As many know from listening to my podcast and reading my rants comments on Twitter, I’m getting married at the end of this year. For some reason, the gods have smiled on me, as I have somehow managed to navigate the minefield of finding a bride in Thailand, emerging on the other side with a girl who is beautiful, smart and funny, has a great job, speaks English at a near-native level, and is not reliant on me for money (which is a very good thing for her). So, yeah, marriage seemed liked a good option. But now we have to deal with the wedding, which is both a monumental headache and a joyous blessing. I thought I’d write a post about what the costs are looking like at this stage, both as a service to the many gents who get married here, and also as kind of a way for me to look back in ten years and laugh at what a n00b I was.
And I was a n00b – when I look back at the first days we started planning, I can’t believe how naive I was. The best advice my already-married friends have given me regarding the time-honored tradition of sticker-shock at an impeding wedding is this: just pay. Pay and smile. Pay and shut up. If you can’t pay, borrow and then pay and smile and shut up (all of this within reason of course). Because the bottom line is – you can only say “Can we do it cheaper?”, “Can we cut that part out?”, and “Jesus, how much?!” before your bride, her family, and possibly your own family, start to wonder why you’re being such a cheap douche.
So anyway, the costs I lay out here are for what is a fairly typical wedding in Thailand these days – a Thai-style morning ceremony, and a western-style evening party/dinner/dance. When I started, I thought that we could do the whole thing for 150,000, maybe 200,000 baht, a pretty large chunk of change for me, but boy was I ever off. Keep in mind: the following prices aren’t the exact costs of my wedding, merely rough approximations of what I’ve seen and experienced for what most westerners would deem a ‘traditional wedding’. If you want to get married barefoot on a beach with 20 people and have a somtam and sticky rice buffet, the costs will be much, much lower. Alternately, there is no maximum when it comes to how much you can spend.
Venue. Most any nice hotel here will be able to offer you a wedding package that includes a limited number of: displays, seating, flowers, food, drinks, lights, staff, and maybe things like photographer, DJ, free room, etc. I found that hotel packages offered the bare minimum you need to have a nice wedding, but not a single petal more. If you want to beef things up, that’ll cost you. I found most of these starter packages begin at around 180,000 baht. Nicer hotels start at about 250,000 baht. The one thing we didn’t like about hotel weddings is that a hotel ballroom in Bangkok is the same as a hotel ballroom in Spain, Canada, and Urugay, and we wanted a bit more uniqueness.
We opted not to do a package deal, and instead get all the elements on our own, which would give us more control. After a lot of looking around, we found that we could rent a venue for anywhere from 2,000 baht (a plot of grass in Lumpini Park) to 60,000 baht (really nice garden/house area – but nothing else, and only for 4 hours), and up from there. We finally found a nice place that offers an inside pavillion with a nice Thai-style garden area for a surprisingly good price.
Morning Ceremony. If you want to do a Thai-style morning ceremony (almost a necessity if you’re marrying a Thai) you’re looking at a morning affair, usually attended by close friends and family, with chanting monks, a light lunch, staff to take care of the ceremonial details, a host, and all the flowers, decorations, photography, and trinkets that go with it. Many places arrange these, and they cost anywhere from around 30,000 baht to 100,000 baht, depending on how ornate you like things. They’re usually inclusive of everything, so all the costs listed after this are for the evening ceremony.
Food. The grand poo-bah at any wedding, you have to feed your guests, and this is where the biggest cost comes in. If you want to keep your guests happy, you almost have to have a buffet-style meal, which means about 250-500 baht per person depending on how swanky you want to go. We’re having about 250 guests at our wedding, so that comes to anywhere from 62,500 to 125,000 baht. (See update below)
Booze. A friend one told me that no one remembers if the food was average or awesome, but everyone will remember if the bar ran dry. Depending on how much your friends drink, anywhere from 15,000 baht to 50,000 baht.
