Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Suk Siam Theater - Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Here it is folks, the northern-most movie theater that ever was in Thailand. The Suk Siam Theater is situated within a fresh market, just off Mae Sai's main road. If you've ever taken a border run to Mae Sai, crossing over into the Burmese market town of Ta Kyi Leik for that ever important stamp in your passport, then you have unwittingly passed right by the Suk Siam.

The Suk Siam Theater was a product of the early 1980's. It opened in conjunction with the expanding border trade between Thailand and Burma, which accelerated after China embarked on the path to market integration and started exporting its products abroad en mass. Being a central border crossing in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), a term used to denote the economic and infrastructural development schemes linking China's Yunnan province with all the countries that the Mekong River bypasses, means that Mae Sai will continue to boom. Unfortunately, all those bootleg DVD's that have been coming into town from China likely contributed to the Suk Siam's closure about 8 years ago. Yet another unintended victim of free-trade.

A final vestige of its former glory.

Believe it or not, but little Mae Sai was once home to two other single screen theaters, the Racha 1 & 2, but they have since been torn down. According my sources in Mae Sai, the Racha theaters stood a few blocks to the south of the Suk Siam Theater, definitively confirming the fact that the Suk Siam was Thailand's northern-most cinema ever. Ta-daaaa!

The Suk Siam Theater: once Thailand's northern-most movie theater, now Thailand's northern-most demolition project.
On a side note, while in Mae Sai I took a trip across the border to Ta Kyi Leik in Burma. As I was getting my passport stamped I asked the Burmese immigration officer if Ta Kyi Leik had any movie theaters. He answered in a way that I would say is typical Burmese officials: "The people of Ta Kyi Leik are simple. They don't have a need for cinema."

Upon further inquiry I found that Ta Kyi Leik once did have a movie theater. The savvy people of Ta Kyi Leik, it turns out, found that it was much more practical to buy, sell and watch bootleg DVD's from China than to pay for the state-sponsored propaganda that was shown in the town's theater.

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