Giraffe Encounters and Vietnamese Traditions Made This Wedding Truly Magical
The couple changed into áo dàis for the reception.
Giraffe feedings! Animal encounters! Weddings at Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown never cease to delight. This summer wedding is particularly special — not only did the couple choose the venue because they wanted something one-of-a-kind for their guests, but they also filled it with nods to their Vietnamese American heritage. Bianca Tang Photography snapped every adventurous and touching moment here.
Sometimes, distance can be a good thing. Stephanie La, a neurophysical therapist who grew up in Lansdale and attended Temple, connected with Craig Walters Jr. on OKCupid only after she expanded her dating-location radius from the Philly area to the Poconos.
“He gave me butterflies that I’d never felt before,” says Stephanie of her first impression. “He also had a very peculiar job involving tombstones.” (Craig owns Walters Monument Company in Summit Hill.)
On their first date, Stephanie, who is Vietnamese American, learned that CJ was part Vietnamese on his mother’s side. While he did not speak the language and was not familiar with the culture, he began to learn more about his heritage after that get-together.
CJ ended up being the first and only guy who got more than a second date out of her. He also got a “Yes” when he proposed six years later. Two and a half years after that, on June 12, 2022, they said “I do” at Elmwood Park Zoo. They chose the the venue because they have “been in and attended many weddings” and wanted something unique for their 125 guests.
The festivities mixed American and Asian traditions. One of Stephanie’s favorite details was changing into their traditional attire — áo dài — for the reception. (The bride wears red to signify luck, and the groom wears blue.) “We wanted to highlight our shared cultural heritage and how proud we are to be Vietnamese American,” she says. A twist: CJ’s attire was custom-sewn in Vietnam because of his height.
The groom also wore a gift from his mom — cuff links with his late father’s fingerprints on them. His father had passed away eight months before the wedding, so the day was bittersweet. But CJ credits his dad for ensuring it didn’t rain during their festivities — despite the forecast. “My prayers were heard so we could have the wedding we dreamed of,” he says.
The couple was wed in front of the eagle exhibit; the ceremony arch featured crane garlands that were hand-folded by the bride’s sister/matron of honor.
Guests later participated in a giraffe feeding, rode the carousel, and went on a photo scavenger hunt throughout the zoo.
The rest of the night featured more animal-inspired fun. The cocktail hour was inside the big-cat exhibit. There were themed cocktails — the Moscow Mule and Jaguar Mojito. And the cake-topper featured two giraffes in love.
Dancing was a highlight, too. For the father-daughter dance, Steph and her dad started with “Forever Now” by Michael Bublé before switching to “Daddy” by PSY, which led to an impromptu K-pop flash mob.
And after that? The couple set their sights on their honeymoon in Japan — marking CJ’s first time outside of the North American continent.
Photographer: Bianca Tang Photography | Venue & Catering: Elmwood Park Zoo | Planning/Design: Alta Event House | Florals: Bride and maid of honor | Bride’s Gown: Morilee from Stillwhite | Bridesmaids’ Attire: Birdy Grey | Hair: Jeannie Pham of Simplicity Salon (Stephanie’s aunt) | Groom’s Attire: Tommy Hilfiger | Entertainment: DJ Binh Nguyen | Cake: Bredenbeck’s Bakery & Ice Cream Parlor | Invitations: Truly Engaging | Videography: I Choose You Studio | Officiant: Michael Sacks | Rings: Bixlers (engagement ring); Etsy (wedding band)
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