In youthful Cambodia, love and consumerism are more-and-more often meeting at the
altar and a booming wedding industry is popping the question: how much can a young
couple afford to lavish on their family and friends?
Perhaps the old Cambodian saying puts it best: "In your entire life you only
one wed once, so do your best to throw a wedding ceremony and party." But with
a rising urban middle class earning more income, throwing the most impressive party
in Phnom Penh is forcing engaged couples to tighten their pocketbooks prior to tying
the knot. Wedding planners and fiancees have told the Post that many couples save
for years to cover the cost of their nuptials, and the total expense often stretches
into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Sou Savang, executive director of the National Action Culture Association, said expectations
for wedding parties has changed dramatically in the last 14 years.
"In 1993, Cambodian people did not think much about the wedding, and when they
had their children getting married, they just built wedding shelters, made by hand
from wood and roofed with leaves or a plastic tent, Savang said.
But today, he said, people spend huge sums of money to rent the necessities for a
wedding-dresses, metal awnings, rooms at restaurants, entertainment and refreshments.
A large wedding industry is eager to accommodate.
Hang Soth, technical culture director at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, said
that an increase in city dwellers has made it more difficult for people who live
on the top floors of buildings and in narrow smaller homes to organize weddings.
Soth said that tradition holds that the best way to a happy wedding is to hold the
ceremony at home. But now, people are expanding their homes to hold weddings or renting
out pricey venues for the generally 2-day event.
According to Soth, in Phnom Penh there are more than ten multi-room facilities designed
exclusively for weddings. The largest is the Mondial Center that has 13 different
wedding halls, many of which are booked well in advance.
Phuo Kim Kok, director of the Mondial Center, said most families who rent rooms also
order food for at least 50 tables. Caterer Kim Kok said the food for a single table
is generally in the range of $60 to $150 per table. All wedding centers in Phnom
Penh contacted by the Post said customer numbers are increasing every year.
"It took my fiancée and I three years to save money to organize the wedding
ceremony and party," said Bin Socheat, 27, who was married in Phnom Penh last
Socheat said he had to rent a hall, chairs, tables and food at the New World Restaurant
for his wedding party. He ordered food and drinks for 45 tables, each with nine people,
and spent $90 per table.
He said the wedding party could not be held at his fiancé's house because
it simply had no space for the guests. For the whole affair, Socheat spent over $10,000.
Expensive weddings can be afforded by couples with jobs and who can also tap their
parents for support, but weddings are increasingly difficult for those with small
salaries or no jobs.
Socheat and his spouse together make about $1,000 per month and said that 20 percent
of the wedding cost was covered by their parents.
"On my wedding, even though I got help from my parents and parents-in-law, it
still took me three years to save the money," said Socheat.
But Chea Chansangha, 26, who makes substantially less salary and has no support from
his parents, said he would never be able to save enough money for the wedding he
dreamt of. Chansangha, who makes about $200 per month, said he had worked for almost
six years before compromising on a less-expensive wedding.
When Chansangha was married late last month he spent $6,000.