Matt and Rachel's Elopement in Wild Untouched Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

“I just didn’t want to have an expensive, elaborate ceremony. There can be a lot of expectations when it comes to how two people choose to marry and they were consistently bothering me. Matt sat me down and encouraged me to think about exactly what I wanted to do, regardless of those expectations.” ~ Rachel

So this in mind, Matt and Rachel decided to travel to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay and elope with the help of wedding planner HatMem, and photographers Hipster Wedding. Cat Ba’s spectacular limestone hills and reputation as a world-famous climbing destination suited the rock climbing pair perfectly and although they exchanged vows without family or friends present, it sounds like they made some firm friends in the people who helped make their elopement possible.

How did you meet?
“Matt and I were friends for a couple of years before we started dating. We met when he was visiting Nashville while he was working building trails in Arizona. I always thought he was so cute and we always had a really strong connection but he didn’t live where I did and I was dating someone else. Then he moved back to Nashville but I still had a boyfriend, and then I moved away to Chicago for graduate school. I came home to visit one weekend and we were both single, and even though I would be gone for two years we were both determined to be together. So we decided to have a long distance relationship! It was hard, but always fun and romantic to have adventure-filled weekends together.” ~ Rachel

What was the proposal like?
“Neither Matt nor I are very formal or traditional, so the proposal wasn’t either. We had talked a lot about our life together and how we wanted to do things. We knew we wanted to get married very early on in our relationship; our feelings for each other were just that strong. But we didn’t see the need to do it by a certain time or in a certain way. When I finally finished graduate school, I found a job in Nashville. It worked out well because I could move back and be with him. We wanted to live together for at least a little while first, mainly because the whole time we were dating we lived in separate cities. But living together was smooth sailing so we started daydreaming about future plans. Personally, I am pretty opposed to big traditional church weddings, so I knew from the beginning I wanted to elope. Matt was excited about the idea of eloping and he said, ‘Why don’t we do it soon if we don’t have a whole ceremony to plan?’ We thought about going to Hawaii because Matt’s uncle lives there. But one day I was looking at plane tickets and the site had a deal for flights to Hanoi. Vietnam is so beautiful and I knew it would be a perfect setting for something exciting and intimate. I suggested it and Matt was thrilled at the idea. So that was the only sort of proposal, just talking about Vietnam and planning an elopement. However, we designed my ring ourselves using diamonds from my grandmother’s 1920s cocktail ring. Matt’s dad’s friend is a jeweller, so he worked with him to create a gorgeous, unique ring. He didn’t tell me when the ring would be ready. He had it shipped to our house and he surprised me with it one day when I was video chatting with my mom and my sisters. He got down on one knee and everything, it was very sweet!” ~ Rachel

Here's a peek at Rachel’s engagement ring...

Photo by Angela Nguyen

Please tell us more about your elopement! Why Cát Bà Island/Vietnam?
“As I said previously, I just didn’t want to have an expensive, elaborate ceremony. There can be a lot of expectations when it comes to how two people choose to marry and they were consistently bothering me. Matt sat me down and encouraged me to think about exactly what I wanted to do, regardless of those expectations. I wanted something intimate and relaxed, where we could both be free to express our love for each other without a pastor or a rigid plan or a lot of people watching us. Matt felt the same way, except he also wanted to have a party with all of our friends and family. So we decided to elope for the ceremony and come back to the US and have a reception in Nashville. Vietnam is a country we have both always wanted to travel to, and the stunning scenery of Lan Ha Bay seemed like an interesting and gorgeous place to elope. Plus, Matt and I both love to rock climb so we were eager to visit Cát Bà because it is a world-famous climbing destination.

When we first arrived in Vietnam, we got my dress and jewellery for the ceremony in Hanoi. We spent the first couple of days of the trip in Hanoi and travelling around. Then we travelled to Cát Bà and had two days of festivities for the elopement. The first day we took a boat cruise around the bay and swam until the sun set. We got to know the whole wedding planning crew and ate all kinds of seafood at one of the floating restaurants. The second day Matt and I didn’t see each other all morning. Matt and some of the crew went to get some fruit and champagne while I got my makeup done and they brought me my bouquet and a flower crown. The bouquet and the crown were made of deep red orchids and other tropical flowers that took my breath away. Then they took me on a colourful fishing boat decorated with flowers to a cave on one of the islands. We hiked up the cave to this beautiful lookout point and Matt and I met up there for our ‘first look’. After that, we cruised around the bay on the colourful fishing boat for a while. Then they took us to a beautiful secluded beach where they had set up decorations. Matt and I read our vows to each other there. We had each written them separately on the trip only a couple of days before, and it was exciting to hear them for the first time. Afterwards, some girls who were hiking from the other side of the island came by and I tossed my bouquet to them like in a regular ceremony. We relaxed on the beach and got to watch the sun start to set. On the way back in the big boat we popped champagne and ate delicious fresh fruit and talked and laughed with everyone the whole way. I can definitely say it was one of the best days of our lives.” ~ Rachel

How did you go about planning your elopement?
“Once we decided on Vietnam, and particularly Halong Bay, I started a really long Internet search. Eloping is relatively common in the US, but I knew it wasn’t as common in Vietnam and neither Matt nor I speak any Vietnamese. So I knew it would be a challenge. Some of the hotels on Cát Bà had beach ceremony packages but I wanted something more unique. I had been searching for weeks and had all but given up hope when I came across HatMem Wedding Planner's Instagram. HatMem is run by Duong Vu Hong Anh (who also goes by the name Jenny) and she is unbelievably talented. She had photographs of a couple of elopements she’d planned on her site and they were exactly what Matt and I had in mind. She is very artistic and seeks to make each wedding she plans unique and special. I sent her an email and called her on WhatsApp and we just clicked! You know you can trust someone to plan your wedding when you feel like you are friends from the start. 

After that, everything from the location to the dress to the flowers were organised by her. Jenny even did my makeup the day of the ceremony and surprised me with the orchid flower crown. We would talk back and forth on WhatsApp – around our really big time difference – and she would show me pictures of flowers and different styles of dresses and locations. Additionally, Jenny helped Matt and I plan other parts of our trip! When we had a mix-up with our Airbnb in Sapa, she recommended we go to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve and that was one of our best experiences we have ever had. When we arrived in Hanoi, she had her assistant Anh meet us. Anh helped me get my dress and check into our Airbnb, as well as took us for our first meal in Vietnam (we had eel and it was delicious)! Jenny and every person she got to help us were so nice, the whole elopement experience was even better than I thought it was going to be. I am excited for them to come to the US someday so we can show them a really good time too. Plus, now Matt and I can both confidently order ‘two beers’ in Vietnamese.” ~ Rachel


Congratulations on your marriage, Matt and Rachel! May it be every bit as beautiful as your elopement!


Other romantic elopements and a semi-secret wedding you might like
Vic and Jane’s Elopement in Maldives
Iqbal and Rengee’s Semi-Secret Wedding in Wanaka, New Zealand
Garphing and Tzeyin’s Elopement in Fiji
A Tuscan Elopement: Mack and Joyce
Andrew and Felicia's Intimate Elopement in Santorini
Romantic Cherry Blossom Elopement in Kyoto: Roy and Fanny
Valerie and JP's Elopement at Portsdown Road
A Spanish Elopement: Darren and Christine



Vendor Information
Planning: HatMem
Photography: Hipster Wedding
Dress: Ho-dieng
Décor and Flowers: Hands & Heart