In early 1976, the bodies of two tourists were found burnt on the side of a road north of Bangkok, Thailand. They had smoke in their lungs, meaning they had still been breathing when they were set on fire. They were initially reported as missing Australian backpackers, but after Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg received a letter about two Dutch tourists who had uncharacteristically stopped communicating with their families in February 1976, he began to investigate further. He eventually matched the dental records of the missing Dutch couple to the burned bodies.
Much of the series takes place in the Thai capital, where Sobhraj made his base and where Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) was stationed at the Netherlands Embassy. The production’s first problem was dealing with the enormous changes Bangkok had undergone since the 1970s.
For Sobhraj’s apartment complex, Kanit House, the team needed one of the Forties blocks that used to fill the city but have now mostly been demolished: For Knippenberg’s villa, they took over an old house in Bangkok’s northern limits, near to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, using the real-life Knippenberg’s own photographs to dress it, as they did for his embassy, recreated in a building in Samut Sakhon on the western edges.
Bars where Knippenberg meets his partner in detection, Belgian diplomat Paul Siemons (Tim McInnerny), were chosen for their period details: the Art Deco-styled Atlanta Hotel in Khlong Toei and the Embassy Hotel in Phaya Thai.
For Sobhraj’s haunt in the city, the Santa Cruz hotel, they filmed at the Miami Hotel in Watthana district.
Thailand Even the few tourist sites we see were subject to the same difficulties. Episode one shows a trip down a klong (canal), many of which used to run throughout the city but are now mostly built over. We also see the famous Wat Pho temple, home to the gilded reclining Buddha. The rest of those scenes were shot at a smaller temple nearby, Wat Intharawihan, in the Phra Nakhon district.’
One of the memorable scenes of episode one sees Sobhraj and his acolyte Ajay Chowdhury (Amesh Edireweera) take a lone American traveller to Pattaya beach, to the south of Bangkok. In fact, they’re in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, some way to the southwest near the royal seaside retreat of Hua Hin. It’s been completely built up. Khao Sam Roi Yot is beautiful, though my main memory is of there being a huge amount of mosquitoes.’ Other beaches we see were close by: the scene where Sobhraj and Leclerc meet an Australian couple was filmed in Pranburi, while shots in India were also taken near Hua Hin.