtime trip to Vietnam could not have come at a better time.
We had vague expectations for our trip, and Vietnam completely blew us away. From the cultural attraction and food to all the sites and movement of the city, it was incredible. We were long overdue for a shock to the senses, a time to explore, and a time to enjoy.
After a 32 hour journey, we arrived jetlagged in Hanoi and ventured on in search of the Vietnamese coffee we had heard so much about. Stepping out from our AirBnb, we were quickly introduced to the rules of the road in Hanoi, or the lack thereof. The organized chaos is a key to navigating Hanoi’s tangle of streets. The flood of motorbikes waits for no one. I found the Frogger method to be quite an effective way to cross the street. (Thankfully, I won this game of Frogger) Needless to say, we survived unscathed and got the rhythm down eventually but will probably never take a “walk” sign for granted again.
We have traveled quite a bit in our day and even experienced a bit of jetlag before– but NOTHING LIKE THIS. Ben was doing pretty good, despite the yawns in between sentences, but I was utterly out of it and kept telling Ben I thought I was going to pass out. It was bizarre. But we did find this gem of a coffee shop and finally got our hands around a cup of the famous Vietnamese coffee. It was strong, thick, and you could almost feel it instantly do the trick as you sipped it. We sat upstairs and took in the hustle and bustle of the streets below. Or rather, we were waiting until it was a remote “acceptable” time to each lunch. I was genuinely ready for lunch, or dinner at around 7:00 am.
Our Airbnb host was such a hero and gave us a great list of his favorite spots around the city. We experienced our first real Vietnamese pho at lunch and goodness it was divine. We spent the afternoon zigging and zagging through the streets, grabbing another cup of coffee, accidentally taking a small nap, and then convincing ourselves to venture back out for dinner.
Dinner was incredible. It was another spot on our host’s list and it was trickier to find (which I almost took as a rule of thumb– the harder the place to find, the better the food.)
Feeling a bit more refreshed the next morning we set off to explore more of the map. Something I always love noting when traveling is how the city wakes up– is it quiet and still or is it hustling and bustling? Is it filled with markets and vendors or businesspeople briskly walking to work? It’s all so interesting to me. What was the real winner in Vietnam is the sheer volume of tai chi occurring in the mornings. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. I think at one point I told Ben I would easily do those 32 hours of traveling just to witness the morning tai chi and dances and hop back on a plane. There is just tons of hilarious dancing and weird movements going on in every direction and I could not play it cool. I mean in one corner you have a man doing this weird arm movement and the next are 500 women all doing synchronized dancing. And then you have a group of people scratching each others’ backs in a circle and it was just so wonderful and hilarious.
We found a great little breakfast spot to sip on some coffee before making our way to the Temple of Literature.
We hit the JACKPOT of days to visit this place because there was what looked to be an elementary school or kindergarten graduation with hundreds of precious children. It was almost too much for me to bear. They had their little caps and gowns on and several were holding balloons. The Temple of Literature is the oldest university in Hanoi dating back to 1070 which was pretty incredible — and really cool to see this generation of students graduating! LOOK HOW CUTE THEY ARE ^^
We spent the rest of the evening at an Art Gallery, a few more coffee shops, and even had Bun Cha at the same restaurant Obama visited when he was there! Friday morning we departed our Airbnb and had another display of the world’s best morning activities! We grabbed a quick coffee and met at the hostel for the bus to take us to Halong Bay.
What could have been a less than ideal situation turned into one of the best two days (the hotel accidentally only put us down for one person and then informed us we would have a roomate–not cool, which then led to them feeling bad, upgrading us to one of the nicest cruises, and therefore giving us the experience of a lifetime). As soon as we hopped on the boat I was in awe. We were greeted by the kindest staff and sat down for lunch while we cruised into the bay. Once we got the menu I assumed it was the standard– you know, pick a starter, a main, and a dessert. Ben and I were chatting about what we were going to order when they start bringing dish, after dish, after dish. Jokes on us– it was literally a 12 course meal. So incredible.
We spent the day cruising along the bay, sipping on gin and tonics, taking a dip in the bay, and ended with a sunset cruise before dinner.
The views were insane. I don’t think words, or photos could ever do it justice. As far as the eye can see are these limestone formations darting up from the water. The peacefulness was almost tangible especially coming from the utter chaos and noise of the city.
I love him. I love him. I love him.^^
There’s Ben swimming away! As we cruised along it was wild to see the small fishing villages along the bay and insane to think that people have lived their entire lives there!
