Every culture has their own version of the classic wedding ceremony, deeply rooted with history and tradition, not to mention the trends of the times. Thailand is by no means any exception.
These days, with the influence of merging cultures, it’s hard to know exactly what’s what. In this article I hope to shed a little light on how a Thai wedding actually goes down. So, if you’re marrying a Thai or you’re just looking to broaden your worldly perspective, here’s how it’s done.
Note: Please bear in mind that these pictures are from my own wedding and we are not wearing the traditional dress. We also held our wedding in a hotel, as opposed to the family home. However, where possible, I have used pictures that support each traditional aspect.
1. The Thai Marriage Proposal
Not so long ago it was common for Thais, especially in families from higher society, to arrange their children’s marriages. Even if it were not an arranged marriage, it was very important the parents of the bride and groom be consulted.
If the groom’s parents agree with their son’s choice of wife, it would be the parents who go forth to the bride’s parents to ask for their son to marry their daughter. The bride’s parents would then negotiate the ‘Sin sod'. Westerners would call this a dowry.
2. Choosing the Wedding Date
Thais believe that there are favourable dates and times for planning significant and important events. A special and important monk with knowledge of astrology is consulted to help decide what date would be best for the union in order to be blessed and the marriage to be strong.
3. Wedding Invitations
Since there are often multiple ceremonies involved with the Thai / Buddhist wedding, there may be a separate invite of each event – however, it is commonplace for everything to happen on the same day. Most often, one invitation will suffice. Traditionally, the invitation would be hand delivered by a member of the adjoining families.
4. Making Merit and Honouring the Bride’s Ancestors
Most often, before any important event or holiday, a Buddhist will “make merit” to call good things into one’s life.
There are numerous ways to “make merit,” such as the release of a captive animal or donating money to a temple, but usually, for a wedding, the family will invite monks to bless the bride and groom as well as their home. The monks will chant, as well as offer life lessons, and in return the family will feed them before sending them on their way.
This ceremony may be treated as a separate event entirely. It could happen days before the actual wedding. These days it will often become part of the wedding day’s happenings. If the merit ceremony happens on a different day than the wedding, the couple will still likely wake early to meet a monk for a quick blessing.
5. The Thai Wedding Dress
Though it has become common for modern couples to wear the typical western style white dress and suit, the Thai classic attire is still widely used. The traditional bridal dress can vary a bit with about six different styles of outfit. The men will usually wear the Thai traditional pants but will sometimes switch out the traditional Thai top for a western style suit jacket and tie, though usually still made from silk.
6. Bridesmaids and Groomsmen
As in wedding parties all over the world, the bride and groom will choose any number of Bridesmaids and Groomsmen that they like. However, it is rare to see a best man or matron of honour. Their duties will very depending on the needs of the couple.
7. The Thai Engagement Ceremony (Khan Maak Procession)
Having reached an agreement for the Sin Sod (dowry), the groom can now go to claim his bride. In past times the groom would travel on foot from his home to his bride’s home, accompanied by a procession of his family, friends, and other well-wishers.
The groom’s paraders would carry offerings for the bride’s family. On their way, they would sing songs, play instruments, such as traditional Thai long drums, and basically have a traveling party. The offerings they carry all have very specific meanings.
For Thais, it is quite common nowadays for the engagement to take place on the same day as the wedding. In many Thai-foreigner relationships the engagement often follows the western tradition of being a romantic one-on-one occasion that is then announced to others afterwards. We had an informal engagement, not a traditional one.
You’d usually find gold or coins, flowers and the leaves and nuts of a young Betel plant arranged on the Kan Maak tray. The meanings of the items range from health and prosperity to fertility and long life.
Additionally, the traveling guests will also carry various foods such as fruits and desserts. In modern times, the procession is likely to just start down the street and end at the wedding venue, which will be a house or, more frequently in modern times, a hotel.
8. The Grooms Gated Approach
When our groom finally makes it to his destination, he still has another challenge to face. His way will be blocked by a series of gates held up by the bride’s maids and various family members. The gates are commonly made from a necklace or belt made of gold.
