Dying Animal’s Rubbish Guide to Chiang Mai Cinemas – with a long introduction about prostitution

 | Fri 24 Jan 2014 14:40 ICT

I have fond memories of my first trip to the cinema in Chiang Mai, back when there only was one cinema: Vista, at Kad Suan Kaew.

I was told I had to put a photo in this blog. This is the only photo I have that is suitable. I took it years ago when I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian 

After discovering prostitution in Thailand in a string of bars that is now the D2 Hotel area I was asked by a very nice prostitute if I wanted to see a movie at the local mall. Her name was Apple.

Apple was the first prostitute I’d ever met. During the halcyon days of my youth I had driven down Manningham Lane in Bradford and shouted “how much” from my friend’s parents’ car window, and then drove off laughing under a halo of pot smoke, but I’d never actually talked to someone who sold their body for cash. It seemed like another world to me, as if the vaginas and lips they were selling were made from flesh different from my own, something less real, fictional, pariahs starring in a biblical tragedy. I couldn’t get my head around them eating Kellogs Frosties or enjoying a good shit. 

Being as naïve as I was back then I half expected Apple to be a deceitful crackhead, or maybe she would stab me to death in one of the many remote and sad looking  Kad Suan Kaew toilets. But it turned out she was just a sweet girl who fucked for money, money she didn’t have, and direly wanted. On the back of her bike – I kept making the new-to-Thailand amateur mistake of putting my feet down – she took me across town to the mall, a journey that back then seemed like miles as I had not yet left the vicinity of the Night Bazaar. I was surprised to see that not all of Chiang Mai had been invaded by florid-faced, corpulent, fag-chugging tourists from Norway and Slovenia, in Thailand to buy barking frogs from munchkins in clown hats.

I never had sex with Apple. Not really. I just thought she was good looking, beautiful in fact, and I couldn’t work out how such a stunningly beautiful girl who seemed so innocent could end up working in a bar selling her body to grubby-looking men…and me. No, I wasn’t grubby, I was innocent, sure I was. I was young, and so I was superior. I think that’s how it goes in the moral hierarchy gig. I was some weeks later introduced to her teddy bear collection, and infused with guilt, she showed me pictures of her family. I was baffled. Where were the red lights, the screaming kid, the track marks? My introduction to the nuances of Thai prostitution, and why generalizing is in many ways inhuman, and unkind. We didn’t fuck, really, we didn’t. She brushed her teeth after kissing me. That hurt. I guess I’d been on Sang Som. It still hurt(s).

I forget the film we saw. Apple was happy as she had bought two pairs of jeans. I was a little perturbed as I hadn’t known buying jeans with my money was on the itinerary that night. I had to be told to stand for the King’s anthem. I had not known before then what was going to happen. “Stand up,” she said, shocked I was watching the display in front of me slumped in the old chair. I did as I was told. We watched a thousand pixilated faces come together and form one giant image on the screen. And it was the first time I was introduced to the Khun Kaew Palace ad that played before every movie. Khun Kaew Palace I believe is still open, although it’s as dated as the Miami Hotel in Bangkok and likely still serves runny eggs and water sausage with pineapple as an ABF (American Breakfast). I still remember how melodious the voiceover was, the pretty rising tone on kaew. I was in love with that voice. It was these small things that made me fall in love with Thailand.

Seeing a film in Thailand meant one thing to me, it meant that I was in some very small way doing something outside of the tourist bracket, something I dearly wanted to get away from. I wanted to date Apple. I thought dating a prostitute a little noir, Bukowskian – maybe I’d write a book called Hooker, like Burrough’s Junky, just a different addiction. I soon realized I’d never write Hooker. Dating prostitutes is serious business, I didn’t want to get involved. We did however form a lasting friendship, Apple and me (I met some of the family that she had shown me in a photo album that night when we didn’t have sex in a bed full of compromising teddy bears) and played bowling from time to time at the place in Nong Hoi. Sometimes she would ask me to write fake love letters to all the men that were sending her money from abroad. She seemed happy enough and didn’t seem to have any scruples about lying, in fact, she acted as if it were the normal thing to do. We didn’t see any more films together, although I did once bump into her at the then new Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza. She had aged many years and was carrying around with her yet another boyfriend. That was the last time I saw Apple, my introduction to prostitution.

This is more like it. My mate just took this at Maya Mall. he said the parking is F@#$%^ (I’ve been told to watch my language), but it’s a rather nice mall. 

