There are several forms of traditional Thai dancing, roughly divided into two main categories: classical and folk. There are regional folk dances to add even more variety – don’t think you’ve seen all Thai dance after just a couple of shows! Here are the best places to watch traditional Thai dancing in Bangkok.
Siam Niramit is a dazzling cultural show with hundreds of performers, exquisite costumes, various styles of dance, music, and more. It is very tourist focused, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the experience. Some people love the awesome special effects, some people hate them, seeing them as taking away some of the genteel authenticity. If you’re looking for a cultural show with the wow factor, though, this is a tough one to beat. As a bonus, you can wander through the replica village before the show and dinner-inclusive packages are also available.
You can watch two different types of classical dance at the National Theatre: khon and lakhon. Khon is a type of dance with masks and colourful costumes. It is traditionally only performed by men and dancers don’t speak; a narrator provides context to the scenes. Most khon dances tell the spiritual tale of the Ramakien, the Thai interpretation of the Ramayana. Lakhon is normally performed by groups of female dancers who tell a variety of stories through their dance. The program at the National Theatre is subject to change, so do check in advance before making arrangements.
Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine houses a sacred statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai version of Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation. Many Thai people come here to pray and make merit. There is often a troupe of dancers, wearing traditional outfits, at the shrine. Worshipers can make a donation and the dancers will perform – often behind the person as they kneel to pray. This is thought to show respect to the statue and also bring luck to the donor. The best time to catch dancers here is in the evenings and at weekends. It’s free to sit in the grounds of the shrine and watch the hive of activity, including the dancing, though you can, of course, also make a donation to see the dancing group perform their graceful and elegant moves.
A major Bangkok venue for anything and everything related to culture, dance performances are among the diverse shows and events hosted here. As a major player in the national culture scene, you can be assured that shows here will be authentic and of the highest quality. You’ll also find plays, musical recitals, concerts, and more on the program. The centre has a small but interesting exhibition about the history of Thai people, culture, and day-to-day life in Thailand throughout the ages.
A high-class hotel in Bangkok, the Mandarin Oriental has traditional dancing each evening in its lovely Sala Rim Naam restaurant. The attractive restaurant has been designed in the Lanna style from Northern Thailand. The menu features traditional Thai dishes. Sitting next to the river, it’s a beautiful setting for a delicious, if somewhat pricey, dinner accompanied by a classical dance show. Shows take place most evenings and reservations are highly recommended.
The historic Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre first opened its doors as a cinema in 1933. It showed foreign films initially as the local movie-making industry was still very much in its infancy. King Rama VII took a special interest in the venue, ensuring its success. After World War Two the cinema became the heart of the Thai film industry. It was also common for live performances to take place before and between movies. Eventually, the film industry’s popularity declined. Today, it is used entirely for live shows, specifically performances of classical khon dance that tell the story of Hanuman, the Monkey God.
Located in Silom Village, a place where you can experience fine traditions and the Thailand of old, Ruen Thep Thai Theatre Restaurant combines tasty food, a great ambience, and a captivating show for a great evening in the Thai capital. Diners sit on cushions at low tables to feast on a delicious Thai or seafood banquet, and the magical khon dance show. While watching, it’s easy to understand why such performances were once reserved for Thai royalty only.
For a lively night of dancing, miming, elaborately lavish outfits, and ladyboys, it’s tough to beat Asiatique’s Calypso Cabaret Show. The show contains lashings of humour and dances from various countries, including China and Japan, as well as impersonations of stars including Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Marilyn Monroe and contemporary (and risqué!) acts. The vibrant show also includes traditional Thai dance, with sections that showcase regional dancing, khon, and classical dancing from the Sukhothai period. Some performers wear chut Thai, Thailand’s national dress with royal beginnings. While it may not be the first choice for anyone who is primarily interested in seeing traditional Thai dancing, it’s a great evening out for anyone who wants lots of diversity and glamour galore.
In addition to the restaurants included above, there are many more places where you can enjoy dinner and a dance show, including Salathip, Thara Thong, and Riverside Terrace at Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort. Furthermore, there are also several well-known performance venues in neighbouring provinces, such as Patravadi Theatre in Nonthaburi and Sampran Riverside in Nakhon Pathom, where you can watch fabulous traditional Thai dancing.