A few months ago I was lucky enough to receive a call from a fantastic couple, Tram and James about their wedding in Hoi An. They had been guests at a wedding I previously officiated and asked if I was available to be their celebrant. I was delighted.
James and Tram live in Vietnam, which meant we were able to meet immediately and get to know each other. Usually first meetings are via Skype or video calls which is a wonderful means of communication, though never quite as real as meeting in the flesh, as we are all a bit worried about whether the recipient of our call is able to see the huge pile of laundry, last night’s dishes, or the fact that it is so hot that beneath the conservative blouse we have thrown on, we are chatting in our knickers.
The bonus of meeting face-to-face is that we can meet in more comfortable environs. I always try to get couples to take me to a place that they love - it gives me a deeper understanding of their personalities and taste.
As James and Tram had already chosen their venue (it was love at first sight, a familiar theme) we met there. Within seconds of meeting the happy couple, it was easy to see how much fun they had together and how comfortable they were in each other’s company; but mainly how much they idolised each other.
It was also clear from the offset who was boss (ladies, would you like to hazard a guess?).
Both Tram and James wished for a ceremony that would reflect their true personalities: and the essential message was that it should be fun.
Aside from this, they were a little embarrassed. They were unsure of the rules involved in a ‘western wedding’ (remember here that James is the only one at this point that has attended a western wedding. Tram attended the wedding I had earlier officiated, though it was unique and not what you would consider a traditional wedding.) So aside from the drink and make merry aspect, there are few similarities when compared with a traditional Vietnamese ceremony - of which there are many.
In James’ words “I’ve never been married before. I don’t even know what the best man does. Until I met Tram, the idea of getting married never even occurred to me”.
All they had was the venue - a beautiful, secluded beach club on Hoi An’s An Bang beach, and a date.
I was sure Tram would be able to pull it all together (with some tips from me) as she’s a smart woman.
What I didn’t know was, they had a wedding for 800 plus in Nha Trang, two weeks prior to the western wedding and Tram was heavily involved in the organising. Vietnamese weddings can be quite the shindig (one day I may write about them as they are such a hoot and very different to western style weddings). Attending so many over the years has made me realise there really are no rules. Whatever the culture, the one true expectation is that the day should be a celebration of love, family, and friends and that crosses borders.
We had a long chat about having no rules, and their wedding could be exactly what they wanted and a lot of fun, though they wanted to be sure all the “traditional” elements of a more western wedding were included. James was keen for Tram and her family to experience it and at the same time ensure his family had a great time. This immediately helped us start to craft the ceremony though didn’t help with the event planning issue.
As we discussed further, they quickly explained the budget for the western wedding was getting tighter by the day. Though they wanted a lovely western wedding, they needed someone to guide them and help them remain in budget. Then they asked for my recommendations.
Whilst I have many years of hospitality experience and have arranged large events, my role as celebrant does not span into a wedding planner. There are planners in Hoi An who have extensive networks built over many years across Vietnam who can achieve the impossible. I have always recommended them. In Vietnam what seems easy is quite often impossible (or will age you a decade trying).
However, Tram is a very strong woman, and being local she can see the value of different services - it’s not an urban myth that local girls pay far less than us foreigners, and most wedding events companies are set-up for those overseas. They encompass everything so that you do not need to get your hands dirty (a fantastic and quite frankly under-priced service compared to the western equivalent). Tram wanted more control (she would have easily organised the whole thing herself were it not for needing guidance on western wedding etiquette). Somehow, she persuaded me to be that guide - I did mention she was a very strong woman?
Tip for people getting married: Wedding planners seem to spend a lot of time justifying their fees. Their fees reflect the time and effort required to make your dream a reality. You see the end result, not the hours of work involved in crafting your perfect day. I’ve watched people spend days hand cutting custom printed butterflies because it was the theme. So if you want elaborate, it takes time and leg work. If you want simple and stylish, the leg work will be less.
Even for Tram, who is Vietnamese, the stress of the Vietnamese wedding for 800 people, plus organising a western wedding to follow was simply too much.
Tip for people considering a destination wedding: You have decided to have the holiday experience of a lifetime in Vietnam and also to get married. Fantastic! Do yourself a favour and engage the people who can take the stress away while you and your friends enjoy your holiday. Imagine spending your time soaking up the spa, the pool, the bar, seeing the sites, taking in a cooking class or simply indulging in the myriad of amazing local cuisine – instead of running around finalising florists, tablecloths, place cards etc, etc in a language you don’t understand. A headache or bliss?
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