When you think of nightlife, the first places that come to mind are likely cities like Las 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, around a dozen other cities will likely be mentioned before any Asian city came up.
My first experience with Bangkok’s nightlife was like any other backpacker’s, a night out on the 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 almost unrecognizable. For most travelers, Bangkok’s nightlife starts and ends on Khaosan Road. It’s become a rite of passage for anyone working their way through South East Asia, and it’s become so ingrained into the backpacking culture that most people don’t know that nightlife exists outside of it.
Fast forward a couple of months to when my life gets flipped turned upside-down. I ran out of pages in my passport and was barely allowed to enter Thailand. I set up an early morning appointment with the U.S. Embassy to get a new one sent over and decided to stay the night somewhere within walking distance of the Embassy. 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 basically like any Western city, but with a lot of stuff that would be extremely illegal in any Western city. The nightlife in Bangkok covers the basics that you can expect to find in big cities like London or 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 you can get in any of those cities. The most I ever paid for a drink in Bangkok was about $8, and that was at one of the most posh sky bars I have ever been to.
In comparison, a rum and coke is $14 at my favorite club where I currently reside in the U.S. You could get absolutely blitzed in Thailand for the price of one drink at a big city club 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 what I feel like is the major reason why Bangkok 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 that you have never thought 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, but simply having the option to gives Bangkok a leg up on its competitors. Like I said, Bangkok covers basically everything you can expect from a top nightlife destination, but 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 had read about on the news. Sober Eli said no. The next night, he asked me if I wanted to go 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 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 trust me when I say there are several dozen things you can do in Bangkok that you can definitely, definitely, not do in your hometown.
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