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Visitors to Chiangmai are delighted to learn about northern Thailand culture at Khantoke Dinner Show performances. The tradition of Khantoke is much older than 50 years but before it was more of a ceremony presented only to very honored guests. Taking place in the cool and dark evening after sunset amid candlelight and lanterns, the event reflects the subtlety and warmth of the combination of food and entertainment that brought on the feeling of being treated as an honored guest for most.

As the Honored Guest at a Khantoke Dinner, you will be welcomed by your hostess or host and escorted to your low-set dining table. Plump cushions and back rests ensure great comfort and there is plenty of leg room for guests who choose to sit at tables with "leg wells' recessed into the floor. One of the first things you will notice is the richness of the surroundings - ornately carved teak panels, traditional Old Lanna carvings discreetly illuminated to give just the right setting. On the stage is a group of musicians, classically garbed and seated in the lotus position, playing the soft melodies of ancient Siam. The central instrument is the Ranad ( a wide, low xylophone-like instrument) with the other players spaced around.

Northern Thai dance is always accompanied by a small orchestra, Zalor-Zor-Zeung, which can number up to 10 musicians but is more likely to have five or seven members. The musicians sit either to the rear or side of the dance area and, so that they do not detract from the glitter of the dancers, they are dressed soberly in country-style garments of hand-woven cotton (dark blue is the color associated with Chiangmai). The Pin Pia played with a bow is pressed to chest allowing the musician to control the musical tone. Consequently, the sound of the Pin Pia is described as "Music from the Heart".

The Zueng is a four-stringed instrument, two of them being thick and two thin to produce a greater sound variation. The right hand plucks the strings and tone is controlled by nine frets. The Zalor soundbox is constructed from a gourd, which has been cut to slightly larger than half, and the open top is covered with a slat of wood. It is played using a bow made from animal hair and the instrument is used to complement the sound of the Zueng when playing ordinary folk music. The Bpee Nae flares at the tip much like a clarinet, and has a metal mouthpiece. The Bpee Joom is made entirely of wood and is a form of flute.

Both types of Bpee come in a variety of sizes, producing differing pitches and they are used together instrumentally to produce a harmonic sound. The drum is an important instrument used for controlling the beat. The Glong comes in all sizes and shapes and often appears in ceremonies as well as accompanying musical pieces. The Glong Zae is a large drum similar to the bass drum used in western marching bands. The Glong Poojay is hung from the shoulder by a strap and carried, as is its smaller cousin, the Gong Zig Moung. Glong Ting Ting is a large drum that sits on a stand and is usually accompanied by the Glong Pong Phong, which adds color and feeling to the sound. These crude yet effective instruments, the Pin Pia, Zueng, Zalor, Bpee and Glong have been the backbone of Lanna music for centuries. Lanna music has a rich tradition and offers a completely different sound, rhythm and style to any you will have heard before. It is an interesting, melodious, soothing and almost hypnotic sound and each instrument in the ensemble is easily recognizable. The music, for first time listeners, may sound strange but it has an exotic, shimmering quality with layers of textures from pounding rhythms to light, mystical melodies. It is the perfect accompaniment for Northern Thai Classical Dance.

Classical dancers (trained at Chiangmai's Academy of Dramatic Arts) are the centerpiece of the evening. They perform in pairs (normally four to six but, for very special events, sometimes in hundreds). Gracious, sinuous and gorgeously attired in glistening silks, the dancers usually perform examples of the five main styles at the Old Chiangmai Cultural Center. Classical dance is properly called Fawn Thai which includes the Candle Dance (Fawn Tian), the Butterfly Dance (Fawn Marn Gumm Ber), Magic Fowls Dance (Fawn Rabum Gai), Sword Dance (Fawn Daab), Yak and Mythical Brid Dance (Fawn Toh and Kginggala), the Scarf Dance, (Fawn Ngiew), the Fingernail Dance (Fawn Leb), Silk - reeling Dance (Fawn Sao Mhai), Celegrating Dance (Fawn Rabum Zor), and the Happy Dance (Fawn Marn Mong Kol). All of the dances are fascinating to watch whether it be the intricate, slow, stylized movements of the Candle Dance (a lighted candle in the dancer's hands traces the body movements) and the Fingernail Dance (where six-inch fingernail extensions of beaten brass emphasize the hand movements) or the more lively elaboration of the Butterfly and Happy Dances. The glittering experience of synchronized movement and shimmering sound has an almost hypnotic effect on the eye and ear. In addition to the genuine northern dances, The Old Chiangmai Cultural Center present a package show of hilltribes at another small auditorium next door after dinner.

