Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Prince Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

The mouth of the narrow lane, or trok, that shields the Prince Theater from busy Charoen Krung Road, in the shadow of the Taksin Bridge.

Finding the Prince Theater was like finding buried treasure at the beach. Sure, every old timer within a two kilometer radius of the Taksin Bridge knows about the place. But for myself, the Prince Theater represented nothing less than a gold mine of history - still alive, at that!

An unassuming sign hangs above an old shop-house.

The sign above the entrance to the trok reads: showing two movies in a row. Notice the Chinese writing beside the Thai. Ethnic-Chinese have long comprised a major portion of this neighborhood's population.


The sign above the ticket window advertises both Chinese and Western movies

The Prince Theater dates back to the days when rivers and canals were how most people moved around in Bangkok, and when trok neighborhoods were where most people lived. There are still a number of old trok neighborhoods like this one in the city, especially in the central river wards around Rattanakosin, where a decent amount of historic preservation has been enacted over the past 30 years. This is exactly where you'll find the Prince Theater: one street over from the Chaophraya River on Charoen Krung Road, about 15 meters inside a little trok, in the Bang Rak area of town. (I've written about trok neighborhoods before, so I'll refrain from repetition. If you want to know more about them, check out the post about the Sala Chalerm Thani Theater).

Some neighbors congregate in the narrow space in front of the Prince Theater

This man has lived in the Prince Theater trok his entire life.

Unseen Bangkok

Cooking in a narrow lane between the Prince Theater and a row of one-story wooden houses.

Believe it or not, but after all these years the Prince still functions. It was originally known as the Ban Rak Cinema, a name many locals prefer calling it. Short of a confirmation, this very well may be the original Ban Rak Cinema that was built in 1908 on the grounds of royal family member's estate. A prince! If this is so, it would make it one of the oldest operating movie theaters in Asia, if not anywhere in the world.

However, before you get your hopes up, be forewarned that in its present state the showing of films is only done to provide a faint light source for the men enjoying themselves on the inside.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks your blog is amazing, and your amazing for creating it!

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  2. Also, I'm doing a post on Jok Prince. I like to delve into the history of places. Unfortunately the Prince is gone. I have some of my own photos, but would like to link to your post and use a couple from your post if you don't mind

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  3. The theater's name was PRINCE RAMA, never just Prince. If you could read Thai, you'd see that name in each of your photos above. It originally opened as a casino in 1912, when the alley was full of vice, including brothels and opium dens. The govt outlawed casinos not long thereafter, so it reopened as Prince Rama in 1917 to screen silent films. The opium dens remained until WWII. By the mid 70s the Prince Rama was screening a full roster of Hong Kong, Thai and American films. Once mall movie houses took urban audiences away from standalones, it devolved into a porn theater in the late 1980s, returning to its origins in vice, you might say. It was finally closed for good a few years ago. The owners renovated and re-opened as The Prince Theatre Heritage Stay in 2018, offering nice budget rooms and a large downstairs restaurant-cafe.

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