Coming to you live from my bed because I can’t get out of it. But on the plus side, I crossed so many things off my bucket list last weekend: Attend a Thai wedding ceremony? Check! Go clubbing with my boss? Check! Feed hippos and giraffes? Check! AND swim in Thailand’s “Grand Canyon?” Check!
Check out my latest video update to see highlights of our trip to Sukhothai & Phitsanulok, the Thai wedding we attended, and our visit to the Chiang Mai Zoo!
We kicked off the weekend on Friday by helping our Assistant Principal celebrate her son’s wedding. We are the first group of foreigners they’ve ever shared anything like this with, so we felt extremely lucky to be able to go! It was such a cool cultural experience and was very different from any wedding I’ve been to in the States.
“How?” you ask? Well first of all, there is a sort of engagement ceremony that happens in the morning, followed by blessings and the exchanging of rings, and then the “reception” doesn’t happen until much later that night. The ceremony begins with the groom, and his posse of friends and family, walking down the street to fetch the bride from her home. Her friends and family form a blockade at the entrance, but after pleading, offering gifts, and even answering a few trivia questions, the groom is finally allowed to bring his bride home.
Next, the couple receives numerous blessings from their parents and grandparents, and the groom presents money and jewelry as a dowry. Finally, they exchange rings and pose for photos before all the guests sit down to eat. After lunch, we were able to wish the newlyweds a long and happy life by tying a white string around their wrists.
It was a beautiful ceremony, but the strangest part to me was that it didn’t flow like weddings we’re used to in America. It was very staged and every few seconds, everyone would pause to smile for the cameras and a crew member would adjust the bride’s dress, even while they were putting the rings on each others’ fingers. It didn’t feel quite as sentimental and “in the moment” as I would have imagined, but was put together beautifully and was still very special.
At the banquet dinner that evening, some close friends and family members made speeches (in Thai, of course) and showed pictures of the couple. It didn’t include dancing, like an American wedding, but felt a lot like high school prom, with a photographer set up outside and everyone adorned in long gowns. Highlight of the night was definitely the free bottles of whiskey and going clubbing with our Thai teachers after the dinner.
On Saturday, we hitched a ride with one of our co-teachers to Chiang Mai. We had planned to go for the famous Yi Peng lantern festival, but it was cancelled this year because airplanes sometimes hit them when they’re released into the sky. Nevertheless, a ton of our friends from orientation would be in town and we were looking forward to seeing more of Chiang Mai.
We ended up going to an old quarry outside the city, known as Thailand’s “Grand Canyon.” Though you won’t find it in any guidebooks, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The afternoon sun made the water look blue/green, stark in contrast to the red cliffs surrounding it. We hadn’t brought bathing suits with us, but had to make the most of the opportunity, so we stripped down to our underwear and swam out to a bamboo raft. We spent hours out there splashing around and watching thrill-seekers jump off the cliffs.
It’s tragic how scarce cheese is in Thailand, so that night, we stuffed our faces with guac and mango chicken quesadillas at Salsa Kitchen. About 40 other American teachers from our orientation group ended up eating at the same restaurant, so it was nice to catch up and hear about everyone’s experiences so far. We also realized a large group of our friends will be coming to Lampang next weekend! We are looking forward to showing them around our little city and introducing our Thai friends to more foreigners.
After a good night’s sleep, we set out at the crack of noon on Sunday to visit the Chiang Mai Zoo. I could literally have spent the whole weekend there — it was huge! It was funny to see deer in the zoo, since I have those in my backyard in New Hampshire, but we also got to see pandas, gibbon and ring-tailed lemurs, which aren’t as common on our side of the world.
This week, there is a huge festival in Northern Thailand called Loi Kratong, which involves thanking the rivers for providing water all year and apologizing for polluting them. We are excited to go to the celebration in Lampang with our co-teachers and learn about even more Thai cultural traditions!