La Scala Siam: a Vintage Cinema Experience in Bangkok

The Scala is the best cinema in Bangkok to see films such as ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ the latest release by Wes Anderson. It’s not the kind of movie usually shown in Bangkok, the big chains seem to prefer the latest American blockbusters or bizarre looking Thai horror movies. This is one of the many reasons the Scala is so great. As someone who used to go to the cinema at least twice a week in the UK, it allows me the chance to keep my finger on the pulse of the more art house releases.

One of the best things about the Scala is the building itself. Built in the sixties it has a brilliant retro feel that reminds me of trips to the ABC when I was a young child. The entrance hall is suitably flashy, with a huge chandelier hovering just over the stairs.  It’s like entering a huge church for the worshippers of celluloid. The auditorium is also a delight, a thousand red velvet seats arranged around a huge screen. There may be less leg room than across the road at Siam Paragon, but it’s worth the sacrifice. This year it was even given an award for “Outstanding Conservation of Art and Architecture 2012,” by the Association of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage.

It really does feel like the whole place has been frozen in time. The popcorn is only 30 Baht (around 60 pence) and our tickets were only 100 Baht each (2 pounds). The ticket man was dressed in a very natty jacket and bow-tie combo, and he looks like he has been around since the cinema was first opened in 1969. The entire experience was so pleasing I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Sadly it seems like the Scala’s days may be numbered. Its lease is due to run out in 2016 and there are rumours they will knock it down to build … another shopping centre! It seems terribly sad to destroy such a beautiful link to Bangkok’s past to build another shiny soulless building in an area already filled with far too many malls. Thankfully many others agree, and hopefully the fight to save what is now a very small slice of cinema history in Asia will prevent this from happening.

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Scala Theatre, Siam Square Soi 1, Rama I Rd – BTS: Siam

Yoga in Bangkok – Getting Bendy

I’ve never been very sporty and I use being an August baby as an excuse for why I am not very good at anything that involves moving in any way that could be suggested as a form of exercise. I have been to the gym once in six months and I don’t use our pool half as much I should. It has come as a surprise to even me that I have been able to keep up with regular yoga classes. Now I know many people don’t consider yoga to be an actual sport, but given that it has been suggested for the Olympics, that during my classes I sweat and I occasionally ache afterwards I’m counting it as one.

I have been going for around six months now and I still look forward to it. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, I very much enjoy the non competitive nature of it. If I can’t be bothered stretching my arms all the way down to the ground I can use a block, and if I am feeling very lazy I just bend my knees when you’re not meant to.

A few months ago I read an article in the New York Times warning that yoga was bad for your health as you can push your body too far. It mentions that you can slip a disk of damage you knee joints. Whilst I am sure this can happen, the teachers that I have had in Thailand teach the class at a kind of multi-level, and they don’t make you feel bad if you cannot get into a particular position. You might not be able to wrap your leg around your head, but you can certainly stretch in the right direction. My friend tells me that Asian people are more stretchy than me, something about extra elastic tendons… This reassures me when everyone around me can do both the Malasana pose and the Downward Dog pose with flat feet and I can’t even get off my tip-toes!

Another thing I love about yoga is how relaxed I feel after it. As someone who usually has a thousand thoughts a minute it’s great to spend 90 minutes focusing on my terrible balance or trying to slide along the mat whilst balancing on my hands (how come everyone else can do the Cobra pose so elegantly?!). I’ve managed to learn enough of the poses so that I can now manage at least 30 minutes of yoga by myself. Admittedly I have only done this twice, but I’m hopeful.

Yoga has also made me look better. It may not be the best way to shift the pounds but when you go from spending most of your life sitting to doing any kind of exercise there are bound to be some physical benefits.

Although up until recently I was attending yoga at the Racquet club at Thong Lor I have recently discovered The Yoga Place. Situated on Thong Lor and only a 20 minute walk from my house. It’s a really great place, you can turn up to any lessons and it’s just 350 Baht (7 GBP). The teachers are really lovely, and there is a cute café on the ground floor with after exercise suitable foods like smoothies, salads and soups. I recommend a visit, even if  you only are in town for a short time!

Loi Krathong 2010

Thankfully you don’t have to be in Thailand long before there is some kind of festival. I was lucky enough to attend my first event on Sunday evening: Loi Krathong. This takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.

The festival is is believed to originate from an ancient practice of paying respect to the spirit of the waters. The Krathong is a raft made from banana leaves and flowers (or in my case bread) and decorated with candles and incense sticks. The Thais believe that by releasing a krathong into the water, you are getting rid of all your bad luck. Some people put bits of hair and nails as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of yourself. Evalynne and I skipped this bit.

After abandoning Dan at the flat with his work and admiring the paddling pool version of the festival at Evalynne’s flat we jumped in a taxi and headed to Chao Phraya River. The girls in the office had given us a post-it note with the address and it didn’t take long to get there and only cost 145 baht, which included the expressway toll (just over £3).

We arrived at the river just before sunset with our Krathongs in hand only to find that I could have purchased a delightful banana leaf one for the fraction of the price I paid for my neon green bread boat at Foodland. They had Krathongs made from coconut, ones shaped like turtles and some tiny folded lotus flowers with birthday candles in them.

We were sadly about two hours early for the main event, so we browsed the food stalls and did some people watching. The latest must have  for fashionable young Thai couples seems to be matching, or at least very coordinated T shirts which carry slogans like: I am best boyfriend/I am best girlfriend or the runaway favourite of simple hearts with faces on them. It’s very creepy. Anyone I know who gets married whilst I am here will be getting a wedding gift from the shop of matchy matchy!

Even after the sun goes down it is still pretty hot, so we invested in some stylish bamboo cups (which I took home as a great gift for Dan, suffice to say he wasn’t as impressed as we were) filled with strawberry smoothie. We also got to enjoy the story of Loy Krathong through dance, and see the lanterns (which are released in their ten of thousands at the festival in Chiang Mai) floating above the bridge and river.

At 7.40 the boat procession started. There was a series of about 12 or so boats which look a bit like a floating version of the Blackpool illuminations. Sometimes they would set fireworks off from the boats. They were all very impressive and we joined in with the crowds to jeer the people in hotel boats who kept zooming past and ruining the view.

After this it was finally time to release our Krathongs! I had pictured romantic scenes of people standing on shores and releasing their boats, but sadly that wasn’t to happen. The river was too choppy and the bank was too high, so a chap with a huge ladle places them in the river for you. You are meant to watch them float away into the distance hoping your candle stays alight (if it disappears from view still burning you will have a great year!) but we lost sight of ours about ten seconds later.