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Weddings in Southeast Asia

Makara and Sina Ou during a wedding photo shoot at Angkor Wat in traditional dress – Photo Credit: The Events

By Courtney Ridgel

We wanted to congratulate Sone, Makara and Sokunna on their weddings in this past year!!  We also took the chance to ask Sone and Makara about wedding traditions in Cambodia and Laos.  Sokunna was not available for questioning as she is enjoying her maternity leave with her beautiful new baby!

Sokunna and her husband,Samnang Ing, during their wedding photo shoot
Sone and her husband, Good, dancing at their wedding

What are weddings like in Laos and Cambodia? 

Sone: In Laos the wedding is held at the bride’s house. In the evening before the wedding day we would have small party and dinner at the bride’s house as pre-wedding night.  On the wedding day groom and bride will wear Lao traditional dress.  There will be a procession of the groom’s parents along the way to the bride’s house, and the parade is lead by the groom and his parents, followed by the elders, cousins and friend. After the parade arrives, a baci ceremony which already set up at the bride’s house will start, and people will join the baci to bless the new family.  After that everyone will depart for home to prepare and dress up for the wedding party at night time. The party can held at any place such as a hotel, village hall, school yard, stadium, etc depending on how big the wedding is.

Sone surrounded by friends and family

Makara: For my wedding, we celebrated for two days! On the first day all of the closer friends and relatives came together in the morning and discussed who will be responsible for which tasks.   And at  noon the makeup team came to dress the bride and groom. There are three groom-mates and three bride-mates who joined us these two days and they are symbols of servants. Starting from 3pm, the first ceremony is called Khart sork (hair cut) where both parents and the elderly relatives pretended to cut our hair to chase away bad luck and bring in the good luck and happiness. On this first day, most of wedding involved traditional ceremonies, but sometimes there is also another celebration called Khat Khanslar, where the bride and groom lay on their parents’ thighs and the head of the Master Ceremony (MC) will do a speech about how hard it was when our parents raising us since we were starting a life until now. We did this ceremony at my wedding too.

The Hair Cutting Ceremony in Makara’s wedding

On the second day, we needed to wake up early at around 4am, and the makeup team came to help dress us up. This is a big day of celebration, with many ceremonies. The first one is only the groom dressed traditional clothes, and the MC speaks some Pali which the groom repeats, which takes about 20 minutes. After that, the bride comes to join with traditional clothes to celebrate the Sunrise Blessing, which symbolizes the new couple starting a bright life like the sun. The next ceremony is Gifts Parade, where the groom travels to the bride’s house with a lot of gifts and fruits. The MC will do a few different ceremonies in order to ask the Road Keeper, the Steps Keeper and the Door Keeper to allow for the groom to enter the bride’s house safely and with happiness. After that, the monks come to chant and bless the couple and the families for good luck and success. After the monks finished, there was another celebration called Chorng Dai (tying hands) where the groom and bride sit next to each other and all of the relatives tied us with the red yarn and put some money in our hands, before everyone took a break for lunch.  In Cambodia, mostly we host the party at home, but some of us have it at restaurants. We had our wedding at a restaurant, and it started at 5pm, but we started to prepare at 3pm.

The Gifts Parade in Makara’s wedding
The Gifts Parade in Makara’s wedding

 How long do they last? 

Sone: There are about 3 days of celebrations, but the real wedding day is only one day – on second day. For the first day, at night, there is a small party and dinner at the bride’s house, and on the third day after the party, is the day for cleaning the bride’s house and there is a small party for cousins and friends who come to help. It takes about one and half hours to do the baci ceremony and the party lasts the whole day or whole night (depending on the time the baci/wedding starts).  For the day time the party will start at lunch time and goes until late night, and for night parties they start at 7 O’clock and go until midnight.

Makara: Weddings in Cambodia traditionally take 3 days and there are a lot of steps. Now mostly we do it for two days, while some people will do a very short one day celebration.

Sone, her mother and Good during their wedding photo shoot.

What traditions does everyone follow? 

Sone: The tradition that we have to follow is the wedding is not supposed to take place during the three months of Buddhist Lent between July – September. And the wedding date has to be on a good day in lunar calendar. Weddings mostly happen before and after Buddhist Lent as during the Buddhist lent is rainy season so it quite difficult to have the wedding during this time. But people still can have the weddings all year long depending on convenience.

 Makara: We check for an auspicious date before making the arrangements.

Sone and Good visiting a local temple in Luang Prabang
Sone during the Bacci Ceremony at her wedding
The Khat Khanslar Ceremony in Makara’s wedding

Who is invited – how big are the weddings and how many people come?

Sone: One month before the wedding day, we will busy with preparing the wedding and list the number pf people for invitation cards. Normally we’ll invite our entire family – cousins, friends, colleagues, neighbors and people in the village.  Some people prefer bigger or smaller wedding parties. For the small party we would do the invitation card at least 100 cards. For the big party we would from 500 – 2,000 cards. And for each invitation card guests can come alone, as a couple or with family.

Makara: Our party was medium – we invited about 700 friends and family to join.

Makara and Sina Ou’s After Party
Sone and Good arriving for the After Party

What ceremonies are there and what happens during the ceremonies?

Sone: In the morning, the elders will come to the house and help preparing the things for baci. The ceremony is quite the same as another baci, the difference for a wedding baci being that there are more steps for blessing so it takes a longer time than a normal baci.  During the ceremony there will be blessings, chanting and Pook kwan. At the end part of the baci everyone will come by the line and tie the white baci threads on each of our wrists with blessing, wishing all the good things for our new family.

