In Lao culture, there is no right or wrong way of doing things for a wedding. Some Lao people get married the traditional way, while others like to have a wedding that is mixed traditional and western style. A wedding can be simple and a wedding can be complex.
Some Lao people get engaged before the wedding and some people don't go ahead with the engagement in order to save money. The engagement and wedding ceremony can be held on the same day, or the engagement ceremony can be held a few months or a few years before the wedding, it all comes down to the couples preference and their budget.
I can go on all day about the step by step procedure of a traditional Lao wedding, so instead of boring you to death with all the details I'll just talk about the things that you need to know so that you have a basic understanding.
A traditional Lao wedding is usually held at the brides residence in the afternoon. The time doesn't really matter but usually around 4pm so that the evening meal can be served to guests when the one hour official ceremony is finished.
The groom, his friends and relatives march together to the brides residence accompanied by the sound of banging drums and other traditional Lao instruments such as the khaen. If the groom lives far from the brides residence, then he and the rest of his connection would drive closer about 50 metres to 100 metres away from the brides residence then they commence their walk from there, playing musical instruments and chanting along the way, everybody laughing, cheering and smiling in the most joyous way. A Lao wedding is supposed to be a really fun and happy day.
The groom and bride can see each other before the official wedding ceremony begins. The both of them can do anything or
even stay together at the brides residence to help with the wedding preparation but when it's time for the wedding to begin, the groom needs to get dressed in traditional clothing then go out with his friends and relatives and start the walk to her place.
In some Lao weddings, a best man will accompany the groom and a best lady will accompany the bride but this is not necessary if
the couple and their relatives decide not to have a best man and best lady for the wedding. Once again, it all comes down to their preference.
When the groom and his party arrives at the brides house, they will be met by the bride's relatives where bargaining and questioning will take place before admittance. The brides relatives will ask the grooms relatives some customary questions such as:
What's your name? Where did you come from? What did you bring with you? etc.
During this process the groom doesn't do any of the talking, only the elder relatives talk to each other in a friendly and polite way then the groom has to give some money to brides relatives which is like an entry fee but it doesn't have to be alot.
This would already be prepared for the groom by his relatives, all he has to do is hand it to the brides relatives.
If the brides relatives are satisfied with the small money gift (100% of the time they will be satisfied), then the groom must wash his feet before he and his party can enter the house.
Inside the house, the bride and groom sit along side each other with their parents also near by and the "soo kuan" ceremony starts. This involves handing the gift to the brides parents, the couple praying for both parents, the tying of the white strings on wrists to unite the couple and the master of the ceremony "mor phone" talking and explaining the meaning of the marriage to everyone. The "soo kuan" ceremony goes for about an hour and other guests will be waiting outside drinking and chatting while all this is going on inside.
After the "soo kuan" ceremony is over then the real party begins. Everyone will be drinking, dancing, listening to live bands, eating dinner etc. Some people might not want to do this at home and they prefer to invite guests to eat at a restaurant or go to a hall to party in the evening. Like I said there is no right or wrong way of doing things for a Lao wedding but you can't do things that will offend and insult guests.
For example, lets say 300 guests attended the wedding and the newly wed couple only wants to invite 100 important guests to the restaurant. This is okay to do but the couple and their relatives needs to make sure that the wedding is held early in the day so that all 300 guests have something to eat and drink for lunch at the end of the "soo kuan" ceremony, then the important people can go to the restaurant in the evening. You can't just have a "soo kuan" ceremony then call it a day and take 100 guests to the restaurant, everybody needs to have a meal at the brides home otherwise it will be very rude.
Another important thing you should know is that a Lao wedding ceremony does not involve any buddhist monks like they do in a Thai wedding ceremony. Lao custom is very different to Thai and and we do not conduct a traditional wedding the same way.
In Lao custom, although not necessary we can invite monks to pray at a "duck baht" ceremony which can be held before or after the wedding day, but we don't have monks on the wedding day because a Lao wedding ceremony has got nothing to do with religion. A Lao wedding is officiated by an old man from the village, who is the master of the ceremony.
Also in Thai culture, they do not have "soo kuan" for special occasions such as weddings, engagements, farewells, new baby, sickness, just to name a few. Only Lao ethnics in Thailand do this ceremony so there are alot of difference in Lao and Thai culture that foreigners do not know.
At the end of the late night partying and the wedding ceremony has come to a close, the groom needs to sleep with his new wife
at her house. Their bedroom including the bed is prepared by the brides parents and relatives, expenses for the bed set is usually paid by the groom although at times the bride will also help. The couple can make love and they can go out anywhere together during the day, but it is their room and they must sleep with each other in that room for three nights. After three nights at her parents place, the couple can move out to begin their new life together. In a traditional Lao wedding there is no such thing as a honeymoon, the bed is considered as their honeymoon, but the couple can follow the western custom and go on a holiday for their honeymoon if they wish.