TRANG, Thailand — As they descended 30 feet deep in the water off the coast of Ko Kradan, one of the most picturesque islands in southern Thailand, Manit and Jane sealed their marriage vows silently, through a series of diving hand signals.
Instead of “I do,” Manit held up his hand in a diving “OK” sign, by pressing a thumb and index finger together.
Jane, wearing a plastic white veil for the occasion, did the same.
Kissing the bride required Manit to remove his regulator, but since he was an experienced dive instructor, even a bit of underwater French kissing — bubbles and all — was hardly a hurdle for him.
“It was fantastic,” the couple said of their wedding experience, as they rose to the surface and were immediately surrounded by a dozen of local reporters.
Manit, 39, and Jane,35, both from Bangkok, were one of 34 couples who took part in the 16th mass underwater wedding ceremony Saturday.
The event takes place every year on the weekend closest to Valentine’s Day in the Trang province of Thailand.
This year, only six couples ended up going through with the ceremony in full diving gear, some 30 feet under water.
The rest snorkeled and enjoyed southern Thailand’s stunning beaches and later joined up with the divers for a traditional Thai wedding celebration on the beach.
Another couple, Max and Pu, were equally excited about their choice of an unusual wedding venue.
The two, who are both competitive shooters, met in a Bangkok shooting range.
“We are Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” said Pu, who — according to the groom — is the better shooter.
“But I am better at quick draw,” added Max.
Thai Mr. and Mrs. Smith ascended from the water holding their hands up in a Thai hand signal meaning “I love you,” which looks exactly like the Western heavy metal hand sign for “rock on.”
The two have been waiting two years for their chance to get married in the underwater wedding ceremony.
“More than 60 couples applied this year, but we could only accept 34,” said Salil Tohtubtiang, Chairman of The Trang Chamber of Commerce, who organizes the annual event, which runs on a "first come, first serve" basis.
The tradition started on Valentine’s Day in 1996, when a Thai man and woman fell in love in Trang during their participation in the first eco-tourism event aimed at saving coral reef.
Every year since, the local chamber of commerce has organized an underwater wedding for other reef-lovers.
Eventually, they got so many takers they had to introduce a quota for the number of couples they can manage to pronounce husband and wife underwater.
While getting married with an oxygen tank, in a decidedly unromantic wetsuit, isn’t everyone’s idea of the perfect wedding, a wedding underwater has its advantages.
For starters, when one’s marriage journey begins thirty feet under, it’s fairly likely things can only go up from there.
Unless, of course, one marries somebody who is a much better shooter.