Updated 27 Jan 2016:

I am becoming a regular at Isaan weddings, not my own I hasten to add, so I thought I would point you to a few other posts that might be helpful if weddings, marriage or living with a Thai lady are of interest:

  1. A Thai Shotgun Marriage HERE
  2. Apple’s Wedding HERE
  3. Living with a Thai Woman HERE
  4. How to Marry a Thai national HERE
  5. Married Again HERE

I thought we’d have a break from stories about Australia, after all you guys live there, and get back to a writing a Thai post. Not to say Botany Bay Part 3 might not still happen, just not right now.

I have been a little reluctant in publishing this topic because it is more in the area of my personal life, which is outside the scope of this blog. However it was also an event that gives some wonderful insights into the life of this farang in Thailand, was very unique and a super fun time so I will give it a go. It’s a long entry so set aside some time to enjoy – I hope.

For those of you that don’t know, and that’s mostly everyone outside my immediate family, Gaun and I decided to get married Isaan style earlier this year. Many of you will know that this is a pretty regular event with me and not one I was that keen on replicating when coming to Thailand. Never say never and it became quite clear to me that Gaun had become very central to my life and the best thing to come out of the shambles I left behind when coming here last year. I felt the time had come to formalise the connection and the best way of doing this was by asking Gaun to marry me and, if she accepted!, having a Thai wedding.  The ceremony would be a strong public statement to the strength of the relationship for Gaun’s family and Moo Baan community, and the two are strongly interlinked here, and was also obviously a very personal commitment between Gaun and myself.

It has been a year full of change and surprises. This lady is the biggest surprise of all.

It has been a time full of change and surprises. This lady has been the biggest surprise of all.

Gaun was kind enough to accept my proposal, which I put down to a momentary loss of common sense due to the heat, and we decided on the 14th of February as the wedding day. Now those of you who are Valentine Day devotees, or have that role thrust upon you, will know that 14th of February was D Day this year. Just to let you know that the 14th wasn’t chosen because of this but because it was the most auspicious day in February as shown on the Buddhist calendar we have hanging on our fridge. It also happened fall during a period when my brother and sister-in-law would be visiting us in Isaan to meet Gaun’s family. Done deal.

My knowledge of how to go about organising a wedding in rural Thailand can be written on something even smaller than a postage stamp – remember them? – but luckily Gaun handed the whole logistics over to Yuan, her lovely younger sister and a small powerhouse in the “can do” department.

Gaun's younger sister Yuan.

Gaun’s younger sister Yuan.

I had let drop the wedding idea to my oldest friend Gaz and his lovely partner Saskia and they immediately wrote back and said that they would fly over from Perth to attend, which put icing on the wedding cake.

Despite Yuan dong the hard yards organising everything as well as run the family farm it seemed appropriate that we turn up a little before the day and appear to look useful, certainly in my case! There was also the outstanding question of the wedding invitations, which had to be produced and distributed around family and the village. For those of you planning on an Isaan wedding this will be the first of many helpful tips I will give during the course of this blog. Can I firstly set the premise for everything that follows in that we wanted this to be a traditional Isaan wedding rather than a suit and tie sort of thing, that is with full make-up and silk clothes and that was just for me!

The formal Thai wedding invitation has as its central theme a photo of the presumably happy couple in full wedding gear. Now in order to achieve this one photo it is obviously necessary to go through the whole process as though you were preparing yourself for the wedding itself! That required us to get to Si Bun Ruang to have the photo and invitations printed and distributed as well as help Yuan in whatever way we could a week before the 14th.

We headed out of Chiang Mai on the 6th of February to drive to Si Bun Ruang in the day, a trip of around nine hours and over 600 km. The large hilltop monk on the way out of Chiang Mai blessed our trip as we left:

Not a subtle monk.

Not a subtle monk.

The roadside stalls were in full swing as always selling whatever was in season and in February it was strawberries. We picked up a couple of kilos to take with us for Peng, Gaun’s daughter.

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First stop was at the Doi Chaang cafe at Den Chai about two hours South of Chiang Mai and my favourite coffee stop in Thailand so far.