With a fantasy creation, Khum Khantoke offers at least six different colorful historic processions and shows : Cheerful drums and dances to pay respect to King Mengrai who founded Chianmgai as well as two kings of neighboring kingdoms who came to help on the new city planning, celebration of Buddha's relics which was brought to Chiangmai, dances of martial art indicated the long battles and defeat with the Burmese, independence celebration along with contemporary show, and a scene from the Ramayana drama with the glitter of the costumes and headdresses.

To join with other guests for a Khantoke Dinner at a Northern Thai Classical Dance and Dinner Restaurant is to enter the world of goneby days. Guests are welcomed, almost formally, by a traditionally clad girl or boy and escorted to a dining place. Perhaps small, dainty cups of tea will be served before the arrival of the main dishes and prior to the commencement of music and dance. Each pair of guests will have the attention of their personal waitress or waiter to ensure the evening's experience is complete.

During the show, a selection of dishes will appear, served on a Khantoke. A Khantoke is a low tray, atop short pillars, on which the various food-dishes are displayed. Khantoke tables come in a range of diameters (from 10 to 50 inches) depending upon the number of dishes for the group's table. There will be a small snack basket of Gluay Tawd (Deep fried banana, or even taro) and followed by a khantoke set of "Gai Tawd" (a flavorsome chicken creation), a bowl of Chicken consomme, "Gaeng Hung-Lay (a pork and ginger curry which is one of this writer's favorites!), several steamed or fried vegetable platters, fresh cucumber slices for dipping in "Naam Prik Ong" (a mild chilli and tomato sauce), Kaeb Moo (crispy pork rind), "Paad Paak" (usually a cabbage dish) Mee Grob (crispy rice vermicelli) all accompanied, of course, by a large bowl of steamed rice and a straw basket of sticky rice (lovely for dipping into the sauces). Old Chiangmai Cultural Center and Khum Khantoke offers alternative food selections available from an allcarte menu. (So please ask about this when booking with them.) A light, sweet dessert will follow -perhaps popped rice crackers __ along with fresh fruit, coffee or tea.

Not only do visitors get the opportunity to watch the dances but also get a chance to dance themselves, each being taught the simple yet graceful steps and hand movements of the ramwong circle dance by the friendly performers. Towards the close of your Khantoke evening, the Thai Classical Dancers will demonstrate the "Raam Wong" circle dance and invite all guests to join in the circle. Thai guests will be eager to respond but you, the visitor, may feel a trifle shy. Please don't be. You don't have to participate but it is "sanook maak maak" (great fun) and your hostess or host will be honored to show you the way. You too can follow the simple foot movements and the graceful turning of arms, hands and fingers. And think of how you can demonstrate to the folks back home!

A firework display rounds off the evening. As visitors leave, they get a chance to launch a giant Kome Loy (lantern), a kind of hot air balloon. All guests get a spiritual lift as their worries float away into the dark night sky. Hopefully they will feel the easing of their hearts as all Thais do when they light up the heavens with these cleverly designed lanterns that carry their cares away. Typically guests feel refreshed and happy after this lively few hours during which all their senses - touch, hearing, taste, scent and sight.

Enjoy in northern food in Khantoke Dinner with classical and folk dance performances at Old Chiangmai Cultural Center, Wualai Road,See Maps 1 and 3A, Tel. 053-275097, 053-274540, 053-202993-5 and Khum Khantoke, Chiangmai Business Park (behind Carrefour Superstore), See Maps 1 and 2A, Tel. 053-304121-3.

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