If you are marrying your Thai partner, it’s worth familiarising yourself with all aspects of a traditional Thai wedding as well as the legal formalities. Not all of the old traditions are upheld nowadays, but understanding the cultural aspects and symbolism will help you in the lead up to the big day and should impress your partner and your new Thai-in-laws. Depending on where you get married in Thailand, different regional customs and ceremonies may be incorporated into the wedding service. There is no set format to a Thai wedding which can vary from region to region, but the traditional Thai wedding section on this site outlines some of the common ceremonies and the meaning behind them.
Unless you speak good Thai, the chances are that the planning of the wedding day will be left to your partner and their family. If you are paying for the wedding you will need to set some ground-rules to prevent things getting out of hand. For a Thai person, the more they spend on their family and friends the more prestige and merit they will gain. If you aren’t Buddhist this might not be important to you, but no Thai person would want to lose face on an important event such as their wedding day. They would not want their friends to think that either they or their partner haven’t done things properly. To a Western mindset it might seem like showing off, but for Thai people it’s all about not losing face. One of the other main cultural differences you are likely to encounter (if you are a man marrying a Thai woman) is the subject of sinsod or wedding dowry, which is an issue which can lead to friction and cultural misunderstandings.
In Thailand, the groom may make a generous financial donation to the local wat in the hope and belief that the merit gained will ensure a happy and successful marriage. Often the groom will make the donation in the name of the bride’s parents and if you do this as a foreign man you are demonstrating a vast amount of respect to your bride and her family. For a foreign groom marrying a Thai woman this may seem like another way of buying respect. However, it shows the importance of face and status in Thai life and will bestow merit on you as well as the bride and her parents. Just as importantly for a foreign man, it displays a knowledge and respect for Thai culture and is likely to be greatly appreciated by your wife and her family.
Traditionally in Thailand, a ‘dowry’ is paid by the groom and his family to the family of the bride. There is much written about the subject and if you asked a thousand men how much they paid you would probably get a thousand different answers. It can be a very emotive subject, but it is an issue you will probably need to come to terms with if you are marrying a Thai woman.
When he pays the sinsod, the groom is in effect ‘paying for the mother’s milk’ or the upbringing of his bride. If the bride has had a good upbringing then the amount of sinsod will be higher. If the bride has not been married before, has no children, is well-educated, has a good career and stable family life, then this will be reflected in the amount of sinsod asked for. It also goes to show that the groom is financially capable of looking after his wife and indeed, his wife’s family if needs be. It is important to stress how crucial the concept of family is in Thai life. If you are marrying a Thai, you are also marrying in to that person’s family and everything that may entail.
It’s impossible to say how much is the right price to pay for sinsod because there are so many variables involved. Some Thai families may see their daughter marrying a foreigner as the equivalent of winning the lottery. Despite the fact that the groom may not be a rich man in his home country, he will be deemed to be a rich man in Thailand and a vast amount may be asked for. By contrast, some Thai families may appreciate that the prospective son-in-law comes from a different culture and may not ask for sinsod in return for a solemn promise to take care of their daughter. In some cases sinsod is accepted by the bride’s parents and is given back the following day as a wedding present to the newlyweds.
It can be quite a thorny issue for Western men marrying Thai women, but it should be understood that if you are marrying in Thailand it is something you will very likely have to come to terms with. If you are considering marriage to a Thai national you should already be aware that Thai culture is very different and should not feel insulted if asked for sinsod. One thing that many Thai grooms do is to pay the sinsod in small denominations (i.e. 100 Baht notes) so that the amount on show looks even more impressive when it is spread out.
The most important aspect is ‘face’. This can’t be stressed enough. Keep your cool and liaise with your wife-to-be and her family to reach a mutually agreeable amount. Sometimes the amount paid in sinsod will be returned by the bride’s family to the wedding couple. By having a large amount of sinsod paid, the Thai family don’t lose face with their friends and peers. It might not be important to you what other people think of you, but it matters to Thai people and that should never be forgotten in any aspect of Thai culture.
Tradition & ceremony
The family of your partner are likely to have firm views about the way the wedding day should be organized and the traditions that need to be followed. The traditions of a Thai-Chinese family in Bangkok may be very different to those of a rural family in Isaan so try and go with the flow. In rural areas where old traditions are still maintained the festivities can last for 3 or 4 days so be prepared. The old traditions may not be important to you, but they will probably mean a lot to your partner and their family. If you upset the family your partner may never forgive you.
The wedding day usually starts very early and finishes late and you should be prepared for a lot of kneeling down. In total, the blessing by monks in the morning can last for up to 90 minutes, but it’s often split into two sections with an interval to allow the monks to eat and give you a chance to stretch your legs. You won’t necessarily wear traditional wedding attire at this stage but you should still be smartly dressed. Once the Buddhist blessing and merit-making ceremony is concluded, it’s normally time to eat. Before the khan maak procession or the sai monkhon ceremony you may be required to change into traditional wedding attire. Don’t be surprised if your bride disappears to the beauty salon to prepare herself for the arrival of the khan maak procession.
Make sure you have lots of money on your possession to prevent unnecessary embarrassment for you or your partner as there will be numerous financial contributions required during the course of the day. If you are the groom you may already have paid sinsod, but you may still encounter various unexpected contributions during the day so it’s best to have spare cash with you.
If you invite family or friends try and let them know what to expect from the wedding day to help them get the most out of it. The morning ceremony is often attended by just family members and very close friends with other friends just joining you for the wedding party or reception in the evening. Nobody should wear black to a Thai wedding because it is considered bad luck, but apart from that guests should just wear something loose fitting and comfortable. If guests attend the khan maak procession or sai monkhon ceremony they may dress in traditional Thai style or wear something smart. Guests will make donations to the monks and to the couple being married. This money is placed in envelopes and it will be made clear during the respective ceremonies when the envelopes should be handed over. If you ask your Thai partner how much to donate they will almost certainly say ‘up to you’.
For the evening reception you may see people turn up who haven’t been invited and you have no idea who they are. They may be the brother or sister of one of the guests or some other distant relation or friend, but they will still be made welcome even if they weren’t officially invited. If you are getting married in a rural area you may find that the entire village turns out to celebrate and you can be sure that they will enjoy themselves so make sure that you do. If you are the groom try and forget about how much all that whiskey and food is costing you. A good party with lots of food and drink is the sign of a generous host and will mean lots of prestige for the bride and her family and merit for the groom.
More advice for Thai wedding guests