It was 6am. Karen was attempting to blow dry her hair and apply make up for the first time since Mumbai. We were getting collected at 6.45 am to head to day one of the Khmer wedding celebrations of Charya and Michel. This was a long lie in as the full bridal party had been in hair and make up since 4am. Khmer weddings are all about glam and getting the best photos. Thus there would be 9 costume and hair style changes for the bridal party over the next 2 days with more colours than a packet of Skittles.
On arrival to the venue which had been transformed from a court yard of plants and wooden furniture into a sea of pink and yellow bunting decorated with spray painted gold and silver bananas and coconuts , we were greeted by local music blasting from the more speakers than a rock concert. As the villagers started to arrive in their colourful finest, we were still none the wiser as to what to expect.
Karen popped upstairs to see Charya and the bridesmaids getting ready, she was welcomed by a mist of hair spray. Their hair had been crimped, back combed, extensions added ready to be scraped back. Thick make up was being applied by the lady boy stylists. Wow this wedding was going to be glam with a capital G.
Karen returned to John who was holding two large golden goblets containing fruit and decorated with a bow- one for each of us. It soon unfolded these were offerings which we were to carry as part of the grooms procession (Hae Chumnoun) through the village back to the house. Following the crowd we headed away from the house, Karen was quickly pulled out the queue and dragged further ahead to walk with a lady, the procession must be in two’s as an odd number is apparently unlucky in Cambodia.
Michel led the procession covered by a parasol, and like a gigantic snake we all slithered through the village behind him. It was all lovely until we stopped and Karen was standing right next to 3 huge pots bubbling on wood fires. The heat was unbearable. Thankfully we moved again and soon we presented our offerings and took a seat for the show.
Charya emerged like Princess Jasmine and the ceremonies began followed by several photo shoots. The photographer was very particular and kept slightly adjusting Charya’s head. Soon it was time for breakfast – Cambodian porridge, essentially rice, veg and meat soup.
After breakfast, over half of the guests left to go to work! Several smaller ceremonies took place, each ceremony involved a costume change and a full blown photo shoot. We were very much welcomed to play an active role in all of them. Our favourite was the Kat Sork, or Cleansing Ceremony, the symbolic cutting of the bride and grooms hair, in the old days the guests use to actually cut their hair now it is simply acting. Below are a few photos of us cutting our favourite hairdressers hair.
Lunch was then severed, another feast. This was followed by a blessing from the monks which you guessed it required a costume change. That concluded the afternoon celebrations. We went back to the hotel for showers and rest before dinner and dancing in evening.
The party was wild in the evening, lots of traditional dancing ,called Romvong, which involves lots of hand movements and walking anti clock wise in a a circle around a table. Later the table is removed but the circle dancing doesn’t stop. The first dance was celebrated by all the kids covering the bride and groom in silly string- so much fun. Lots of Angkor Stout (8%!) served with ice and drink thru a straw was consumed by the locals, which made the dancing madder. Crazy first day.
The following morning we were up dressed in our finest – a tough job for backpackers and ready to go. Unfortunately there had been a mixed up regarding times and when we arrived we had just missed the ceremony of tying the bracelets on the bride and groom. Just in time for some photos and breakfast before the wedding show commenced. Today was the day to throw the party for the village. Each table was carefully decorated and full of food- a fusion of Cambodian and Chinese dishes and lots of beer, juice and water. Each person was greeted by the full bridal party and given a present- a cloth for their brow. It was hot hot and lots of dancing was planned. These presents were going to be useful.
People were coming and going thru out the day. A few at our table were on their lunch break from work , while others were on the wedding crawl- there was 3 weddings on at the village. One of our highlights was watching the locals enjoy stout in a glass with ice and sipping through a straw, and these were the men.
As is traditional in most Asian weddings, the bridal party have to greet all the guests before they can take a break. This was tough as they had to greet them in a tent that was not air conditioned. They all looked frazzled and on the point of collapse so John packed a box full of water bottles and came to the rescue.
As we were staying in the same hotel as most of the family we stayed on after all the other guests had left and witnessed an equally impressive event – the dismantling of the Khmer Wedding. All around us – tables and chairs, bottles, tents and gates were taken away in what reminded John of those scenes from the movie Deception when the dreamworlds would fall apart.
Between this wedding and the one in Mumbai we have picked up some ideas for our own future wedding. Although trying to find multi-coloured wedding dresses and a camel for John to ride in on will be a challenge!