I find Thailand to be a country which keeps on giving when it comes to culture, with its contrasts and contradictions, and when I feel like I’ve seen it all, I often find myself blindsided by something completely unexpected and more-than-not bizarre. This happened recently at a rural temple festival in the far-flung rice fields of Isan, where my date for the night is Yai Thip, a betel chewing granny who is planning for an all-nighter.
Below I have highlighted some shortened snippets from the main stages through the night, which showcase familiar Thai traditions, only in a more rustic, rural and somewhat surreal setting.
The first event stage is the “rum” dance which is normally known for its elegance in Thai culture, with traditional silk dresses, and gold and frills attached. But here it is far less polished, performed by the local women of the village who wear less than flattering plimsolls and frilly dresses. It’s a bit like a Thai barn dance, and ultimately it’s more fun as revellers can buy tickets to join the dance on stage.
Next the wailing of Thai flutes sound from behind corrugated iron fencing as the “Wai Kru” ceremony signals the start of the Muay Thai boxing. But what I find is unexpected as children of ten years and younger warm up the ring, fighting full contact, with elbows and knees, in anticipation of the main event. It did seem somewhat visceral to begin with, but became almost understandable as I saw the respect these young fighters command.
The final event is Likay, which is by far the biggest draw of the night, and it continues straight through to sunrise the next morning. The performance is led by an orchestra of traditional Thai music as the story of folk tales unfolds on stage, with characters in opulent costume design, as well as the seemingly obligatory slapstick comedy routines of Thai entertainment. The local betel chewing grannies love these performances and, inevitably, this is where I lose Yai Thip.
Allan Wilson is the special winner, Story Blog, of the TAT Newsroom Blogger Thailand competition 2017.