Made famous by the hit song from the musical Chessand once considered rather seedy, the night scene in Bangkok has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years and is widely viewed as the best in Southeast Asia. From small, intimate bars and restaurants to huge nightclubs and complexes, Bangkok has more than enough options to keep revellers of all tastes happy.
As with any major city, clubs and bars tend to be congregated around certain points. This makes it slightly easier to navigate yourself around the sprawling city. Luckily, taxis and tuk-tuks are in large supply, so getting about is easy. Sukhumvit, Silom and Khao San Road are the three most popular areas for nightlife.
Sukhumvit Road is where most of the main hotels are congregated and is the neighbourhood of choice for expats, so it caters well to tourists and foreign tastes. These range from upscale jazz lounges to sports bars and seedy girlie dives. There is a huge choice of restaurants here, too, and pavements lined with vendors sell souvenirs and fake goods. Nana Plaza, and it’s adjacent lanes at the top end of Sukhumvit, is where punters should head, but there are numerous bars and clubs where you can meet locals and enjoy a more relaxed and genuine atmosphere. Soi Cowboy is another red light district located here.
Silom Road is in the heart of the business district but comes alive at night with numerous restaurants, pubs and, of course, its own red light district. Patpong is the original sleaze street of Bangkok and is now somewhat touristy, with its ladyboy bars, ‘ping pong’ shows and massage parlours. In between it all is a chaotic cluster of street vendors and tourists seem to mingle with punters in a bemused way. If you want to simply take a peak, this is the place.
Khao San Road is for the backpacker, yet it has become a Bangkok night attraction of its own, where East meets West in a colourful and bohemian blend that is certainly intriguing. Catch a taxi over to this part of the old city for an evening of lively pubbing, cheap grub, and a chance to escape the bedlam of the more commercial districts. Many of Bangkok’s best attractions are in this quarter, beautifully illuminated by night.
Entertainment is also provided for more refined tastes and a city of this size and wealth does attract a steady flow of theatre productions ranging from music concerts (Britney Spears to Paul Anka) to festivals of ballet and concertos, and even family shows. These are usually advertised in the Bangkok Post, with tickets often available at the door of the Impact Arena, Cultural Centre and Sirikit Convention Centre. Thai kickboxing bouts are held almost weekly at the Lumphini Stadium and others. These really are an experience to behold and are liberally advertised in tourist areas. Occasionally, English Premiership teams breeze into town for an exhibition match.
River cruises are popular with the quintessential tourist, and tour groups like to pack their travellers onto dinner cruises that ply the Chao Phraya by night. It’s certainly a romantic way to see the city, since darkness hides the slums along the banks, while the likes of Wat Arun and Rama IX Bridge come alive in a spectacle of light.
Clubbing is popular in Bangkok, certainly among young Thais, and trendy bars and discos are found around Sukhumvit, particularly in the trendy Thong Lor and Ekkamai areas. Thais love to get out, and for a really authentic experience you could pop into one of their vast beer gardens where live music is usually put on. RCA is the pedestrianised street to the southeast of the central district and is lined with late night dance clubs where you can witness Bangkokians at their most sophisticated.
Late-night shopping is common in Thailand and the malls stay open late. The biggest venues in the evening, however, are the night market areas, such as the one at Patpong (off Silom Road), or along the pavements of Sukhumvit Road.
Khao San Road is an exhaustive experience of bargain hunting. Then there are the malls clustered around Ratchaprasong and Siam Square, such as Central World, Siam Paragon and MBK, which remain open until 21:00. Even the computer sellers at Panthip Plaza do brisk trade after hours.
Museums and galleries don’t tend to stay open late for the benefit of the working Bangkok resident, although a few, such as the recent Rattanakosin Exhibition Centre, remain open until around 20:00. Other private galleries can also be explored in the evenings for browsing or purchasing, especially the River City Complex near riverside hotels, which specialises in antiques.