by Greg Jorgensen
Bangkok’ s a city of about 10 million people, and you don’t get to be that size without having some pretty cool stuff to see and do. There are the world-famous temples, khlongs (canals), markets, amazing street food, legendary nightlife, and heaps of other things to do, but today we’re writing about an attraction that may not get its full due because it seems so…ordinary: seeing a movie.
Before you scoff, hear us out! Movies in Bangkok are interesting for several reasons over and above the fact that seeing a movie is something everyone likes to do, it’s a great two-hour respite from the heat and busy city. Part culture, part entertainment, and with both advantages and disadvantages when compared to theaters back home, let’s take a look at how your experience will play out.
Most movie theaters here are located in shopping malls – there’re a few smaller independent ones scattered around – but if you’re looking for a huge screen, booming speakers and swank surroundings, it’s to a mall you’ll be-a-heading.
The first thing you’ll notice about Thai films is they’re inexpensive by western standards. Most first-run films here will cost you about 160 baht ($5US) per ticket, less for older films or less-swanky theaters. 3D films or showing in one of Bangkok’s IMAX theaters will cost more, usually around 240-350 baht ($8-$12US).
But there is another option well worth exploring as you’re on vacation – the perfect time to treat yourself to a bit of real movie magic. Most theaters offer special “Ultra” or “Gold Class” seats for certain shows. They’re more expensive – around 600–800 baht ($20-$26US) per ticket – but offer comfy, reclining seats or even sofas, and usually some type of welcome drink or snack, plus a nice menu you can order from if you get hungry during the movie. Sometimes you’re given a pillow and slippers and the theaters have many less seats – truly a VIP layer to enjoy a flick. Some even offer cocktails!
Speaking of food, one of the best things about seeing a film in the west is the snacks. Licorice, popcorn, chocolate, nachos, hot dogs, sodas, pizza…half the fun is pigging out! While Thai theaters do have snack food, it’s not much compared to what you’re probably used to. The usual popcorn and soda can be found, and a few small bags of potato chips or chocolate treats, but that’s about all you may recognize. However, if you want to try bags of mints, shredded squid or shrimp-flavored crackers, you’ll have lots to choose from. The one snack area that Thai theaters excel in is beer – you can buy a can or three just as easily as you can a bottle of water. Hooray!
Also, we’re not sure how other countries do it these days, but seating in Thai movie theaters is all pre-assigned, which means there’s no rush for good seating and you can even come in right when the movie starts and still get the seats you paid for hours earlier. No more holding seats for absent friends and saying, “Sorry, taken, sorry, taken” over and over again. Another hooray!
This next point is an important one: usually after the trailers and commercials play before the main show starts, Thai movie theaters play the Royal Anthem, called Phleng Sansoen Phra Barami. It’s very important that you stand for this. If you don’t, the Thais in the theater will see it as a sign of disrespect for HM the King, which will result in a very unpleasant movie experience, to say the least. It’s quite a beautiful song and is accompanied by pictures of HM the King and other members of the Royal Family in various duties throughout the decades, some of them famous or iconic moments in the development of Thailand. It’s like a mini-history lesson before every show!
Another point to be aware of is that most movies that play in Bangkok are in English with Thai subtitles, usually listed as “Soundtrack English”, “EN/TH” or some variation thereof. However, when you start to get out of the city and into the smaller theaters, sometimes they will only play the version dubbed in Thai, so be aware of this. Be sure when you buy your ticket that the soundtrack’s in the language you want to enjoy.
And last but not least, Thai movie theaters offer some alternatives to showing up and waiting in line to buy a ticket. Most theaters are owned by one of two companies – Major Cineplex and SF Cinema City. We’ll come right out and say it: the websites look like they were designed by a high school class and are often difficult to navigate, but if you’re patient, you’ll find that you’re able to book online, making your movie ticket experience quick and convenient.
At any rate, consider a trip to the movies in Thailand another unique part of this fascinating country. If you’re out exploring the city, there’s nothing better than sipping a beer in an air-conditioned theater and watching your favorite actor ham it up for a quick respite from the sticky weather. And for those traveling with kids as a family, this can be an activity that refreshes young travelers and puts a smile back on their face.