The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A night at the movie theatre in Cambodia

with 17 comments

“Please take off your shoes”.

This was a new one. I looked at the poster on the wall, hesitating for a moment on what to do.

“No shoe removal” is one of the commandments in the Wittertainment Code of Conduct. The code mentions one exception: if you’re in Japan, you can go ahead and take off your shoes. My current geographical position wasn’t Japan, it was Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Japan was in fact a several hour flight away, but it was a great del closer than Sweden. So perhaps the far-east rules could apply anyway? And besides – even if it isn’t mentioned in the code, shouldn’t the first rule for good behaviour at the theatre be that you follow any guidelines given by the ushers?

3 dollar 50 cents per night
I looked at another note, which informed me that the entrance fee was 3,50 dollars for the entire night, including several movies. 3,50 dollars. Where I come from you wouldn’t even get the smallest sized popcorn boxes for that amount. It’s not that surprising though when you think closer about it. Different markets, different rules. If the ticket prices were European, you wouldn’t sell many tickets in Cambodia, if any at all. They take as much as they think they can from the audience, no more, no less.

Chicken nuggets and French fries
The third thing my eyes fell on was a menu. For someone who prefer theatres to be food free zones, the menu looked scary. Chicken nuggets? French fries? Pizza? Curry? If people really brought all that stuff into the theatre, I feared that I had a quite unpleasant ride ahead of me.

As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as you could think. Perhaps we were just lucky, picking a screening where popcorn was the only thing that was consumed. (Popcorn is annoying too, but I’ve given up fighting them at this point. There’s no escape from it, not in Sweden, nor in Cambodia. They’re what make the wheels of cinema keep spinning. Or from a different point of view: movies are nothing but vehicles for popcorn sales.) Or maybe the ventilation was excellent. In any case I couldn’t sense any lingering smell of food, not even from the empty plates that were carried out from the previous show.

Beds instead of seats
But let’s move along into the screening room. It was a small one, seating approximately 20 people. No IMAX, but with a screen big enough to make it feel like a real theatre rather than as a glorified living room for home movie watching.

What made it stand out however, compared to what I’m used to, was that it didn’t have ordinary seats. It had beds (and a couple of sofas).

The obvious advantage of bed seating is the comfort. It’s basically like watching the film slacking in your favourite couch. I’m fairly short so I could stretch out my legs fully. Perfect for my constitution. I can imagine it’s less than perfect for tall people, who need to wrap up their legs in order not to kick people in the row in front.

Then there is the problem that too much comfort can be a problem when you watch movies. Watching a thriller or a comedy is fine from a horizontal position, but slower movies can be a bit of a challenge. And how intimate do you want to be with the one sitting beside you? There are no physical barriers between you and your neighbour. Fine if you’re a love couple on a date, but a little intimidating if you’re seated by a stranger.

Early releases
Finally I need to say something about the programming. I hadn’t expected Cambodia to be the place to go if you want to see the most recent releases. It’s a small and very poor country about as far as you can get from Europe and North America and you could imagine that it would take some time for movies to reach this market. But in fact it’s the opposite. Most movies seem to open in Cambodia either earlier, or at the same time as they open in Sweden. As an additional bonus they also screen classics, something that is nearly impossible to see on a big screen where I live, unless you join a film club.

Movie theatres in Phnom Penh
Sadly I only managed to make one theatre visit during my three week trip in Cambodia. I ended up at The Flicks, which is run by expat volunteers. There are several other movie theatres in Phnom Penh, among them The Empire, which has a  similar concept, also offering comfortable beds and brand new films mixed up with classics.

If you ever visit Cambodia as a tourist (which I sincerely recommend you to do, it’s as beautiful as it’s heartbreaking), don’t miss to spend at least a night in a cinema. It’s cheap, it’s fun and it’s a movie experience unlike what you get at home.



Written by Jessica

June 17, 2014 at 2:43 pm

17 Responses

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  1. Is each one of those mattressy things two seats? I would definitely feel uncomfortable sharing it with a stranger. Frankly, not sure what fabric is in use but it seems a bit ick either way.


    June 17, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    • Yep. One bed seats two. And you’re right about the icky. I gave the hygiene a brief thought and then I decided to not think further about it. 🙂 I guess I’ve got more tolerance when I’m travelling in a third world country than I have at home.


      June 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm

  2. In Portland, we have a theatre that has worn, comfortable couches for seats and pizza to eat. It was a great place to watch a Pixar film with my family.

    Steve Kimes

    June 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    • As long as people much quietly and the ventilation is good, pizza is fine for theatre. It’s soft and quiet material. So that sounds nice and cosy to me!


      June 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm

  3. Sounds like a great experience, the beds look comfortable. The Electric Cinema in London has them in the front row (which makes sense). Funny to see in that picture that they have a small office like projector, but I guess it will do.


    June 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    • Oh, you can get seats like that in London? Hm. I’m going there in August, might check out if they’re open and running something I’d like to see.


      June 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      • Great. One tip though is to reserve seats in advance because it is very busy there because it is such a unique experience. They have sofas, footrests and even blankets if you are feeling cold.


        June 21, 2014 at 7:36 pm

  4. Showing a few more classics in the theaters would be a nice idea.

    Sounds like you had a good time in Cambodja, good to see you back.


    June 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    • Thanks! Oh, yes it was awesome. Sometimes tough, because you’re confronted with a lot of poverty. It’s not a paradise behind walls. But it’s a fascinating country.


      June 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm

  5. How fun!


    June 18, 2014 at 4:32 am

  6. This sounds so great, I’d love to go to the cinema in Cambodia! The price is amazing, too, I virtually stopped going to the cinema in Norway because I simply can’t afford it. I’m really impressed that the food didn’t smell, too!


    June 20, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    • Everything is cheap in Cambodia. For tourists, I should add. A Cambodian textile worker owns about 80 dollars a month, if I remember it correctly. Or even less. To Cambodians going to a theatre like this still is pretty expensive.


      June 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm

  7. Nice post, Jessica. What a delightful new experience!


    June 22, 2014 at 4:46 am

    • It was! How is theatre going where you come from? Is it anything different from here?


      June 24, 2014 at 12:40 am

      • It’s about as cheap but there’s no double feature. You can’t take your shoes off either.


        June 24, 2014 at 2:34 am

  8. […] I would have asked Jessica how her Cambodian adventure went…but I’m a bad friend, so I just read about it when she was good and ready to post her […]

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