Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Hawaii Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

The Hawaii Theater stands amid the constant bustle of Charoen Rat Road, in the Wong Wian Yai section of Bangkok.

Showing today: Chinese, Japanese and Western Films

It might not look like much today, but the Hawaii Theater was once a state-of-the-art cinema, one of the few in Thailand to feature an escalator in the lobby. Time and a lack of tender loving care, however, have taken their toll. Most of the neighborhood residents I spoke to didn't even realize that the Hawaii is still open, stealthily showing pornography to cover its costs. In fact, when I visited the Hawaii at 9:00 o'clock on a Saturday morning, there was already a group of customers lounging around in the lobby awaiting their fix of smut. An off-duty cab driver, sipping from a bottle of white whiskey while sitting on a milk crate in the lobby, explained that "society thinks of us as criminals. It's against the law to do what we do. But you know what, buddy? We come here, we do what we do, and when it's all done, everything is better."

A bit of insight into the mind of the sexually deviant.

A noodle vendor along with some other businesses have set up shop in the lower lobby. The open space in the middle of the photo used to contain an escalator, leading to the upper lobby and entrance to the auditorium.

Behind the Hawaii Theater's raunchy present their is a rich history. Mr. Noppadol Rattanaboonsin (above), the current manager of the Hawaii and employee since it opened in 1973, claims that at 1,860, the Hawaii has the largest seating capacity of any theater in Thailand ever. Throughout the 1970's and most of the 80's, he said, the Hawaii employed up to 40 full-time staff.

The original owner/operator of the Hawaii Theater also owned the New York Theater in Saphan Kwai and the Asia Rama Theater in Pra Kanong. Whether or not he still owns them is unclear.

The ticket window, where it costs 50 baht for a ticket to watch pornography. All the facilities of the Hawaii Theater are on the 2nd floor

Looking down over noodle eaters, from the second level.

Second level, front. An escalator used to ascend between the white signs. The Hawaii was once quite nice.

This staircase is accessible from the rear of the lower level. Since the escalator was removed, this is the only way to get to the second level.

Mr. Rattaboonsin was kind enough to give a little background as to the Hawaii's current state of being. Showing pornography, he feels, is the only way to keep the place alive. It grosses approximately 1000 baht per day with its current x-rated line-up. The costs of rehabbing it are extremely high and there's not much else to do with it. So it's either XXX or abandonment, the latter of which still runs you the cost of paying property tax.

Personally, I think with a little marketing effort, some film distribution networking and a nice cleaningjob it would be a perfectly acceptable second-run theater, which would probably make even more money than it does selling porn. But I'm a bit of an idealist. The reality is that with the recent opening of the Skytrain extension to Wong Wian Yai, the property owner is probably just sitting on it until he gets a good price for the land. Next comes the wrecking crew and a condominium rises from the ruble. What a backwards world we live in!


  1. Corrections...

    The largest theater ever in Thailand was Pra Kha Nong Theater,Pra Kha Nong area.I had once visited it.The maximum capacity was about 3,000 seats before being split into lower 2,500 seats auditorium and upper 500 seats auditorium.It already became 2nd run theater when I watched movies there 8-9 years ago,but some of its stylish interior decorations still remains.It was quite an experience getting in to the auditorium so large that contains 2 aisles,and when sitting on the very rear rows,you can hardly see people sitting at the very front rows.Yes,it was that large!

    Sadly,this theater had been closed down somewhat half a decade ago.Now converted into some apartment or condominium,I'm not sure.

  2. Thank's for that correction, Khun Nantawat. That's a really huge theater indeed! Sad to hear that it's gone.

    I have read about some of the older theaters in Bangkok, the ones dating from the early 20th century. One in particular, The Royal Vitascope Theater, which was apparently on Charoen Krung Road on the grounds of Prince Prida's palace, had a seating capacity of 3,000. That, however, was back in 1906.

    So there it is! The largest movie theater seating capacity in Thailand of all time was not that Hawaii at 1,800, but a tie between the Royal Vitascope Theater and the Pra Kha Nong Theater at 3,000.

  3. As of August 2018, it is still there. It isn't well marked, so I found it first on Google maps. Other than this website, there is no info. on it easily available. The staircase, lobby, and ticketing areas are in decent shape. No AC or even lights in the main cinema hall. Not for the faint of heart.