Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Chiang Kham Rama Theater - Chiang Kham, Payao, Thailand

Nobody I spoke with was sure whether Chiang Kham had ever been home to a movie theater prior to the opening of the Chiang Kham Rama Theater. If there had been it long ago departed the collective memory of the Chiang Kham population. 40 years ago, however, soon after American aid began pouring into Thailand to ensure that a communist insurgency didn't erupt in the hinterlands, Chiang Kham got its first brick and concrete theater - the Chiang Kham Rama.

The rapid growth of single-screen movie theaters in Thailand, particularly in more remote places like Chiang Kham, came in conjunction with the central government's policy of "Accelerated Rural Development Schemes" beginning in 1962. The idea was to build up rural areas of the country, including roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure to both raise the living standards for local people and ensure that communist insurgents, who were then trying to build a rural support base, would have fewer places to hide. The bulk of the funding came from the US government. Some of that development money trickled down to the entertainment business and led to the construction of hundreds of movie theaters across Thailand. By the mid-1970's there were between 700 and 900 hundred screens throughout the country.

The entrance to the snooker hall which now occupies the theater is around the side. The brown boxes protruding from the walls are covering old fans, used to keep air circulating in the theater.

The Chiang Kham Rama Theater has been closed as a movie theater for many years. Now the building houses a snooker hall.

When I walked through the door and asked if I could take some photos I braced myself for a pool cue across the brow, a knee to the groin and to be thrown back out the door. Thankfully, my stereotype was way off and the owner very willingly allowed me to take some photos of the interior.

On the far wall are the projection booth (center) and what looks like a soundtrack room on the right. Interesting that Chiang Kham would have a movie theater with a soundtrack room. It doesn't seem like the type of town that would have had enough of a foreign population to warrant having a soundtrack room in the theater, but it is possible that in the 1960's there was. It's a question that requires further research. Was there a foreign, maybe military presence in Chiang Kham, or was the soundtrack room just part and parcel of movie theater technology of that era? If anybody has any information, feel free to write in.

Sound proofed walls and an industrial fan therein, evidence of the snooker hall's past function as a movie theater.

A pile of old wooden seats

The owner of the snooker hall didn't know much about the Chiang Kham Rama Theater, thus leaving me with scant data. He did know that it was a product of the 1960's and that its closure took place about 15 years ago. Judging by its large size, the Chiang Kham Rama Theater probably had close to 1,000 seats. It was very possibly the first ever theater in the little city of Chiang Kham.

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