In the southern coastal province of Trang, Valentine’s Day weekend is a busy time. The province is a natural romantic destination, with rainforests, waterfalls, limestone caves and vast undisturbed coral reefs. At this time of year, the Andaman sea is calm and still, and the area abounds with blossoming sri-trang flowers. But what marks Trang as a lovers’ destination is not just its beauty. For the past thirteen years, Pak Meng beach has hosted hundreds of adventurous couples in the annual Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony.
The event originated in 1996, in the marriage of a couple who met and fell in love at an eco-tourism event in Trang. They chose the stunning underwater landscape of the area as a setting to exchange vows in a traditional Thai ceremony, along with the underwater signing of a wedding certificate. In subsequent years, the offbeat event attracted couples from around the world, even placing in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000 for the largest underwater wedding ceremony.
Though the ceremony may seem unusual, it is in fact steeped in Thai wedding traditions. Along with scuba gear, the couples don hand-woven Thai wedding costumes, and a Buddhist ritual is the focal point of the ceremony. On the beach, the ritual of rod nam sang is performed, where water is poured from a conch over the couple’s hands. Before the weddings begin, couples and guests pay tribute to the ceremony’s eco-conscious roots. All participants release marine life into the sea before going underwater themselves. On the morning after the wedding, couples plant sri-rang trees as a commemoration of their love.
The ceremony can accommodate handicapped participants and guests. As of 2007, the wedding ceremony welcomes same-sex participants. Though same-sex marriage is not yet recognized in Thailand, the couples receive certificates of participation. All bridal couples must hold international divers licences. Non-divers can still take part in a ceremony held on the beach. Wedding guests can watch the ceremony on closed-circuit televisions.
The weekend-long wedding package includes meals, costumes, and accommodations. The wedding is as weekend-long affair, with a traditional pre-wedding party on the eve of the ceremony, and a romantic night of dinner, fireworks and dancing after the vows are exchanged. With a focus on eco-consciousness and ceremonial Thai tradition, this ceremony attracts nature-lovers and adventurers alike. Participants come from Thailand and abroad, to unite in marriage, renew their vows, or embark on an unforgettable second honeymoon.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.