Bangkok’s most unique and charming independent cinemas

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Published: April 13, 2016

Bangkok heaves with chain cinemas, and they offer an experience that’s often one massive leap up from cinemas elsewhere. Just a couple of hundred baht will get you comfy reclining seats, with plenty of legroom, in state-of-the-art modern movie theatres built into some of the world’s most impressive skyscraper shopping centres. And if you want to splurge just a little bit more, ticket prices that are still reasonable by western standards land you ultra-VIP treatment, with seats that are sometimes full-on beds with blankets, and complimentary at-seat service of drinks and nibbles.

But for all the great things that Bangkok’s mainstream cinemas have going for them, they’re also two-a-penny and are available on what feels like every street corner in the Thai capital. That means that after a while they can feel a tad faceless. Thankfully, Bangkok also has a healthy supply of more individual-feeling cinemas that pack in plenty of character and show a more eclectic range of films, and some of which are housed in frankly stunning buildings from a golden age of theatre that’s long since passed. If you’re up for breaking up your run-of-the-mill movie-going trips with something a little more out of the ordinary, here’s our pick of three of the city’s most unique independent cinemas for you to check out.

Scala

Scala cinema in Bangkok - photo by Chris Wotton

Scala is the Bangkok indie cinema that everyone’s heard of, even if they haven’t quite got around to visiting themselves. And if it’s your cup of tea, then it doesn’t really get much more romantic or old-school than this place. Scala is Thailand’s oldest single-screen cinema, and first opened in 1967 – from the old-fashioned lettering out front showing the title of the film currently showing, to the gorgeous chandeliers, circular staircases and overall ornate Art Deco decor, everything and everything at Scala is totally retro.

Handwritten raffle-style tickets are sold from a miniature box office – the flat-rate 100-baht admission here is as good value as, and often even cheaper than, the chain cinemas – and a vintage popcorn cart sells good honest, old-fashioned cinema snacks. The huge single screen feels even more grand than its more modern chain counterparts, the seats are in plush velvet, and the ushers – do mainstream cinemas even employ them anymore? – are fancily dressed in jackets and bow ties.

If you’re looking for some glamourous and old-school, Scala is the one. It shows just one film at a time; its nearby sibling Lido (they were once triplets, but Siam sadly burned down in 2010) lacks as much character but shows a wider variety of movies, including some slightly more indie-oriented releases.

Siam Square Soi 1 (BTS Siam); 02 251 2861; www.apexsiam-square.com

House RCA

House RCA cinema in Bangkok - photo by House RCA

As sleek and modern as Scala is vintage, House RCA is an independent boutique cinema that shows the films that fall off the radar of the big chains in pursuit of the crowds. Tucked in a slightly dodgy-feeling location down the far end of nightlife street Royal City Avenue, or RCA – perhaps most famous for sprawling clubs like Route 66 – House RCA sits on the upper floors of a deserted-looking shopping and entertainment centre. It’s certainly not the kind of place you would stumble upon by accident – on the contrary, you’ll need to pretty certain where you’re headed, and even then you’ll likely have doubts as to whether you’ve taken a wrong turn.

House’s speciality is alternative and art-house cinema, and here you can expect the likes of quirky documentaries and lower-grossing Thai and international films. In addition to the two minimalistic screens that show three releases each week, there’s a coffee shop, plus a shop that sells and loans (for free!) DVDs and souvenirs.

Royal City Avenue (Rama 9 Soi 8) (MRT Rama 9); 02 641 5177; www.facebook.com/houseRCA

The Friese-Greene Club

The Friese-Greene Club in Bangkok - photo by The Friese-Green Club

Though a private members’ club rather than a public cinema like the others on this list, the Friese-Greene Club is a worthy entrant nonetheless – and the membership side of things is only informally adhered to, so don’t let that put you off.

It’s perhaps the most intimate cinema you’ll find anywhere, with a homey atmosphere and just nine big-screen seats that must be booked in advance. There are also seats at the bar to catch the nightly film on smaller screens, plus a sofa tucked away on the second floor. The club specialises in classic movies strung around a weekly theme, there are drinks available at the bar, and the fact that it’s a place born out of sheer passion for film means that you’re sure to find a fellow movie fanatic who’s up for a chat.

Sukhumvit Soi 22 (BTS Asok); 087 000 0795; www.fgc.in.th

Which of these indie cinemas have you visited? Which is your favourite? Or do you have tips for others? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by Chris Wotton; House RCA; The Friese-Greene Club.

Categories: Bangkok
Tags: bangkok

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