Cafe Doi Chaang.

Cafe Doi Chaang.

A welcome cuppa in a very civilised environment.

A welcome cuppa in a very civilised environment. Oh. Is that cake I see as well? Must be for Gaun.

The trip was long but uneventful. The first half was on main roads heading South, most of them fast dual carriageways and then onto small but good quality back-roads for the rest of the way. Thailand is always full of interesting and surprising sights.

A elephant made from individual pieces of timber.

A elephant and horses made from individual pieces of timber. The elephant had been sold to a German for $5,000 and he was shipping it back home.

This one was also worth a photo. Replacing an electricity meter-box on a pole in the middle of a pond isn’t something you see too often in Australia. Our sparkies are such wimps.

Positions Shortly to Become Vacant - two electricians wanted.

Positions to Become Vacant Shortly – two electricians wanted.

After some hilly scenery and windy roads you know that it’s only another hour or so to go when you come onto the plains and pass these spectacular outcrops jutting out of the farmland.

Dry season when this photo was taken so an Aussie brown. Rich greens in the wet season.

Dry season when this photo was taken so an Aussie brown. Rich greens in the wet season.

We arrived in Si Bun Ruang at about 5 pm and after booking into the resort we headed downtown to arrange a photo shot for the next day. On the edge of the local markets we came across a bridal shop owned by a farang, one of the few foreigners in town and his Thai wife. Arrangements were made for the next day including the hire of a Thai wedding suit for me and a full make-up for Gaun. We decided to buy the wedding dress rather than rent as it would also get an outing at an Australian wedding we had been invited to as part of our visit there later that month.

The next day had us back in the shop being outfitted for the photo shoot:

Gaun's transformation happening. A rather male ladyboy in charge.

Gaun’s transformation happening. A rather male ladyboy in charge.

The traditional Thai wedding array for women is extremely “formal” – almost Japanese or Chinese in flavour. Very stylised in dress and make-up, the latter being thickly applied combined with a big hair look. As always us guys get the boring clothes and just a light touch of lipstick. The result quite stunning, and I’m talking here about Gaun! I bet you would never recognise her in this photo although you can probably place the handsome young bloke on the left.

This is the photo we chose to go on the wedding invitation. Mission accomplished.

This is the photo we chose to go on the wedding invitation. Mission accomplished.

The wedding invitation photos were taken at our resort a few km out of town. It has been set up for wedding events and photos pre or post-wedding and you can hire the place including a golf buggy to take you round for the princely sum of $18.00.

Almost regal in appearance and Gaun looks OK too!

Almost regal in appearance and Gaun looks OK too!

A large photo is displayed at the entrance to the wedding ceremony itself and this is the one we chose for that.

A large photo is displayed at the entrance to the wedding ceremony itself, possibly to avoid confusion with any other weddings happening that day! This is the one we chose for that.

The wedding arrangements were being handled by an unofficial committee of family, friends and neighbours. I am slightly ashamed to report that I contributed some money and that was pretty much the extent of my involvement except turning up on the day. The strong family and community aspect of Isaan village life was on display and it is this unasked generosity that makes my times here so delightful and rewarding.

A wedding committee meeting I came across.

A wedding committee meeting I came across including Boong the family dog. The guy is Tham, married to Gaun’s older sister, a great bloke.

Left to right, Gaun, a neighbour across the road, the daughter of the brother of the next lady called Baan, who owns the land next to ours in the village. Gaun's mama, Puck, a niece. Yuan, Gaun's sister.

Left to right, Gaun, a neighbour from across the road, the daughter of the brother of the next lady who is called called Baan and owns the land next to ours in the village. Gaun’s mama, Puck, a niece, who was the scribe for this meeting and Yuan, Gaun’s sister in the doorway.

Planning moved onto physical activity as the day drew nearer. The wedding reception meal for 100 people was organised through caterers and a space cleared at the side of Gaun’s mama’s house to set up the marquee, tables and chairs.

This area has since been concreted and a new family outside kitchen built.

This area has since been concreted and a new family outside kitchen built. Old concrete rainwater tanks on the right. Yuan and Lud’s small house at the back, which they never use as they sleep at the farm.  This is currently being rebuilt. Update photos when I visit next.

