When you are travelling in Thailand, and you want to spend a delightful night to relax after wandering around all day, going to a night show is the right choice. The major touristic destinations offer high-quality shows, with skillful performers, enchanting costumes, and a lively atmosphere.
There are two traditional forms of theater in Thailand: khon and lakhon. The khon form began in the 15th century, and it was aimed mostly to delight the royal court. Also lakhon was originally performed only inside the palace, but it is characterized by slower and more graceful movements. Both forms are accompanied by a piphat, a small orchestra that uses traditional Thai instruments.
Attending one of these shows is a wonderful experience that will amaze everyone. Check out the following article to learn more about Thai theatre.
- Thai theater began during the Middle Ages and it is based on Hindu epic tales.
- The two main forms are khon and lakhon, with dancers, songs, and orchestral accompaniment.
- Be ready to be amazed by the complex dance moves and the stunning costumes of the performers.
- Spend the evening enjoying one of the many shows around the country: you won’t regret it!
- Learn more about the Ramakien, the Thai version of a popular Hindu epic.
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The history of Thai theater begins in the Middle Ages, with the first representations based on classical Hindu tales. Thai dance-dramas are elaborate, with colorful costumes and complex movements that require years of practice to master. Theater culture in Thailand is quite rich and, besides the dance-dramas, you can find indigenous music and contemporary theatre.
The main two forms of traditional theatre in Thailand are khon and lakhon. In both forms, the actor is a mime, while the lyrics are provided by a singer and a choir. The representation is usually accompanied by a traditional orchestra called phipat, who tries to convey emotions and set the atmosphere.
A Khon Performance
Khon is the most famous form of theatre. The first recordings of this kind of dance date back to the 16th century, and its name probably derives from a drum-like instrument made of Hindi leather used in traditional performances.
It is performed by a group of dancers, and in the past it was staged to delight the royal court. Today, the performance shows a short version of different episodes from the Ramakien (a tale based on the Ramayana, the most important Hindu epic), forming a medley that can be enjoyed by tourists during their dinners.
A khon story has many characters. The most famous ones are Hanuman and Phra Ram, two monkey warriors, who are the only characters wearing a mask. In the past, all roles were played only by men, but today it is common for women to join the show. In every khon show there is a hero, a heroine, an ogre, and a monkey, which is the leading character.
The dance moves of a khon are realistic and focused on beauty. The masks are simple and without expression, so the audience can focus on the movements of the dancers, from the simplest to the most complex ones, like the back flips performed by the monkey.
A Lakhon Performance
Lakhon dance-drama can be divided into two forms: lakhon nai and lakhon chatri. Lakhon nai (theater of the women of the palace) is a slow dance, in the early days performed within the palace walls by women only. The other style, lakhon chatri, originated in Central Thailand, and it presents the story of the kings. The performers will speak their lines with a lively musical accompaniment.
Lakhon chatri began to be popular during the 18th century. In 1832, a general suppressed a riot in the South and brought with him many performers of lakhon chatri. The group performance became famous and the tradition was kept alive by the following generations.
Lakhon chatri is performed on a squared stage, with four poles on each corner. The central pole is called Sao Mahachai (great victory pole). The main character is the one with the most complex costume.
Before the performance, a rite to pay respect to the teachers is performed; then the orchestra plays the overture, and the main character dances a sat dance and chants an incantation to invoke protection from evil beings. The main character will then sing, while the other performers sing the chorus. At the end, the protagonist performs a sat dance, chanting the initial incantation backward, to undo the spell.
Watch a traditional show in Bangkok
If you are in Bangkok, there are many opportunities to enjoy a traditional dance.
Siam Niramit Show
The Siam Niramit Show will take you on a fantastic journey through the history of the country, with more than 100 performers dancing and chanting in one of the largest stage productions of Thailand.
Before the show begins, you can have dinner with the buffet included in the ticket, and then sit down and admire the beautiful dancing, the inspiring music, and the stunning special effects of this show, retelling the history of the kingdom of Siam.
Location: Tiamruammit Road, Bangkok
Info: Prices range from 1,100 to 1,650 BHT. The show is 90min long.
Khon at Sala Chalermkrung
Head to the Sala Chalermkrung, in the center of Bangkok, to attend a sumptuous performance of khon. The Sala was established in 1933, and it is the home of Thai dance-drama.
The show tells the life of Hanuman and other tales taken from the Ramakien and other tales from Thailand’s ancient culture. The old décor of the theater, the quality of the music and of the performance, make the Sala Chalermkrung the perfect place to enjoy a khon show.
Location: 66 Chalermkrung Road, Sala Chalermkrung, Chinatown, Bangkok
Info: Tickets range from 800 to 1,200 BHT. The show is in Thai, but there are English subtitles. Shows are on Thursdays and Fridays.
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Classical Thai Music
Thai classical music was born inside the royal court. There are three primary classical ensembles: Piphat, Khruang sai, and Mahori.
Piphat is the most common one. It symbolized the dance of the dragons, and different ensembles perform in different ceremonies. Typical instruments are the ranat (a kind of xylophone), oboes, drums, and gong-chimes. The piphat ensemble will accompany Thai dramas.
The khruang sai ensemble is usually formed by some of the instruments of the piphat and a bigger string section, which includes the saw duang (two-string lute), the saw u (lute with a lower pitch), and a chakee (zither). Khruang kai will perform to accompany the puppet theater.
The mahori was traditionally composed by women. The instruments used are a combination of those used in the khruang sai and piphat ensembles. It also includes a saw sam sai fiddle, with silk strings and a delicate sound, used to accompany the singer.
The Ramakien tale
The Ramakien (Glory of Rama) is the national epic of Thailand and is based on the Ramayana, a Hindu epic tale.
Nowadays, there are three different versions of the epic. Thai people adopted the tale around the first millennium, and the oldest records date back to the Sukhothai kingdom, when the tale was told by a shadow-puppet show. The first version was written in the 18th century, and the one used today was prepared and revised by Rama I and his successors.
Rama II adapted the version written by his father for the khon theater. This version put more emphasis on Hanuman, the god-king of the apes, and adding a happy ending.
The plot is the same as that of the Ramayana (the narration of prince Rama’s life), but the tale has been adapted to fit the new context, changing clothes, using weapons, background, and the like. The epic also provides a creation myth of Thailand (despite the country being Buddhist), and nowadays it is an important component of Thai culture.
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The Asia Highlights Experience
The beauty of the Thai traditional dance cannot be overlooked. Every traveler attending this show witnesses an important part of Thai culture and art. Book with Asia Highlights, and start planning your journey in the Land of Smiles, through its stunning landscapes and its intangible treasures. Our knowledgeable staff will provide all the assistance you need to have an hassle-free trip.