Travellers to Thailand can immerse themselves in the country’s fascinating culture by watching one of the Kingdom’s many colorful dance and music performances or culture shows
Don't miss out on the buzz of a traditional Thai drum performance
When you’re on holiday in Thailand, you’ll find that once dusk draws in there’s an array of shows and experiences that will allow you to observe a unique slice of the Kingdom’s culture. From the gleaming splendour of classical Thai dance to the fierce energy of fast-paced fire juggling performances, there’s something for everyone.
Of course, many of the best shows and performances are available in the main tourism hotspots – Bangkok, Koh Samui and Phuket.
We take a closer look at the array of opportunities available for travellers that want to immerse themselves in authentic Thai culture once the natural performance of sunset is over.
Stunning golden costumes and striking makeup are a signature element of classical Thai dance
If you’re staying in Phuket or Koh Samui, you’ll find that the islands’ hotels often put on live performances of traditional Thai dance. If you’re keen to discover a little more of Thailand’s historical culture whilst on vacation, your holiday itinerary shouldn’t be without this impressive experience. These performances showcase a spectacular element of traditional Thai culture, but many shows incorporate modern features, too.
Broadly speaking, traditional Thai dance can be divided into two categories – folk and classical. The former tend to be more relaxed affairs, while the latter glitter with irresistible splendour. Until the 20th century, Thai classical dance was only permitted to be performed in the royal court, but now the striking costumes, bold makeup and stunning choreography are available for everyone to behold. This style of dance dates back more than 500 years, when numerous Kingdoms ruled the present areas that form Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Beautiful classical dancers donned gleaming golden costumes and headdresses to perform dance interpretations of folk stories, all set to a backdrop of traditional music.
If you watch a modern Thai classical dance performance, you’ll notice that preserving the authentic form of the art has been a huge priority. The combined expertise and talent of dancers, narrators, musicians and makeup artists combines into a spectacle your holiday should not be without.
Hit with the locals
The electric atmosphere of a Thai boxing tournament attracts plenty of locals, too
If an evening of dance isn’t your thing, there are plenty of alternative options. For those in search of a grittier form of entertainment, an evening spent at a local Thai boxing tournament could be just the ticket. On Koh Samui, there are tournaments from 9pm every Tuesday and Friday where you’ll get to see ten rounds of furious fights.
If you’re in Phuket, you’ll find that there’s plenty going on down at the Patong Boxing Stadium on Sai Namyen Road. Before purchasing your ticket, it’s important to do your homework – this venue stages two types of Thai boxing. One is largely staged, while the other comprises real fights. The latter, of course, attracts plenty of locals so you can be sure that you’re in for an evening of authentic Thai culture. Before the fight begins, you’ll find that the majority of fighters usually salute the audience and their opponent as a sign of respect. But once the bell goes, it’s a blur of elbows, knees and shins as the fighters battle it out to be crowned as the winner. There’s no pretences in a real Thai boxing match, so this form of entertainment may not be ideally suited if you’re squeamish when it comes to violence.
Beach clubs are the ideal setting for fire performances
If you can’t bear to leave the beach following sunset, then don’t worry – there’s plenty of options for entertainment there too. In fact, many of Thailand’s best beach clubs put on a regular programme of performances for revellers to enjoy. Fire dancers are a common highlight. These agile performers do exactly what it says on the tin – dance with fire. Holding a burning rod of flames, they will blitz through an array of fast-paced moves, twisting and turning in time to the music. The glowing pattern the flames leave on the air for a few seconds afterwards gives this electric display plenty of wow factor.
Your local beach club is also an excellent venue to soak up a traditional display of Thai drumming. Like classical dance performances, Thai drumming displays have been a huge part of the country’s culture for hundreds of years. The most common type of drum you’ll see is the Taphon – a double-sided instrument that’s about 60cm long. So, if you’re a fan of traditional music, this is definitely a performance for you.
Thailand’s high-end lady boy shows are bursting with wow factor and fun
Thanks to its diverse and highly tolerant society, Thailand is home to a large transgender community. In fact, you’ll probably hear about and meet a few lady boys during a trip to Thailand, and their unique and glitzy culture is well worth learning more about. Known locally as katoeys, these glamorous folk really know how to put on a show.
Phuket’s Simon Cabaret show offers a dramatic, highly entertaining change of pace form life at the beach. It is one of Thailand’s most famous high-class lady-boy performances, showcasing an evening of fabulous costumes, clever choreography and expert displays of singing and lip-syncing. Once the curtain goes up, the audience enjoys a passionate performance from start to finish as the beautiful performers sing and dance to pop hits by everyone from Whitney to Britney. You’ll even hear Japanese, Korean, and Chinese numbers. Of course, there’s an element of comedy thrown in, too, thanks to the talent and energy of the show’s lady boy stars.
Phuket Fantasea theatre sits at the centre of a vast cultural theme park
To spend an entertaining evening learning more about Thailand’s unique culture and history, Phuket’s Fantasea is an ideal option – especially if your vacation would be incomplete without the chance to sit down and take in a show. However, you’d be mistaken for thinking Phuket Fantasea is simply one straightforward performance. In fact, this venue has been described as the ultimate cultural theme park.
The theatre itself is surrounded by an impressive array of establishments that are designed to showcase Thailand’s traditional culture, with everything from representations of ancient temples to local street food stalls. There’s an array of boutiques for those that want to browse before the main performance, too. The show itself blends the story of Thailand with a strong element of fantasy, and there’s a cast of hundreds to tell the story. The story of Thailand is told via actors, dancers, gymnasts, who perform a series of scenes, all of which flash by in a blur of colourful Thai costumes.
For those that want to learn a little more about Thailand’s history without the element of fantasy thrown in, there’s the Siam Niramit show. Performed in both Phuket and Bangkok, it’s based more firmly in Thailand’s historical narrative. A cast of more than 150 actors takes to the stage to depict Thailand’s history, focussing on events from various regions around the country.
Have a go
Be inspired by the fitness and skill of Thailand’s Muay Thai fighters
So you’ve been to a Thai boxing tournament and were highly impressed by the display of strength, agility and passion that you witnessed, and now you want to have a go yourself. Islands like Phuket and Koh Samui are home to a number of Muay Thai training camps where there are expert coaches on hand to help you master the basics. Alternatively, you could hire a trainer to come directly to your private villa to show you the moves in a private, one-to-one session.
If you’re not in the mood to go out, why not enjoy some traditional Thai vibes in a more low-key setting at your private villa?
- Start your evening with an invigorating Thai massage in your villa’s dedicated spa room to ease out any aches and pains before dinner.
- Tuck into a delectable Thai feast, freshly prepared by your villa’s professional chef.
- Thailand is home to its own mini Hollywood, producing a diverse array of cinematic offerings each year. Having your own movie night within your private villa could be a great way to learn more about modern Thai culture. We recommend Beautiful Boxer, Bang Rajan and Mon Rak Transistor.