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:
- A Thai Shotgun Marriage HERE
- Apple’s Wedding HERE
- Living with a Thai Woman HERE
- How to Marry a Thai national HERE
- 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside the two ladyboys were in full swing organising to fit the dresses and our suits plus girly stuff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.