When you think of nightlife, the first places that come to mind are cities like Vegas, Rio, or Ibiza. These are all synonymous with loose morals and hedonistic pursuits. If you ask anyone where they think the best nightlife is, they’ll mention a dozen cities before any Asian city comes up. That is an injustice to the Bangkok nightlife.
My first experience with the Bangkok nightlife was like any other backpacker’s: a night out on notorious Khaosan Road. The grimy street lined with decrepit buildings during the day looks a lot flashier once the neon lights are lit and the sensory overload grabs a hold of you. The same strip becomes unrecognizable at night. For most backpackers, Bangkok nightlife starts and ends on Khaosan Road. It’s a rite of passage for anyone working their way through South East Asia. It’s actually become so ingrained into backpacking culture that most people don’t know that nightlife exists outside of it.
Fast forward a couple of months. My life gets flipped turned upside-down. I ran out of pages in my passport and border control almost didn’t allow me to enter Thailand altogether. I set up an early morning appointment with the U.S. Embassy to get a new one so I decided to stay the night somewhere within walking distance. Those few weeks of waiting out my passport struggles was when I started falling in love with Bangkok and got a taste of life beyond Khaosan Road, the temples, and fried tarantulas.
Describing Bangkok is hard, but I think I best said it when I was telling one of my friends that is like any Western city but with a lot of stuff that would be extremely illegal. The nightlife in Bangkok covers the basics that you can expect to find in cities like London, New York or Los Angeles. Huge clubs? Check. Quirky bars? Check. Rooftop bars with epic views? Check. Oh yeah, and everything is a hell of a lot cheaper than any of those cities. The most I ever paid for a drink in Bangkok was about $8, and that was at one of the poshest sky bars I have ever been to.
In comparison, a rum and coke is $14 at my favorite club back home. You could get absolutely blitzed in Thailand for the price of one drink at a nightclub in the States. Thailand’s infamous buckets of alcohol are unfortunately mostly restricted to Khaosan Road, but even a classier night out in Sukhumvit or Silom will hardly dent your wallet.
Anyway, back to why Bangkok nightlife shines in comparison to the longer-tenured nightlife hotspots: the “stuff that would be extremely illegal in any Western city.” The numerous red-light districts, the disgustingly intriguing sex shows, the world-renowned ladyboy performances, the list goes on and on down the rabbit hole of lawlessness and unbridled bacchanalia. From blowjob parlors to ping-pong vagina shows, you just have to shake your head at the wonders. I mean, these are things that you would have never thought were legal or even possible. Aside from accidentally stumbling into a few red light districts, my nightlife experiences have been quite tame in comparison to the travelers and ex-pats who revel in the “culture” and, maybe quite literally, “thrust” themselves into the hazy throes of the despicably ingratiating nightlife of South East Asia’s Sin City.
The thing is, you don’t have to go to any of these incredibly questionable displays of debauchery. You can avoid them entirely, but simply having the option to gives Bangkok a leg up on its competitors. Bangkok nightlife covers everything you can expect from a top destination, then it goes above and beyond that. As I was sobering up on a 4 AM tuk-tuk ride, my much more enthusiastic go-getter friend asked me if I wanted to go to a blowjob bar that he read about on the news. Sober Eli said no. The next night, he asked if I wanted to see one of the infamous ping-pong shows for his last night.
Sober Eli said no again, but just the fact that I could one day be drunk and intrigued enough to want to go, and then being able to actually go is what Bangkok nightlife is all about. You want tame? You can have tame. Have a quiet drink in a quiet corner bar. If things escalate, you’ll have your choice of a range of nightclubs playing all types of music, from top of the pops to deep house to hard rock. Everything you can do or want to do in your home city, you can do in Bangkok, but there are several dozen things you can do in Bangkok that you can definitely, definitely, not do in your hometown.
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