Next to the islands, jungles, and culture, the true appeal of South East Asia for travelers and backpackers is… cheap beer. I’m only partially joking. While most travelers do travel for more respectable reasons, cheap alcohol and the fun-loving South East Asian people are an added bonus to this already amazing region of the world. No matter your age, nationality, or purpose for traveling, it is hard to resist a wild night out in South East Asia.
There are dozens of renowned party islands and destinations throughout South East Asia. Bali, Koh Phangan, Boracay, the list goes on. However, you are likely flying in or out of a South East Asian capital city. If you’re looking to start (or end) your trip with a bang, take note of which cities have the best nightlife. Here’s my ranking of the South East Asian capitals in terms of nightlife, starting with the worst.
8. Vientiane, Laos
Compared to Vang Vieng (or anywhere else, really), there is no party in Vientiane. While I didn’t hate Laos’ capital city, it was easy to see why many travelers choose to skip it. It is chaotic, muggy, and compared to Laos’ countryside, pretty boring. It has its fair share of things to do but the traffic likely means that it will take you forever to get there. There are no stunning lush, green landscapes to help you pass the time either. If you choose to party in Vientiane, it is affordable but that is about the only positive.
You’re much better off letting loose in Vang Vieng but even there, the bars close pretty early by most people’s standards. There are a lot of reasons that you shouldn’t miss out on Laos, but nightlife is definitely not one of them.
7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh isn’t a particularly glamorous location for nightlife-seekers. It isn’t a particularly glamorous location in general. Most people going through the Cambodian capital typically only stay a couple of days to educate themselves on the history and sites of the genocide. Even for the partying backpackers, it serves as a sobering experience in between the heavy partying that you will find in Vietnam and Thailand. In short, there are a lot better places to party than Phnom Penh.
That’s not to say it is impossible to have fun there, though. If you are looking to party, Phnom Penh is cheap, but it is comparable to if your favorite nightlife district was only as good as the worst dive bar there. You won’t find anything too glamorous or exciting in Phnom Penh. Siem Reap on the other hand…
6. Jakarta, Indonesia
It took me a while to brave the chaos but I eventually did go out in Jakarta. I was surprised that there was any nightlife at all, honestly. Although downtown Jakarta’s towering skyscrapers give the impression of a bustling nightlife destination, it is not very fun. Unfortunately, it is one of those destinations that look glamorous on the outside yet lacks culture or any actual substance on the inside. The locals of this majority Muslim country won’t be joining you on your nights out so you’re left partying with sparse crowds of ex-pats.
If you’re looking to party in Indonesia, you know where to go. Leave Jakarta as soon as you can and set your watch to island time.
5. Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi has among the most… interesting nightlife that I have encountered in South East Asia. Early in the evening, everything seems to be building up to what will be a crazy night out. The beers are flowing, the clubs are pumping, and the streets are packed with partygoers. Then all of a sudden, midnight hits and the doors start closing and people start going home.
If you’ve been around Hanoi a bit, you know what’s going on. For first-timers to the city with no knowledge, it is very confusing. The parties continue behind closed doors. It is an exciting city for a few nights but the lack of variety makes it old quick. Most joints in the Old Quarter cater heavily to backpackers and the hordes of people inhaling balloons and jamming to early 2010’s top 40 music gets repetitive.
Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, is a significantly better nightlife destination for the partying traveler. There are numerous clubs, including larger, more modern ones compared to Hanoi. It actually has proper nightlife that you’d expect from a big city.
4. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur was a lot closer to Singapore and a lot further from Jakarta in terms of what I was expecting of the city. The city is surprisingly modern and cosmopolitan. After spending a few days in Singapore, cheap alcohol was a welcome sight. Sky bars, pub streets, and megaclubs are the name of the game in KL. There is nothing too polarizing about KL to make it particularly stand out but it does everything relatively well. It is about as middling as it gets but it is also probably the only real place in Malaysia to party. Penang and Langkawi can offer shades of a good time but nothing like Kuala Lumpur.
A good area to go out in would be Bukit Bintang and Jalan Alor. There are plenty of pubs and clubs lining the street along with late night food and massage parlors. The variety of nightlife venues range from backpacker dive bars to classier, more upscale nightclubs. Pick your poison.
3. Manila, Philippines
The Philippine capital isn’t good at a lot of things but it does know how to party. The Filipino people will be the most keen to party and drink you under the table. Trust me, we are a good time.
Manila is consistently growing more and more modern and with that comes a nightlife scene that is comparable to other nightlife capitals of the world. Anything goes in the Philippine capital. If you wander to more local joints, having a good time can become very cheap. One thing to note is the potential safety issues that plague parts of Manila. Stay in groups and don’t wander too far from the party.
Singapore, despite being possibly the world’s most modern and high-tech city, is a city of rules and restrictions. Compared to the free-spirited almost lawlessness of other Asian capital cities, Singapore sticks to the rules pretty closely. Singapore excels in a number of things, specifically sky bars, fancy clubs, and luxury. Unfortunately, even at 7-Eleven, a single beer can run you around 5 Singaporean dollars. It isn’t cheap to party in Singapore, and while that may take some of the fun out of it, Singapore gives you a taste of the high life for a little bit.
Pro tip: if you want a killer view of the city without having to pay a lot of money to enter the observatory at the top of Marina Bay Sands, dress a little nicer and tell security that you are going to Ce La Vi at the top to meet some friends. It is pricey but buying a cocktail will still save you money if you choose to go here instead of the Marina Bay Sands observatory.
1. Bangkok, Thailand
In terms of variety, Bangkok’s nightlife is untouchable. From backpacker hubs to red light districts to sky bars and booming megaclubs, Bangkok has whatever you are looking for. That includes a lot of things that would be very illegal in your country. It is so easy to have a fun time in Bangkok on any budget. Bangkok is Asia’s version of the city that never sleeps, so as long as you don’t stray too far late at night, you should be completely safe.
The real appeal of Bangkok’s nightlife is the immense number of districts and venues to choose from. You can have a night out on the fascinatingly repulsive Khao San Road or Soi Cowboy, or dress to the nines and shine on Sukhumvit. You can chug cheap buckets of vodka-Red Bull or you can have a cocktail at a stunning sky bar. The trendy district of Ari can offer you a casual, classy night out. The booming district of Thonglor will test your ability to keep up with the local Thai party animals. If you dream it, you can achieve it in Bangkok. It is the best nightlife destination in South East Asia and one of the most underrated nightlife destinations in the entire world.
Class: Varies wildly by district
In the end, nightlife comes down to what your preferences are. But in the end, Bangkok has such a wide range of nightlife that it will definitely cover your preference. South East Asia has a nightlife scene that I consider to be criminally underrated. It’s easy to have a good time anywhere you go, although you might have to adjust depending on the culture of the country.
However, nothing can beat the tried and true method of having a beer and catching the sunset. South East Asia is perfect for that no matter where you are.
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