Television, Movie Theatres, DVDs, Nightlife in Thailand
It is unlikely you will get bored while staying in Bangkok. Basically, all the amenities to spend your leisure time pleasantly are here. Some may be lacking a bit, but overall the city has more to offer than most.
Most foreigners residing in Thailand and those on a short trip (in a hotel room) will have to do with TrueVisionsTV (formerly UBCTV) cable or satellite T.V. TrueVisions operates a monopoly for foreign language broadcasting and offers a lot (actually too much) They at present offer three packages, priced at around 1000, 1500 and 2500 baht per month respectively. The standard middle package offers CNN, BBC International, Movie Channels (HBO, Cinemax, Hallmark), a lot of sport channels, local Thai TV, French TV5.
The basic package is not recommended for those interested in global events. For most subscribers the Gold package will probably do. Among others, you can view these channels : BBC World, CNN, CNBC, TV5, quite a few sports channels, Thai (government) TV (but not all available channels, there are at least about 50 local Thai channels, we reckon), Discovery Channel, HBO, Cinemax, Star Movies, Hallmark Channel, a channel showing TV-Series. In all, there is actually more than enough choice, but you have to take it all, you can not take your pick at a low price. A few years back, a lot of channels (like CNN, BBC, movie and sport channels, have been upgraded to HD quality. You can also upgrade and record HD broadcasts.
The most expensive Platinum package has some more regional Asian channels (Chinese, Japanese, cartoons, classic movie channel).
Sport covering of major events can be rather poor : the Olympics and the Tour de France (and other cycling events) are not really scheduled. The World Cup is covered but invariably in a poor way. We remember years ago a World Cup where the games were constantly interrupted by advertisements. After all there are a few hundred thousands foreign residents in the country, and the tourists who want to see the games after some sightseeing and shopping, were duly disappointed.
The Thai T.V. channels are rather pitiful. Some channels (Nation, ITV, TNN, Channel 3) offer local news relatively well . Most of the others seem only interested in broadcasting various silly game shows and Thai soap operas. During the Tsunami in December 2004 Thai T.V. was found seriously lacking. While thousands of people died in the South of Thailand, game shows and soap operas where being broadcasting, while the BBC had live images of Phuket already available! The most watched Thai TV channels are government-owned, and their reporting will certainly reflect it.
If you stay for a longer time in Bangkok, it may be worthwhile to look around for satellite reception, rather than to pay the high fees of TrueVisions. TrueVisions follows a typical Thai concept : charge a lot to a few customers, rather than provide reasonably priced products for the masses. You can look for programming in the newspapers and at www.truevisionsTV.com
Some practical notes :
Contacting TrueVisions by telephone is very unrewarding, with many redirects, a long waiting time, and possible misunderstandings. On the other hand, when you have a problem with the reception signal, or your equipment, we always found them helpful.
Siam Paragon Cineplex at Siam Paragon Shopping Centers offers a total of 9 regular movie theatres and 5 IMAX theatres. Located at Siam Square.
Movie theaters in Bangkok are rather superb. They are all around town. Easily reachable venues (each close to a BTS skytrain station) are at Emporium, at Ekamai, and around Siam Square (also at the World Trade Center). Seating and surroundings are excellent, and prices charged are around 120 baht, a real bargain. Programming is not up to standard though.
The Paragon Cineplex at Siam Paragon is easily reached (the shopping complex is connected to the skytrain at Siam Square). Going there offers you the possibility of wandering through the largest shopping center in Thailand. Prices seem to be 140-170 baht for a ticket at Siam Paragon.
In most theatres only blockbusters are shown (we guess at about 200 movie theatres all together sometimes). However, even relatively well publicized movies, with lesser mass appeal are neglected. There is also a fair selection of horror, violence and action movies. The movie theaters are located usually within a shopping center, and close relatively early (no night shows) Each movie is preceded by prolonged advertising (half an hour on average), so you do not really be on time, unless it is a first showing of a blockbuster. Prior to the main feature, the King's Song is played, and you should pay your respect to his Majesty by standing during its broadcast. During weekdays, there are really a lot of empty seats, we actually wonder how all these theaters can make a decent profit.
Movie schedules are somewhat hard to find. The English-language newspapers such as the Bangkok Post and the Nation really offer very poor service here [or the movie theatres do not want to spend any money on advertising]. It is almost impossible to read where particular movies are shown and the full schedules are usually not there.
If you can enjoy looking at movies that are a few months old, around town (for instance in all the Central Department Stores) both VCDs and DVDs are sold. The VCD format, which was rather cheap, and offered reasonable quality, has slowly gone out of favor. All stores now concentrate on DVD sales, often the only format available. Compared to a few years ago, the selection of films on offer, is now rather limited, and mostly only the blockbuster movies of a few months or years ago are available. DVD-stores also offer a lot of 'nature' movies, BBC documentaries, and some American television series. Somehow we think the industry as a whole is not doing that well, and the customer is the main victim, with a limited choice of entertainment on offer.
