Where Was HBO’s “The Sympathizer” Filmed

A peek inside 1970’s Vietnam through these filming locations in “The Sympathizer.”

The Sympathizer, based on the novel of the same name by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a series following the experiences of a Vietnamese communist spy at the end of the Vietnam War. The protagonist, known as the Captain (Hoa Xuande,) has been infiltrated into the South Vietnamese army, tasked with reporting to his superiors about their activities and plans.

As the story progresses and the leading character’s world crumbles, he is forced to move to the United States to continue his missions, showcasing a plethora of locations against the backdrop of this turbulent setting. Spanning from California to Thailand, The Sympathizer carries a gripping plot, a stellar cast (Hoa Xuande, Robert Downey Jr., Sandra Oh,) and ravishing visuals. Keep reading to experience all the filming locations in this captivating series.

Bangkok, Thailand

bangkok instagram
Photo by Bangkok Instagram

The Sympathizer aimed to give the series an ambience as close as achievable to the Vietnam War era, so, initially, production tried to film in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but they had to abandon this idea and move to Thailand due to censorship issues. As a result, most of the pieces are captured in this popular Southeast Asian country.

The wide variety of landscapes in the location allowed The Sympathizer to be filmed with the utmost realism, featuring cities like Bangkok. Thailand’s capital, well-known as “the City of Angels” by its inhabitants, can be overwhelming for first-time visitors due to its the hustle and bustle energy. This was, nevertheless, the reason why production chose to film here; Bangkok’s vibrant corners perfectly evoke the chaotic spirit they were seeking. Some examples of this are the scenes in the opening episode where the Captain and his friends are seen sitting in a restaurant before the fall of Saigon.

Other locations around Thailand

the sympathizer
Photo by Thailand Instagram

The directors of The Sympathizer admitted facing difficulties in making the parts shot in Thailand to resemble Vietnam as closely as possible, which made them relocate to different cities to achieve this effect. More areas that may have appeared include Chiang Mai – located in the northern part of the country – is well-renowned for its Lana Old Kingdom heritage.

Its walls host over 300 Buddhist temples, like Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and the town itself dates to the 13th century. Its tranquil, laid-back atmosphere, in contrast to that of the capital, could have been used to capture episodes requiring a more rural and traditional environment. Other towns, such as Ayutthaya, home to dozens of ancient temples and palaces, and Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, notorious for its majestic, glittering, white sand beaches, were also crucial for obtaining realistic and authentic imagery.

Los Angeles, California

the sympathizer
Photo by Los Angeles Instagram

After the fall of Saigon, the Captain escapes to the United States accompanied by his mentor, the General (Toan Le), and other Vietnamese refugees, settling in Los Angeles to pursue their espionage plans. The metropolis’ retro aura, coupled with its abundance of studio sets, made it easy for the production team to recreate a 1970s universe in which the plot unfolds. Specifically, Santa Clarita, an area in Los Angeles County, was chosen to host several scenes depicting Vietnamese exiles trying to rebuild their lives. Some of the natural, well-preserved corners in the city that attract not only film producers but also thousands of visitors each year are Placerita Canyon Nature Center, Gibbon Conservation Center, and Towsley Canyon Park.

You can stream The Sympathizer on HBO.

Aitana Esteban Rando

Aitana, born and raised in Spain, loves exploring new places and different cultures while staying true to her roots. She's on a mission to visit every spot that stole her heart in books and movies. Fluent in Spanish and English, she's now learning Arabic. For her, speaking different languages is the key to understand the world's beautiful diversity.

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