The Underwater Wedding: Is it for You?

Nowadays, a fairly substantial number of couples are choosing to get married in a very unusual way – by saying their vows and actually doing the paperwork underwater.

The style of marriage ceremony began in 1996, in the Province of Trang, shortly before a devastating economic crisis hit Thailand. It appears to have occurred as a promotion by the Department of Tourism, as part of a “green awareness” program called “Returning the Natural Beauty to Coral Reef”

It was specifically intended to promote Trang Province – which has extensive coral reefs - and Kradin Island, located on the Andaman Sea, approximately 300 kilometers south of Phuket Island, as tourist destinations.

The program succeeded, at least in creating or encouraging interest in diving weddings. For whatever reasons, it appealed to a fairly large number of prospective newlyweds, possibly to those with strong connections to scuba diving or the scuba diving industry, and has grown in popularity over the years.

The Guinness Book of Records created a category about underwater weddings and awarded Trang the “Largest Underwater Ceremony” award in 2000. Lonely Planet, the leader in tourist publications, has ranked the Trang ceremony as the number two of “Top Ten Underwater Experiences” in the world, behind only diving with great white sharks in South Africa.

Of course, not everyone thinks that this is such a wonderful event or way to get married - one website awarded it the “craziest” way to get married, ahead of getting married in outer space or prison – but it continues to grow in popularity.

The Trang extravaganza – it has become quite an elaborate and well planned event – is carried on yearly for a three day period at the time of St. Valentine’s Day, approximately February 12-15. The underwater ceremony, which is only part of the three days of festivities. involves gathering on the white sands of Pak Meng Beach on Kradin Island and diving to a depth of 30 feet in the clear blue seas. At a depth of 12 to 15 meters, the ceremony will occur.

After the vows of undying love are said - still underwater and on the sandy ocean floor – the newlyweds will meet a district official who will make the process legal by registering their marriage and issuing a marriage certificate.

This part of the marriage – the registration – is extremely important. Without the correct and proper registration, the wedding ceremony will have no legal basis…you will not be married except perhaps in the eyes of God.

Over the years, the ceremony has been broadened to permit and encourage the participation of a variety of couples.

Those who wish to simply renew their vows can participate. It is also said that special arrangements are made for the handicapped. Gay and lesbian couples are also encouraged to take part although they cannot be given official wedding certificates since Thailand does not recognize same sex marriages.

Aside from children, the only people prohibited from participating are those without officially recognized diving certificates, and these can be obtained in a matter of a few days.

Those without certificates or who simply don’t want to get married underwater can be married in an alternative beachside ceremony.

As noted, the actual dive into the water and the saying of vows is only part of the festivities, which also focus around – how closely is not clear – the traditional Thai wedding ceremony.

Certainly some of the events and ceremonies of the traditional Thai wedding, most notably the parade of the groom and his family members and friends to the home of the bride – called the Khan Mhark procession - is included, as are some of the traditional rituals, such as the pouring of water over the hands of the bride and groom, the Rod Nam Sung.

There is also a parade of specially prepared long-tailed boats as well as elaborate welcoming ceremonies. The ceremonies seem to conclude with a modified version of a very old tradition, the “making of the bed,” in which an older and happily married couple give the prospective newlyweds advice about marital happiness on the night of their wedding,

The success of the diving wedding has led others throughout Thailand to offer and promote diving weddings.

Now, one can have a diving wedding on Phuket, Ko Samui, and the Phi Phi Islands, at Pattaya Beach and Krabi, and in many other locations.

How good or bad these diving weddings are is hard to say. Many are offered by diving shops and some by resorts. They might or might not be as good as the “real thing,” the Trang wedding.

It seems that the prices for the diving wedding vary and it is possible to get different packages, at least from some providers. A “barebones” or basic package, which probably just includes the diving wedding, appears to sell for around 25,000 baht.

Including a traditional ceremony, accommodations, and reception will raise the price. It is likely that resorts will insist that prospective customers buy the full package, however, as selling accommodation is what they are really interested in.

Is a diving wedding for you? Well, it is up to you to decide. If you want to have family, friends and colleagues witness the wedding, then perhaps it’s a bad idea, although it’s possible that this problem might be compensated for somewhat by combining a diving wedding with a traditional Thai wedding.

If you seek adventure and the unusual, like the ocean and exotic locations, and aren’t that worried about having the ceremony witnessed by your wedding guests, then a diving wedding might be perfect!

There is one very important issue which all considering a diving wedding in Thailand must take into account, however and that is that a million wedding ceremonies don’t in themselves constitute being legally married in Thailand.

The only thing which satisfies the legal requirements - and, thus, the legal requirements in your country - is having the marriage officially recognized and registered at a government office.

Apparently, the authorities in Trang work together and insure that this gets done correctly, but it cannot be assumed that this is the case everywhere.

If someone wants to make sure they are legally married, they must make sure that their marriage is registered at the appropriate government office.