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Travel & Holidays in later life


Classical dancingEntertainment in Thailand ranges from kick boxing to classical dance shows, excellent restaurants and top-grade night-clubs to the wildest of possibilities.

Bangkok especially is a city that never sleeps, especially at the more lurid end of the entertainment business. 

Bangkok's raunchy reputation as a nightlife centre was established during the Vietnam war. At that time, 60,000 American armed forces were based in Thailand. Daily plane-loads flew in from Saigon for a week's 'R&R' rest and recuperation.

Close to each hotel where GIs were billeted, all facilities grew up: 24-hour-a-day bars, little restaurants, and massage parlours with 'pretty girls ready to give good service'. Within hours of landing, each GI was fitted out with his R&R girl for the week. 

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For listings, advertisements and reviews of What's On, it's always worth buying the local English-language newspapers. Bangkok has two daily rivals: the 'Nation' and the 'Bangkok Post'. 

For Chiang Mai, buy the monthly magazine 'City Life', or look into it online. 

The 'Phuket Gazette' is the island's local newspaper and is also online -
Be specially alert for listings of public holidays and festivals, which frequently spread into the night.  

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After the departure of the US military, night-time Bangkok became part of the tourist sex industry, with hospitality girls and transvestites who can talk basic German and Japanese, besides English. A high level of Aids is part of the cost.

Most of the so-called 'girlie bars' are located in the Patpong Road area, between Silom Road and Surawong Road. A street market in fake branded goods and pirate tapes flourishes amid the carnival lighting of discos, go-go bars and massage par lours.

Touts may invite gullible tourists to see the real raunchy stuff behind closed doors upstairs. They'll probably declare that the show is "free", but the entertainment will certainly end with presentation of an enormous bill. Heavyweight goons will appear, to block the exit until the bill is settled. 

Another spin-off from the GI era was development of similar facilities at the beach resort which boomed at Pattaya, within easy reach of Bangkok. Additionally a US naval base was located nearby at Sattahip and US ships still call there. It's only a 20-minute bus ride to one of the most popular liberty spots in Asia. There's no problem at all in finding 'The Strip' in Pattaya, where most girlie bars are located. 

A traditional performance in a Bngkok restaurantPhuket is likewise well endowed with what the locals call 'bar-beers' a square open-air bar with a girl smiling from each side. 

Over the years the international press has focused on the more lurid sides of Thai nightlife, while giving much less coverage to the traditional cultural entertainments.

On a higher plane, the leading hotels all offer western style cocktail bars, nightclubs and discos.

Likewise many of the principal restaurants offer an excellent evening out a specially prepared Thai meal (usually spiced with moderation) together with a performance of classical dancing. The shows can range from purist displays of delicate Thai dan cing, to a more general tourist performance that also includes the spectator sports of martial arts or Thai kick-boxing. 

The very expressive traditional dance-dramas of Thailand can feature 64 main attitudes, each of which has its own meaning. There are five principal styles of dance-drama, each designed originally for different levels of audience from the royal court to popular village festivals. They originate mainly from India and Sri Lanka.

The famous 'fingernail dance' comes from northern Thailand. The aim is for the richly costumed dancers to show off their long and delicate brass fingernails as a prestige symbol to prove they are noble creatures who do not work manually.

Whichever performances you attend, there are always plentiful opportunities for photography of masked monkey and demon figures, superbly graceful female dancers with glittering head-dress, and the musicians themselves who play flutes, gongs and xylophones. 

The orchestra at a performance of classical Thai dancingIn Chiang Mai, the ethnic dances of north Thailand are per formed daily, usually as part of a show linked to a traditional dinner called khantok. Sticky rice is accompanied with varied curries, local sausage, minced meats and fried rice noodles.

Programmes normally include the famed brass fingernail dance, tribal sword dance, Gingala bird dance, and a Meo hill-tribe dance from the border area near Burma. Some of these dances are rarely performed in Bangkok displays.

Muay Thai is kick boxing in which everything goes hands, knees, feet and elbows. While your opponent is aiming a swift right-foot to your ear, you can get him with a quick knee to the stomach or trip him up. All is fair, Thai style.

With knees, fists and feet going simultaneously, Thai kick boxing demands great skill and split second timing. It's all done to the music of drums and pipes, and must be rated among the world's most agile professions.

The unique sport of Thai kick-boxing can be seen on alternate evenings at two stadiums in Bangkok Lumphini and Ratchadamnoen. These offer 'the real thing', as opposed to the brief performances - more like ballet dancing - included in tourist shows like those at the Rose Garden outside Bangkok. Bouts are frequently shown on television.

Entrance prices depend on distance from the ringside. Each event goes for five rounds at three minutes each. Both boxers appear in the ring with a coloured head-band round their foreheads and a tassel or flower at the back. They kneel in ritual prayer which can last at least two minutes and then each does a slow half-dance, half shadow-boxing routine.

Kick boxing at a Bangkok stadiumDuring the preliminary ritual, the music of two drums and a pipe helps work up enthusiasm. The beat of the music continues relentlessly throughout the subsequent fight.

An occasional bout is fought under Queensberry rules, which make it seem relatively tame: no prayer meeting or drum and pipe music; no feet or knees. Most visitors vote for Thai style every time, so long as they're not in the ring. 

Check out these other Thailand features:

BANGKOK - Visit the capital "City of Angels'

CHIANG MAI - North to "Rose of the North" 

PHUKET - Holiday pearl  of the South

THAI CUISINE- Try that spicy food

SHOPPING IN THAILAND - The enjoyable search for good quality trditional handicrafts

TRIPS OUT OF BANGKOK - Looking at the rich variety of excursion possibilities from the capital.

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