You got invited to a Lao wedding! That’s great news. Apparently having falang at a Lao wedding is good luck. Nice – all you have to do is be you!
That doesn’t mean you can’t screw up though. To make the most of your time at a Lao wedding without making an ass of yourself, here’s what you need to know:
Pre-wedding preparation (get your gift ready and dress for the occasion)
What happens when you arrive (meeting and greeting the happy couple)
Food and dance (when to eat and when to dance)
Getting ready for a Lao wedding
If you get an actual paper invitation, lucky you! They’re expecting you, and you probably got more than 24 hours notice (Lao-style is kind of last minute).
If you don’t get a paper invitation, don’t worry about it. I’ve been invited to a wedding the day of, and attended without any qualms. There’s no such thing as wedding crashing in Laos – “the more the merrier” really is fully embraced.
What to bring for a gift
If you got an invitation use the envelope (that has your name on it) for your wedding gift – money. The ONLY acceptable gift for a Lao wedding is money. This is great because you don’t have to pick out a toaster, painting, or silverware set (they’d probably end up selling it anyways).
The going rate for a wedding is 100,000 kip (as I understand it). Put it in the envelope, seal it up, and take it with you to the reception.
When you arrive there will be two boxes as you enter the venue. It doesn’t matter which box you put your envelope in (that’s what they told me), so choose one and slide it in the slot on top (like voting).
Since your envelope has your name on it the married couple can see if you gave big or cheaped out. You can use this knowledge to your advantage if you are so inclined.
If you don’t have an envelope, stuff some kip into one of the boxes or get in on someone else’s envelope (don’t forget to write your name on it).
What to wear?
A wedding is a formal occasion and female guests go to great expense doing their hair and makeup (to the point of almost non-recognition). It’s a time for wearing your best sinh (for women), and your best suit (for men).
But…you probably don’t have that kind of stuff on hand, do you?
Don’t worry, you’re falang. Expectations will be set low.
Women – wear a sinh. Try to wear your best one. If you don’t have a sinh, wear a nice skirt that at least covers your knees (no mini-skirts). Wear a nice shirt and no flip-flops.
Men – wear a collared shirt. Absolutely no T-shirt. That goes double for a Beer Lao sleeveless (God, I cringed just writing that). Wear long pants (no shorts) and lace-up shoes if you can (no flip-flops).
Important: If you are a girl, do NOT wear black to a Lao wedding. Apparently it means you’re in silent protest of the wedded couple’s union. Even if your nicest clothes are black, DO NOT WEAR THEM, go with something else.
What to expect when you arrive
Outside the venue, you’ll see the wedding car. This could be a sleek black limo or something with personality like a VW bug. It’s almost obligatory to take a selfie in front of the wedding car.
Past the car, you’ll see the happy couple, elaborately dressed, posing for professional photos in front of a backdrop. Every attendee stops to have their photo taken with the married couple before entering the venue.
Tip: Hand your phone to the people behind you before the professional photographer takes your photo with the married couple. That way they can take a photo of you (you can post on Facebook immediately!)
Tip: Don’t forget your manners: nop and politely say “khop chai” when you meet the married couple.
Proceed into the venue through the gauntlet of family and friends lining the entrance (all dressed in identical colours). Generally nop everywhere and everyone, and put your envelope into a box (that’s your wedding gift, remember?).
The venue is going to be HUGE because at a Lao wedding you invite pretty much everyone and their dog – 1,000 people is pretty standard.
When you get to the end of the receiving line someone will show you to your table (seemingly chosen at random, and hopefully with some English-speakers or people you’ve met before).
Eating and dancing
Your banquet table may be pre-stocked with plated food, non-alcoholic drinks like Pepsi, and Beer Lao (naturally). Instead of ripping the plastic wrap off and digging in, take a look at what everyone else is doing.
Ignore your growling stomach, and when the time is right you’ll see everyone else starting in on the food. That’s your cue. Load your plate up with goodies from the table.
Some weddings are buffet-style, and you’ll either have plates at your table or the staff will hand out plates. That’s your cue to get into the buffet line. Don’t be afraid to line-jump and be assertive. Some of those older Lao ladies know how to use their elbows when they find the good stuff. Stand your ground.
Eat, drink, and be merry! Your glass will be constantly filled by banquet staff, and you’ll never run out of ice for your Beer Lao. Enjoy!
Meanwhile, the show will start. An MC takes the stage and says a bunch of words (typical wedding stuff?). Anyway, wait until the speaking ends because that’s when the dancing begins.
First, the wedding couple will have some traditional Lao fawn dancing (you can call it “fawn dance”), and then the family and wedding party joins in. This dance is not exciting to say the least so stay in your seat and enjoy your never-empty, always-cold glass of Beer Lao (it’s like magic!).
Eventually the dance floor will start to fill with other guests and you’ll get the message that “it’s dance time!” Take to the floor and find out what awaits. It could be one of 3 types of dance:
fawn dance – Girls on the outside circle, boys on the inside circle. Don’t look at your partner and keep your face as still as possible as you contort your wrists slowly and rhythmically while taking small steps. Every once in awhile you’ll change places with your partner, then change back.
step dance – There are 3 kinds of Lao-style line dances, and you learn them on the job (like you have a choice). Try to follow everyone, and maybe you’ll catch on by the end of the song (if you don’t that’s fine because you’re falang).
free style – Ah, this is the kind of dance you’re used to. Let loose with Western-style moves, but keep the sexy-dirty out of it.
And that’s all there is to it! A Lao wedding (like all weddings) is a great time. Being a foreigner at a Lao wedding means standing out, but now that you know what to expect, it won’t be because you’re offending people.
Eat, drink, dance, be merry, and enjoy the privilege of attending one of the happiest days two people can share.