I remembered that when I was a little child, there was a TV program showing the puppet performance. It was my favorite show that I  watched every time it was on air. The reason that I liked this show is because these puppets were like toys or dolls. They were small and look like humans in ornate dress. They also wore beautiful headdress, which indicates their role in the story. The most popular story was “Phra Apai Manee”, which was written by Sunthorn Phu, a Siamese’s most famous royal poet of the early Rattanakosin (Bangkok) Era. He was also honored by the UNESCO as a great world poet at his 200th birthday in 1986.

The name of this kind of puppetry is “Hun Krabok” (Hun means puppet while Krabok is a bamboo culm). It is because the puppets have a core structure made from a bamboo stem. I once made my own Hun Krabok with two pairs of chopsticks as its body and arms and used a ping pong ball as its head. The body of the puppet was covered with a piece of cloth. However, my puppet was far inferior to the puppets on the TV. They are beautiful and elegant. It takes a lot of craftsmanship to make a puppet. The work is divided into different parts such as the heads, the headdress and the costumes. The headdress and the costume were especially a work of arts and needed to be handled with care. Nowadays, Hun Krabok has rarely been seen in public as the performance needs lot of people with great skills in making those puppets move.

However, there is an artist who works on the conservation of this treasure, Chakrabhand Posayakrit. He was appointed as Thailand’s National Artist in 2000 and The Nation’s Outstanding Person in the promotion of Thai Prestige in 2009 by the Office for the Promotion of National Identity. He is now the one and only person who gives lives to those Hun Kraboks. His present project is to build a troup of Hun Krabok to perform a story about Thai history. The project is still in the process and has no completion date set. There is a rehearsal of his latest puppet project on the Sunday of every other month. You may get more information from the foundation’s website – http://www.chakrabhand.org/main/index_eng.asp

Another kind of puppet show that is easier to find is “Hun Lakorn Lek”(small theatre puppet shows). This kind of puppet looks more like a human just only with a smaller size. To perform the show, it requires 3 puppeteers to operate each puppet. These three puppeteers and one puppet becomes one when they perform the show. The Hun Lakorn Lek was introduced to Thai audience 110 years ago in 1901 by Master Krae Sapthavanich. The show disappeared from Thailand at the end of World War II until Master Sakorn Youngkhiewsod brought it back in 1985.

Even though there are several groups of puppeteers that offer Hun Lakorn Lek to the public, the most well known show belongs to Master Sakorn, known as Joe Louis Puppeteers. You can watch Hun Lakorn Lek performance at dinner theaters such as Aksara Theatre. If you take a canal tour in Bangkok, just tell your boatman to go to Baan Silapin in Klong Bang Luang. Here, you will find a local community of artists who offer Hun Lakorn Lek show to visitors every day at 2 pm except on the day that they have a job outside.

Bringing inanimate objects to life by creating the illusion of life through gesture, movement, sound and color is a form of art. It’s a theatrical experience worth seeing when you are in Bangkok.