Spend quality time with Buddha
Immerse yourself in the beauty of Buddhist temples (wats), spotting swanlike chofa finials, ornate gables, roofs of green and orange tiles, crown-like windows, conical chedi (stupas) clad in gold, stucco or ceramic mosaic, or leaf-shaped sema boundary stones around the bot (chapel).
Most communities have at least one wat, but a few are stand out must-sees.
Cruise the ‘Venice of the East’
Visitors often regard boating as their most rewarding city experience, even though the ‘Venice of the East’ label barely applies any longer, since most Bangkok canals have been lost to road-building. Yet khlongs still thread through the Thonburi west bank and branch into the plantations of Nonthaburi, stretching on throughout Thailand’s Central Plains, connecting rivers, rice farms, towns, temples and floating markets (see Floating markets below).
Get togged up in tailor-made threads
Haberdasheries crowd tourist areas, especially Sukhumvit Sois 3-11, Thanon Khao San, Thanon Charoen Krung (between Silom and River City) and malls. Typically run by Thai-Indians, they can tailor bespoke suits and dresses for bargain prices. For optimum quality and service, dismiss the ‘24-hour with free kimono’ packages. Most respond professionally to customers who are thorough about cut, cloth and detailing. Give them a pattern or choose from their catalogues and magazine cuttings. Insist on at least two fittings over several days.
Succumb to the spirit of Thai dance-drama
Classical dance-drama embodies sacred rites and Thai thespians believe they must succumb to their characters’ spirit. Before every show, cast and crew convene for a wai khru rite to honour their masters. Many times daily, devotees thank the spirits at Lak Muang and the Erawan Shrine by commissioning resident dancers to do an excerpt of Lakhon Chatri, a typically slow, mannered dance derived from the Malay-influence Manohra repertoire. No wonder Thai dance is so beguiling; it channels the gods.
Thailand has become a world holistic centre with an Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine supplementing the know-how of Wat Pho, a vast, mellow temple, where visitors can learn Thai massage in English. Meditation is taught at centres like Wat Mahathat. Contact the World Fellowship of Buddhists, where monks also give meditation talks in English (2-6pm, first Sunday of the month).
Slip into the shadow
Thai dance and puppetry are indivisible. Khon derives its flat-stanced aesthetic from Nang (shadow puppetry); later, Hun (marionettes) emulated the glittery stylisation of Khon. At festivals you may see Nang Yai, outsize shadow puppets with no moving parts manoeuvred by dancers, or smaller, hinged Nang Talung animated by a satirical narrator. Small, painted Hun Krabok glove puppets have hands moved by sticks. At the Thai Puppet Theater and Aksra Theatre, uncannily lifelike Hun Lakhon Lek involve toddler-sized puppets, each manipulated by three dancer
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