Thailand is a beautiful place. It’s a carnival of lights and colours, tropical beaches and historical elements, vibrant culture and tourists abusing the cheap pleasures that are in abundance. My husband and I vacationed in Thailand in 2011 and stayed for a week in Patong and then a week on the lush tropical paradise of Koh Yao Noi, one of the Phang Nga’s unspoilt islands.
My husband and I like to do things outside of the local tourist traps when we travel, so while everyone was riding motorcycles and shopping, my husband and I rented bicycles. We rode down a very steep, hard and muddy path through the jungle on Koh Yao Noi that is usually only trekked by locals going to work at the resort. Because of this, we got to see so much love, joy and hospitality through the locals on this island.
We rode past rows and rows of hundreds of coconuts tied to trees catching rain water, and neat little bamboo shack houses that was the home for many families. I will always remember the happiest Thai man waving at us from the balcony of his home where he was playing with his son. We had so many amazing experiences riding through such personal little villages that were so untouched by western tourists that it gave us such a special appreciation for these people and their customs. Because of this, I want to share with you some of their own customs and cultures in the best way I know how – through their weddings.
Weddings in Thailand can vary depending on the couple, their family and their upbringing, as well as location. Those getting married in the south may not uphold traditions in the north of Thailand, and the more rural the location of the wedding, the more likely the traditional customs will be included. It is generally a non-religious ceremony but the wedding date is chosen based on compatibility. Getting married at an auspicious time and date is so essential that astrologers can be consulted to ensure good luck for the newlyweds.
While some ceremonies are still rooted in Buddhist practices, even in non-religious special occasions it is important to invite a monk to the wedding as it ensures “merit” to the newlyweds. This “merit” is given by giving donations to the monk and his temple and it is believed it will lead to a lifetime of love and respect in the marriage. A couple can also make “merit” by granting an animal it’s freedom, which is usually done by letting a bird fly free from it’s cage or releasing a fish or turtle into the water.
During more religious ceremonies, the monk will visit the bride the night before and pay homage to her ancestors, and then bless the bride and groom the morning of the wedding. This is done by lighting a candle in water, saying their prayers over in and then anointing the foreheads of the bride and groom. The monks are then offered food and no one is permitted to eat until the monks have finished their meal and have returned to the temple.
In Thai culture, the family of the groom pay a dowry (sinsod) and is generally celebrated as an engagement party where gold and gifts are presented to the bride and her family. These days, due to high expense, this event – called the Khan Maak Procession – takes place before the wedding itself and is generally a procession of guests and musicians that follow the groom to his bride’s house. Once there, he is greeted with a locked gate or symbolic door as part of the traditional “sanuk” ceremony. This is basically where the groom cuts a lot of flak and frivolity from the guests as he must prove himself worthy and open the gates by providing the agreed sinsod.
During the wedding, the bride and groom utilize a few Thai customs where they wear traditional garlands around their necks and heads and kneel while an elder conducts a blessing and anointments. They use a conch shell filled with holy water to purify the hands of the newlyweds by soaking white threads in the holy water and then linking the wrists. The thread than breaks and whoever is wearing the longest thread it is supposed to symbolize that that person is the one who loves the deepest. This ceremony is called Phiti Bau Sri Su Kwan.
From there comes the reception, which has many classic elements of western style weddings. There will be an MC, speeches, wedding cake and drinking and dancing. However, most guests will go to a nearby karaoke bar once the wedding ends. The bride and groom will go back to their bridal suite, where the last tradition takes place – making of the bridal bed (you were thinking something a bit dirtier weren’t you?!). Basically, the friends and family of the bride and groom will put auspicious objects on the bed such as bags of rice or coins to act as symbols of prosperity and fertility. The couple then has to sleep every night for three nights with these objects on their beds. How uncomfortable!
So there you have it – a traditional Thai style wedding. There are some great ideas in here you could use for your own wedding, and I am a personal fan of releasing a fish or a turtle back into the wild as a symbol of merit.