Why are three grown women dressed like they're going to prom?
First, a little more information about our stay in Thailand. The first night we arrived (me and my husband, his two brothers and their wives), we landed in the Lido hotel (not to be confused with the Lido Beach Hotel), which was clean but sparse. When I say "sparse" I mean there was no plumbing connecting the sink to the drain in the floor, so when you'd brush your teeth, you'd spit in the sink, run the water to rinse out the basin, and then end up with toothpaste on your toes. On the other hand, it was only like $15/night. So, whatever. My toes are washable, and even if I do a poor job of rinsing them off after 20+ hours of traveling, they'll be minty-fresh in the morning, which is more than I can say for them most of the time. My BIL had made the reservations for us, and he wanted to find us clean accommodations that wouldn't break the bank since he didn't really know what our budgets were, and to that end, it worked out great. Not having to worry about finding a place to stay upon arrival was a God-send. I don't really have any more info than that for you-if you'd like to stay there, it's owned by the same guy who owns Tony's gym...other than that, I'd have to get in touch with my BIL for any additional information, but I'd be happy to do it if anyone wants it.
The next day, we all decided we would like to find some accommodations that were a little more luxurious, so went around the city, and found a cute little hotel called the Sabai Empress. I can't seem to find a website for it, but there is a site for their parent company Sabai Group. They need to update their info a little since it still says "Sabai Empress Hotel OPENING 20 March 2009." As part of their grand opening, they had a huge banner out front announcing 50% off their regular rates. This caught our attention. The picture above was taken in the hotel lobby, and here is a picture of the room we had.
I was very happy with our room, but the rooms on the other side of the hotel are right next to a nightclub, and, apparently, not quite sound-proof enough. The other downside was the location. It was right on one of the main streets of Pattaya, which is good convenience-wise, but it is just not a relaxing vacation vibe once you step outside the hotel. (Then again, if you are going to Patttaya for a relaxing vacation vibe, you are going to the wrong place, but that's a whole other story.) Again, it was only about $34/night, and it sure beats anything you can get here for $34/night! Also, we were only going to be there for 3 nights. If we had been planning on staying in Pattaya for any real length of time, we probably would have sought out something a little quieter.
My BIL's wedding was a two-day affair consisting of a party the night before the wedding and then the actual wedding-day ceremony...which began at 6AM! We wanted to dress appropriately for both occasions, and being American and all, my SILs and I weren't quite sure what that entailed. Our SIL-to-be was kind enough to take us dress shopping (even though she had about eleventy-billion things to do to prepare for the wedding already!) and the dresses above are what came out of it. Needless to say, we were a little bit surprised! We all had traditional Thai dress in mind (whatever that means), and our mental images didn't quite match the reality! Since the bride-to-be spoke very little English, and we didn't speak any Thai, we were afraid that there might have been some miscommunications, and that we were going to stick out like sore thumbs, but it all worked out OK. She had a fancy dress of her own, similar in color to the burgundy one above, and while most other guests were in considerably more casual clothes, there were a few other dresses in line with ours, and I think since we were family we were allowed/expected to be a bit more extravagant.
The party was held at the bride and groom's home, and there were all the standard entertainments-food, drink, karaoke, and dancing. We had a great time, and went home exhausted around midnight. The following morning we were up at 5AM to be at the house by 6:00. It was a Buddhist ceremony, which is something I'd never seen before, and it was quite the experience. Ten Buddhist monks arrived and positioned themselves around the living room, oldest to youngest, and proceeded to chant and bless and unite and whatever else they did for about 45 minutes. The entire ceremony was in Thai, so I have no idea what was said, but there was a solid 15-30 minutes (?) of chanting, and about half-way through, something struck a chord in me and I got all choked up for a couple minutes. Granted, I'm pretty easily brought to tears anyway (commercials, movies, songs on the radio, etc.) but this was different.
Monks eating food prepared by the family. My husband adjusted the settings on his camera to pick up only the saffron color of the monks' robes.
Adventure Guide to Thailand, a monk's morning begins with a bath and prayers and then they venture out onto the streets in groups to look for food. They carry alms bowls with them, and people give them food. "In Western eyes this gathering of alms would be considered begging but not so in Buddhist Thailand. It is considered an honor to give, and one makes merit, an important part of Buddhism, by giving to the monks." (p.40)
The family had prepared several dishes for the monks, and all the wedding guests also participated in filling the monks' alms bowls with rice. This was a simple act, but rife with respect and humility.
After the monks ate and left, the wedding guests walked up the street to a local bar where plates of offerings were prepared. Everyone grabbed a plate and we all walked down the street in pairs. It was like a Noah's ark of Buddhist offerings. I had bananas, so I walked with the other banana-carrier. Coconuts walked with coconuts, etc. There was someone leading a call-and-response that involved a lot of celebratory whooping. As I understand it, the idea is to proceed down the street making lots of noise in order to draw others out of their homes to come celebrate with you. I think everyone who was going to join us was already with us at the start, but it was still a neat tradition. Also, after doing some additional reading and staring really hard at the one not-very-telling picture we have of this part of the ceremony, I think this is also the groom's attempt to prove his worth and gain the family's blessing by providing gifts to the bride and her family.
Upon returning to the house, the offerings were presented to the bride's family, and apparently they found the groom worthy (whew!) and we moved on to the next stage which involved lots of string. First the bride and groom sat together and everyone took turns tying strings around each of their wrists. Then the bride's family did the same for all of the groom's family. As I understand it, this is a good luck blessing. You wear the strings until they fall off, and after that, I guess the good luck wears off? I'm not quite sure about that part. There really weren't very many explanations given to us as we were going through all of this. The groom was doing as many grooms do on their big day, just doing what he was told and being where he was told to be when he was told to be there. He wasn't really sure about all of the customs and traditions himself.
Me, receiving my good-luck string from one of the bride's family members. The pillow on my lap is a gift made by the bride and presented to us as a thank-you for attending the wedding. They used pillows similar to this one during the ceremony, which involved lengthy bits of kneeling on the hard floor. My red dress and the one to my right? Also results of our shopping trip with the bride.
This pretty much ended the ceremony. We ate and then we went back to our hotel to prepare for the long drive with the new bride and groom (about 4 hours) down to Trat, where we then took a ferry over to Ko Chang (Koh Chang). That's right, we all honey-mooned together! My BIL has found himself one tolerant woman, let me tell you! The good news is, if she wasn't scared off after spending the two weeks surrounding her wedding with all of us, it should be smooth sailing from here on out!
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Well, kids, thanks for sticking with me. I'll tell you about Ko Chang another day. Right now, I suspect we all need a break.