Bangkok’s vintage cinema experience: the antithesis of a ‘cineplex’

Scala cinema in Siam Square

With Bangkok’s reputation for sky-high, glittering shopping centres, complete with state-of-the-art cinemas that afford every luxury imaginable, the city might not be your first thought as somewhere for a more traditional, retro cinema experience. But a couple of hangover establishments from a bygone era are just the trick, and are surprisingly nestled in the Siam Square area, among the most modern of the malls. Among them is Scala, Thailand’s oldest single-screen cinema dating from 1967.

Scala cinema in Siam Square

At Scala it really feels like you’re going to the movies.

One of three cinemas run by Apex – Lido is still kicking around just along the street, but Siam was sadly burned down in the 2010 riots – Scala sits on the opposite side of Rama 1 Road from Siam Paragon and Siam Centre shopping centres, but couldn’t be more different. The title of the film currently showing on the cinema’s single screen is displayed in hand-placed lettering on the light-up sign at the front of the building. Inside, circular staircases weave upwards and past ornate chandeliers to reveal more of the art-deco design that makes the place feel so grand.

Scala cinema in Siam Square

It’s worth a visit for the art-decor venue as much as the film.

Tickets for the several screenings of the one film are on sale from a miniature box office – the tickets are raffle-style, pulled from a book and with the seat number written on by hand. The piddling cost – 100 baht – is enough to put the big chains to shame. Equally inexpensive are the snacks, where salted popcorn will set you back jus 40 baht and crisps and drinks are similarly well-priced.

Scala cinema in Siam Square

At least you don’t have to waste time deciding what to watch!

Though this box office area is not air-conditioned, ticket-holders can pass through the rope barrier to a cooled waiting area where there are toilets and a few seats (the only other toilets in the building are down a rather dingy corridor below, and close at 7pm). Though the man checking tickets at this point disappointingly looked a bit scruffy, rather than being decked out in his traditional uniform as we had been led to believe, staff inside the theatre itself are fancily dressed in jacket and bow tie.

Siam Paragon - photo by KhunBun

Spot the difference? Photo by KhunBun

Pleasingly there isn’t the slightest air of pretension about the place – with the low ticket prices it is no wonder that the crowd coming out of the screening before ours seemed to be predominantly students – but it still manages to retain the charm and the glamour associated with the cinema of yesteryear. The thousand or so seats – the place feels huge in comparison to even the larger screens at chain cinemas – are velvet upholstered, giving a plush feel, and the air-con is toned down just enough to avoid the sub-zero temperatures you get elsewhere.

Scala cinema in Siam Square

A timeless gem in Siam Square.

Scala uses its five or six daily screenings to show one blockbuster Hollywood film at a time, while the three screens at nearby Lido have the same but often combined with a slight indie focus. To get there, take the BTS Skytrain to Siam – Scala is just downstairs on Siam Square Soi 1, directly opposite the Siam Centre shopping mall. Lido is just along the street (to the left as you face Scala), on Rama 1 Road itself.

Scala, Siam Square Soi 1; 02 251 2861; www.apexsiam-square.com

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