The end result.

The end result.

All the cooking and eating supplies, many of the chairs and tables and things like fans were supplied, you guessed it, by the local temple! We popped down to see the monk and then collected everything we needed for 100 people from their storeroom. This is all stuff that has been donated over time by the village for use in various Buddhist ceremonies where a party is involved, and that’s as often as possible. The equipment is then available to be borrowed – no charge. Community principles in action again. I had actually made a donation to the temple previous with some money I had found in the street plus some of mine so I felt that I was in Buddha’s good books and this was his payback 🙂

The temple party storeroom.

The temple party storeroom.

Now THAT'S what I call a mortar and pestle. Lud, me, Gaun and Yuan.

Now THAT’S what I call a mortar and pestle. Lud – the family clown, a great bloke and Yuan’s husband – me, Gaun and Yuan.

The monk keeping an eye on things.

The monk keeping an eye on things.

Loaded up on Lud's ute. Appen is the only new face. She is a neice who came down from Bangkok to help out. She ended up taking care of all the finances writing every expense in an excise book down to the last baht.

Loaded up on Lud’s ute. Appen is the only new face on the far left. She is a niece who came down from Bangkok to help out. She ended up taking care of all the finances writing every expense in an excise book down to the last baht.

On the dashboard of Lud's ute. An Aussie reminder.

On the dashboard of Lud’s ute. An Aussie reminder. Gaun was to meet a real one of these in the not too distant future.

Collecting the most important ingredient - grog.

Collecting the most important ingredient. That’s not all for me BTW. Puck, Yuan and Gaun.

One of the few things on my list was to drive to Udon Thani airport to pick up my friends Gaz and Saskia on the 11th, who had flown in from Perth via Bangkok, to join us for the wedding. It was very special to have them with us for this celebration.

Saskia and Gaz arriving at Udon.

Saskia and Gaz arriving at Udon.

Luckily Udon is only an hour down the road because the next day I was making the same trip to pick up Richard and Sam, my brother and sister-in-law. They had arrived in Phuket a week earlier and had then flown up to Udon and would be staying with us in Chiang Mai for nine days before we all flew back to Australia – See Bound for Botany Bay Part 1 and 2.

With all the wedding party all together, including two nephews for my best men and Peng and a friend for Gaun, it was time to get our clothes organised. We ended up going to another wedding shop on the main street, which was better presented and organised than the one we used for the wedding invitation photos. It was a good choice. Run by a rather attractive and very business-like ladyboy the outfits and centrepiece flower decoration display were chosen with no problems. Everyone wanted to go the full Isaan wedding dress, which would make for some great photos and impress the villagers no end. At at cost of $33.00 for clothes hire, full make-up and hair per person it was the bargain of the century.

Gaun with Peng, her daughter.

Gaun with Peng, her daughter, trying on her bridesmaid dress.

Dressed up but no make-up.

Dressed up but no make-up.

Serious.

Serious.

Not really.

Not really.

I have to say that the outcome was pretty spectacular. Everyone had a great time in the process and looked just fantastic. I also had to capture this wedding photo I spotted displayed in the shop:

A Thai Elvis wedding.

A Thai Elvis wedding?

Coming back to the family compound we came across these old ladies of the village working out the front of mama’s house. They were making special wedding decorations and bananas in coconut leaves desserts with the help of food, of course, and a little liquid refreshment. I knew nothing of this and it was another example of the wedding committee at work and the way everyone was involved in preparing for the event.

No retirement villages for these ladies.

No retirement villages for these ladies. Still important, respected and involved.

The old lady in the front was nominated to represent my mother at the wedding. She was a lovely character and I know my mum would have been happy with the selection.

The old lady centre front was nominated to represent my mother at the wedding. She was a lovely character and I know my mum would have been happy with the selection.

Hand making desserts.

Hand making desserts. Bananas slices and sugar wrapped in coconut leaves and steamed.

More results from the amazingly smooth running organisation were showing up all the time. I say “smooth running” but there were moments when Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister and the unofficial chairperson of the committee, was looking a bit stressed.

