May 25, 2020 – By Susan Bender
We have an action-packed agenda for the next 5 days, where we’ll be visiting three vastly different countries with contrasting landscapes, cultures, and histories. It feels like our exciting adventure is just starting to begin.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
We’d had dinner with friends in Bangkok earlier that week who advised us to go off the beaten track and avoid the tourists when visiting Angkor Wat, little did I know my husband (an archaeological nut) had arranged for us to visit 11 other temples before even seeing Angkor Wat! I immediately knew what that meant, another hideous 4:00am start (I thought honeymoon’s were about endless days of rest, relaxation and lots of spa treatments).
In keeping with the spirit of the adventure, I chose to wear a knee length vintage cotton safari dress from @kensalvintage which I thought was appropriate, our guide didn’t. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed and went back to my room like a naughty child to change.
Look no.2 was my take on urban safari (I often dream up looks for the imaginary character I want to be); vintage green US military cotton shirt from Porbobello market, A Curated Life vintage army green cotton plus fours, Chaos black cotton sport socks, R.M.Williams x Marc Newson blue leather 356 yard boot, Philip Huang camouflage tie-dye indigo hat.
The first temple visit at 5am was an eerie and arduous trek through darkness surrounded by tropical woodland, the reward for our efforts at the top of Phnom Bakheng was silence and tranquillity, the temple is a fantastic spot for some quiet meditation (there were only 2 other people) and offered unparalleled views of Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Angkor Wat is one of the most magnificent and imposing buildings on Earth, I wasn’t quite prepared for it’s incomparable beauty. I also learned from our guide that it was designed as a miniature replica of the universe.
Out of all the temples that we visited the most exquisite and my absolute favourite was Bayon. This astounding temple rose from the ground like a monolithic forest, with 37 face towers (there used to be 54) each carved with 4 enigmatic smiling faces on each cardinal point. The walls of the outer enclosure were carved with 11,000 bas-relief figures depicting vivid scenes of Khmer kings, battles, history and life. It was a long and gruelling day, walking around temple after temple in temperatures of 37C and rising. We made regular pit stops at street cafes to top up on freshwater and coconut water, we had walked over 12 miles that day.
I tried to be aware of my impact on the environment and bought a reusable LARQ Bottle with me. It uses a UV-C LED chip to eradicate up to 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.99% of viruses in the water and the internal surface area of the bottle; it’s also BPA, mercury and plastic free.
Flying into Hanoi late evening the first impression of the city didn’t disappoint. It was an exhilarating mix of bright lights, endless scooters, vendors on bicycles, pleasant aromas and blaring horns all set against a backdrop of tree-lined boulevards, well-preserved colonial buildings and ancient pagodas.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Nothing can describe the natural wonder of Ha Long Bay, stunning limestone formations jutting out of lush emerald and turquoise waters, sailing through these incredible waters was like a scene out of a James Bond movie. Our boat journey took us to a floating pier lined with kayaks and rowing boats. I changed into my Yolke Hilary short set in blue marianne print to kayak the calm waters of Ha Long, weaving in and out of the rock formations, discovering hidden tunnels which lead to secluded beaches and grottoes.
Ha Long’s sustainability agenda to protect this spectacular seascape is impressive: they support the conservation of local culture, the local farming community, regular beach and ocean clean-ups, social enterprises which create products recycling the trash from the street and using the profits to fund medical care. Sustainable tourism is enforced with small scale local tours offered by tour operators to minimise disruption to the landscape and local people.
The next 10 days we planned to relax on the breathtaking beaches of Railay, it’s only accessible by boat due to the soaring limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access.
Our days were spent having relaxing massages under shaded trees from local Thai women and at lunchtime we’d stroll down the beach to eat mouthwatering Thai food from longtail boats with full kitchens, bobbing on West Railay beach. The sunset’s on West Railay beach are breathtaking and magical, we spent most nights sipping Margherita’s (our honeymoon drink) watching the sun slowly slip beyond the horizon into the sea.
I’d tried the ancient martial art of Muay Thai boxing a few times on previous trips to Thailand and booked a few one to one lessons with Yaya Muay Thai. The session with Yaya (he’s trained some of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world), was so intense and exhausting I was drenched in sweat and almost threw up near the end of it. To train I wore MICHI inferno bra top and stellar legging in ink made with sustainable, Bluesign® and Oeko-Tex® certified textiles.
Once a week Yaya host’s authentic Muay Thai Fight Nights, I made sure to book us ringside seats. The atmosphere in the ring was electric, watching each fighter perform the traditional sacred rituals to invoke protection for both the fighter and their opponent was fascinating, the boxers had come from all over Thailand and even included the female champion. Each bout was a thrilling and spectacular display of strength, speed, stamina and skills.
Some mornings we had the entire stretch of Phra Nang’s stunning white sandy beach to ourselves, surrounded by lush vegetation and magnificent limestone cliffs on either side. I’d practice yoga wearing Asquith London Flow with it – abstract bra top and leggings made from sustainable bamboo and cotton.
We dined in a different restaurant every day, many run by local families offering authentic and delicious Thai food; freshly grilled fish, prawns and vegetables sailed in from local markets that morning.
Travelling in a hot climate I hardly wore any makeup and kept the beauty and body products in my Métier travel pouch to a minimum.
My honeymoon beauty travel essentials:
- All Aglow lip & cheek stick – blush bay, 100% all weather 15SPF moisturising lip balm, 100% natural.
- All Aglow Highlighter stick – Opal mist, 100% natural, dermatologist-tested and formulated without parabens, phthalates, SLS, petrolatum or synthetic fragrances.
- Matte Lip crayon – napa vineyard, infused with shea butter, kendi oil, and jojoba oil.
- Nourishing mascara – classic black, jojoba oil, naturally moisturising glycerin and 100% recyclable packaging.
Face & body products
Codex Beauty – Bia facial oil, Bia eye gel cream, Bia exfoliating wash and Bia balancing soap. Codex Beauty’s ingredients are plant-based, locally sourced, safe, and effective. Every raw material, supplier, manufacturer is carefully selected and tested to meet their high standard of quality. Containers are made from high quality sustainable and recyclable glass, or plant-based green polyethylene tubes to minimise their carbon footprint and cartons from sustainably managed forests.
Moon Activated charcoal fluoride free whitening toothpaste, Moon teeth whitening pen. Both products are 100% vegan and not tested on animals, free from SLS/SLES, parabens, animal products or artificial flavours.
Philip Huang survival balm made from all natural ingredients with extra virgin coconut oil, organic beeswax and extracts of ancient Thai medicinal herbs, these key extracts are known for their poison extracting, detoxifying, and cooling properties.
This incredible life changing adventure left us with a sense of how most of the communities we came across cared about their environment, supported their cultures and proudly passed on their heritage. We honestly didn’t want to leave and secretly hoped our return flight home would be cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.