Seeing a movie at a Saigon theatre is a cheap and easy way to spend a few hours and, since they play both Hollywood blockbusters and Vietnamese movies, you don’t have to understand Vietnamese to enjoy them.
Movie theatres can be found in several easy-to-find locations, with two chains dominating Saigon. Galaxy Cinema, with several operations sprinkled throughout HCMC, will be the most convenient to find if you’re staying in Pham Ngu Lao — two cinemas are just five to 10 minutes’ away. One is on Nguyen Trai, an easy 10-minute walk, and the other on Nguyen Du, just a few blocks from Ben Thanh market and Reunification Palace. Megastar Cineplex’s locations aren’t quite as central but they typically occupy space in major shopping centres. If you’re checking out the things to do in Cholon, you’ll find a Megastar at Huong Vuong Plaza, while in District 7 there’s a theatre in the Crescent; and if you’re needing to kill time around the airport you’ll find a Megastar across the street at CT Plaza. Both chains are very modern, offering comfortable seats, the latest movies and comparable prices.
Admission is inexpensive by Western standards. Prices for a typical 2D ticket start around 90,000 VND depending on the time and day you’re seeing the movie. For example, on Wednesday at Megastar theatres a ticket can be had for as little as 60,000 VND. For 3D movies generally expect to pay around 120,000 VND, but getting a VIP seat, where the view is supposedly optimised for your viewing pleasure, at a Galaxy Theatre on the weekend could hoist your ticket price up to 160,000 VND.
Food is also considerably cheaper than what you’ll find in the West. In a Saigon theatre a box of popcorn, sweet or salty, and a soft drink combo will only cost around 50,000 VND. If you want something different, most theatres offer a variety of other snacks, like hotdogs and packaged candy, and drinks such as bottled water and beer. Portions are smaller than some of the gigantic sizes sold at Western theatres but the quality of the popcorn and drinks is basically the same.
Unlike the pageantry seen at movie theatres in some other Southeast Asian countries, such as standing for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s anthem in Thailand, seeing a movie in HCMC is not much different than seeing a movie elsewhere. The same ‘no talking’ or ‘using the phone’ while the movie is playing etiquette loosely applies. The biggest difference, depending on where you’re from, is that the theatres give you an assigned seat. This isn’t the biggest problem in the world, but I’ve gone to more than one movie where the theatre is empty except for the cluster of seats that surround me. Another drawback is the fact that the theatres don’t always sell every seat; so if you like to sit in the front three rows of a theatre you will have to argue with the cashier about how close is too close.
Occasionally, the government will censor Hollywood movies. The edits are usually small but heavy-handed, with the offensive material simply being completely cut out of the movie. Generally, these are small cuts that some may not notice but sometimes the entire ending of a movie has been removed. If you’re seeing a movie that carries an adult rating, especially those that feature graphic violence, prepare for this possibility.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 19th September, 2014.