Talk about one heck of a sunset. It was stunning. We finished the evening with a wonderful million course dinner after sunset and lucked out at a table filled with Brits which was my absolute favorite.
Our cozy little cabin room! The next morning we woke up with the sun and relaxed as we continued to cruise around. We were even treated to some morning tai chi which again, fulfilled all my hopes and dreams. I strategically placed myself in the back row because I do not trust myself to keep a straight face during these events. ;)
Obviously, we needed more food– so a brunch it was before we headed to take a look at a nearby cave and beach!
I now understand how one can consume pho at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
After our dream Halong Bay cruise came to an end we hopped back on the bus to head back to Hanoi. Should you ever find yourself in Vietnam– 100% do a cruise along the bay. It is the most peaceful, beautiful, and wonderful few days.
Back in Hanoi, we realized we again hit the jackpot because it was the night of the night market! I have no idea how the logistics work but they shut down a ton of the main roads. No more million motorbikes. Families and friends fill the streets and there is tons of music, vendors, and events. I think my favorite part was that they replaced all of the motorbikes with small motorized cars and tanks (yes.. tanks) for the little kids to drive around in. It was hilarious and the best form of entertainment. I managed to take zero pictures but goodness it was a treat to experience the night market in full swing. We even sat down for Vietnamese barbeque that night. Let me set the scene for you. You pretty much sit in a child-sized chair at a child-sized table and they bring you meats you to cook over your little grill. It was actually a really cool experience and fun to be shoulder to shoulder with everyone else enjoying the night as well.
After wandering up and down the market we finally made our way back to the Airbnb to get some sleep before our early morning flight down to Ho Chi Minh City. It was honestly the perfect ending to our time in Hanoi. When we first landed here we loved the city, but each day we fell more and more in love with the charm and character. Each day you are able to look past the initial facade of the buildings and see that there is a whole world in between the streets. There are alleys and winding staircases that lead to homes and incredible coffee shops. The city is so vibrant and chaotic, yet still had the most beautiful simplicity to it. Hanoi quickly steals your heart.
After an early flight, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City and made ourselves at home in our Airbnb. Then it was off to explore.
Our first day was a whole lot of walking to knock off a ton of places on our lists. We went in and out of shops and up and down the streets. What I found so interesting in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh is that rather than the street having a normal name– you’ll often find them called Shoe Street (where they only sell shoes), or Antique Street (antique shop after antique shop), or even Sunglass Street (you guessed it– they sold sunglasses). I found it to be an interesting business plan, but none the less incredibly fascinating to explore.
We visited Ben Thanh market and had an afternoon coffee to carry us over until dinner.
We had dinner at Secret Garden and it was one of my favorite meals! The restaurant really was secret– you walk down a very average looking alley, up six or seven flights of stairs, past a few family’s homes, and then finally you find yourself on the rooftop. The food was traditional Vietnamese and beyond incredible.
The next few days we spent a lot of time getting Ben’s suit made, which was an experience in and of itself. It was incredible to see how they could get his exact measurements and make the suit with the fabric we picked out all in a matter of three days.
More chaos, more motorbikes. Me just living my best life in Vietnam^
We were able to find a lot of hidden gems in the city from vintage clothing stores to the most beautiful home good store where we purchased quite the amount of souvenirs for our home. We even lucked out with a few hidden coffee shops to rest our feet and get an afternoon jolt of energy. I think one of my favorite Ho Chi Minh restaurant experiences was when we found a restaurant in a back alley. Tucked in to a nook behind a maze of narrow alleys, every day around noon students and workers gather at the “lunch ladies” around Saigon. This was the closest approximation of a Vietnamese Thanksgiving dinner I can imagine. You approach a table full of meat or vegetable dishes and just point until your plate is filled and wash it down with an unidentified beverage that slightly resembles green tea. Did we know what we pointed to? Nope. Was it delicious? Yep.
Another favorite moment was happy hour on the rooftop. Many of the rooftop bars in the Saigon hotels are the dressed up watering holes journalists and expats used to frequent during the war and still have great views of the city to watch the sun sink.
Ho Chi Minh was definitely more westernized than Hanoi but still had this incredible charm and character about it. After learning that in Saigon the real heart of the city was in between the streets and up and down the staircases, we were on a mission to find the hidden gems in this city. A few days into our stay here and we fell into a rhythm. The days felt easy and exciting. The food was honestly some of the best I have had in my life. The people were kind and welcoming. The city was a beautiful chaos.
