In the small town of Si Thep, located in the upcountry province of Petchabun, a traditional Thai wedding was held for American Muay Thai fighter Willy Whipple and his Thai bride, Sunantha.
Fighting out of Sitmonchai for the past three years, Willy Whipple is a regular on top Thai promotion, Max Muay Thai. While most of the gym residents made the over five hour drive to attend, those who had fights were forced to stay behind.
The night before the big day, a traditional pre-wedding dinner reception was held at the bride’s home. Guests, both foreign and Thai, traveled from all over Thailand to the rural destination. Bottles of whiskey, rice wine, and beer were opened. After the offerings to the spirits, the festivities began.
Early the next morning the groom met with his friends for a long procession through the village. Thepnimint Sitmonchai, Mr. Knock, a famed heavy hitting Nak Muay, was on hand to livestream the event on Facebook.
Whipple and his friends paraded to Sunantha’s home bearing gifts as part of the traditional Khan Maak procession. Walking through the town, the fair skinned groom and his groomsmen greeted the local villagers as the hot sun bore down. Gifts, carried by the groom and his friends, included flowers, nuts, leaves, and gold coins. Each item represented health, happiness, and prosperity.
It was a festive affair with loud chanting and music blasting from nearby speakers rented for the occasion. For a small town like Si Thep it was quite the affair; it’s not everyday that an American fighter comes to marry a local girl from the village. The population of foreigners in Si Thep increased tenfold that day.
Once Whipple arrived at his beloved’s home he faced a serious challenge. Required to go through a series of gates made by the bridesmaids, he had to pass out envelopes of money to humble himself before the family and prove his everlasting commitment to his bride.
When the beautiful bride entered, the Sin Sod, or dowry, was presented. The price was negotiated beforehand with money going to help support the bride’s family, pay for the wedding, and invest in gold for the couple’s future. Dowries are customary in traditional Thai weddings.
Guests were then encouraged to bring gifts of cash and tie small white strings around the couple’s wrists. Each act was done with intention to help with the couple’s future, and wish them good luck.
After the ceremony a large reception was held out doors with plenty of food, alcohol, and Luk Thung music. Male and female singers belted out songs about country life with plenty of bass making the beat. The back-up dancers, who entertained with more or less choreographed routines, were dressed in elaborate costumes known as Haang Kreung.
Marriages like Whipple’s are inevitable for long term foreign Nak Muays in Thailand. Muay Thai gyms can be a lonely place. Fighters are only given breaks after they compete. Partying after fights becomes routine, and costly.
As foreigners stay longer, their desire for stability and for their attachment to the country often increases, as was the case for Whipple. Having a regular partner can help break the solitude and relieve stress of fighting. It is also helpful to share everyday problems, and address cultural issues. Marrying is not just a commitment to one’s partner, but to the culture and a way of life.