Why are so many movies filmed in Thailand? The list is extensive, but few do the country justice. Often, Thailand doesn't even get to play itself.
Producers love the relatively low production costs and experienced crew members available for work in Thailand. But perhaps it's because Thailand is "exotic" and accessible: two of the reasons that so many travelers also love visiting.
A lot of popular movies filmed in Thailand actually shaped the tourism there. Travelers are drawn to places they've seen on film. When in Krabi, they look for James Bond Island. In Bangkok, they want to have a drink in the rooftop bar spotlighted in The Hangover 2 movie.
Iconic settings such as Phang Nga Bay on the west coast near Phuket turn up again and again due to their unique, exotic-looking landscapes.
Away from the coast, Thailand's serious jungles often substitute for locations where accessible, non-Amazonian greenery is needed. Many movies depicting the Vietnam War end up being filmed in Thailand rather than Vietnam or Laos, mostly to avoid the additional bureaucracy and potential censorship.
Good Morning, Vietnam; Casualties of War; The Deer Hunter; and Heaven and Earth are four examples of times when Thailand stood in for Vietnam.
Unfortunately, Bangkok itself is often depicted with scenes shot only in the bar-lined red light districts such as Soi Cowboy and Patpong. On the contrary, Bangkok is a safe, mostly friendly place for first-time travelers in Asia.
The Hangover 2 (2011)
Not only were parts of this movie filmed at one of Bangkok's most iconic hotels, the premise is just so funny.
Sure, it's not politically correct, and it's totally unrealistic — but so what? This is one of those movies that obviously doesn't take itself too seriously. Having a Singha, Leo, or Chang before viewing certainly doesn't hurt.
The Hangover 2 is chalk full of Thailand clichés; you'll get hit by one after another as fast as you can process. But despite the obvious exaggerations, anyone who has lived or traveled extensively in Thailand will at some point find themselves shouting that's so true! at the screen.
Those tranquil wedding scenes were actually filmed in Krabi to show stark contrast to the busy city scenes. But visitors to Bangkok can go check out the famous Sky Bar at the top of the Lebua at State Tower hotel. If you've got the dough, you can even opt to stay in the official Hangover Suite.
Remember the street jammed with traffic, pedestrians, and even an elephant that was used in the trailer? That's Soy Phi Phaysa in Bangkok's Chinatown neighborhood.
- Locations: Bangkok and Krabi
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)
Take a beautiful beach then add some psychedelic drugs, Renée Zellweger, two handsome guys (Hugh Grant and Colin Firth), and a stuffed iguana. What you get is a scary foreign prison filled with hookers who have hearts of gold.
Yes, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is another not-so-realistic and politically incorrect film. Although the movie got a lousy 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it managed to gross over $262.5 million worldwide!
The film showcases some beautiful places on the west coast of Thailand such as Phang Nga Bay and Nai Yang Beach in Phuket. Soi Cowboy, Bangkok's infamous corridor of neon sleaze, turns up again as a setting in this film.
But don't go searching for the romantic Thai restaurant where Bridget and Daniel hit it off: that was built specifically for the movie set!
- Locations: Bangkok and Phuket
The Beach (2000)
Given that Thailand has been a part of the banana pancake trail for so long, it's no surprise that Richard, Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film, starts in the infamous backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road in Bangkok and ends up on the island of Koh Phi Phi.
Thousands of young, backpacking travelers who come to Thailand every year follow the same route. Perhaps that's why the film, despite some awkwardness, is still such a hit there: it depicts the backpacking trail nearly two decades ago before it became so trampled by tourists.
Although the movie still pops up on screens across Thailand, it doesn't remotely stay true to Alex Garland's hard-hitting 1996 novel The Beach. Even the ending is completely rewritten for the film.
The Beach is mostly set on Koh Phi Phi Leh (a smaller island directly next to Koh Phi Phi Don, the tourist island). The film brought attention and visitors to an island that was mostly untouched before.
Visiting Koh Phi Phi Leh is possible with a boat or snorkeling trip from the bigger island. But don't expect it to look as it did in the film. Absurdly, the producers didn't believe that Koh Phi Phi Leh felt "paradise" enough (it's one of the most beautiful islands in the region), so they bulldozed dunes and replanted a different species of palm tree!
Remember the famous scene where Leonardo's character is building up the courage to jump from the waterfall? You can visit that in Khao Yai National Park in Central Thailand, a good stretch away from Koh Phi Phi.
- Location: Koh Phi Phi Leh
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The 1978 movie The Deer Hunter went way over budget and schedule, but the epic won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken gave a lot of sweat, as did the director, Michael Crimino.