Why buy? This is the frame for the wedding photo I mentioned earlier in this post. Where you paying attention. If not go back!

Why buy? This is the frame for the wedding photo I mentioned earlier in this post made out of local supplies. Were you paying attention. If not go back! Yuan on left and neighbours. The lady in pink is Jan, who I bought the land from and the lady on the far right Baan, her sister who is also our neighbour, or will be when we build.

Job well done.

Job well done. Yuan with flowers. Yuan and Lud donated an entrance-way of flowers, which was a big expense for them as it was Valentine’s Day and all flowers were in high demand and costly as a result.

The internal flower display - not really flowers - in mama's house, where the wedding ceremony was to taake place

The internal flower display of “not really” flowers in mama’s house, where the wedding ceremony was to take place. Sisters face off.

Kids are never left out of things here. They are involved in most activities and can be seen up and about late into the evenings if their parents are around and often even if not. Many children are being looked after by relatives as their parents are working elsewhere or overseas – wherever the money is. No “dead” suburban Canberra streets here. Always something happening.

A group of local kids picking teams for a game. I can remember that from my youth. Still alive and well over here.

A group of local kids picking teams for a non-virtual game. I can remember that from my childhood. Still alive and well over here. Streets are used for playing without supervision. They seem to survive without too much trauma!

The main informal eating area set up. The marquees are hired from the Moo Baan - village - supplied, erected and taken away for $18.00.

The main informal eating area set up in the family compound. The marquees are hired from the Moo Baan – village – supplied, erected and taken away for $18.00. Everything else from the temple.

Those are serious sub woofers Geoff if you are reading.

Those are serious sub woofers Geoff if you are reading. The sound system being set up. $25.00 including a DJ for two days. Broke windows two blocks away. I am still relying on sign language to communicate.

Appen with food for the local monk - the guy who lent us the catering supplies. The temple and monks are totally incorporated into village life and never forgotten. Food is shared especially in the case of an event such as this.

Appen off to deliver food to the local monk – the guy who lent us the catering supplies. The temple and monks are totally incorporated into village life and never forgotten. Food is shared especially in the case of an event such as this.

The locals were keen to get photos with the farang. Sam, my sister-in-law here.

The locals were keen to get photos with the farang. Sam, my lovely sister-in-law here.

So with the day ending on the eve of the BIG day it was definitely time to party. The sound system was cranked up and a good group of locals mixed with us farang with heaps of home cooked Thai food, miraculously produced on one gas wok burner and a small wood fire, and grog.

I never had to pour a beer the time I was there. This is Lud doing the honours very seriously.

I never had to pour a beer the time I was there. This is Lud doing the honours very seriously. Note ice with beer an idea I have taken to. Keeps it cool and you get a balanced water intake as well! Saskia on the far left no doubt waiting her turn.

Party time. Very informal and friendly.

Party time. Very informal and friendly. All ages.

Most of the wedding "committee" plus hangers on.

Most of the wedding “committee” plus us hangers on. I look like a bloody public servant here or an accountant.

Richard teaching the kids the Macarena dance, something that will be passed down through the generations I am sure.

Richard teaching the kids the Macarena dance, something that will be passed down through the generations I am sure. Richard now has the title “The Teacher” in the village. The kids will be looking forward to his return so they can learn the Nutbush.

It was Puck's 18th birthday and the Thais do the pin the money for the occasion.

It was Puck’s 18th birthday and the Thais and us do a pin the money for the occasion.

It ended up being a great night although the locals were a bit puzzled with the Macarena dance thing. They probably put it down to some farang wedding ritual and for many Aussie weddings that plus the Nutbush are pretty well guaranteed to come up at some stage in evening for us baby boomers. Plenty of beer, Sang Som – Thai rum – and Thai whisky, which is great for cleaning concrete – even better than coke, was consumed.

So here we go finally the wedding day itself. Now firstly for those of you planning an Isaan wedding let me give you a tip and that is you need to understand what the wedding invitation says and NOT rely on how it is done in Australia. Written in Thai obviously I was pretty confident that I didn’t need to clarify the two times show being 7.30 and 9.09. The latter was the wedding time – nine is an important number in Thailand and 7.30 the evening reception. Not so. All will become clear.

