A long history of theater exists in Thailand, and its modern-day manifestations can be more varied than one might presume. In addition to traditional dramatic forms, Thailand is also home to puppet theaters, cabarets, and other western-inspired entertainment.
Most traditional Thai theater consists of masked performances of Ramakien, the national epic (descending from the Indian Ramayana). The drama is often performed with elements of Thai dance, and was originally performed solely for the royal court. On the lighter end of the traditional spectrum is likhe, a musical event incorporating dance, folk music, comedy and melodrama. Puppet theater has had its place in the Thai tradition for many years, and is readily available to visitors of all ages in the main metropolises.
Along with smaller theaters, the primary venues for dramatic performance include the National Theater (located next to the National Museum in Bangkok), the Thailand Cultural Center, the Alliance Francaise, and the Goethe Institute, all of which feature regularly scheduled theatrical and musical performances.
If you’re looking for a taste of the west, the Hotel Siam Intercontinental periodically stages British plays featuring British actors, often favoring popular comedies. The KAD Performing Arts Center in Chiang Mai is also dedicated to foreign theater, staging performances in their original tongues.
Grandiose cabarets can be found in Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya. In fact, Pattaya, a major resort city, is the birthplace of Southeast Asia’s first transvestite cabaret show, which attracts a wide variety of visitors.
For schedules and details about English-language performances, consult the local English-language newspapers. Particularly in Bangkok, it should be no trouble finding a calendar of events for the theater enthusiast traveling abroad.