Some of these gates can be passed simply by a payout of money, whereas others will ask the groom to answer questions, or he may even be required to perform any number of what may be a somewhat humbling task such as, yell out a profession of his love or sing a song.
9. Retrieving the Bride
After satisfying all his tasks, the groom may now enter to find his bride. Commonly, the bride will be waiting in a room separated from the guests. When the groom is waiting inside, the bride’s parents will bring out their daughter from behind closed doors and present her to the husband to be.
10. Presenting The Sinsod (Dowry)
Having retrieved his bride. it is now time to present the bride’s parents with the Sin sod. A tray where all the gifts and money are resting is offered. After the gifts are accepted the items will be wrapped in silk and handed to the mother of the bride.
As tradition dictates, and to display how generous the groom is, the bride’s mother will make a show of carrying the heavy loaded package as if it’s extremely heavy.
11. Sai Monkhon (Joining by Thread)
We now arrive at what some would consider the most heartfelt portion of the wedding. The bride and groom must sit or kneel next to each other. Their arms will rest on a small padded table and their hands must be held together in prayer position.
An elder member of the family – who is considered to have a successful marriage – will place the traditional headpiece called Mong Kol on the head of both the bride and groom. This string headpiece, previously blessed by monks, must be made out of one piece of cotton and will join the couple during the rest of the ceremony, and symbolically for the rest of their lives.
12. Rod Nam Sang (Shell Ceremony)
With the bride and groom seated next to each other (bride on the left,) and joined by the Sai Monkhon thread, the guest will begin to line up to have a turn with the couple. The two hold the their hands close together as their most honoured guests use a special shell, usually taken from the sea, to pour water over the uniting pair.
It is customary for the person, while pouring the water, to wish the couple well and give advice on having a good life together.
13. The Thai Wedding Reception
After all of the guests have had a chance to pour the water and wish the couple well, it’s common to invite them to eat and mingle. This part of the ceremony can range from a simple gathering at a table to a full on party with dancing and games.
It is here in this part of the ceremony that you may find a more western influence, but the Thai still have their own ways of doing things. Usually, one or two friends of the bride and groom will be chosen as the master of ceremonies for the evening.
It’s this MC’s job to host the events, games, videos and of course, introduce the newlyweds. Family members and friends are invited up to speak about the bride and/or groom. The couple may even have to take part in a game show style quiz. As in western weddings, it is quite common to see a cake cutting and bouquet toss these days too.
14. Preparing the Bridal Bed
Perhaps the final thing to happen on the wedding day will happen in the bedroom, but it’s not quite what you may think. The bride and groom will be escorted to the bedroom where an older married couple will present them with an array of items to demonstrate the path to a successful marriage.
The bed will likely be covered in flower petals as well as a brass tray of traditional symbols. The most common items on the tray include a bag of beans or seeds to show prosperity, a bowl of water to symbolise harmony, a mortar to represent solid love, an unripe squash to bring a happy marriage, the figure of a sleeping cat to show the want to be comfortable at home, a rooster to promote waking up early, and finally a cane as a symbol of long life.
Tradition says the couple should sleep with these items in the bed for three days, though that rarely happens anymore.
On most occasions, it will be the parents that prepare the bed and explain the symbols, and once they’ve completed the lessons, they will leave the newly married couple alone in the bed to show the desire for children.
This part of the ceremony is pretty rare these days and wasn't part of our wedding.
Thai Weddings In the Modern World
I hope you now have a better understanding of the traditional Thai wedding ceremony. Please note that these are just the most common and recognisable practices. Thailand is a large country with many regional influences that affect the way engagements and weddings are conducted.
For example, the northern and southern parts of the country may conduct certain parts quite differently; you can also expect differences among the ethnic Thai-Chinese community, not to mention all the modern storybook ideals thrown in the mix too.
While most foreigners marrying in Thailand will experience many of the same traditions, tailored weddings that represent both the bride and groom’s cultures are becoming increasingly common. So feel free to assert your own input and get fun and creative. I wish you all the best with your Thai wedding.