Vietnam was easily one of my favorite trips Ben and I have ever been on and that is an incredibly bold statement. It was a trip of a lifetime and I am just so thankful that Ben and I got to share it together. It was the perfect space for stepping outside of our comfort zone, to truly rest, and to learn more about such a beautiful culture.
Goodness I am so thankful Ben and I get to experience these things together and that six months ago he agreed to book this trip on a whim with me.
Vietnam was an absolute dream and now every fiber of my being is dying to get back to Asia.
After Palm Springs, and stopping back through Joshua Tree where we stayed with Ben’s sponsor family from the Academy!!, we finally made our way eastward towards Antelope Canyon! Thankfully, the ole Grand Canyon was on the way, providing the perfect lunch spot. I’ve seen hundreds of images of the Grand Canyon but you truly don’t understand just how GRAND it is until you are standing there looking at it yourself. Even then, it is still hard to grasp the vastness. It looks like a painting with thousands of layers and is breathtaking. I mean truly, truly a work of art by God. This whole trip had several moments of me just standing in awe of creation.
^Me just soaking in all the goodness. LIKE ARE YOU KIDDING ME^^
After leaving the canyon we carried on through the evening to get to Antelope Canyon! On the way, we saw the most STUNNING sunset of our lives. Then, to top it off there was a full moon shining over the red clay mountains and I about lost my cool. So much so that I made Katie immediately pull over. I’ve had this weird thing of always wanting to see this and when it happened I teared up. It was beyond incredible and pictures don’t do it justice at all!
The Grand Canyon is 100% worth the hype and even then some.
Palm Springs- the land of color and PERFECT HOTELS. Goodness gracious this place was a TREAT (especially after living in a van for awhile ;) ) We spent most of our time walking up and down the streets, popping into hotels like the Parker and the Ace Hotel, and vintage shopping. But let’s give a round of applause to the design aesthetic in all of Palm Springs. Everything is completely on brand and beyond wonderful. Like all the design goals wrapped up in one city. Here’s a bunch of phone shots and a few camera pictures. I honestly didn’t pull out my camera a ton this stop (which is a huge shame) but I think I was just too busy enjoying our drinks and sunshine.
It was such a breath of fresh air to stop by Palm Springs and I’m hoping one day I can get back and splurge on a night in one of those dreamy hotels!
We drove into Joshua Tree just an hour before sunset and I was DYING. We jammed music and drove from one end of the park to ther other to get to our campsite and I could not handle how it looked like we were on MARS! Like this place is unlike any other and seeing the sunset behind the mountains and over the rocks as you drove through the park was just so beautiful. We finally found a campsite that wasn’t full and set up camp for the night. It was so refreshing to have no service at all– a break from our phones and work!
The next morning we woke up with the sun to hit up the Cholla Garden and take a few client photos. Talk about a dream field of cacti!
We continued to drive through the park and explore around different corners and roads.
That evening we made our way to Palm Springs for a few days before heading back into the park. I’ll post a few of those photos later!
A few days later we posted up back in the park at a different campsite and spent a lot of our time walking around the different rocks and through the trees!
LIKE LOOK AT THIS PLACE!
Obviously, we had tacos at sunset ;)
This was one of those places where I am determined to get back to. You could spend so much time hiking throughout the park and I don’t think I would ever get tired of those sunsets!
This world is just so dang cool.
White Sands National Monument
After leaving Marfa we continued onward towards New Mexico. After a lot of very straight roads and a few tumbleweeds we started to see mountains in the distance and even witnessed the most beautiful sunset. Since we arrived after dark, we went a little past the park to our home for the evening: Walmart ;)
After sitting in the van all day long we took a few laps around the store and bought some dinner supplies. We cooked up dinner (which you guessed it– was tacos!), finished a little work and emails, and geared up for bed.
We made it an early morning to get to the park right when it opened. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the park, and I had seen several photos, but for some reason, the vastness and whiteness took me completely off guard. It is this white of sand in all directions with the mountains peeking out in the background. We parked the van and ran up and down the dunes. Honestly, it was breathtaking and almost made you feel like a kid again.
Do yourself a favor and make a trip here. I mean it isn’t near anything else at all– but so, so worth it!
After a few days in Austin, we hit the very long and straight road for Marfa! Still getting adjusted to driving the van we took turns navigating the open roads and getting a little work done here and there and had lunch along the way in a very Texas-y small town. Then, we finally arrived in Marfa, the most bizarre place, just in time for the final few minutes of sunset.
Home sweet home^^.
It was so beautiful to see the sunset over the open fields. Although I have traveled quite a bit, driving through these roads was something so different than what I am used to, and so incredibly beautiful.
