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Christmas impressions in Chiang Mai

‘Likay’, the disappearing ancient Thai drama

Christmas impressions in Chiang Mai

Staff reporters

Christmas weather in Chiang Mai is a little like Europe. It was not unusual to have 30 degrees at noon and between 8–12 degrees in the evening. Santa was happy to be able to wear his big warm coat. Bonfires along the streets, Jingle Bells coming out of gardens, friends and foreign communities gathering to celebrate their Christmas customs and share them with their Thai friends.

With the Chiang Mai Carnival (Mardi Gras) festivities in the middle of town, Chiang Mai was an even greater mix of cultural diversity this year, despite the chilly air.

From November, we knew that Christmas was coming, with department stores being decorated with fairy lights, and artificial snow painted on shop windows; a little out of place here in Thailand. Shopping centers were even busier and the streets almost like Bangkok on Fridays at five, many times coming to a complete standstill.

Everywhere you could hear Christmas carols - the traditional Christian Christmas songs, and at many places concerts were held to raise money for charity.

Father Christmas (AKA Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Sinter Klasse) has become the human face of Christmas. Pictures of the old man with a long white beard, ermine trimmed red coat, and a large bag of toys were seen everywhere. And in keeping with the magic of a children’s Christmas, he was seen at many places, and at family gatherings in Chiang Mai.

There is still room for the Christmas spirit, despite the crass commercialism, in this predominantly Buddhist country.

Santa takes a break and enjoys the fireworks with the kids.

Norwegians Anita and Fred Lambersoy (on the left in their Norwegian national costumes) and friends from the Scandinavian community celebrate under the Christmas tree.

Jingle Bells at Rydges Amora Hotel

Both young and young-at-heart thoroughly enjoyed themselves at The Hole in the wall, British style.

Mulled wine, turkey, ribs, and a raffle were big attractions amongst the ‘scandahooligan’ community.

Khun Rooj (second left) of the Rachamankha Hotel hosted a Christmas Dinner for his friends in the beautiful settings of the inner court of the hotel.

Hasn’t it always been your dream to sit on Santa’s lap just one more time? Frank and Becky Weicks receive their Christmas presents from ‘the real Santa’ who told everybody that the reindeers are parked on the condominium roof and are impatiently waiting to take off again.

The guests at the Rydges Amora enjoy a huge delicious buffet.

The youngest and, judging from the white beard, the oldest, seen at the CMU convention hall auditorium.

Christmas Eve of a different kind at Darling Wine Bar, where Darling Dang (on the right) was on hand to welcome Surasak Suveera at the opening of his exhibition.

Hans (left) and Chef Pom (with cap) didn’t miss the opportunity to personally wish everyone a Merry Christmas at The House.

In between preparing Italian Christmas delicacies, Buonissimo’s Sergio (standing, back) found time to wish Buon Natale to his guests.

Carolers sing at the Amari Rincome Hotel’s beautifully decorated poolside.

A jolly-good Christmas eve at the Bear’s Den. Did David S. on the right really try to impersonate Santa?

Sbun Nga show-dancers, of course in Santa and reindeer outfits, dance their way into the hearts of everyone who was able to catch a glimpse of them.

How did the holy old men know that I wanted a boomerang?

There is no age limit for being happy when Santa brings you a present.

Even though it’s cold, the little ones still came out to catch a glimpse of Santa at one of his rare sightings.

At the Saenkham Terrace, Book Kitavadhana and Bernard Sumner (playing piano) provide musical entertainment with a Christmas touch.

‘Likay’, the disappearing ancient Thai drama

Nopniwat Krailerg

Likay, an old Thai tradition may one day disappear from our culture, but not if Ratchanee Hawharn can help it. Ratchanee is the daughter of Soodjai Hawharn the founder of one of the most famous Likay troupes, to come to northern Thailand.

The atmosphere during the play

Likay has the actors in flamboyant costumes, encrusted with “diamonds” singing and dancing to the soft tones of treble gamelan and drums to pass on Thai folklore and stories from days gone by. The older generation was fond of these dramatic performances which were usually held at the New Year Festival, temple fairs and other important Thai events.

Leading female actors putting on make up

This exotic performing art could be mainly found in the central region, rarely in other parts of Thailand. The chance for northern people to enjoy Likay is so rare that people seem to forget it and turn to modern entertainment instead.

However, one Likay group travels around Lamphun and Chiang Mai to perform. They call themselves “Sood Jai Dramatics Band” and it is led Ratchanee Hawharn. It was founded more than 70 years ago by Soodjai Hawharn, who was famous for his talented performances. He died 10 years ago and his daughter first thought of disbanding the troupe as she was unsure that she could keep it together. Despite public skepticism, she gathered the actors together and the Sood Jai Dramatics Band started again.

Dressing up before the performance

In 1995, the national culture department invited all Likay bands in eight provinces in the upper north to compete against other bands in Bangkok. The Sood Jai Dramatics Band won first prize and this gave Ratchanee encouragement to keep going.

The current Likay presents more than 10 international songs and local songs before the performance to warm up the audience. The play itself is partly based on current events, such as gambling and drugs. These adaptations please the audiences. The cost varies from 18,000 to 22,000 baht, depending on the length of the play and traveling distance. The band consists of 30 people from the local area and the central region. Some actors are still students, and the youngest member of the band is Jar, a kindergarten schoolgirl at Ban Pa Hew School, Lamphun.

Nong Jar, aged 5, the youngest member of the band.

“The actors in our band have to be able to play in every role. Even the driver has to play music. We help one another. As for the wage, talented actors will get 400-500 baht each performance” said Ratchanee.

The flamboyant costumes are expensive because they are decorated with imitation diamonds which do not come cheaply. The costumes are made to order and cost around 120,000 baht. Each member has his own personal costumes and even second hand ones cost 30,000-40,000 baht. The troupe is busy during February - April, performing daily, but in other months only one a week.

The Likay band says that the income is enough for a moderate way of living but some actors need to have second jobs. Ratchanee added, “I intend to pass on these rare arts to the younger generation to maintain it with the Thai society forever although the society has changed”.

Music from the gamelan, an important feature of Likay.

Singing and dancing

Interested people can contact her at 263/2 Moo9, tambon Umong, Muang district, Lamphun, or call 0 5354 1353 and 0 9556 1786.