Thailand madly in love with Valentine's Day

by AFP/Bronwen Roberts, Feb 14, 2003 | Destinations: Thailand / Bangkok

BANGKOK, Feb 13, 2003 - Thailand is madly in love with Valentine's Day. Love is not just in the air in this highly consumerist society - it's in the shops, bakeries, street stalls, hotels and restaurants as businesses strive to cash in on passion. Valentine's Day is an excuse for shopping, eating out, gimmicks and, of course, getting married.

Some 1,500 couples are expected to queue from as early as 4:00 am on Friday to register their marriages at municipal offices in Bangkok's district of Bang Rak, which translates as the "love district," in a years-old practice. Ten of the couples will win marriage certificates of gold worth 5,000 baht (117 US dollars).

And Kradan Island in the southern Trang province is aiming to break the world record as the most popular underwater wedding destination. Thirty-six couples have signed up for a three-day package of romance that includes donning wet suits and scuba diving equipment for an underwater marriage on Valentine's Day, organisers say. Trang is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the location where the largest underwater wedding ceremony has taken place, with 30 couples marrying there in 2000 and 33 in 2001 and last year.

"A blanket of love will cover Trang province during these three days," Trang Chamber of Commerce's Secretary General Salin Totubtiang said in local media. "There will be no talk of the many conflicts in the world, here we are focusing only on love."

Other couples will be marrying in the air. A mobile phone company has selected seven couples for a marriage in a hot air balloon over central Nakhon Sawan province. The company's planned special Valentine's Day-related mobile phone logos, ring tones and pictorial messages should go down well -- the Thai Farmer Bank Research Centre predicts that Thais will send up to four million mobile phone text messages on Valentine's Day, four times higher than on an average day. The centre estimates Thais in love will spend 600 million baht (14 million US dollars) for Valentine's Day this year, up 20 percent on last year, according to a poll of 1,276 Bangkok residents.

Teenagers plan to fork out twice as much as they spent last year. One of those spending more is Thanawan Taengsirilak, 22, who will be giving the man in her life a huge, red, heart-shaped pillow that costs about 500 baht. "I will spend more because I just want him to be happy and surprised," the translator says with a smile.

The poll says people aged over 30 intend to cut their budget by 27 percent, but 37-year-old broker Kanok Saengrungroj is bucking that trend. "I will buy something for my wife not more than 1,000 baht," he says. "Last year it was flowers, this year maybe jewellery."

Bangkok's governor Samak Sundaravej seems to be one of only a few not in the mood for love. He has instructed the city to avoid promoting Valentine's Day and instead push Maka Bucha, which commemorates the Buddha preaching to a spontaneous gathering of 1,250 monks and falls on February 16 this year. "We don't want foreign culture to have too much influence on Thai people," permanent secretary of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Natthanon Thavisin, explained this week.

Rose growers might not agree: they are expecting to make 200 million baht for the first two weeks of February. Orders at rose farms in Phop Phra district, Thailand's largest source of roses, are up to three million roses a day, compared two million normally, the Bangkok Post says. And the price of the flower has doubled to about 10 baht for a local rose, rising to 1,000 for an imported one.

Also making whoopee at this time of year is the Ripley's Believe It Not! Museum which organised a wife-holding competition at the Pattaya resort east of Bangkok. The heaviest male contestant, 80-kilogramme (176-pound) Amnat Puttigo, set a new record by holding aloft his wife - the lightest woman at 35 kilogrammes - for 10 hours, 49 minutes and 15 seconds, outdoing eight other men.

And in another public event close to the heart, the first government-organised breast-toning exercise is due to begin in Bangkok on Friday, with women being led through a series of stretches, massages and routines designed to enhance the female form and, no doubt, catch the male eye.

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