Thai art, music and dance in Phuket

Thai kids perform with shadow puppets

The roots of Thai painting, like much of Thai culture, are grounded firmly in Buddhism. Thai art began as a pure religious form, using murals to depict many of the great tales from Buddhist mythology. Western ideas of perspective were eschewed and characters were made larger or smaller depending on their importance to the story.

Backgrounds were simple to help place the emphasis on the detailed action taking place. As Thai painting evolved, it began to focus more on depictions of simple village life and Thai artists showed a flair for capturing character in their work. Examples of Thai painting can most commonly be found at temples around the island.

Although Thai painting and watercolour are both excellent, Thai artists are most famous for their spectacular carving. Using a variety of media, ranging from traditional wood and stone to animal horn and fruit, Thai artisans create amazingly intricate and finely detailed works depicting scenes from mythology, history, daily life and nature.

Wat Chalong (south of Phuket Town) is a fabulous example of Thai relief carving, as nearly every inch of the massive façade is covered with intricate patterns carved in wood and then gilded.

Thai architecture in Phuket

Traditional Thai architecture in Phuket is best admired at one of the island’s temples, particularly Wat Chalong. Thai architecture in Phuket tends towards the ornate, with façades covered in gilt and intricate carvings. Building temples was one way that rulers would demonstrate their power and wealth and the results are often quite impressive. The real gems of Phuket architecture, however, are the picturesque Sino-Portuguese buildings of Phuket Town.

Reflecting the diverse history of Phuket, these charming buildings are often built around a central courtyard that remains shady and cool during the hot months. Columns are used to create a recessed area in front of the doorway, while the upper windows show a distinct Chinese flair. Thalang Road is one of the best streets for admiring these uniquely Phuket features.

Thai dance on Phuket

Another important form of Thai art is traditional dance. The stately, deliberate grace of Thai dancers hypnotizes audiences as they act out tales and myths passed down through generations.

Take in a traditional dance performance

Thai dance is characterised by elaborate costume, including ornate headgear and graceful finger extensions. The dancers bend up and down at the knee only, remaining upright from the hips to the neck. This places the emphasis on the complex and delicate movements of the hands and fingers.

Traditional Thai dance was developed in antiquity as a form of entertainment for the royal court, but its mesmerising grace and quiet dignity has carried its popularity into the modern era. Thai dance performances are common today and enjoyed by modern Thais of all ages.

Interestingly, funerals for important community figures are often characterized by several days of dance and music performance. Additionally, it is common to see modern Thais performing a version of traditional dance in nightclubs to the accompaniment of Milam music. Some hotels put on cultural shows demonstrating Thai dance and traditional music, too.

Thai music

Traditional Thai music uses up to 50 different instruments in ensembles of between five and 12 musicians. Percussion, strings and flutes are combined using an extraordinary scale unique to Thailand. The music is stately and soothing, with a steadily 2/4 cadence that provides perfect accompaniment to a Thai dance performance or an evening meal.

With the widespread acceptance of Western pop music, many Thais have begun creating their own pop music, but although this music is thoroughly modern, the roots of traditional music are easily discerned. Molam is the name of a style of music that has gained a great deal of popularity among modern Thais. It combines traditional rhythms from the northeast of Thailand (Isaan) with modern rock and pop.

Contemporary arts and culture: Phuket’s beauty is a great source of inspiration to a whole generation of modern artists and musicians and the relaxed lifestyle is quite appealing to the artistic temperament. It is no surprise, then, that there is a thriving community of artists and artisans living on the island. Art galleries are common al over the island, especially in Patong, Phuket Town and the southern part of the island. Here you will find countless shops displaying cheap oil and water colour paintings depicting Asian life.

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