We were all up at 4.00 am so that we could all get our clothes arranged and for the ladies, their hair and make-up done.

Si Bun Ruang main street at 4.00 am. Not much happening.

Si Bun Ruang main street at 4.00 am. Not much happening apart from us farangs.

Inside the two ladyboys were in full swing organising to fit the dresses and our suits plus girly stuff.

Gaun back into make-up.

Gaun back into make-up. The ladyboy is working on Peng’s make-up.

The owner of the shop finishing Sam's make-up and hair.

The owner of the shop finishing Sam’s make-up and hair. This is one of the few ladyboys I have met who both looked and acted as a woman. A really competent and pleasant person. She had been working on another wedding until 2 that morning and was looking surprising fresh.

For those of you ladies who spend hours at the hairdressers pre-wedding this look was prepared in ten minutes. I kid you not.

For you ladies who have to spend hours at the hairdressers pre-wedding, this is a close-up of Sam’s hair as shown in the photo above, and was prepared in ten minutes. I kid you not.

Saskia being made-up pre-hair arrangement.

Saskia being made-up pre-hair arrangement.

Ten minutes later.

Ten minutes later. What do our hairdressers do?

Peng and friend all ready.

Peng and friend all ready.

The end result. Not too shabby.

The end result. Not too shabby.

Ahhh.

A very happy groom. I think the bride is OK too. She didn’t pull out and that’s always a good sign.

All finished we drove back to the village and the significance of the 7.30 now makes itself apparent. Not a 7.30 pm reception but a 7.30 breakfast! All the guests had arrived and the caterers were stocking the tables with a full Thai meal including beef, which is a luxury item here, a whole fish and steamboat and other spicy things. Not a bowl of cornflakes or piece of toast and marmalade in sight. Each table had two bottles of beer and a bottle of Thai whisky. A much better heart starter than coffee.

Continental it ain't.

Continental breakfast it ain’t.

The breakfast in full swing.

The breakfast in full swing.

The timing all actually makes sense. These are mostly working people who can’t afford to take a day off and therefore everything was timed to involve as many as possible. For many the meal is the “main” wedding event – typically Thai! In local weddings often people will just turn up to collect food, leave a donation towards the cost of the wedding and leave to eat at home.

Everybody involved.

Everybody involved. There’s nothing like a beer for breakfast.

We had a full turnout because a large farang wedding is a big event not to be missed. The fact we were all going Isaan in presentation had got around and people wanted to come and see us and get photos.

We are stars for the day.

We are stars for the day.

Richard and me.

Richard, both a brother and very best mate, and me.

The girls.

The girls. Sam, Gaun, Peng and Saskia.

That picture on the left. Gaun's mama with guests.

“That” picture on the left. Gaun’s mama with Gaun and guests.

Peng.

Peng. Beautiful like her mum.

My family. The face at the back in a freind of Peng's whose job it was to keep her dress train out of the dirt :-)

My new family. The face at the back is a friend of Peng’s whose job it was to keep her dress out of the dirt 🙂 She pops up surprisingly often in photos.

The ceremony itself started in time to reach the house at 9.09, a time I did get right. There was a gathering at our block of land and we then walked in procession back to the house, which is only a hundred meters away.

I am the only one who gets an umbrella in keeping with my station as an important person.

I am the only one who gets an umbrella in keeping with my station as an important person.

This was NOT a serious event. The Thais do a yodelling type of call to mark the occasion and we were surrounded by laughing and happy villagers having a good time. It doesn’t take much to get Thais going. They love any opportunity to have a fun or “sanuk”, which is probably why they celebrate our New Year, Chinese New Year and Thai New Year!!! If they could find any other New Years they would happily adopt that too.

A happy group.

A happy group.

We didn't forget the heart shaped cushion.

We didn’t forget the heart shaped cushion. My best man holding the umbrella and looking rather pensive on the right. He was a non-smiling Thai but is shy evidently. He came down from Bangkok for the event.