The Deer Hunter was shot on location over months in the jungle of Thailand. Real rats and mosquitoes volunteered as extras in their natural habitat. The Deer Hunter is considered the first Vietnam War movie of many to come that were filmed on location in Thailand.
The famous Russian roulette scene in the bar was shot in Bangkok's Patpong red light district, but the POW camp scenes were filmed along the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi Province, a few hours west of Bangkok.
- Locations: Kanchanaburi Province and Patpong, Bangkok
Bangkok Dangerous (2008)
Bangkok Dangerous starring Nicholas Cage is actually a remake of a 1999 Thai film of the same name by the Pang Brothers.
The 2008 version maintains a lowly 8 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Sadly, Bangkok Dangerous is just another movie on a long list that depict Bangkok as a violent place where shootings are the norm.
Don't believe the myths. Statistically, you are much less likely to become a victim of violent crime in Bangkok than while visiting cities in North America and Europe. That being said, filming was interrupted by the ongoing political crisis in Thailand that eventually led to a coup.
The floating market scene was shot at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, a tourist trap about 1.5 hours south of Bangkok. Soi Cowboy turns up again in this movie, but strangely enough, it substitutes for Patpong, the red light district portrayed in The Deer Hunter. Some scenes were shot in Bangkok's Chinatown.
- Location: Bangkok
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
This classic 007 film is one of the first mainstream U.S. productions to feature Bangkok and Phuket. James Bond (the Roger Moore version) really showcased some of Thailand's exotic appeal.
Koh Tapu, one of the small, uniquely shaped islands in the bay — called Scaramanga's Island in the film — is now known as James Bond Island. It stays busy with tour groups on day trips from Phuket. Travelers on their way to Railay, Koh Lanta, Ao Nang, and other places along the coast often divert in Krabi just to go see the island.
The boxing scenes were filmed in Bangkok. One of Bond's high-speed car chases takes place along a canal by Krung Kasem Road in Bangkok.
The beautiful island-scape of Phang Nga Bay seen in The Man With the Golden Gun was used again in 2005 as the setting for "Kashyyyk" in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
- Locations: Bangkok, Phuket, Phang Nga Province
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The 18th James Bond film has 007 (this time played by Pierce Brosnan) returning to Thailand — but unexpectedly.
The production team was originally granted visas and permission to film in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This was later retracted, so filming was moved to Bangkok.
Even the beautiful scenery of Phang Nga Bay used in The Man With the Golden Gun is seen again in Tomorrow Never Dies, although it's standing in for Halong Bay in Vietnam. The famous stealth boat portrayed in the movie is hidden in Phang Nga Bay.
Michelle Yeoh, the co-star famous for doing her own stunts, actually hails from Ipoh, Malaysia.
- Locations: Bangkok and Phang Nga Bay
Sylvester Stalone co-wrote, directed, and starred in this fourth movie in the John Rambo series.
Much of the movie was filmed in Northern Thailand, but unlike many other action movies, Thailand is actually depicted as Thailand — John Rambo's new home — until a group of missionaries has him going into neighboring Burma on a dangerous rescue mission.
During filming in the jungle, Stallone and the crew reportedly received warning shots fired by the Burmese military. Apparently, they had chosen a realistic location for an unrealistic amount of gunfire and gruesome bloodshed.
- Location: Northern Thailand
Air America (1990)
Although Air America was mostly a flop because it tried to toe the fine line between serious war film and comedy, it did bring some attention — and tourism — to Mae Hong Son Province in Northern Thailand.
At the time, Mae Hong Son was considered the most impoverished province in Thailand. The green mountains work as the backdrop for a film about America's clandestine missions flown into Laos during the Vietnam War.
Although Mae Hong Son is still mostly considered a green, remote corner of Thailand, more and more travelers who make the drive from Chiang Mai to Pai continue farther north looking for something new.
Interestingly, the producers reportedly rented 26 aircraft from the Thai military. Veteran pilots from the war were recruited to perform some of the daring aerobatic stunts — the only redeeming quality in the movie according to some critics.
- Location: Mae Hong Son Province in Northern Thailand
No Escape (2015)
Despite Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson reinforcing the cast, this film about American expats trapped by a coup in Southeast Asia caused quite a bit of controversy.
No Escape was a financial success, however, it didn't do Southeast Asia many favors. The film depicts the daring escape of Americans caught in a violent coup in a fictitious Southeast Asian country. Never mind that Thailand has had its share of coups, or that the setting hardly looks fictional: Thai can even be heard spoken in the movie!
Overall, the film tosses cultural sensitivity out the window and depicts Southeast Asians as blood-hungry savages.
Adding insult to injury, Khmer script borrowed from Cambodia is used in the movie — but it is turned upside down in a cheap, thinly masked effort to hide the true location of the story.
- Location: Chiang Mai
Updated by Greg Rodgers