DVD prices have come down and are in the 200-300 baht range. Movies in movie theatres can be seen for 100-180 baht. Of course, pirated versions of movies in DVD format are still available all along Sukhumvit road, when walking from soi 3 up to soi 19, but the quality is rather poor and unreliable.
It does not apply for the most recent movies, but for movies that have been released like 6 months ago or earlier, it is actually cheaper to buy them online. We regularly purchase movies with Amazon UK, and delivery is quite reliable. This has added advantages : often there is a wider language choice (also for subtitles), and there are more additional features. As a reminder, you will need to have a DVD-player that can play all DVD-versions [but they are easy to buy in Bangkok].
Though far advanced in age, we much like to try out the latest computer games. Major games for computers, Playstation etc. are available in Bangkok. Personally we only play on our computer, so we can not really comment a lot about other interfaces. Not that long ago, a lot of games where available, all pirated at prices of 100-150 baht a piece. While Panthip Plaza and Fortune Town may still have days when a lot is available that way, the market has been cleaned up substantially.
Most games worth playing are available and very reasonably priced. For instance, Half-Life2 and Doom3 were available at between 500 and 600 baht, a real bargain.
Usually nowadays versions of games are available for the Asian market, at a lower price. The problem here is that sometimes both the manual and the game interface itself, use only Thai language. While a manual in the local language is expected, whether the game is run in English or Thai, is rather unpredictable. You better ask the salesperson to help you out (if he/she can). While we do rather well in Thai language, and can also read it, it is hardly doable even for us, to go through computer screens full of Thai language text. This tendency of using only the local (Thai) language has come up over the last few years, and is a negative development for local expatriates.
You can buy computer games online at Zest .They can send you the game you like in a day or two. However, you can also go their shop (and also check out all the other computer stuff in Thailand at the same locations) at Fortune Plaza third floor (Rama 9 subway station) or Panthip Plaza. We do think there is actually more available online than at their 'physical shop outlet'.
Bangkok is deservedly well known for its vibrant nightlife scene. There are lots of disco like venues, and establishments offering live music available. For eating out we recommend you check out our 'restaurants' section. While some restaurants are highly priced, in general, eating out well in Bangkok is not expensive at all. As most foreigners are aware off, Bangkok has a rather naughty site. Patpong is well known around the world, although nowadays we kind of fail to find it attractive. You may not be able to notice any of the bars with all the vendors and market stalls around Patpong nowadays.
More popular entertainment areas on Sukhumvit Road include Nana Plaza (Soi 4) and Soi Cowboy (between Asoke and soi 23).
Nana Plaza in the late afternoon. Lights are going on, and the outside bars are pretty busy already. Go Go Bars usually start operating around 7 P.M.
At Nana Plaza around 30-40 bars are located on three floors around a central open space (except for the beer bars located there).
Soi Cowboy is a real street and is more open spaced to walk around and get a feel for the place even within wandering inside any of the bars. Of course, these are areas of prostitution, and many male visitors to Thailand still come to the country for this purpose only. Still it is quite interesting to check out these places at least once. The format changes from time to time, with periods of some restrictions on what can be 'shown' in the bars. Overall though, you can expect a lot of partial or complete nude dancing. Some venues feature 'shows'.
The format is as follows : A group of girls will be dancing on a central stage (more shuffling around than dancing actually). After about 15-20 minutes they will be replaced by another group of girls. There are usually two shifts of girls only. The go go bars may not appeal to everyone, but are in general safe. That means, at Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, you can enter a bar, have your drinks (priced at around 150 baht a beer), check things out comfortably. It is wise however to use common sense : to not show off a lot of money, check the price of your drink after ordering, do not get drunk, do not get into violence (you will always loose out at that, even if you look like Rambo).
The purpose of the go go bars : they want you to drink and buy drinks for the girls, if they come to sit with you (not obligatory!). The girls can be bought out. You pay the bar 500-600 baht and the girl can accompany you outside the bar. You may want some other services from the girl in question, and best discuss any such matter beforehand (that is before buying her out of the bar). The girls usually charge between 1,500 and 3,000 baht for extracurricular services (ask in advance, we do not really know for sure) and will want to stay with you only for an hour or two. The major difference with 'overt' prostitution, is that the girls do have a choice (although for sure, there are ways to pressure them by the management of the bars, for example, they need to have a certain quota of drinks and barfines a month, or they will be penalized). With choice we mean, they can decide to go with you or not, they may prefer another customer (but they do want to go out of the bar and prostitute themselves, to be sure)