The nightlife in Bangkok is as rowdy and diverse as one would expect from a city with more than 8 million residents. Moreover, this Southeast Asian metropolis is a popular destination for travelers of the young, backpacker variety. It's the starting point of the famous Banana Pancake Trail which snakes around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia and attracts hordes of twenty-somethings year after year. In fact, Bangkok has repeatedly been named the world's most visited city, welcoming more than 20 million tourists (nearly three times its population, that is) per year.
Hollywood has long been enamored with Bangkok's numerous red-light districts (examples include "The Hangover" and "The Beach"), which has given its nightlife scene a seedy reputation, to say the least. Hipsters sweat and sway in hole-in-the-wall jazz clubs; pyrotechnics explode around world-famous DJs in the cavernous EDM clubs of Thong Lor, and expensive cocktails clink on rooftop bars in the financial district. This, like New York City, is Asia's "city that never sleeps."
Kitschy tourist bars litter the Khao San Road area, offering visitors a familiar, Westernized experience. You'll also find no shortage of foreigners hanging out on Royal City Avenue (RCA), listening to live music and dancing to DJs. The neon-lit Soi Cowboy area, on the other hand, is the kind of red-light district people envision when they think of nightlife in Thailand's capital city. Nana Plaza, which has been nicknamed the “world’s largest adult playground," too. That is to say go-go bars, nude dancers, and ladyboy performances are provided in copious quantities. For a more upscale experience, head to the financial district, where you can get yourself a martini and marvel at views of the city from the trendiest rooftops in town.
The bar scene in Bangkok varies from pseudo-Irish pubs and converted VW cocktail bars catered to tourists to locals-only watering holes where you'll rarely see a person who isn't Thai. You'll find cheap drinks, outdoor seating, and plenty of tourists to mingle with on Khao San Road—pronounced "cow san"—better known as the backpacker epicenter of the Banana Pancake Trail. This bustling street has a little bit of everything, from low-key sit-down bars to packed-to-the-brim clubs, but don't expect an authentic experience.
You're likely to brush shoulders with more locals in the Thong Lor/Ekkamai neighborhood between Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thong Lor) and Soi 63 (Ekkamai). This area is home to trendy wine bars, cafes, and live-music venues alike. The most relaxing place to grab a drink in the city, though, is likely Silom, the financial district, where rooftop martinis are never hard to find. Don't miss:
- Big Dogs: This Nana Plaza bar has the best vantage point for people watching and offers relatively low hassle.
- Old Other Office Bar: The oldest bar in Patpong (part of Silom) whose walls are crowded with relics from its long history.
- Hemingway’s: Although it has nothing to do with the prolific writer, the garden at Hemingway's provides a pleasant atmosphere for food and cocktails.
- Cheap Charlie’s: Long beloved by expats, this bar was forced out of the Sukhumvit Soi 11 neighborhood in 2018 and started anew in the On Nut area.
- Sky Bar: You might have seen this Silom hangout in the "Hangover Part II" movie. Expect no seating; you may feel pressured to drink up and go as the place fills beyond capacity. Cocktails are in the range of $20 USD apiece.
Despite its inconvenient location (compared to other nightlife districts, at least), Royal City Avenue (RCA) has become the thumping heart of Bangkok’s clubbing scene. Likewise, a walk through Thong Lor after hours will reveal EDM clubs whose bass reverberates in the streets. There's something for the hip-hop lover in the Sukhumvit Soi 11 neighborhood and countless go-go bars in the city's most famous red-light district, Soi Cowboy, too. Don't miss:
- The Club: a pulsing three-level nightclub on Khao San Road offering nightly DJ acts. Expect to be dancing with fellow tourists.
- The Beatlounge: When you’ve grown weary of trance music, wander into this graffiti-tagged club in RCA for turntables and hip-hop.
- Onyx: A popular megaclub that occupies the northern end of RCA and stays open until 5 a.m.
- Live RCA: The anchor of the southern end of RCA, featuring live bands and renowned DJs.
- Dollhouse: Let loose at this old-school go-go bar in Soi Cowboy (and get your drinks even cheaper during happy hour).
