Thursday, July 9, 2009

Classic photos of classic Isan theaters

A few weeks ago a good friend sent me a link to Craig Campen's Udorn & NKP Pix - Circa 1973 - 1974. Among Craig's photos were some old movie theater shots from Udonthani and Nakon Phanom, depicting the theaters while they were at their height of popularity. This was quite a treat for me. Several of the theaters he photographed while stationed at the US Air Force base at Udonthani in the early 1970's were ones I've visited since they've been decommissioned - like the Thep Nakon Rama in Nakon Phanom. So I contacted Craig and asked if he'd allow me to post his old theater photos. He very graciously obliged, sending along a nice portfolio of theater photos, supplemented by some of his memories of the old theaters. Have a look below.

My wife and I routinely went to about three different movie theaters during my year in Udon Thani while stationed at the air base during the Vietnam War era. Chinese movies (the Japanese were always the bad guys), Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and other cowboy movies, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris movies, and lots of action and martial arts movies were popular then. Tickets cost around 5 to 10 baht depending on where you sat. The exchange rate then was pretty much 20 TB = $1. Some theaters had a separate viewing room on an upper level with either headsets to rent or speakers playing the English soundtrack. We usually sat in the regular balcony seats since most movies had English subtitles on screen with a Thai dubbed audio track. I remember that sometimes the Thai audience would laugh at certain lines spoken in Thai, while the English subtitles weren’t really that funny. I guess they took liberties with the translations to make it more entertaining for the Thai audiences. We usually bought freshly made drinks (ice coffee or fruit juices) in plastic bags and maybe some dried squid or pork balls on a stick (often referred to as “monkey balls). There was lots of activity around the entrance to any movie theater.

The Sri Udon Theater - Udonthani, Thailand

We knew this theater as the “Sri Udon”. It was located near the first traffic circle from the Air base (Udorn R.T.A.F.B.) After walking under the movie sign, the theater was just beyond the buildings where the samlars are lined up.We saw a lot of movies there and as we recall, it and other movie theaters in Udon Thani were air conditioned in the 1973-1974 time frame.I was fascinated by the work that went into street level advertising. Some of the skeletons in this Jason and the Argonauts 3-D display were animated. The two boys in this photo stood and watched the display for a long time. I hoped they would get to see the movie.

The Thep Nakorn Rama Theater - Nakon Phanom, Thailand

View of the Thep Nakorn Rama movie theater from the air conditioned NKP hotel.
In NKP, the Thep Nakorn Rama. Now playing: The Doberman Gang!

Photo adjusted so you can make out the three Doberman larger-than-life models looking out at passersby.

The Thep Nakon Rama, 2009. Photos by the Projectionist.
______________________________________________________________Large and colorful movie billboards In Udon Thani were hand-painted by locals. (“SB” – the Shaw Brothers movies were very popular.)

Using low tech but effective methods, the artists would sometimes use a picture from a magazine or small poster, draw a pattern of small squares over it, and then reproduce those images on a large canvass overlaid with a pattern of bigger squares.

Just for fun, I actually paid one of these artists a few baht to paint an image of me from a photo. The final product was about a 3 foot head-to-foot likeness that I mounted on fiber board and cut it out so it would stand up. I would have to dig around a bit to find a photo of it. I don’t believe it made the trip back to the States.

More large advertising: The picture on the right is advertising a movie called Even Angels Eat Beans, directed by Enzo Barboni (E.B. Clucher). His other better known movies at the time were semi-comedic cowboy movies called, Trinity Is My Name, and the sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name.

I don’t remember the name of this movie theater, but it looks similar to the Amporn from the photos you took.Can’t remember where I took this picture, the Chalern (…?... something) movie theater possibly in NKP. Udon Thani streets were paved and more congested.
Many thanks to you Craig for sharing your photos. Great stuff!

If there's any SEAMTP viewers who have some vintage movie theater photos from this part of the world and would like to show them off, please contact me at
and they'll be posted for the world to see.


  1. wow, fantastic! many thanks to you & craig!!

  2. Thanks Peter. I agree, it's pretty cool stuff. Would love to find more like this.