It might come as a surprise after the spiritual and religious side of the country, but when it comes to nightlife, Thailand certainly has a reputation. Whether in Bangkok, where all walks of life and sexual orientation party together, or on the islands, where a full moon means going hard or going home, in Thailand there’s always a something to do when the sun goes down.
The capital of Thailand, for many Bangkok is the start of a South-East Asia trip, the gateway to an amazing adventure. Many find Bangkok quite overwhelming, and this goes for the nightlife as well, with infamously wild areas such as Patpong, Nana and Soi Cowboy.
Go-Go bars are something to look out for. A well-known and popular part of the Thai nightlife, a Go-Go bar can come across like a completely harmless, fun and some-what flirty way to spend an evening. The girls working here are often not just barmaids but prostitutes, offering a variety of services along with your beer. Nightlife and prostitution almost overlap in Thailand, and this is why for some it is seen as a sex tourism destination. Despite being illegal, prostitution is openly practised.
While still bustling but less full on, Khao San Road, the main tourist street, has its own range of bars and clubs that are easy to get to from many of the main hostels. This is great because a lot of the club further afield only permit over 21s. Around Khao San Road, every night is a potential night to go out, whereas locals will predominantly go at weekends. The bars here also tend to ignore the rules about drinking establishments closing by 1am. Dress code is a fairly liberal concept, especially in tourist bars, shorts and flip flops are fine. If you do want to venture further afield then some prestigious clubs may only admit those in trousers and closed toes shoes.
Bangkok also has a thriving cabaret scene which features some of the most famous Thai Kathoeys or “ladyboys”; Thailand has a very talented array of convincing transgender and transvestite performers and a trip to Thailand wouldn’t be complete without seeing a show. These are different from and should not be confused with the Pingpong shows that occur in strip clubs.
Chiang Mai’s nightlife has some great bars and riverside watering holes. Lounge by the Ping River and listen to live music, Chang in hand (see Drinking in Thailand). For a more upbeat haunt, head to the Nimmanheimin Road area, this also has live music and great food.
Beautifully idyllic, located in the in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam, Thailand’s islands are the gem in any visit. Just because they aren’t on the mainland doesn’t mean they are void of anything to do of an evening, many boast nightlife far better than Bangkok.
Many visit Koh Phi Phi for the turquoise waters and island paradise as seen in The Beach. However the island also has a great nightlife that spills from the wide array of bars onto the seashore. If you have a break between getting your PADI license on Koh Tao and want a night out, visit the Lotus and Vibe bars before moving onto one of the beachfront clubs.
Koh Samuit ends to be for those with expensive taste, so if you are more a flashpacker than a backpacker this might be great for you. Koh Chang, one of Thailand’s most idyllic isles, also has a more laid back nightlife, with lively pubs and live music, to beach bars serving into the small hours
However there is one island that cannot be missed when talking of Thai nightlife. Koh Phangan is home to the infamous Full Moon Party, a date set in the diary of many South East Asian backpackers. Located on Hadd Rin beach at the south end of the island, this all night party attracts up to 30,000 people every month, most of them westerners. Revellers dressed in fluorescent tutus with face paint dance to house, trance, dance and drum and base until dawn, or until they pass out along the sea front. Fire entertainment varies at every bar, yet the standard drink of choice never changes. Buckets, no longer used for the innocent building of sand castles, are filled with a can of M150 energy drink (see Drinking in Thailand) and a bottle of spirit, for no more than 200 baht. These are deadly concoctions so be warned.
With thousands of party-goers, rumours and stories of past full moon experiences fly like wildfire, however it does seem a single month can’t go by without something bad happening. Whilst police enforcement is boosted around the party, assaults aren’t uncommon and the police are mainly there to deal with the massive drug culture. Drugs seem readily available, however many tell stories of drug dealers and police working together to catch tourists out.
If you’re looking for a wild night, the full moon party is definitely for you. Just wear shoes and be prepared, it’s not pretty.