Sone and Good during the Baci Ceremony at their wedding
Sokunna and Samnang Ing visiting a temple
Monks chanting at Makara & Sina Ou’s wedding

What do you wear?

Sone: We wear a Lao traditional wedding gown. I dressed with a Lao traditional silk sinh, silk blouse with gold necklace, bracelets and earring, my hair tied up with gold decoration. For the groom he wears silk shirt and traditional silk salong( baggy pants ) with traditional shoes.

Makara: The bride and groom wear a lot of different traditional outfits, and are prepared by the makeup team.

Sone and Good posing in traditional clothing for their wedding photos
Sina Ou during a ceremony with a traditional dress – Photo Credit: Narla Phay
Sokunna in her Western-style wedding gown at Kralanh Petite Villa

Are there any special kinds of food that people eat at weddings? 

Sone: No, we are not specific about the food in the wedding. The food is depend on the host will prepare. But we have the rule that the food should be 5 or 7 things such as: rice, food, fruit, sweets…

Makara: There is no specific food has been noted for the wedding – it depends on discussions within families who decide what to cook.

Makara and Sina Ou greeting guests at their wedding – Photo Credit: Narla Phay
Sokunna in a traditional dress at her wedding

What should guests bring?  (What is expected of guests?)

Sone: In some areas the guest and cousins will bring some money, rice, food, vegetables to the bride’s house to help, but in some areas  (people in town) they just bring their invitation card and money that they put into the card. For some cousins and friends they just come to help the work during the wedding days with things like cleaning and cooking.

Makara: All of the guests are expected to bring money gifts as a kind of donation from the guests to help the new couple to cover the expenses.

Leak in the Gifts Parade in Makara’s wedding – Photo Credit: Anna Baldwin
Some of the JW Team as guests at Makara’s wedding – Photo Credit: Anna Baldwin
Some of the JW team at Makara’s wedding – Photo Credit: Narla Phay
Good, Nicole and Sone with friends at the After Party at Sone’s wedding

What was your favorite moment?

Sone: My favorite moment of my wedding was the wedding party. I was so happy to see all of our friends, family and cousins enjoying the Lao dances on the stage.  All of us shared a wonderful time together.

Makara: In general, weddings are interesting.  My favorite moment is when they did Chorng Dai, because all of the relatives said different words to us and those are meant to wish us health, wealth and happiness.

Sone and Good with one of their traditional outfits
Sokunna and Samnang Ing in traditional clothing
Makara and Sina Ou during their wedding photo shoot at Angkor Wat – Photo Credit: The Events

Awk Phansa – End of Buddhist Lent and Festival of Lights

By Courtney Ridgel

If you find yourself in a position to visit Southeast Asia in November, we recommend heading over to Luang Prabang to experience a particularly beautiful and interesting festival – Awk Phansa or the Festival of Lights – which marks the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent.

Monks decorate the temple grounds with handmade paper lanterns, lights and candles, and local families do the same outside their homes.  The second day of the Festival of Light is more celebratory with costumes, and fire boat processions.  The locals make ’Khatongs’, or little boats, out of banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense and release them in the evening to float down the Mekong River.


We asked Onkeo, our Laos Country Director, about Buddhist Lent and Awk Phansa:

What is Buddhist Lent? 

Khao Phansaa Day is on the first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month and marks the beginning of the three-month rainy season. The tradition of Buddhist Lent or the annual three-month rains retreat known in Lao as “Phansa”. ‘Khao Phansa’ means to remain in one place during the rainy season. The Khao Phansa festival is a major Buddhism merit-making festival.  During Buddhist Lent monks and novices are required to remain in one particular temple, and they have to swear to live in the same place; they can’t stay in the other places overnight. During this period monks will be strictly practicing meditation. Every day of the full moon, monks have to gather in one temple to recite “Phadhimoka” or 227 rules of monkhood.

There is a story of monks who travelled during in this period and damaged local plantations, and news of this event reached the Buddha.  Therefore, the Buddha didn’t allow monks to wander to other places during the rainy season – they have to find a proper place or a temple to stay in.  This is a time for contemplation and meditation. The monks meditate more, study more and teach more.

How long does it last?

During the rainy season – 3 months from July – Sep/Oct.  This year it falls from 8th July – 5th Oct 2017.

What do the local people do during Lent?

Some people give up something for Lent – drinking alcohol, smoking, eating meat… Most people also go to the temple more to practice mediation, listen to the monks chanting and to give alms.

What did you do to celebrate Awk Phansa last year?

Last year I have had a wonderful time with my family on the Awk Phansa day (End of Buddhist lent day), my family all went to the temple in the early morning for alms-giving to the monks, and later we all prepared and cooked a big lunch and celebrated together. In the evening we went to the temple to join the candle light ceremony.  Sadly, last year I missed the fire boat parade in town, which I promised I will go see the parade in town this year with my kids and family.

Why should guests visit Laos during this time?

During this period it’s the green season, with very nice scenery (green forest plus fresh air). It’s also a good chance for guests to travel to Laos as they will see more activities happening at the temples and can see how the local people celebrate the Lao way and traditions.  Guests can see more farmers growing veggies on their farms and rice paddies.  It might be rain somedays, but only for 1-2 hrs.


If this festival sounds like something you’d enjoy partake in – check out our Awk Phansa touring, which can be added to any itinerary.