So You Want To See Thai Dancing?
On our first trip to Asia many years ago, my wife and I were traveling in Thailand and enjoying the most consistently good food we had ever eaten.
Every meal — whether it was a simple dish of pad Thai at a noodle stand or a whole grilled fish in a sit-down restaurant — was outstanding. We were in foodie heaven.
That is, until we spotted a placard in our Bangkok hotel lobby promising a memorable evening of traditional Thai dancing combined with an “authentic Thai meal in a genuine Thai-style lodge within a sylvan setting,” or words to that effect.
What could be better?
We’d have another great dinner and get to see some Thai dancing, which was on our to-do list. We always liked a nice sylvan setting. And the price, while a splurge for our budget, seemed fair considering that the food, entertainment, and transportation to the venue were all included.
We signed up in the hotel lobby with a local travel agency representative who had a desk there, and were told we would be picked up at 6 pm sharp. “Everything included but alcohol,” she assured us. “Good deal for tourists!”
That should have tipped us off, but we remained optimistic.
The Nightmare Begins
At around 6:45 pm, having cooled our heels in the lobby for almost an hour, a harried-looking tour bus driver rushed into the lobby and called out our names. We boarded the bus, which was sparsely occupied by mostly older couples from Europe and North America.
We then proceeded to drive around much of Bangkok for the next hour or so, seemingly hitting every hotel, picking up two passengers at one, three at another, until the bus began to fill up with tourists nervously checking their watches.
When we finally reached the sylvan setting around 8 pm, we could make out a few trees, but, with darkness descending, the effect was lost on us. Besides, we were starving.
It Gets Worse
Soon we were hustled into a cavernous building that had a few Thai-style decorations on it to give it that authentic Thai-style lodge-cum-warehouse feel.
We entered to find dozens of long tables, each seating perhaps 20 diners, that extended from near the stage all the way back to the purgatory of the last table, which, of course, was the only one left for us after our marathon bus tour of the hotels of Bangkok.
It reminded me of sitting in the farthest part of the end zone in a football stadium. You’re technically there but to know what’s happening on the field, you need binoculars, a radio, and maybe an occasional jaunt to the restroom to catch a glimpse of the action on TV.
As we settled in we noticed that people at other tables were already eating what suspiciously looked like dessert. Apparently their drivers were a bit more prompt than ours.
“You’re very late,” a hostess scowled, pointing to her watch. “Food getting cold, beer getting warm.”
Some annoyed-looking servers began to plop down family-style bowls of noodles, rice, and various unidentifiable dishes that looked more Chinese than Thai. It didn’t really matter, because they were all completely tasteless — devoid not only of the Thai spices we had come to love, but of any recognizable aspect of the cuisine.
We might as well have been in Peoria (though I’m sure the Thai restaurants are better there). The best part of the meal was the one thing not included in the price: Thai beer. Though it could have been colder, it came in very large bottles.
Meanwhile, Something Was Happening on Stage
I’m pretty sure there was Thai dancing going on on stage, because if we craned our necks enough we could barely make out flashes of color — presumably emanating from the lovely traditional Thai dancing costumes that often feature elaborate headdresses and other finery.
And there was musical accompaniment, also suggestive of a dance performance, though the chatter among the bored guests in the back was so loud at times that for all we knew, the band could have switched to “Disco Fever” (as I said, it was a long time ago).
Traditional Thai dancing — considered an art form in Thailand — is highly stylized and choreographed, graceful, and altogether a thing of beauty.
Or so we’re told.