Going to the movies might not sound like a very exotic travel experience, but Bangkok is ever a city of surprises. Luxurious, clean, (too) well air-conditioned, well-priced and with screenings in English or in the case of 'foreign' films, with English sub-titles, Bangkok's cinemas are everything you wished you had back home.
Though most of what you'll find at the main chains is Hollywood blockbusters and mainstream English-language cinema, Bangkok also offers indie and arthouse flicks, foreign film festivals and documentaries. Film buffs interested in Asian cinema might appreciate the chance to catch a Thai horror film – the genre is very well-developed and includes highly-stylized chill-inducing remakes of traditional Thai ghost tales.
If you travel during 'winter' – the dry season from November to March – you also stand a good chance of catching an outdoor movie screening.Last year, the Goethe Institute, Rock Around Asia and Alliance Francais all hosted open air movie screenings – it's worth keeping an ear to the ground for these unique – and frequently free – cultural events.
Below is a breakdown of Bangkok's main cinemas and what you can expect at each. As a rule, all English-language movies are screened in English, all foreign films have English (and usually Thai) subtitles, and all Thai films have English subtitles. In all cinemas, expect at least 20 minutes' worth of trailers and the King's anthem, for which everyone has to stand. In the bigger cinemas your seat is numbered, but you get to choose where you want to sit before you pay.
Major Cineplex in Siam Paragon, BTS Siam
This is the city's flashiest cinema, run by the biggest chain. The volume in all cinemas is LOUD, the air is cold and queues can get long on the weekends. A popcorn and soda combo is around 155 THB, but you're by no means limited to traditional cinema snacks. Here, you can get sausages, sandwiches, beer, Thai nibbles, and basically whatever tickles you from the McCafe or Starbucks inside the lobby.
The Enigma Shadow Screen is the most exclusive cinema here, with only a dozen or so sofas, complete with cushions, blankets, free-flow popcorn and a complimentary drink (wine, beer or basic liquor). Tickets are 1,500 each, but they don't sell singles, you must go as half of a pair or submit to paying the full 3,000 THB yourself, then looking like you've been stood up by your date.
The next rung down the ladder is a Nokia Ultra Screen. A ticket (700-800 THB) gets you access to the Nokia lounge, which has massage chairs and drinks/food service, including beer, liquors and wine. Inside, recliners are paired together – you get a blanket and food service throughout the movie so you don't have to get up.
For those who don't readily suffer whiplash, a 4D screening is a good option for an action flick. Puffs of air, a 'bucking' seat and 3D effects draw viewers into the movie, though the gusts of wind might be distracting for some. Tickets are 450 THB. IMAX is also a good choice for action films and animation – a great treat for kids who aren't too sensitive to sound (it's quite loud). Most IMAX films are 3D – tickets cost 350-500 THB.
A regular seat in a 'normal' cinema costs from 150-200 THB, with specials for students on Wednesdays. They're comfortable, if somewhat chilly, and include 'love seat' sofas at the back at extra cost. SF Cinema at Central World also offers deluxe and normal cinemas for roughly the same price and with similar services, though not as conveniently located near the BTS (it's between Siam and Chitlom stations), though there's another one – SF Cinema City – inside MBK.
Lido and Scala, BTS Siam
These stand-alone cinemas were amongst the first in Bangkok, constructed in the late 1960s and sporting funky retro décor. As with any old-style cinema, you trade some modernity for ambience, but there's no compromise here on comfort. At Scala, which is a single-screen cinema, tickets cost 100 baht each and popcorn is 30 THB. The theater is a grand, plush space, truly reminiscent of yesteryear.
Nearby, the somewhat less glam Lido offers three screens. Both cinemas are run by APEX and all have Dolby Surround Sound. They screen a mix of independent, art house, documentary and blockbuster flicks. Rumors abound that Scala and Lido will soon be pulled down for more development in the Siam Square zone, and though various local groups vehemently oppose it, these vestiges of 1960s Bangkok could be living on borrowed time. Better check them out while you have the chance.
House RCA, Rama 9
A little off the grid for foreign travelers, House in the clubbing zone of RCA screens independent and foreign films for 100 THB per ticket. In the true spirit of indie films, this boutique space is hip and modern, there's a café onsite and a film and DVD library where you can buy and rent (if you are a member) a selection of Thai and foreign films. There's WiFi for a fee and the cinema is inside a complex with various restaurants and a shopping center for convenience. The cinema frequently screens its own 'pop-up' film festivals with reduced ticket prices, so it pays to keep an eye on the schedule for the latest information.
Caveat: In any screening with enough people in it, you may encounter chatting, will probably hear some snoring (but to be fair, the seats are really comfortable) and it's practically guaranteed there'll be someone texting or even chatting on their phone during the movie. There's not really anything you can do about it besides move to an empty seat after the movie begins.