Khao San Road’s bars and clubs might paint a different picture, but the most popular form of music in Thailand is actually Luk Thung, or Thai country music. You’re most likely to come across it in Bangkok during a taxi ride as many drivers -- who typically come from up-country –- keep their radio stations set to listen to a steady stream of Luk Thung and its folk music cousin, Mor Lam. Here's a guide to the history of Thai country music and where to experience it in Bangkok, proving that a night of loud, rowdy entertainment does not have to preclude new cultural experiences.
The music might sound jarringly foreign at first but that’s the point, no?
What are Luk Thung and Mor Lam?
Luk Thung developed in the early 20th century in central Thailand in the provinces just north of Bangkok. Suphanburi province in particular became the Memphis of Luk Thung, producing multiple hitmakers in the 1960s including the "Thai Elvis" Suraphol Sombatcharoen, the most influential Thai country musician of that era.
Drawing from both traditional Thai folk music and foreign influences, Luk Thung has been compared to Western country music. Its roots, the crooning and the contents of the songwriting make this an apt comparison, but in terms of sound modern Luk Thung is more similar to power pop ballads than anything else.
Not unlike U.S. country music, Luk Thung songs today -- often backed by electronic instruments and electric guitars -- are very different from what they were during the genre's golden age in the 1960s. But they still retain enough of their traditional flavor to distinguish themselves from Westernized modern Thai pop.
Mor Lam's roots are older and originate in the northeast Thailand region known as Isaan, which has close ties to Laos. The music derives from a tradition of singers relating a tale of woe over a melody provided by the khene, a mouth organ made of bamboo pipes of different sizes, among other instruments.
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