Flowers, decorations, etc. We hired a guy to do this for us, because there’s a million little details you never even thought about. Lamps, lights, candles, photos on display for your guests to look at, flowers in strategic locations, a nice photo backdrop for when you greet your guests, fans if it’s too hot, books to sign, speakers/microphones for speeches, a screen (or two) for a video presentation, DJ or music, and it goes on and on. I’d say anywhere from 50,000 baht to 100,000 baht, depending on how much stuff you get.
Photographer. A no-brainer, you need one of these. Anywhere from 15,000 baht for a single camera to 80,000 baht for few cameras and a videographer. Note: If their work has been featured on TV or in magazines, or if they did a hi-so wedding, their price goes up, same for makeup and hair.
Makeup and hair. Call me naive, but I think my girlfriend looks beautiful when she does her own makeup. But try this for a laugh: suggest to a group of girls that they just do their own makeup for a wedding and see how fast you get laughed out of the room. I’m not even going to pretend I know why, but apparently there are special things that need to be done. Anywhere from 8,000 baht to 20,000 baht, depending on how many makeup artists you have.
Bride’s dresses. In most western cultures, a bride buys or gets given her dress, which she then keeps, but in Thailand it’s a bit different. The wedding dress rental business is huge, because getting one made or buying one can be very expensive. A traditional Thai dress rented for the morning ceremony: 8,000 baht to 15,000 baht. A western-style dress rented for the evening ceremony: 15,000 baht to 30,000 baht. Interesting fact: When renting a dress, you pay less for each successive time it’s been worn.
Groom’s suit. I’m keeping it simple and going for a nice suit and that’s all. 10,000 baht.
Souvenirs. I don’t get it either, but apparently each guest at a Thai wedding has to get a souvenir. I’ve been to lots of Thai weddings and have kept precisely zero souvenirs. It seems like a waste of money to me, but I’m told it’s what you have to do. 4,000 baht to 10,000 baht, depending on how nice they are.
Invitations. We looked all over the place and there doesn’t seem to be any real shortcuts. If you go simple and plain, 15 baht per card. If you go colorful and ornate, 30 baht per card. Most shops print a minimum of 300, so anywhere from 4,500 baht to 9,000 baht.
So, going on the minimums and maximums I’ve listed out here, the low/high ends of an average Thai/western wedding in Bangkok are 219,500 baht to 590,000 baht. I didn’t even figure in the dowry in this little summary – those can go from 0 baht to many millions of baht, depending on the bride’s family and the groom’s bank account. And of course, things like dancers, big bands, elephants, fireworks, limousines, etc, will jack up the cost even further.
Good luck everyone – when you say “I do”, make sure you mean it!
The first few comments below jogged my brain a bit, and I realized I forgot a few things:
Rings. Duh, rings, how could I forget rings? Rings in Thailand are probably around the same price as they are anywhere else, so say anywhere from 100,000 baht to 200,000 baht for her engagement ring & wedding bands for both of you. Of course, this number can go as high as you want it to.
Monks. I mentioned monks earlier, but even men of the cloth don’t work for free. Granted it’s not much – a typical hour-long chanting session with 9 monks will run you about 5,000 baht, plus transport to and from their monastery, plus food, so say 8,000 baht.
Food. I mentioned above that food will run you 250 – 500 baht per person, but I’ve been informed that’s a lowball estimate. I’ll revise that to 500-1,000 baht per person, making the cost of food for 250 people anywhere from 125,000 baht to 250,000 baht, making the total cost of this wedding anywhere from 390,000 baht to 943,000 baht.
So, that’s a lot of money, but I also forgot to mention one very important thing: Thai wedding guests don’t buy gifts – they usually just give cash in an envelope as they arrive at the evening ceremony. It really depends on who you talk to (and see Cold and Calculating’s comment below) but you can generally do fine with 1,000 baht each; so, if you and your significant other hit a Thai wedding, you can put 2,000 baht in an envelope and be fine. Some give more, some give less. I’ve pinned my future on planned to get about 1,000 baht per guest, so I’m guessing that at the end of the night I’ll have about 250,000 baht in my grubby little hands, give or take.
Essentially what it comes down to is this: you’re throwing a really expensive VIP party, and hoping that the cover charge you collect from everyone will be enough to pay for the party.