We had a lot of work ahead of us for our five weeks in Asia, but first, we had to build in time for a big bucket list item. A trip to Southeast Asia would not have been complete without seeing Thailand, which is why we actually started our trip there, just for vacation. Cassie’s been dreaming of visiting Thailand ever since her sister traveled there more than a decade ago to scuba dive. Now that dream became a reality.
We flew into Phuket and immediately took a ferry to the Phi Phi Islands where we spent two nights in paradise. A taxi boat took us across the crystal clear, turquoise water to our secluded beachfront lodging (aptly named Paradise Pearl Bungalows). We scuba dived (Jordan’s first time!), we got Thai massages (which hurt so good!), we drank Thai tea (so sweet and so good) and we ate Thai food three meals a day (and NEVER got sick of it!).
Reluctantly, we left paradise and headed to explore another island. Koh Lanta wasn’t quite as breathtaking as Koh Phi Phi Don, but there was a lot more to discover and experience there. The sunsets each night over the ocean were probably our favorite memories from Thailand. We ate dinner at really delicious restaurants on the beach for super cheap and watched the sky explode every night. Actually, we lied, one night we didn’t eat on the beach, we ate on a questionably engineered cliff hanging private booth overlooking the ocean. The tides were at their most drastic point because of the new moon, and low tide coincided with sunset, which meant that the huge, wide beach acted as a mirror to the sky’s nightly performance.
By day, we explored sights on a scooter — beach hopping to find the best swimming spots, hiking through a national park where we saw Komodo dragons and angry monkeys and wandering Lanta Old Town’s quaint downtown riverfront lined with shops and cafes frying up Thai pancakes. We were already huge fans of Thai cuisine so we decided to take a cooking class to learn how to make four Thai dishes from scratch, and we can’t wait to try out the recipes on our own!
Our last two days in Thailand we spent at Kata Beach in Phuket. We were pleasantly surprised to see that mainland Thailand’s beaches were just as beautiful as the far-away Thai island destinations, and the food was just as good and just as cheap. After a good long, restful vacation, we were ready to head to our first project in Vietnam.
When we first arrived in Hanoi, we were greeted outside the airport by two smiley, bubbly Vietnamese women who run their own artisan jewelry business called Aulac Designs in the capital city of Vietnam. They also partner with Noonday Collection, an Austin-based fair-trade company that designs and sells an inspired collection of jewelry and accessories made by artisans across the globe. This is the second country where we’ve seen their work, and this time around we visited three artisan groups that have been practicing their craft for generations. We saw them hard at work casting metal, cutting marble, and transforming buffalo horns to make some unique and amazing pieces of jewelry.
It was our first time in Vietnam, but it seemed strangely familiar — probably because everywhere we looked we saw iconic images of people wearing Asian conical hats working in the rice fields, men and women balancing baskets of fruit on a stick over their shoulders, and vendors selling street food with wonderful smells.
Speaking of food, we jumped right in to experiencing Vietnam’s culture through food. We didn’t think anything would compare to the authentic Thai food we’d been loving, but we were pleasantly surprised with Vietnamese cuisine! We of course had pho, which was so hot and spicy and incredibly delicious (and filling!). We also had the opportunity to try lesser known dishes from different areas of the country including at least five different types of spring rolls, octopus, steak, and some weird (but sort of good) coconut milk drink filled with rainbow-colored jello — and all in one night’s meal! We were treated by the Aulac Designs team to this fabulously decadent meal, which they told us was like eating our way through the whole country. Another one of our culinary highlights was egg coffee (perhaps the most unexpectedly delicious thing we tried), which actually has a raw egg in it as a substitute for milk!
The area we stayed in was around Hoan Kiem Lake in the “Old Quarter” of Hanoi, which is a charming area where tourists and locals frequent. Our stay included a weekend, which meant we got to experience the night market where the streets are closed for miles and miles and pedestrians can stroll through to shop, eat and watch street performers — or even retake their wedding photos!
We ended our time in Vietnam with a daytrip to Halong Bay where we took a romantic cruise past an endless 360-degree panorama of limestone mountain islands. The boat weaved in between the islands and we got off at a couple of points to paddle on a bamboo boat and explore a massive cave with picture-perfect stalagmites and stalactites.
The only downside of our entire trip was that we both got sick with different ailments on our last night in the country. Jordan’s was foodborne and Cassie’s was airborne. Jordan quickly recovered with the help of antibiotics and Cassie’s stuck around for more than two weeks. Luckily, we had a week of vacation planned in Bali so we got to rest and recuperate before our next photo and video mission on another island in Indonesia.
Our intent of going to Bali was for Jordan to surf a world-famous wave at Uluwatu and for Cassie to visit the paradise inside a paradise on the Gili Islands. Unfortunately we were too sick to do either of these things, but we still had a nice time in the Uluwatu area. We rented a scooter for two days on the tail end of our trip when we were feeling a little better and got to visit and relax at a lot of beautiful beaches, watching surfers catch perfect waves all day long.
After Bali, we hopped over to the island of Borneo, also in Indonesia. The island is so large (the third largest in the world) that it’s actually split into three different countries, but we were heading to the jungle town of Sanggau for our next project.
We were working with an organization that we’ve never worked with before — World Outreach International. Their mission is reaching unreached people groups with the Gospel, and they are doing this on the island of Borneo with a children’s boarding home called New Hope Ministries. The boarding home is run by a very sweet German missionary couple who graciously hosted us along with an Indonesian team who all work together to care for the children, some of whom have been orphaned. The 120 children come from remote villages that do not have access to education, but now have the opportunity to go to school, hear the word of God, and pursue their dreams.
Seeing the faith of the kids, their incredible creativity and talent in music, singing, and dancing as well as their kindness toward their “aunties” and “uncles” who take care of them was a true blessing for us. We also captured some great stories that we can’t wait to share with you! Until then, photos will have to do!
We were also blessed by our gracious hosts, the German couple who couldn’t have more German names. Wolfgang and Heidi were a hilarious duo in the quirkiest ways, including Wolfgang’s life motto, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” The way they practice this is their daily 2pm coffee break (usually paired with a sweet treat) and 8pm dessert when they dig into their special stockpile of German cookies and Swiss chocolates. Heidi keeps them healthy though, with their breakfast of homemade yogurt, granola and fruit and lunch of salad and homemade bread, which we thoroughly enjoyed and might also adopt! We even came away with the secret German rye-wheat-seed bread recipe and many tips on fermenting our own kombucha.
After a week of bonding with incredible people, we were a bit sad to leave, but at the same time, we were excited about part two of Timpys in Asia. More to come.