Chiang Mai Cinemas

For a long time we had only one cinema in Chiang Mai, Vista at Kad Suan Kaew, and later, and for many years, there were just two: Vista and Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza. Because Vista was reminiscent of the blackouts during World War Two, and finding theatre number 7 was not only like being lost in bad dream but for women a perilous game of chance (my ex told me girls got raped in the bogs and fell out with me ‘cos I laughed and didn’t believe her), the place became almost defunct and would have fallen off the edge of planet Earth if it weren’t for the odd Zairp and his low cost skoi fiancé visiting the city once in a while and breathing life into the old place. Meanwhile Chiang Mai’s new money, or more realistically, new debt, were walking around Airport Plaza pretending to buy things and looking pretty lovely. Airport realized that by continually playing films that could have been labeled ‘For 4-8 years’ and skipping anything of any real value in the world of cinema that their house of movies would be packed for years on end and they could just keep putting the prices up. Things have changed. Suddenly there’s been an influx of Bangkok number plates in Chiang Mai as well as horribly arrogant people riding sports bikes up and down Nimmanhaemin Road all night. Not only that over the last decade the north has become the hub of the global illegal drug trade and millionaires are made by the day, so in an effort to launder cash these nouveau riche dealers have been throwing cash in all directions; hence all the new businesses, and the millions more meth-heads in Africa, South America, and Aberdeen. Rock on Thailand…Here’s a quick rundown of Chiang Mai’s cinemas.

Vista at Kad Suan Kaew (so old the walls are covered in hieroglyphics)

It was cheap as chips here, 60 baht a film, until they discovered digital – the biggest scam cinema has yet to come out with. To watch a film that is inscrutably better quality they more than doubled the price.

Not only that, it seems the occasional films in English are less common than before and mostly these days films are Thai, or ridiculously dubbed in Thai. I asked one of my Thai friends how anyone could enjoy Tom Cruise talking with that same insane exaggerated voice that dubs all Thai films – about as realistic as a dog saying ‘sausages’ –  and she told me it’s because so many people cannot read, or read fast enough. I guess that makes it ok. Still, for me the place brings back so many memories, and it’s one of the only places where you can have the entire theatre to yourself – good for sexual liaisons, or hallucinogenics, or both, which is always a bit weird. It also smells like old cheesecake rubbed on a wet dog, and I like that, it’s unmistakable. It has style.

One more thing I like about Vista is that it sometimes plays the odd indie film, or the film that the other cinemas dare not play as the majority of idiots in Chiang Mai might find it too serious. Keep an eye on Vista.

Major Cineplex

For many years they thought they could get away with stuffing you with the price as they were the only place to watch a film other than Vista. What bugged me is that it was popular, and so you’d be almost guaranteed to be sat next to some guy – who’s likely seen you and so will make his girlfriend change seats, er, because you might touch her? (can any Thai person please explain this weird phenomenon? Is it customary to fondle strangers in cinemas? – who laughs at the abortion scene.

They have lately lowered the prices as people are going to the new places, but I’m feeling a little resentful now and might just skip this place for what they did to me over the years. I’m still mad that they didn’t play There will be Blood, possibly the best film that won prizes in the last decade:

I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people…There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone.”

I’m not sure why I liked this picture so much, something just resonated with me.

I paid only 100 baht last time I saw a film here, on a Monday too, not ‘cheap Tuesday’. Still, I’m a little bit angry with them.

Major Cineplex Central Festival

Same as above really, just a different parking problem. Prices are around 160 baht.

Promenada SF Cinema City

Best movie theatre in town. Low prices: 120 baht, nice staff, and a lounge. Promenada is also the best mall by a million years if you are not shopping for British high street clothes at four times the price they are in Britain.

Maya Mall (No website as yet)

Open now. I haven’t yet been to this cinema, but if you go I suggest you walk, because if today’s traffic jam is anything to go by then driving here will likely put in you in a bad mood for the rest of the year. SFX, which is same company as the Promenada complex. Small problem, they haven’t updated their website and so Maya SFX doesn’t seem to exist online.

NOTE: popcorn stinks, and it’s bad for you. Thai people, this isn’t 1596 and girls no longer have to wear chastity belts. Don’t do the seat swap maneuver, it makes you look ancient and only serves to taint the image of Thailand as westerners might think all Thai men are prone to frottage, or worse, rape. That’s what my ex thinks anyway. She’s convinced rapists are everywhere, and I guess cinemas must be where rapists hang-out. So, be careful. That’s my advice.