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Getting Married in Cambodia

By: ThePhnomPen Posted: February-11-2008 in

Usually as a westerner when you look into the future to envision your wedding, you see a lot of predictable ingredients. Church ceremonies, dinner suits, white silk dresses, stretch Mercedes, roses, lots of champagne and canapés and speeches that vary between truly fantastic and simply embarrassing. Afterwards, you hope to jet off somewhere exotic and romantic for a honeymoon and then return to a life in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a Volvo in the driveway and a Labrador tearing up your Azaleas.

But what if, via the slings and arrows of fantastic good fortune, you find yourself getting married to stunning foreign lass from an ancient culture in an exotic country? I can tell you from recent experience that everything goes out the window and you are in for an amazing multi-cultural love-fest that will test your endurance, your negotiation skills and your ability to handle stress to all new levels.

The first thing you should understand about Cambodia is that nothing important should happen without a visit to the monk. You need to secure an auspicious date that the good Buddha deems suitable. You can hint strongly (as I did) that a weekend in February would be most suitable for you and 9 times out of 10, imagine your surprise; you will get your desired date. Weekends are preferred as having it during the week could lead to less "customers" (more on this later) attending. Similarly, rainy season weddings are a no no.

Most weddings I have been to are set directly outside and adjoining the family home in a rented marquee that is crammed with tables, stadium-sized speakers, stray dogs and sometimes even a chicken or two. If you are lucky, it will be at a venue in Phnom Penh as a wedding in the provinces can be a brutal endurance event . Guesthouses are non-existent and ablutions are...well.....rudimentary. Still, provincial Khmer weddings are great fun and there is nothing that insane amounts of beer and whiskey cannot rectify.

Usually, a groom in Cambodia pays a dowry, the family organises the wedding and then the monetary gifts from guests are handed back to the bride and groom...... hopefully paying for the wedding. This leads to the wedding becoming a capital raising IPO-style venture where guests are referred to as "customers" and monetary gifts lead to post-wedding discussions of whether the bottom line ran at a profit or a loss. Luckily, I have a very accommodating mother-in-law so I did not participate in the traditional paying of a dowry-instead respectfully requesting that I pay for, and organise, the wedding myself with help from my wife. With many friends and family jetting in, I wanted some creative control and so we opted for Open Wine, a restaurant set within a large compound in Phnom Penh. Invitations were printed on sedate cream cardboard with silver writing (I detest gold on red) and I capped the number at 120 instead of the obligatory 500.

As we approached the big day I must have rung Frank at Open Wine a million times with little requests and checklists. To my delight all I ever got was a "Oui,c'est pas une problem!" No request was too much or too little and his patience was an absolute virtue. I was very unsure how my hybrid wedding would go but Frank eased me through the process and on the day I should never have worried. After the traditional procession walk from Pavilion Hotel we arrived to the gloriously decorated, air-conditioned restaurant for the ceremonies and during a one hour break we noshed on bacon and eggs and Khmer soup for breakfast. A few more ceremonies later and we were formally married and then everyone got to go home for a few hours before the big party.

The reception itself was better than I could ever have imagined. Open Wine looked absolutely stunning with white chairs and tables and glowing silk lights overhead. The bbq sizzled, the buffet bristled with delicious cross - cultural fair and the beer was never ending and icy cold. Frank and Phillip had done an amazing job preparing the venue for their very first wedding and they both watched like hawks over everything to make sure it went smoothly. As the band belted out excellent rock covers, the bridal party stood at the front in a casual cluster welcoming all arrivals and the men all got to where open necked western suits - a major win! Kids played on the teeter totters, people table swapped and after the glorious cake was cut, it was time to get down and dirty on the dance floor.

We really need to thank Open Wine for making everything so perfect. I can highly recommend this venue as an excellent place to get hitched. The management, staff, food and lay out are excellent. Thanks to Anthony here at EAS for all the photos and to all my other friends who took footage of the event. Big thanks also to Derek and Wendy at Talking to A Stranger for making the pre-party such a success. With so many people coming from overseas, and many expats and Khmers in attendance, many new friendships were formed and my wife and I felt completely overwhelmed at the success of the event.


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