“In almost all Southeast Asian countries, the dowry is a very important factor that will determine whether the parents will give their daughter’s hand in marriage to the guy or not.”

Establishing a romantic relationship in Southeast Asian countries takes longer compared to Western countries. Generally, several processes are involved before a couple could start a serious relationship. Culture and tradition have much to do with this. Traditionally, Southeast Asian women are conservative. Thus, they tend to be reserved and do not enter into a relationship without getting to really know the man.


In many countries, the term “courting” is not even familiar at all. This is the stage in which the guy starts to win the heart of a girl in different ways. In the olden times, men were expected to do certain favors for women so the latter would say “yes” and start a relationship. Favors might include doing household chores, lifting heavy items, or cooking dishes. In the Cambodian countryside, traditional courting still exists. However, more modern approaches in courting (or “courtship”) as influenced by Western culture can be seen in urban areas. In Northern Thailand, traditional courting stages can still be witnessed as well as in a few provinces in the Philippines.

During the first stages of courtship, the couple is expected to go out with friends. They get to know each other’s sets of friends and establish a good relationship with them as well. The moment the girl agrees to going out on private dates such as exclusive dinners or movie dates, it is a sign for the man to take things to the next level. This is when relationships start to form.


In most Southeast Asian relationships, an engagement can last for quite some time. This is essential for the couple to know each other better and see if they really are meant for each other. The most common reason is that a grand wedding has to be prepared. In the Philippines, pamamanhikan or “asking for the parents’ permission to marry” should be done first before all wedding arrangements are set. The same thing is done in Malaysia. The traditional engagement ceremony is called pertunangan. Both families are expected to bring gifts and talk about the wedding plans. In Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, choosing the right date and time for the wedding is done carefully. Some consult astrologers for auspicious dates. Most believe that nine is a lucky date, and some schedule their wedding at 9:09 in the morning to ensure luck.

Engagements can be arranged by parents as well — instead of the couples. This happens when the marriage is fixed or arranged. Nowadays, this is only practiced by fewer families such as the Muslim families in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and in Singapore. They do this to preserve the family’s culture, values, and religious beliefs.

In almost all Southeast Asian countries, the dowry is a very important factor that will determine whether the parents will give their daughter’s hand in marriage to the guy or not. In most cases, the dowry comes in the form of cash or special gifts for the girl’s family. Buddhist families are also known for making donations to the monks. If both sides agree to the amount, the wedding will definitely push through.


golden tray flower use for Thai wedding ceremony

golden tray flower use for Thai wedding ceremony

Southeast Asian wedding traditions and rituals are among the most colorful in the world. From the location of the wedding down to the  wedding costumes, all Southeast Asian weddings are a joy to watch.

For the Buddhists, especially in Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar, wedding ceremonies are traditionally done at home. Today, it can be in any chosen place such as hotels, gardens or restaurants. For Muslim weddings such as in Indonesia and Malaysia, the wedding ritual usually takes place in a house. For Filipino Catholics, it is the practice to be married in a church.

Wedding costumes are also expected to be colorful. Malays wear the traditional Baju Melayu and everyone attending the ceremony is expected to do the same. Burmese are also expected to wear their traditional attire adorned with jewelry and other ornaments. In Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines, there is usually a wedding motif in which everyone wears a dress from the same color palette.

Just like in Thailand, Cambodian bridegrooms are the ones entering the wedding venue from outside the doorway. In Cambodia, the  tradition is to bring the bride’s scarf. This is an old Khmer tradition wherein the guy seems to come from afar in search of his true love. In Thailand, the bridegroom’s procession is a bit funny. He enters the house in a process called sanuk. This is where he has to pass certain  challenges, mostly teasing from male relatives or family and guests asking him to hurdle certain challenges before he can actually reach the bride. In the Philippines, it is the other way around. The bride is the one who has to do a procession while the groom waits inside the church. It is also important for them not to meet before the actual wedding ceremony since it is deemed as bad luck.

Wedding receptions are almost the same for all Southeast Asian countries. They can either do it at home or in a hotel or restaurant. The only difference is that receptions can go on for days. In Cambodia it can last for two or three days. In Malaysia, it is expected that there will be two different receptions, one for each of the couple’s families. In some Muslim families in Southern Philippines, it can even go on for months especially for those who come from rich families. Filipinos and Thais perform a ritual of freeing birds during the wedding reception. Gifts are also expected to pour in. Traditional dances can also be seen as well as other performances. Even if there are differences, one thing is certain: there will be an almost-endless supply of drinks, food, and celebrations!

Although it might seem tough to be in a relationship when you are in Southeast Asia due to culture and tradition, in the end, it is worth it. The fun and excitement of finally settling down with the person of your dreams cannot be compared anywhere else in the world.

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