The kids think it is all fun too.

The kids think it is all fun too.

My first wedding barrier. A silver chain. I am looking for an envelope with money to give to the ladies to let me through.

My first wedding barrier. A silver chain. I am looking for an envelope with money to give to the ladies to let me through. There is a final gold chain to pass as well.

I get my feet washed by Appen. I did shower.

I get my feet washed by Appen. I am sure I did shower this morning.

Once into the house everyone settles into place and the wedding itself gets underway. There is a “master of ceremonies” who sort of leads the way but it seems to be a group participation thing with people offering suggestions of what happens next along the way. Great fun with lots of chat and laughter.

An Isaan wedding I believe.

An Isaan wedding taking place I believe.

A white cord binds us all together. The flower arrangement made by those old ladies.

A white cord binds us all together. The flower arrangement made by those old ladies.

Thank you to all shown. What a great day.

Thank you to all shown + Gaz. What a great day. The Thai year shown on the poster at the back 2557 – subtract 543 to get our year.

The master of ceremonies. Fetching head gear - flowers.

The master of ceremonies. Fetching head gear on Gaun and me too – flowers “really”.

Same as Australia - an exchange of rings made of Thai gold of course.

Same as Australia – an exchange of rings made of Thai gold of course.

Yes. We see them.

Yes. We see them.

Towards the end of the ceremony every person involved comes up to the front to tie a white string to the wrist of all the wedding party – right wrist for males and left for females. It is a lovely way to connect with each individual who has attended.

Tying on the wrist strings.

Tying on the wrist strings. You end up with a huge bundle, which is worn for three days. Going around the town afterwards people stop to ask or congratulate you when they see your wrist. My mum’s surrogate here with Gaz.

Yuan, just a wonderful sister-in-law, tying on my wrist band. People also make a donation, which is placed in that pot in front of me. A large contribution to the cost of the wedding was cover in this way.

Yuan, just a wonderful new sister-in-law, giving me money. I like her even more now. Lud in front of her.

People also make a donation, which is placed in that pot in front of me. A good contribution to the cost of the wedding was covered in this way. It all goes round because I will now be invited to weddings in the village and will be expected to contribute in return. It is a sort of mini internal economy. The pot was whisked away at the end and a count done by the senior ladies. I got a piece of paper with a total figure ending with 13 baht! No farang wedding financial horror stories coming out of this family. They have been the most welcoming, supportive and fun group of people you could hope to meet and my guests will support that comment. It is a real privilege to be include in their family group.

Gifts are given to the guest other members of the wedding party.

Gifts are given to the other members of the wedding party.

Gaz wondering how he's going to take that back to Perth!

Gaz wondering how he’s going to take that back to Perth! He didn’t. Still in Isaan Gaz and Saskia.

My present to Gaun's mama.

My present to Gaun’s mama.

The obligatory end of wedding photos.

The obligatory end of wedding photos. What a great memory this is for me.

Appen, Peng, Yuan and a friend of Appen who also travelled from Bangkok to be here.

Appen, Peng, Yuan and a friend of Appen who also travelled from Bangkok to be here.

Wedding over we head home to change. On our return everything has been packed up and life has returned to normal. The evening party post-wedding I thought was happening at 7.30, which ended up being breakfast, was the pre-wedding evening party the night before. Never accept you know what’s going on in Thailand, but that’s one of the things I love about being here.

No big event in Isaan would be complete without a pappaya salad complete with a big handful of chillies and that’s how we ended this wonderful day – well not me because I hate pappaya salad……..but for the faithful a small informal gathering with the new husband and wife.

Relaxed and married.

Relaxed and married. Richard turning a chilli red on the left.

Oh those chillies. Seriously hot.

Oh those chillies. Seriously hot. Sticky rice in the small basket.

Thank you for joining me on this rather special journey. It was the most memorable time I have experienced in Thailand. Partly this was due obviously to the opportunity to show my love for a very special lady, but also it was a period of living in a world where Thai family and community seem to meld and there seems very little distinction between the two. Us farang were made to feel hugely welcome and involved and that is pretty special.