Saturday, October 20, 2012

RATCHADAPHISEK: 01 - Siam Niramit and Miss Saigon


According to Wikitravel, Ratchadaphisek has been the new playground of Bangkok residents since it was connected to downtown via MRT. Okay, let us believe them, but for me this district will always be the cultural hotspot in terms of presentations and shows. I spent a day here which was reserved for watching two shows: Miss Saigon and Siam Niramit. The Thailand Cultural Center is also located here, with its very own MRT stop dedicated to it. I do not know what you see in there. Perhaps, it is a convention center of some sorts. I never bothered to find out, but for you as a tourist, if ever you are visiting this district, it must be for the Siam Niramit show.


As mentioned, hop off the MRT at Thailand Cultural Center. If I remember correctly, the nearest exit would be Exit 1. The MRT is that line where the vending machine gives you a plastic token resembling a casino chip instead of the typical card for a ticket, pretty much the same as that of Taipei’s metro. This line has several connections to the MRT anyway so transferring is not a problem, if necessary. Back to Siam Niramit, their compound is a few blocks away from the Thailand Cultural Center, which in turn is a few blocks away from the main road. If you are allergic to walking, you might want to take one of the motorcycle rides waiting by the corner of the main road. As for me, I walked.


Do not worry about getting lost because the sign saying Siam Niramit is very visible from the street. What will welcome you is a vast parking lot. Walk all the way to the main building and collect your ticket at the booth to the left, if you booked online. I am not sure if you can buy tickets right there. There is a souvenir shop to the right, and at the middle is the path leading to the two elephants.


Yes, you can ride an elephant for a hundred baht. Feed them for 30. If not, then just take a picture for free. I forgot to say that the buffet restaurants are on the second and third floors. You have an option when you book online if you want the buffet for an extra fee. If not, you can claim your free drink, a choice of alcoholic or just water, at Lan Chang which is located at the main square where the elephants are. They offer set meals for around 200 baht. By the way, I received a free souvenir booklet with photos from and descriptions of the show. Maybe it is free for everyone who buys a ticket? What makes me wonder, though, is why they also sell the same book as a souvenir, if that is indeed the case.


Moving on, three members of the staff in full costume would be standing by the fountain and inviting people to take a photo with them. That one is free, as long as you have a camera. The one by the entrance, which they take after pinning a flower to your chest, costs 200 baht. Buying it is optional. It comes with a frame and a Photoshopped backdrop along with the staff in costume who posed with you.


Arrive early so you could also visit the traditional village showcasing traditional houses from Thailand’s different regions. It has a pond with some sort of floating house at the middle. Boat ride is around 30 baht, if I heard it correctly. It might be a good photo opportunity, but as a boat ride it would seem really short since the pond does not cover much area. You could also have a massage offered at the traditional house by the entrance of the said village. You have to pay, of course.


What about the show itself? It was magical. The souvenir program would tell you that their stage holds the Guinness’ World Record for highest theater stage, or something to that effect. Cameras have to be deposited before entry to the theater, by the way. They frisk you as you come in. They saw my phone, which is my all around gadget for everything travel related, but allowed me to bring it anyway.


Back to the show, it starts with the history of four regions of Thailand. Judging from what was presented, the northern kingdom was rich. Sorry, it was just a procession of who seemed to be a king and a queen. When they meet, they light a paper lantern which flies to the ceiling thanks to the technical department. They ride an elephant and leave. The northeastern kingdom is Khmer, so expect something Cambodian. The southern area was characterized by trade with the Chinese. The other one I could not recall, which means their presentation would have been that boring.


They have two more sets, I think. One is about hell, an enchanted sort of purgatory, and heaven. The hell part was awesome because it made the noisy kid next to me shut up. He ended up hiding his face in his father’s armpits because the actor playing the master of hell was so effective in making fire powered steam emerge from various parts of the theater, including the aisle in front of us. Aided with translations in Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and English, that part details the many sins one can commit in life and the respective punishment one gets in hell for them.



The second part about some sort of enchanted garden was cute, but seemed too dark. The creatures looked creepy to me, though. The last part is blissful heaven where some deities strike a pose on some hill as if they were doing a photo shoot for some soap opera promo campaign, all while some half-human half-birdies fly around the stage suspended in wires.


The last part is about festivals, which required some participation from the audience. That is one of the things I like about the show, they try to make you experience it instead of just watching it. As for the production design, they really took it seriously. There is even a river at the edge of the stage. Yes, with real flowing water. At one point, some boats similar to those seen at the floating market also make an appearance. The show runs for around an hour and a half. I think the price is a bit steep if based on the length of the show, but if we are to use the production values as criteria, then the admission price is dirt cheap. This show is a spectacular backgrounder on Thai history and spiritual beliefs. Of course you could read all that in a book, but experiencing it through a different medium is also worth a try.


Jumping to Miss Saigon, I have always wanted to see this musical, and upon knowing that it is still running, I no longer entertained second thoughts even if the production would be in Thai. I just had to see it. The theater is located on the top floor of the Esplanade, the mall right at one of the exits of the MRT. Aside from the theater, the mall also has a small ice skating rink. Miss Saigon? Just read my review.

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