Performances of Khon (Thai Classical Masked Dance) can be observed at the art-deco venue of Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre: traditional Thai Puppet Theatre can be seen at the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre in the Suan Lum Night Bazaar.
These were once performed only for the Royal Court of Siam, but now tourists can access this charming part of Thai culture, drama with dazzling costumes, and music performed by native musicians, at various venues around the capital and in resorts around the country.
Thai Khon Dance – The Legend Behind the Costumes and Movements.
The traditional stories are based on the mythical Ramayana, the legend of how Hanuman, the white monkey warrior, came to serve the good King Rama, and to defeat the demonic overlord Thotsakan and his assisants (who wear green masks). Before the show starts, the significance of certain dance movements are explained and the spectators are given an explanation of what the elaborate masks represent. English subtitles are flashed on a screen to help Western tourists follow the story. The masks of gods, demons and celestial beings are extravagantly vivid and the show incorporates acting, singing, dancing and some great acrobatics.
Thai Traditional Music and Dance Slightly Updated
For something complete different, the visitor might like to try Siam Niramit which offers a nightly dinner show that uses hi-tech effects to illuminate heaven, hell and the enchanted forest of Himapaan (could be loosely compared to Limbo in the Christian religion). Two other acts in the show are used to highlight other festivals in Thailand and also show aspects of its four distinct regions.
Thailand’s National Theatre (Next to National Museum)
Although open all year round, the National Theatre only offers traditional Thai dance and music on the last Friday and Saturday of the month (price 40-80 baht per ticket – the best value in Bangkok). It is a large white building with the traditional Thai red roof and gold eves, split into three parts, a small theatrre, workshops and a large auditorium next to an open-air sala.
As befits a National Theatre, the performance is original and it is long. If the visitor feels that (s)he cannot listen to Thai traditional music and watch for a couple of hours, it might be better to try one of the other theatres first, where the performance is aimed at tourists.
For visitors staying at five-star hotels, there is usually a performance sometime during the week at these hotels and the quality of the drama and dancing will be top-notch. Favourite places to see a show in Bangkok are The Oriental Hotel, The Marriott Hotel and Spa, and the Shangri-la Hotel. These all have a river frontage and the performance is sometimes outdoor.
Those who travel to Hua Hin, Thailand’s premiere resort, can catch a weekly performance of Thai dancing at the 5* Dusit Thani Resort Hotel, where the pavilion, set on a lake with the moonlit beach and waters of the Gulf of Thailand as a background, serves as a stage for the performance.