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The Prince reimagined

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Posted 20 June 2018 - 06:29 PM

From Coconuts Bangkok




The Prince Theater Heritage Stay wasn’t always a hostel. It wasn’t always a porno theater either, but we’ll get to that in a second.


Before the age of Netflix and megaplexes, the 1,200-seat Chalermthai Theater — seen below screening 1962 hit The Longest Day — was Bangkok’s most modern cinema and a hot spot for the city’s socialites and middle-class alike.


But a few kilometers down the road, a considerably-less-glamorous cinema was operating. The Prince Rama Theater’s single screen served the working-class residents of Bangrak — a neighborhood once known for its clutch of shady brothels.


Street food vendor Yai, 61, who has lived in Bangrak her whole life, remembers it well.


“I was only 10 years old. The ticket was THB3.5 but I never paid,” she said with a smile.

“I just snuck in to watch Petchara. Do you know who she is?” she asked of 1960s Thai film icon Petchara Chaowarat. We do.


While the upscale Chalermthai Theater was torn down in 1989, the Prince Rama stubbornly stayed afloat for more than another decade, shifting its programming to a mix of Chinese historical dramas, Hollywood offerings, and, yes, porn. It played enough of the latter to eventually earn its (translated) nickname, “the Prince Porno Theater.”


Today, you can still watch porn on the premises, you’ll just have to stream it on the internet like the rest of us — ideally with the curtains to your room drawn tightly shut.


Dubbed the Prince Theater Heritage Stay, the cinema-themed hostel opened a few months ago, a transformation that mirrors the Bangrak neighborhood’s decades-long evolution into a major business district.


The brain trust behind the hostel are neither ignorant nor ashamed of the building’s colorful past. Far from it. The Montara Hospitality Group sees the building’s past — porno period and all — as central to the hostel’s charm, even keeping a large movie screen front and center in the lobby.


“We don’t want to twist the truth — we want its authentic history to live on. Travelers can get a nice room anywhere, but the idea that they stay at a hostel that used to screen porn in the past could be a funny story to tell their friends,” explained Montara CEO Kittisak Pattamasaevi.


The lobby, which features a reception desk designed to look like a box office, now plays compilations of black and white movie clips, but evidence of the theater’s once-lewd leanings is hinted at in the hostel’s decor, with old posters of European pornos and British sex films like Nine Ages of Nakedness (1969) hung over the toilets in the private rooms.


That’s a little less exciting than the good old days, when the Prince Porno Theater made big bucks from its “midnight round,” when they switched from R-rated films to those bearing a full “X” rating, according to the theater’s former projectionist.


“They had what they called a ‘midnight round’ which showed porn from midnight for an hour. The midnight round was held four times a month. The ticket costed a THB100, and it was always packed,” recalled Surapol Karew, 60, who landed a job at the Prince Rama Theater in the late 1970s then stuck around 20 years.


Surapol says the moviegoers who caught the midnight screenings were largely gay men and trans women, and that romance often bloomed in dark corners of the theater, the operation of which was tolerated as they ensured that the cops were regularly paid.


“Even people from the upcountry like Khon Kaen [and] Sukhothai [provinces] came all the way here to see the movies. They got here on a tuk-tuk. The line of the tuk-tuks that stopped at the entrance was so long, the cops asked them ‘What’s on tonight?’ And the tuk-tuk drivers simply said ‘Porn!” Sorapol said, chuckling at the memory.


Thankfully, the seats and other bits of the theater live on in a fashion, reclaimed to become a physical part of the new hotel.


Continues with pics and history


#2 CaptainSwing



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Posted 20 June 2018 - 11:00 PM

Very interesting.  Amazing it wasn't torn down.  I hope when they turned it into a hostel they got rid of the rats.

#3 ChristianPFC



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Posted 27 June 2018 - 10:35 PM

That's quick! I went there last August and it was all construction site.



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Posted 28 June 2018 - 01:13 AM

I managed to get to get there once before it closed. Masonry was falling onto floor from above and some seating was roped off because of hazard. Glad to see the spirit of the place was preserved.

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