Not that long ago, nobody even thought of getting married abroad – well, outside of the aristocracy, that is. And even if it might have crossed some minds, it was dismissed right away. I mean, a wedding at home was expensive enough, never mind the prohibitive expense of going away to do it. Anyway, it would need to be somewhere really special, and that would have made it even more costly. This was the fantasy world of the A-list, and only film stars and celebs had money to burn like this.
But all this began to change in 1997. That was the year when the Thai economy foundered, and the government devalued the Thai baht. Almost overnight your Pounds and Dollars were buying more than twice as much as they were before (the Dollar shot from 25 baht to 50 in a matter of months). But to add to this, prices in the western world were already on the increase, and continued to rise over the next decade. As things became increasingly more expensive at home, so the comparative cost of Thai holidays dropped. More and more people came here for holiday breaks. And before very long, one or two adventurous souls started to merge their vacations with their wedding plans.
It was uncharted territory. There was the formidable language barrier to overcome. Then the myriad of unfamiliar laws and red tape to grapple with. But the ones who managed it learned from their experiences. By the early 2000s, one or two bespoke wedding services began to appear. These were founded initially by women (often helped by their husbands or Thai partners) from Europe or Australia, who had come here, done it, worked it all out, and then actually spent most of their time over here, arranging things. Networking and making contacts, negotiating deals with florists, caterers, photographers, hotels and resorts, looking for new locations, and generally taking all the knots out of ‘tying the knot’ in Thailand.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Organising a wedding in this way involves a lot of people. And some of those people (partners, celebrants, hoteliers) had learned enough after doing it for a year or two to break away and branch out on their own. Needless to say this kind of wedding service was offered mainly in the popular holiday destinations. Phuket was a favourite. But with the disastrous tsunami of 2004, Samui’s popularity took a sudden hike. But is this still the case today?
To get to the bottom of this I spoke to Richard Hartigan, General Manager of Samui’s longest-established wedding planning company, Faraway Weddings. “Samui has always been popular,” Richard told me. “Samui’s so much prettier. All the resorts here are right on the sea, making the locations look really dreamy. And there are no high-rise city blocks – everything here is still very much unspoiled. The busiest wedding months are between January and April. But the wedding season continues right the way through from May to September, only usually quietening down in October and November, before picking up again in December. Basically what this means is that, unlike other locations, Samui is popular all the year round apart from a couple of months in the rainy season.”
“At one time we had a great many people dropping in to make enquiries while they were on holiday here,” Richard continued. “But now with the internet and social media it nearly always begins with an e-mail enquiry. And a lot of these are from people who are shopping around and haven’t actually been to Samui before.”
Richard went on to explain that he always replies in person and in detail to enquiries – it saves a long session of subsequent questions and answers. And then he’ll arrange for a detailed Skype session. “It seems to make things real,” he told me, “It becomes personal; there are actual people at both ends, not faceless internet names. And I’ll remain their personal planner right the way through, and be aware of every aspect of their planning.”
Once confidence has been established in this way, deposits are paid and then the real detailed planning starts to happen. Faraway is unique in that it has created an extensive set of ‘online tools’ so that couples can go into extensive detail not just about the venue, type of ceremony, or specifics of the vows, but aspects such as suit or dress hire, wedding gifts, catering and beverages, flowers and table décor, cutlery, hair styling, nails, makeup, photography and video, lighting, entertainment, fireworks, and much, much more. There really is a huge amount of detail involved, and extensive arrangements to be made – to get an idea of what a wedding on Samui involves, just spend a while online: Faraway Weddings is a good place to start!
“The legal aspects are straightforward,” added Richard, “you can choose to either go through the entire legal process here, involving a visit to your embassy in Bangkok first (Faraway provides a co-ordinated agent to see this through) or have a civil ceremony before you come, which is usually more straightforward and works out less costly. It’s just part of the many choices we guide you through.”
“Samui is totally delightful. Not only will the ceremony be unforgettable, but the photographs, too. In the end, however, it all boils down to confidence” Richard concluded. “You need to shop around. But never, ever, try to cut costs or select a company with no track record. That’s a recipe for disaster, no matter how lovely Samui might be!”
Rob De Wet