If you receive a written invitation to a Thai wedding it will say on the invite what part of the wedding day you have been invited to. In Thailand, it is usually just immediate family and very close friends that attend the events on the wedding day morning including the Buddhist ceremony. Other family, friends and acquaintances will just be invited to the wedding reception or evening meal and party. If you are invited to the Buddhist ceremony or the morning proceedings you will probably see on your invitation that the timing is very precise. This is one of the few times where punctuality is important for Thai people because the ceremonies have been set for an auspicious time, often involving the number 3 or 9 which are deemed to be lucky.
Wedding invitations and wedding gifts
If you do receive a wedding invitation which has your name on the envelope, it is normal practice in Thailand for the guest to then use that same envelope when handing over money as a wedding gift. The families will note how much has been given and will reciprocate when it comes to future weddings. If somebody is invited to a wedding but can’t make it, they may still send money as a wedding gift. A normal donation by a guest at an average wedding is between 100 to 500 Baht, but will be more if the guest has a good job or is respected in the community. Status is important in Thai society and if you have flown in from overseas to attend a wedding then you will automatically have some degree of status no matter what job you do back home and so a wedding gift of 1,000 Baht would be more appropriate without being over the top. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the person who has invited you what would be a reasonable amount. Arrangements for collecting the wedding gift vary from wedding to wedding so you may need to ask or simply follow the actions of others. Very often at the evening reception there is somebody at the door who will direct you to where you hand over your gift and sign a book of congratulations. You may receive a small memento or wedding favour in return.
If the bride or groom’s family is of Chinese heritage (which is quite common in certain parts of Thailand) red envelopes may be used. Red is a lucky colour for the Chinese and these envelopes containing money are known as ‘ang pao‘ and are also used on other occasions such as Chinese New Year.
What to wear to a Thai wedding
Some weddings will be more formal than others, for instance a ‘hi-so’ (high society) wedding in Bangkok involving well-to-do families will be an occasion where people will dress to impress and a suit and tie may be required. At the other end of the scale, if you are attending a wedding at a rural village in Thailand or on a beach, wearing a suit is impractical and uncomfortable and the attire will probably be more informal. If you are unsure about the expected dress code don’t be afraid to ask the person who has issued the invitation. It’s important to be practical at Thai weddings especially if you are invited to attend the ceremonies in the morning. These ceremonies can go on for a few hours in hot and humid conditions and it’s best to wear something that is loose-fitting and lightweight but still smart. The ceremonies in the morning should be finished by midday and there will be a chance for refreshments and a change of clothes before attending the evening meal or reception.
What not to wear
As a general rule for guests attending a Thai wedding you should avoid t-shirts, vests, shorts or flip-flops (thongs). It is also considered unlucky to wear black at a wedding, so this means no black dresses or tops for women and no black shirts or ties for men, although it is OK to wear black shoes and black trousers or slacks.
What to wear for male guests
To be on the safe side, a long sleeve shirt and a pair of plain trousers or slacks is a good choice. At an average wedding, most male guests won’t wear a tie, but if you want you can always take one with you and take it off it gets too hot (which it probably will). Thai men often wear a traditional silk round-neck shirt and these can be made to measure quite cheaply by most tailor shops anywhere in Thailand. The standard of dress by male guests may vary quite widely depending on age and status and how well they know the bride or groom. At the evening meal it isn’t that unusual to see some Thai men wearing jeans and trainers/sneakers. However, as a foreign visitor you are likely to be deemed an honoured guest and should make some effort to look smart especially if you are related to the bride or groom.
What to wear for female guests
Women attending a Buddhist ceremony should dress modestly and try to avoid bare shoulders, ‘spaghetti’ tops and short skirts. This only applies to the Buddhist ceremony and not the evening meal or party where events are more relaxed. Wherever the wedding event is held conditions are likely to be hot and humid so the best advice is to wear something loose fitting and not too restrictive. Although traditions in Thailand are changing with the younger generation and not everybody believes in the old folklore about not wearing black at a wedding, it’s still best to avoid wearing a black dress or top at a Thai wedding.