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Exploring the Enchanting Heritage of Bang Rak: Where Tradition Meets the 21st Century
Story and Pictures
by Andrew J Wood
BANGKOK: When I first arrived in Bangkok in 1991 I worked in the Bang Rak area at the Shangri-La hotel. So let me share a secret – around Charoen Krung Road (which literally means New Road) is a favourite venue of mine and Bang Rak is served by the BTS skytrain which is just a short stroll away at Saphan Taksin station and boat pier. Situated next door to the Shangri-La hotel just before the bridge that crosses the impressive Chao Phraya River-known as Bangkok’s River of Kings.
At the BTS station take exit 3, which takes you straight onto Charoen Krung Road, take a left and stroll down the main street.
Bang Rak is one of the fifty districts of Bangkok. It lies on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River. One of Bangkok’s earliests riverside settlements, Bang Rak grew inland as new roads and canals were constructed during the second half of the 19th century.
It’s great fun walking in this district. Bursting with history, tradition and heritage.
Bang Rak is testament to Bangkok’s evolution, it thrived as a riverside settlement during the 19th century.
Venturing into the heart of Bang Rak, you are greeted by a kaleidoscope of shop houses selling Chinese medicine; shark fin restaurants and chick eateries. In the pre-Chinese New Year festivities, I saw the streets teeming with fruit sellers and a myriad of red and gold ornaments, including the traditional lucky red and gold ang pao envelopes symbolising prosperity and good be fortune.
Bangkok’s fascinating Bang Rak
Wandering down Charoen Krung Road, Robinson department store stands as a modern landmark, anchoring the district’s historical charm with its 21st-century neighbours. However, just steps away, the bustling street vendors offer a sensory journey with tantalising aromas and flavours, keeping the essence of traditional Thai street life alive.
Is tourism back? It certainly is! The streets were packed with tourists and locals alike. A good sign.
After a five minute walk from the BTS I take a left turn down Si Wiang Road, this is my destination and it wasn’t difficult to find. A large luminous billboard heralds the Prince Theatre.This is an iconic Bang Rak establishment since its inception in 1912. Over its 112 years, the Prince Theatre has undergone numerous metamorphoses, Bang Rak too. Both continue to evolve, the past intertwined with modernity, inviting locals and visitors alike to embark on a journey through time.
PRINCE THEATRE HISTORY
When it opened in 1912, the Theatre was actually named The Royal Casino which included a raunchy Chinese Opera Group. A place of entertainment and liquor, it was a popular watering hole for locals and farang (foreign) residents alike.
Booze and gambling led unfortunately to trouble and things got out of hand. People were having a bit too much fun and it was ordered to close.
Resurfacing in 1917-1957 it was rebranded to the Prince Rama a wholsome neighbourhood movie house screening everything from silent black and white, Hong King and Thai films to modern day Hollywood blockbusters. As cinema goers headed to the large Malls and Multiplexes the days were numbered for standalone neighbourhood theatres.
The Prince didn’t totally fade away. In 1985 it metamorphosed one again.
Tucked down an alley off the main drag.
Prince’s under-the-radar location made it the perfect spot for screening classic X-rated nude films and porn! Men, boys, and even women, popped in and took pleasure in watching a naughty film or two!
Over the past few years the “Prince Theatre Heritage-Stay Hostel” at Charoen Krung Road, Si Wiang, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok was born. The century old building has been tastefully preserved.
With daily films for hostel guests and free popcorn the hostel still pays homage to its heritage, a colourful art-deco style interior with fun bright colours. The location, good food and simple accommodation make it a popular value choice for those on a budget.
On Booking.com one guest wrote
“It was nice, everyday there is in the late afternoon, early evening a movie on the huge screen on the stage. During my five days there we watched Wild West Western Movies and Indiana Jones. And everytime I received a free popcorn….”
Managed under UNICORN Hospitality that specialises in boutique lifestyle hotels and hostels in the region.
This hidden gem is a perfect hide-away for any visitor to Bangkok. But remember it’s our secret!
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