Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Amporn -- Udonthani, Thailand

Easily the most physically and architecturally dramatic of the old theaters I've seen, the Amporn Theater stands dignified, in the heart of downtown Udonthani, Thailand.

There is little doubt that this place was at one time a world class movie theater.

Its design calls to mind a crown, and likely done with much deliberation and intent. Those letters are works of art by themselves.

My knowledge of Buddhist mythology is nil, but I'm pretty sure that the image on the cornice piece is part of Buddhist, or maybe Thai lore.

What was once the lobby is now a gutted shell, save for the staircase, rising up three stories.

The green tarp around the frontal region hints at something construction (or destruction) related. It would really be sad to see this place torn down.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get much data on the Amporn Theater. The vendors and shop keepers in the vicinity didn't seem too interested in talking to me about it. The only thing anybody could tell me with any certainty was that it closed down 10 years ago and that there is now a shoe shop in some retail space around the side. With little solid information to go on, I'll have to resort to speculation.

I speculate that the Amporn was built in the late 60's or early 70's. That's when Udonthani was awash with dollars from the US air-force base on the outskirts of town. From what I understand, the base at Udon was the largest Vietnam War era (or American War, depending on perspective) military installation in Thailand. Many a bombing missions originated at the Udonthani base, and soldiers stationed there spent their down time taking in movies and the like in town. My guess is that the Amporn was, in a beautiful twist of irony, a by-product of the war.

Again, this is all speculative information, so if anybody has any solid details or memories about the Amporn Theater, your comments are welcomed. Such a regal building must have a rich history.

(On a side note, Amporn translates to "sky," or "heavens.")


  1. What a gorgeous building. It's very imposing, sitting on the corner.

    I think the cornice pieces represent characters from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana. One is, I think, Hanuman, the monkey warrior god.

  2. wise kwai is right! the figures look to be hanuman (on the outside) & phra ram (in the center), 2 each. rama, of course, is the name which many of thailand's kings have assumed. they story actually derives from a hindu epic, rather than buddhist. the ramayana was picked up as a legitimizing backstory when new dynasties emerged in thailand, and has been rather well-loved popularly.

  3. Thanks Peter! The Ramakien is customarily presented as a khon masked dance, which I've seen bits and pieces of performed. I don't know how long the entire piece is, but it's quite long. It's the roots of theatrical traditions in Thailand, and easy to see why the figures were chosen to adorn the Amporn.

  4. What a beautiful old building! I was involved in the renovation of an old movie theatre in Borneo but it didn't have half the class of this one.

    Back in the 80's, movie goers would purchase two tickets each. One to sit on, and the seat in front to put their feet on (certainly not Thai!).

    This was due to the huge rats roaming the theatre floors during shows.

    As there was no organised rubbish pickup, rats were everywhere in downtown (Bandar).

    The mounds of rotting bits kept them there, the food thrown on the theatre floors drew them inside.

  5. There is a single movie theater in Khon Kaen called the Prince that sort of has similar lettering that might be worth checking out. Great website!

  6. And the Prince is still active -- least it was when I was in Khon Kaen town a couple of years ago.

    Catherine, your rats of Borneo story reminds me of watching movies at the Apex cinemas in Bangkok's Siam Square, where it's not uncommon for a rat to crawl over your feet. All part of the charm of watching movies there.

  7. A life long resident of Chiang Mai told me that snake bites would occasional occur to movie watchers at the Sang Tawan Theater. Apparently the ground level seating was actually on ground level.

  8. Hello - Just discovered your fantastic site; it seems tailor-made to my obsessions like modernist architecture in Southeast Asia, abandoned/decrepit buildings, cinema history, etc. I'm a huge fan of Scala Cinema in Bangkok, which I was trying to research more about during my last trip there in February. It would be great to hear more about your project, do you have a direct email? Best, Samantha /,

  9. great blog not a subject i have come across and i just learned a little bit more about udon thani thanks

  10. Another former theater owner in the city of Nong Khai informed me that the Amporn and the Vista (next post) were both owned by Dr. Sukum.

  11. Demolished a few years ago. Now another row of shop houses.