The Prince was one of Asia’s oldest cinemas. When the era of talkies came it rolled with the times, screening Hollywood lassics, but the onslaught of malls and multiplexes eventually took its toll, and the distinguished old theatre declined
into showing nudie films before finally giving up and locking its doors.
Its location probably saved the Prince from being demolished, crammed as it is on a small footprint of land amongst shophouses.
But still, we live in changing times. The rise of the budget airlines has caused a new breed of tourist to evolve, and consequently demand for a new kind of accommodation. Not hostels, exactly, but poshtels; and not backpackers, but posh backpackers, or flashpackers.
Once more the Prince Theatre has flickered back into life, this time as the Prince Theatre Heritage Stay Bangkok, with accommodation that runs from suites and duplex lofts, down to dormitory rooms. In keeping with the hotel’s heritage there is a cinema-style lobby, ancient projection equipment, screenings of classic movies, and even salsa dancing.
Elsewhere in Bangkok, old buildings that have outlived their original purpose but which for various reasons cannot be
knocked down are being converted into heritage hotels and poshtels.
Within a couple of minutes’ walk of the Prince Theatre stands The House of Phraya Jasaen, a boutique hotel formed out of seven old shophouses and offering a choice of thirty-two rooms and suites, including dormitory rooms suitable for families and flashpackers.
Phraya Jasaen was the great grandfather of the current owning family and had served as minister of the interior under Rama VI, the king bestowing upon him the land upon which the shophouses stand in recognition of his loyal service. The
renovation of the old property has left the ambience and many of the original features of the building intact.
Over in Chinatown, on the corner of Mahachai and Charoen Krung roads, stands a graceful old building that was erected in 1900 for Lady Mom Rajawong Rosalin Gaganang, a direct descendant of Rama IV.
Now owned by a philanthropic foundation that donates its income to various medical organisations, the building has been converted into the Cacha Bed Heritage Hotel, providing individual rooms and dormitories with bunk beds, along with a rather pleasant chill-out spot on the roof, directly behind the pediment, for drinks.
In the Old City, Inn A Day is a former sugar warehouse, located directly on the bank of the Chao Phraya River in the historic Tha Tien market, with the Temple of the Dawn on the far bank peering in the windows, and the Grand Palace within five minutes’ walking distance.
The hotel has only 11 rooms, with the entry-level room measuring a tiny 20sqm, but Tha Tien is a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood and the hipster ambience makes this attractive accommodation for those who are not too worried about space.
Neither is it alone. Set in the same lane, almost next door, is Sala Rattanakosin, which has been formed from a warehouse and two late 19thcentury shophouses. There are 16 rooms here, and a rooftop bar where the Temple of the Dawn can be viewed over a glass or two.
Behind its rather blank 1960s façade on Lan Luang Road, the hotel houses ancient printing presses and blocks, vintage typewriters, and the tall metal stools that compositors used. A four-storey atrium with a catwalk and exposed girders maintains the factory atmosphere, but the rooms have been fitted out in modern comfort.
Only a few minutes on foot from the Bangkok Publishing Residence, on Dinso Road stands another former printing works, the family-owned Printing House, set inside a building that is more than seventy years old and was used to print textbooks.
At flashpacker grand central, Khao San Road, a seventy-year-old timber house standing on the side of the canal opposite Wat Bowon Niwet has been converted into the Canale Hostel, with much of its old wooden panelling and flooring retained and with some of the rooms having a balcony looking out over the water.
One thing all these conversions have in common is a creative interior design, the various odd shapes and spaces allowing different room sizes and décor, and with a tendency to industrial chic that fits perfectly with the flashpacker groove.
Google “Bangkok poshtel” and any number of options will be listed, for the rise of the poshtel is becoming so all-pervasive that along with the smaller types with only a few rooms being hammered into tiny premises, new poshtels are being constructed.
Many of these, inspired by the heritage conversions, take their design theme from industry, although the enterprising Sook Station, near the Udomsuk BTS Skytrain station, somewhat alarmingly boasts a jail theme.
There is a lot more potential in this market, and anyone owning an old building that has plenty of interior space is sitting on a gold mine.