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Bangkok - Thailand
Bangkok is a city of endless diversity, where boredom is never an option. There is a whole lot more to Bangkok than its already legendary nightlife.
Traditional Thai Dance & Drama, Contemporary Theater & Cabaret
For something a little more cultural, Bangkok features some excellent examples of traditional Thai dance and drama. Known as khon, these performances involve masked actors portraying heroes, heroines, monkeys and demons from the Ramakian (the Thai version of the Hindu Ramayana). Two of the best places to see khon are the National Theatre and the Chaloem Krung Royal Theatre. In addition, there are many dinner theaters catering largely to tourists, where admission includes dinner and the show. Sala Rim Naam, which is run by the Oriental Hotel, features one of the more extravagant settings of any dinner theater. Others worth visiting are Baan Thai and Maneeya Lotus Room. Lakhon kae bon, a khon variant, can be seen free of charge at the Erawan Shrine and Lak Mueang. These performances are commissioned by worshipers whose wishes have been granted by the deities of these busy city shrines.
Also of interest for the theatrically inclined, the Bangkok Playhouse serves as a regular venue for contemporary Thai theater and performance art. Lastly, there are at least two big tourist-friendly transvestite cabaret shows worth seeing— Calypso Cabaret at the Asia Hotel, which is the most famous and possibly the best, and Mambo Cabaret on Sukhumvit Road, a newcomer already packed with tourists. A new take on nightlife can be found at Twisted Republic.
Culture of another sort, though no less incredible, the national sport of muay thai is better known overseas as Thai kick-boxing. Two major stadiums and many smaller ones scattered around Bangkok offer ample opportunities to see muay thai, complete with all its ritual rappings. Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen feature some of the best fighters in the country, with matches alternating between the two stadiums over the course of a week. Apart from the action in the ring, added entertainment is provided by the musical accompaniment played by a traditional ensemble centered around the pii, or Thai oboe, plus the sight of the big, rowdy crowd betting away.
Bangkok has been recently hit by the multiplex revolution. Almost every big shopping mall has an attached cineplex showing the latest Hollywood blockbusters as well as some Thai and Thai-dubbed Hong Kong films. In addition, Bangkok hosts at least three big film festivals a year, while the cultural centers of the French, German and Japanese embassies show selected films once a week. Some of Bangkok's better cinemas include United Artists at the Emporium, Major Multiplex at the Central World Plaza and Lido Multiplex in the heart of Siam Square.
Whether or not you are traveling with children, there are several big theme parks on the outskirts of Bangkok worth visiting. Dream World, features rides that are a big hit with the kids. If you prefer to cool down, Siam Water Park will do just fine. With an enormous wave pool, lots of water slides, whirlpools and other forms of aquatic chaos, it gets crowded with families seeking to escape the heat on the weekends. At Safari World, a drive-through wildlife park, you can observe a teeming array of animals through the windows of your car or tour bus.
Museums, Galleries & Libraries
Bangkok's many museums, galleries and libraries present an oasis of solitude in an otherwise hectic city. The National Museum displays Thailand's cultural treasures, and offers excellent guided tours. On the gallery front, while the National Gallery will certainly interest pure art fans, there is a surge in gallery and bar combinations. This is best typified by About Studio/Café, which succeeds admirably in presenting art in more relaxed surroundings. The Neilson Hayes Library in downtown Bangkok houses what is possibly Bangkok's best collection of English literature in a stunning 1930s era building. A visit to Bangkok Children's Discovery Museum will please any child. Explore traditional Thai culture at the Kamthieng House or Vimanmek Museum. The National Science Museum has rotating hands-on exhibits.
If all this activity leaves you completely drained, what better way is there to revive your spirits than with a traditional Thai massage? Nowadays, particularly in tourist areas, there is a plethora of reflexology and massage parlors, but you probably get the best value for your money at Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest Buddhist temple. Meditation courses also represent a good way to experience a different side of Bangkok. For non-Thai speakers, Wat Mahathat and Wat Pak Nam, both of which have many foreign students, are probably the best places to visit.