Untainted by colonial influences, Thai culture retains a distinctiveness which the Thais themselves are very proud of. Royal patronage insures that the traditions live on and encourages the continuing participation of all citizens.
Many Thais consider their Buddhist faith to be a cornerstone of their national identity. You might find your travels to Thailand a little more rewarding if you first find out a little bit about this often mis-understood philosophy.
The formal classical Thai dancing, or khon, uses elaborate costumes and jeweled gilded masks to perform scenes from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu Ramayana epic. The plays are performed without spoken words or songs and can be compared to ballet in the Western theater.
In addition to the formal classical dance, each region of Thailand has its own traditional dances. A typical show put on for tourists will generally include dances from each of the major regions.
Thailand has its own movie industry, as well as being the setting for a number of foreign films. Thai movies generally have a lower "production value" than their Hollywood counterparts (in other words, they're made as cheaply as possible). But sometimes, like Hollywood 'B' movies, they can be a lot of unintentional fun. Thai movies generally fall into one of three genres: ghost stories, historical dramas or comedies. The comedies employ a lot of slapstick and so can often be enjoyed without understanding any Thai.
The trend has been for many of the bigger budget films to be released with English subtitles, so you can try seeing a Thai movie if you're interested. Most major Hollywood films make it to Thailand within a short time of their release. In Bangkok, most American films are shown with their English soundtrack and Thai subtitles, although in the countryside it's more common for them to be dubbed in Thai. The theater displays will usually indicate if a movie is being shown with the origianl soundtrack or in Thai.
- Movie Seer
- Movie Seer lists all the films, both Thai and imports, currently being shown around Thailand and allows you to check show times in the major theater chains.
- SF Cinema
- The SF Cinema chain operates multi-screen movie theaters in many shopping centers around Thailand. Some outlets feature digital projectors as well as sound. All branches have first class theaters.
- Major Cineplex
- The Major chain has their own stand-alone "mega-plex" theaters that also feature restaurants, bowling alleys and often also sport IMAX 3D theaters. They also operate multi-theater cineplexes in many major shopping malls.
Seeing the latest blockbuster movie while on vacation may sound like an odd thing to do, but as with many other things, seeing movies in Thailand has it's own special twist. For starters, there's the price: typical movie tickets sell for US$3 or less at most of the better cinema chains. Then there's the "VIP" option. Most of the big chains have first class theaters providing such amenities as reclining easy chairs, "honeymoon" seats for two and even waiters who will bring your popcorn right to your seat. The cost is in the range of $6.50 to $12 depending on the amenities. All of this makes seeing a movie one of the top things to do if you visit during the rainy season and need to kill some time.
Note that all theaters have reserved seating. You can book your ticket on the day of the show at any time up to the starting time, and select your seats when booking at the cinema's box office.
You should also keep in mind that there is a peculiarly Thai practice found at all movie theaters: After most of the coming attractions and commercials are over, and before the movie starts, the King's anthem is played. Everyone, including tourists, is expected to stand until the anthem is finished.
The most prominent instrument in classical Thai music is the wooden xylophone called ranart. Most Thai orchestras will have one or two ranart with gongs, fiddles, cymbals and a woodwind instrument called the peenai. In all, a typical orchestra will have five to ten musicians. Classical music is always played in accompaniment to classical dance, shadow plays and even the Thai style boxing known as Muay Thai.
Thai pop music has little to recommend it, as local record companies introduce a constant stream of formulaic boy or girl acts designed to appeal to the teenage market. However, in the last few years, a strong indie movement has emerged with a few bands breaking the mold and gaining wide popularity.
Not to be overlooked is Thailand's own "country music" known as luk thung. Like its American counterpart, luk thung songs are almost always about the common heartaches of life and lost love. Sung in style whose closest counterpart might be yodeling, often to a bosa nova beat, luk thung is not to everyone's taste but if you travel through the countryside you're bound to hear it.
Puppets & Shadow Plays
Puppet shows, popular during the Ayuthaya period, are rarely seen today. Classical puppet shows enacted scenes from the Ramakien, as with classical dancing. Shadow-play puppets are lacey constructions made from cowhide. Shadow plays are predominant in the South, where they were imported from Indonesia.
Among the most popular form of Thai theater is likay, a sort of slapstick style vaudeville. You can usually catch likay performances at temple fairs and other special events.
- Bangkok Community Theater
- Long-standing theater group of Bangkok's foreign community. Puts on two to three plays a year.
- Patravadi Theater
- The theater company was established in 1992 by Patravadi Mejudhon, an award winning actress in movies, television and stage. She is also an acclaimed director and playwright. The company also hosts the Institute for Performing Arts, which provides workshops to professionals as well as students of Chulalongkorn and Mahidol Universities.
Elephants are a big part of Thai culture. Humans have been interacting with elephants for more than 1,000 years. Learn more about the recent history of elephants as well as where you can experience these big beasts up close.