- Levels Club: This Sukhumvit Soi 11 haunt turns up the music in three separate venues that draw equally impressive crowds.
- Sugar Club: For those you love hip-hop and want to dance to it until 4 a.m. Also in Sukhumvit Soi 11.
It's not just booze that brings people out at night. Bangkok comes to life after the sun goes down, with the locals setting up their street food stalls from about 7 p.m. There's certainly no shortage of food to eat, whether it be a quick pad ga pao moo or sweet mango sticky rice from a curbside kiosk or a full-on restaurant feast. There's even a convenient night market in the club-heavy region of Patpong, but it closes around midnight, as most do. After the vendors pack up their stalls, you'll be limited to indoor eateries, but not to worry because there are plenty of those to boot. Don't miss:
- Soho Pizza: Thailand is perhaps not where you would expect to find an authentic New York slice, but don't knock Soho Pizza in Sukhumvit Soi 11 until you try it. This pizza joint is the brainchild of Italian-American chef Anthony Falco and it's open until 4 a.m.
- Bamboo: This 24-hour Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of Nana Plaza is sure to cure those after-clubbing munchies.
- 25 Degrees: If you're rooftop hopping in Silom, get your late-night burger fix at 25 Degrees in front of the Pullman G hotel, also open 24 hours.
- Seangchai Pochana Sukhumvit: Authentic Thai dishes keep this little Thong Lor dive packed until closing time at 4 a.m.
- 55 Pochana: This unassuming Thai eatery also competes for the Thong Lor party crowd in the wee hours of the morning.
If mobs of people bouncing to EDM and hip hop isn't your thing, but you still want a musical night out, there are plenty of places around Bangkok that play live music in a less-chaotic atmosphere. Jazz clubs and low-key concert bars can be found in most neighborhoods that are rich with nightlife. You're bound to run into local musicians and internationally-known acts alike. Don't miss:
- Maggie Choo’s: A partially-hidden, speakeasy-style jazz club in Silom. Because many establishments here enforce strict dress codes, don’t wear your flip-flops.
- Brick Bar: One of the most fun places to watch a lively house band while partying with young Thais in the Khao San area.
- Adhere the 13th: Another Khao San gem playing blues and jazz nightly. It has outdoor seating and is bedecked with music memorabilia to keep you entertained.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a weekend that Bangkok isn't hosting some sort of music festival. EDM seems to be the regional genre of choice, but you can also find fests dedicated to rock, reggae, indie rock, pop, and even folk, if you look hard enough. Every occasion is an excuse for a party in this rowdy city: Christmas, Halloween, full moons, even. The infamous Full Moon Party is an all-night beach jamboree that takes place on the island of Ko Pha-ngan, which be accessed by a short flight or ferry ride from Bangkok. Otherwise, don't miss the biggest music festivals of the year:
- Transmission Festival: This one actually started in Prague, but has gotten big amongst Thai trance lovers lately. Happening every March.
- S20 Songkran Music Festival: Part water fight, part music festival, taking place every April in celebration of the Thai Lunar New Year.
- Waterzonic: In fact, Thai people love a good water fight. Water plays a role in many festivals here, probably because the climate is so hot. This one, held each October, is no different.
- 808 Festival: This three-day party is Thailand's biggest EDM festival, taking place every year in early December.
- Maya Music Festival: Another EDM festival in December that has in the past attracted the likes of Zedd, Tiesto, and other international DJ acts.
Tips for Going Out in Bangkok
- The minimum age to purchase alcohol in Thailand is 18, but you must be at least 20 years old to enter bars and clubs.
- Smoking is prohibited indoors; tourists regularly get fined whereas locals smoking nearby don’t.
- The legal closing time for bars is between midnight and 2 a.m., depending on their permit.
- Prostitution and all recreational drugs are illegal in Thailand.
- Enjoying drinks with a table of locals is fun! Knowing a little about drinking etiquette in Thailand enhances the experience.
- The Patpong neighborhood of Silom has a reputation for rip-offs and inflated-bar-tab scams.
- Silom Soi 2 and Soi 3 are the epicenter of LGBT, tourist-oriented nightlife in Bangkok.