Bargaining for a bride is alive and well in rural northeastern Thailand. Actually, the tradition of “sin sod” exists in most parts of the country. The conversation might go like this:
Future father-in-law: “Let’s start with a reasonable value to establish the value of my daughter – say, $20,000.”
Future son-in-law: “I’m an out of work flight engineer. I truly value your daughter but couldn’t possibly pay more than $10,000.”
And eventually they settle on $10,000 in cash plus $5,000 in gold necklaces and bracelets … which is exactly what did happen when my long-time friend Bill and his future wife Kai invited my friend and me to attend a traditional Thai wedding in Kai’s village.
We flew from Bangkok to Udon Thani, then rented a car for the 90-minute drive to Ban Dung, near Kai’s village close to the border with Laos. Here we went upscale and stayed at the M&B Hotel: $15 a night.
While the wedding was set for Saturday morning, the party took place on Friday night. And what a party!
Returning to Lau Luang village after an initial visit earlier in the day, we found the place transformed. About 35 tables with white and pink tablecloths and chairs with white covers had been set up on the road in front of Kai’s parents’ place. A giant raised stage covered the far end of the road dining area, with 24 very loud speakers pounding out Thai music.
A three-metre-high white sheet adorned with larger-than-life photos of Kai and Bill had been hung in front of the house.
Food preparation was under way everywhere, full steam ahead on small gas burners and charcoal stoves in and around the house – pork, chicken, fish and other seafood, a wide variety of vegetables, steamed rice, herbs and spices, flavours you wouldn’t recognize.
Most of the guests came from the village and surrounding area. Their wedding gift envelopes of cash were duly recorded in a ledger. And then the serious eating, drinking, dancing, singing and general partying got under way.
Next morning the wedding ceremony took place in Kai’s parents’ home. You felt it was both a serious and a comfortably casual affair. For example, after Kai’s father had displayed the money and gold necklaces and bracelets, her mother scooped up everything and ran off through a door to disappear into the back of the house – accompanied by much laughter.
After receiving an unexpected impromptu Thai leg and foot massage from a woman sitting next to me, I joined in the white string ceremony – sai sin – in which thin white strings are tied around the wrists to bring good luck and good health.
Then it was back to reality: My friend and I flew home, still wearing the white strings around our wrists to remind us how lucky we had been to experience a traditional Thai village wedding.
Travel writer Mike Grenby teaches journalism at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast – firstname.lastname@example.org