My First Khmer Wedding Dinner Experience
I’ve been seeing a lot of local weddings here in the city and secretly wanting the opportunity to attend one. So when my colleague placed a red invitation card on my desk I was excited and happy to able to attend his special day while everyone else was joking about how broke they would be because of the many wedding invitations they had received for the month. What’s unique about the invitation card is that besides the usual details on venue, time or map is that it comes with a smaller envelope with our names printed on it. These are money packets for guests to place wedding money (as gifts) to the bride and groom. Even if you can’t make it to the wedding reception, it is polite to return the money packets (with money inside of course) to the couple. The fact that it has our names on it made me cautious about the amount to place inside the envelope as they would know who the giver was.
What to wear?
I had asked this question to my colleagues after receiving the invite and they said that normally the women would wear traditional Khmer dresses and the men would wear white shirts with black pants. However for foreigners it is okay for me to wear any party dress as long as it’s not for the nightclub (indeed!). The wedding day came and I was torn between a modern dress (which I had none) and my traditional baju kurung.
I decided on the baju kurung which was made of Khmer cloth (synthetic silk) from the Russian Market. I had earlier during the Ramadan month tailored this for the Aidilfitri celebration and still wearable for official functions or weddings. Another foreign colleague of mine wore a shirt and pants since we weren’t restricted to the dress code.
The wedding location was one hour away from Phnom Penh city, specifically in the Kampong Speu province. We went in one car and almost got lost as we couldn’t find the banner along the way. When we did arrive, we were the first ones and it was still early (around 5pm). Most wedding reception does start from 5pm onwards but because this one was in the province, we had to make a move earlier because of the long journey.
Tents were put up outside the brides family home with round tables and chairs facing the stage performance area. While we waited, the grooms’ parents came down to greet us and she wore this splendid glamorous dress with shiny beading on the top, her hair weaved up to perfection (with a crown) and her made nicely made up. The mother told us that her dress made her look like a goddess from the sky with all the bling bling. Such an adorable lady.
What to expect at a Khmer wedding.
When the bride and groom finally came down from the house to greet us, we had to go outside at the main entrance (with the banana leaves on top) and enter again as it was customary for them to do so. We said congratulations and thank you for the invite when we walk through the entrance. Sweets were given by the groomsmen and bridesmaid before we sat down at our table.
Since food would only be served when the table is full (usually 10 people), we had to wait for everyone else to arrive even if it meant 2 hours later. It’s a good way to avoid waste and to make sure everyone gets to eat. The bride and groom were busy greeting guests and changed their clothes every 1 hour. Usually they would be changing clothes 5 to 7 times during a wedding reception. I love how the bride is decked in gold jewelry literally from head to toe because I saw gold snake bracelet wrapped around her ankles.
The locals love weddings and they would go all out to wear the shiniest dresses and the prettiest make-up on their faces. I could barely recognize my female colleagues when they walked in because they looked like celebrities. Dinner was finally served and came one by one starting with the appetizer. There were fish, seafood salad, chicken soup, fried rice and desserts among the few. Of course there were plenty of beers and soda drinks to go around that night.
The bride and groom came to each table for photos while their relatives sang songs on stage throughout the night. It was truly a big party celebration for the couple. When we were done with dinner, we decided to make a move since it was a journey back and there were no street lights along the way. We thanked the hosts and gave them the money packets before saying goodbyes while the rest of the guests stayed on for the night.
It was such a good experience.
The Cambodians are warm and always welcoming especially to their homes. I was appreciative to be invited for the wedding reception in the province and got to see the locals enjoying themselves, catching up with one another, enjoying each others’ company and just being merry. I hhope to be able to experience the solemnization or the pre-wedding reception soon. Meanwhile here’s to many happiness for the bride and groom on their new future together.
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.