This place is literally in. the. middle. of. no. where. And I kind of love it ;) The whole town has this eerie feel but is also packed with loads of art from installations to murals, and museums to concept stores.
Our goal for the evening was to drive back through town to spot the Marfa lights. Sadly, I don’t think we located them, but we did find the perfect spot on the side of the road to call home for the evening. We made the best tacos, sipped on Trader Joes wine, and did a little work before heading to bed. The sunrise the next morning was crisp and chilly but still so beautiful. After getting a workday in at one of the local hotels we passed through the town to head to the Prada installation. Again, so bizarre, but so cool.
We snapped some shots, ate more tacos, and then continued on our merry way to White Sands! Marfa was as weird as I expected it to be and I am so glad we got to make a little spot here. It’s almost as if the entire time you are in the town you are unsure if it’s a legitimate town or an entire art piece. Marfa, I hope you stay weird.
Vanlife | Dallas and Austin
After spending a few days in Nashville, and even getting snowed in a day or two, Katie and I started off on our month long road trip! We woke up to snow falling and hit the road as soon as possible to head west and escape the snow. After the longest drive through Tennesse, Arkansas (where we saw kiddos sledding on the exit ramp to the highway since that was the only hill in sight ;)) and Texas we finally made it to Dallas where we posted up for a few days! We spent the days getting some work done and getting acquainted with our new home, the van! After moving in we spent the coldest night of my life in the van as a test run. Good news is we survived, bad news is we were both frozen. Thankfully the rest of our trip looked to have warmer temperatures ;)
We hit the road the next morning to head to our first official stop, Austin!
We had the absolute sweetest host, Jessica! Her home was to die for and it was such a treat to chat over slow mornings and evening dinners. Katie and I loved getting to post up outside her house in the van. It was hilarious to roll the door open in the mornings to meet her neighbors with a, “good mornin’.”
Obviously, we had to hit up a few taco spots while we were here and even made it to the land of succulents. We explored around the city and took a walk on the path along the water. It was perfect.
It was the perfect start the to the trip and now I am dying to get back to that city!
Virginia Beach Snow Day
Having a snowday at the beach was one of the wildest sights. Ben moved up to Virginia Beach for a course at the beginning of January. A few days later I drove up, just in time, to spend the weekend getting snowed in. We watched more movies than we could count, took a few walks through the snow, and devoured a whole lot of pizza.
These pictures don’t really do the beach justice. The blanket of white meeting the water with the sand filled in between was beautiful.
It was such a fun way to spend the weekend before spending a few weeks apart. Excited to keep visiting Ben here these next few months!
A Year in Pictures | 2016
After spending Christmas in Cartagena, we headed home to ring in the new year. We spent most of the month planning for Ben’s deployment and my move to Nashville!
Ben had a lot of long days, especially since he was driving to Camp Lejeune each day, but we were able to sneak away to celebrate my birthday in Savannah. It was extra special to celebrate my birthday in a place we have so many sweet memories in.
April was quite the month! Ben and I drove out to Nashville and moved me into my new home. There were a lot of tears, but it was also paired with one of the greatest days exploring my new city with my best friend.
Ben and I celebrated three years from afar, but he surprised me with the most beautiful flowers accompanied by a Facetime call.
We had the best White House reunion at Steph and Ben’s wedding!
Finally time to reunite with Ben! But first, a stop in Paris, a picnic with Kat and JD under the Eiffel Tower, and a sunrise styled shoot.
Then it was off to Spain for the best long weekend of my life. The sweetest reunion in the most perfect setting.
Ben came home and all was well again! We spent a weekend in Wilmington for Ben’s Ironman race and hit the road for a few weddings in Virginia!
Another Thanksgiving in the books with all our favorite Roanoke activities.
We hopped on a flight for a snowy weekend in Boston. I think we were both surprised how quickly we fell in love with the city!
2017 was a year of milestones. We got through our first deployment, celebrated three years of marriage, I kicked off my wedding photography, and even got a new job! We spent the majority of the year apart but can both confidently say we truly made lemonade out of the lemons life threw at us. I fell in love with Nashville and Ben thrived in his deployment. We both pursued our own dreams, but always remained one another’s biggest fans.
At the end of 2016 I had no idea that a lot of the above was about to happen. It wasn’t even on my radar. Here we are at the end of 2017 and I’m not too sure what 2018 has to bring. But I do know that I am beyond excited and ready. So, bring it on, 2018. Bring every little thing that isn’t on my radar right now on.
In case you want to see what we were up to in 2016, 2015 and 2014, you can do that too!