Monday, March 22, 2010

The Sisaket Rama - Sisaket, Thailad

Alleyways can be unnerving city features. They're reputed crevices of crime almost anywhere you go. The word "alley" goes well together with the word "lurk." Foul smells emanate from alleys. Rot is found down them, animal carcasses and dead humans from time to time. The narrow paths are associated with murder, main-lining heroin, diseased sex and helplessness in the face of robbery or assault. Bruce Wayne's parents were gunned down in a Gotham alley, right in front of the future weirdo's eyes. With all these unsavory ideas racing across my mind, I entered Soi Rama (theater alley), in a quiet corner of downtown Sisaket.

There's a snooker hall just beside the Sisaket Rama, where the frequent sound of phenolic resin balls banging into each other added life to this eerily silent concrete chasm. Opposite the crumbling theater sat a group of young working girls waiting for johns in front of a mildew-coated, row-house brothel. "What are you doing here, boy?" asked the eldest of the bunch. I explained my purpose in the best Lao I could muster, which went something like "Hello, I'm a nerd, I like movies and I love old movie theaters." They laughed and flirted and offered their services which I declined as other alleyway vagrants moved in to inspect the scene. Cautiously, I withdrew my trusty camera and turned my attention to the rotting behemoth looming above.

Moments later, a shout come from one of the snooker hall windows, redirecting my attention from a photo shoot around the Sisaket Rama's piss-scented perimeter. There in the barred window stood a man with a pool cue in one hand, making frantic signals with the other. First, he pointed at the theater in a rapid back and forth motion. Next, he tilted his head to the side and with his free hand, made like he was pulling a noose around his neck. After that, he ran his extended index finger horizontally across his throat, repeating the entire routine two or three times in succession until I acknowledged him. "You mean somebody died in there?" I asked, trying to appear shocked. He nodded silently.

Ignoring the mute snooker player, I returned to my study of decrepitude with the knowledge that besides being an abandoned wreck, the old Sisaket Rama is haunted, as are a good 50 percent of all habitable entities in Thailand.

Frontal overgrowth


Movie theater or mausoleum?

A peek into the lobby

"Don't believe that old fool" came a man's voice from the direction of the working girls. "Nobody ever died in there. It's just a filthy old theater with trees growing up through the floor." Next to the group of women sat a wiry middle-aged man on a knee-high plastic stool, scraping the plaque off his protruding tongue with his thumb nail. "The Sisaket Rama has been closed for years," he said. "Maybe twenty by now. And I'll tell you, it was a lousy theater from the start. The steps up to the balcony were too steep and the aisles were too narrow. So uncomfortable to watch a movie there. The guy who built it was a real idiot, if you want the truth. But there was never any kind of death in the place."

"Do you know what year it was built?" I inquired.

"Let's see," he mused aloud. "How old are you?"


"That's about how old the theater is; a few years older at the most. I was about your age when it opened and now I'm 60."

We talked briefly about the town of Sisaket, about the three or four stand-alone movie theaters that it had in the past, among other scintillating discussion topics. Today, the city's cinema scene sits on top of the Sun Heng department store, consisting of a 4-screen multiplex run by a small Isan-based theater chain called MVP. It's charmless, but it's better than no theater at all, which is the case for a number of provincial Thai capitols.

"Marquee Mark and the Rusty Bunch"

Side exit with clothes strung out to dry

Free standing letters
So theater alley turned out to be a lot less sinister than I imagined. Shady, for sure, but basically harmless, even with a clunky old camera in hand. The fact that there was still daylight probably helped a lot. I definitely wouldn't recommend going there after dark. Just to be on the safe side, I wouldn't recommend going there at all.


  1. Would love to hear more about story hunting from people who used to watch movie at stand alone movie theater.
    Love it.
    Those Tickets look great. Does it means you have entered to all those movie theater? Wow how lucky you are.

  2. Yes, those tickets represent operating theaters that I've visited. One or two of them I didn't enter, however, just bought a ticket as a souvenir.