One of the great things about travelling is that you never know where the adventure might take you. One day you might find yourself face to face with a wild 4-ton rhino, while other times you’ll be spontaneously dragged into a Burmese wedding, completely unaware of what’s going on.
Accidentally crashing a Burmese wedding must be one of the strangest and most surreal experiences I have ever encountered while on the road.
It happened a couple of weeks ago, about half way through our tour of Myanmar. The country had already treated us to some of the most unique and amazing experiences and we were ready to spend a quiet day exploring Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city.
It was about noon and the heat was already unbearable. We decided to look for a mall so that we could sit in a comfortable place with nice food and air conditioning. We followed Google Maps onto the street where the mall was supposed to be and walked up to the only mall-like building. As I climbed the few stairs to peek through the door, two young Burmese women came out smiling. They handed us a small flower, grabbed our arms and dragged us indoors.
What had looked like a mall from the outside was actually a huge events room, soon to be the venue for a big Burmese wedding.
The ladies sat us at a round table and immediately put cakes and ice cream in front of us. We tried to tell them that we were there by mistake and that we were looking for a mall, but they didn’t seem to care. They just smiled and told us to eat. I hesitated for a moment. Do we need to pay for this? Have they mistaken us for someone else? What the hell is going on?
I looked around hectically trying to figure out what was happening. Our first instinct was that we were crashing a Burmese wedding, but then we figured it was a graduation party as the words “BA Phys” appeared on the wall above the stage. Everyone was dressed up in nice, traditional garments whilst I sat there wearing a sweaty white t-shirt, my backpack, dirty trainers and a pair of Cambodia football shorts. I couldn’t be more out of place.
As the confusion began to settle, a part of me was ready to embrace the moment and go with the flow. I grabbed the ice cream cup and dug in. Soon enough, other well-dressed girls sat beside us at the round table. They confirmed to us that we were indeed at a Burmese wedding but assured us that we were welcome to stay. I couldn’t help but think that the bride and groom wouldn’t be too pleased to see two scruffy, uninvited backpackers crashing their special day.
Suddenly, music began to play and a whole procession of people and cameras came marching through the door with the bride and groom. Not only did we stick out like a sore thumb, but our table was the first table by the entrance, meaning there was no chance that we would be overlooked. The procession marched on and locals came from all corners of the room, urging us to take photos of the happy couple.
We joked to each other about what we would do if we were asked to go on stage. Of course, soon after, the girl next to me told me that she was the bride’s sister. She jumped up from her seat and ran to the bride and groom, who were receiving blessings from their parents.
The couple came towards us and asked us for our blessing. We all laid our hands on each other as the room flashed and echoed with the sounds of cameras clicking. The whole thing was completely surreal.
It turns out that as foreigners we were automatically their guests of honour. It just goes to show how different and untouched Myanmar is. As for the “BA Phys”, apparently having a Bachelors degree in Myanmar is as special as having a PhD in the West.
Despite the initial awkwardness and confusion, attending the Burmese wedding was an unforgettable experience. It not only underlined the kindness and generosity of the people of Myanmar, but it served as a great reminder that anything can happen when on the road, even when you least expect it.