As a writer who lived in Thailand on and off for more than 12 years, I can tell you when I first arrived in the country and turned on the TV, with only Thai TV channels, I was in for a shock. Not only did I wonder what the heck was going on, but I felt as though I’d been transported back to a time 50 years ago, when things were more innocent but a heck of a lot more bizarre.
If you like the unusual though and you go to Thailand, you’ll soon find you’re fascinated with Thai TV as it’s so different. Here’s what to expect on a typical day of Thai television.
Thai News Shows – Thai news shows are different than their western counterparts. On the morning shows, you’ll see news anchors simply reading news headlines and part of a story from one of the local newspapers, then two or three anchors will discuss it. In fact, on Thai news, there’s a lot more discussion by news anchors about their opinions, what other people say and what they think might happen, than there ever would be allowed in the west.
In the afternoon and evening, the news shows look more like professional western news but, in reality, they’re not.
On Thai TV and in newspapers, unlike in the west, it’s acceptable to show the dead body of someone who’s been blown away in a gang shooting or the latest bloody victim of the Muslim-separatist violence in the south of the country. Although sex is never allowed on Thai TV, and cigarettes and guns are blurred, Thais are still allowed to see the bullet-riddle body of a dead policeman and that’s normal here.
After a while, you’ll get used to it as it really is a daily occurrence.
Thai Soap Operas (Lakorn) – Known as ‘lakorn’ in Thailand, Thai soap operas are on every channel and Thais are obsessed with them. A typical lakorn soap opera will run two to three evenings a week, for two hours at a time. The whole soap opera will last around two to three months before it ends, and another one takes it’s place. They’re also on almost every Thai channel, so each soap competes with other channels for viewers and publicity.
Thai lakorns (soap operas) are always the same format. Every storyline is about the main actors eventually marrying their soul mates, there’s usually a villain, who is normally another woman who also wants the male lead, and there’s almost always a katoey (a katoey is a ‘ladyboy’ or transexual and they’re very prominent in Thai culture).
The main leads provide the romance, the villain provides the drama and the katoey is comic relief.
Thai lakorns are bizarre to watch as the drama is always over the top. There’s lots of screaming, crying and slapping, which if you’re a westerner tends to grate on the nerves. But, as a mirror of what Thai women (and men) think is romantic, they’re fun to watch.
Thai Entertainment – Thai entertainment shows tend to be split into one of two groups. The first are the traditional Thai music shows, which make you feel you stepped back in time. These feature traditional Thai dance, Thai country music and old-time stars or young men and women trying to break into the highly-lucrative ‘Luk Thung’ (country music) business. They tend to be very colorful with vibrant costumes and highly energetic.
The second group of Thai entertainment shows on Thai TV are thoroughly modern. They feature Thai pop stars, actresses and actors and lots of young Thai women wearing the scantiest clothing you’ve ever seen on TV. There’s loads of loud music, beautiful female presenters and handsome guys who laugh and joke and generally seem to be enjoying themselves. The cameras also cut to the audience often, where there are thousands of screaming Thai teenagers all overjoyed to see the latest pop idol.
Monks and Religion – Another type of TV show you’ll see in Thailand, particularly early in the mornings are the religion shows.
Here, there will often be a Thai Buddhist monk who simply sits and talks. He’ll tell the audience how a true Buddhist should live, talk about Buddhist precepts and the Dhamma, and explain why things should or shouldn’t be done a certain way.
For many Thais, these are important shows as most Thais don’t visit a temple every week but they will watch a show about Buddhist principles. There are also famous monks that are more popular to watch on TV than others and some of them have a large following.
Thai TV is truly fascinating as it’s completely different than anything you will ever see in the west. Of course, most of it is in Thai but Thais are so flamboyant with facial expressions and hand gestures you can often tell what’s going on, which makes them even more fun to watch.
For a true cultural experience in Thailand, you shouldn’t miss watching some Thai TV if you’re ever visiting Thailand You’ll love it.