Monday, April 6, 2009

The Chalermrad Theater - Udonthani, Thailand

From the ticket seller on the bus, to my hotel receptionist, street vendors, Sam Lor drivers and countless shop keepers throughout the city, everybody I asked, old and young, told me that there were only two remaining theaters in Udonthani -- The Vista and The Amporn. I had resigned myself to that figure and after tracking them down, felt satisfied with the take. But just as I was ending my quest in Udon for the day, a chance encounter with a friendly senior and lifelong khon Udon alerted me to the still standing Chalermrad Theater.

Yes, there it was, shining like the "Celebrated Jewel" that its name translates to (probably family name of the original owner, though), the Chalermrad Theater was the third of three colossal old movie theaters still standing in Udon. But my enthusiasm after finding it was extinguished with a flap of the tongue from the one and only jerk I've encountered on these missions. The man at the desk in the photo below didn't notice me when I snapped this poor-quality picture of the old lobby from outside. So I entered and asked as politely as possible, "excuse me sir, but I noticed that your Beer Chang distribution center is housed in a beautiful old movie theater. Would you mind if I took a few photos of the old lobby? It's for the public record."

Two scornful eyes stared back at me: "No you may not. Leave now!"

My vision narrowed and my pulse quickened as his words backhanded me across the face. Somehow though, I kept my poise, forced a smile, turned and slowly walked away. It was a reminder that A), there are a lot of assholes in this world and B), not everybody is going to be sympathetic to this project. Rejection is all part of the game.

The lobby of The Chalermradna Theater, now filled with cheap beer and sour people

Old signage with Thai, Roman and Chinese characters

The good experiences I've had tracking down old cinemas out-weigh the bad ones a hundred to one. Pictured above is Mr. Willapong, owner of a pet fish aquarium, and possessor of the most prolific memory in Udonthani, as far as I'm concerned. He was the one who was able to point out that the Chalermrad had not been knocked down. He also imparted valuable information about the 3 or 4 other theaters in Udon that are no longer with us. Many thanks to Mr. Willapong, a swell guy.

(The Chalermrad Theater closed down just 6 or 7 years ago. I was never able to find out when it opened, but I'm guessing it was in the 1950's, judging by the architecture).


  1. I love your blog. I just spent a year in Cambodia - also visited laos and Vietnam - and have a real thing for old cinemas. Rural Cambodia is full of them, fantastic buildings, now long deserted as a result of the almost complete destruction of the country's film industry.I have written about it as a journalist and have a lot of pictures. I wonder whether you would be interested in posting some of them on your site? Good luck,Andrew

  2. The Prince name lives on, but the theater, sadly, does not. The Prince theater is now located in one of Khon Kaen's two (soon to be three) malls. The original theater still exists, though it is now just an urban relic like these other ones.

  3. The status update on the Prince is much appreciate, though I was hoping fora functioning venue. Se la vie.

    Andrew, I'm interested in finding out more about your work in Cambodia. Send me an e-mail at