South East Asia is one of my favorite regions in the entire world. There’s a reason I’ve found myself spending the majority of the last 8 months here. Between immersing oneself into the culture and exploring the beauty the region has to offer, there is one big draw for ~ the partying traveler ~ to stay here. Partying, duh.
Having spent a lot of time here, from backpacking through some countries and actually living in others, I’ve narrowed it down to my ten favorite party destinations in South East Asia. Here we go.
10. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Compared to the rest of South East Asia, Cambodia is far from a party destination. However, Siem Reap’s pub street does get pretty wild. After a long day of exploring Angkor Wat or any of the area’s other iconic temples, a few Angkor beers will definitely hit the spot. I liked Siem Reap a lot more than I expected and I ended up staying a few days longer than initially planned.
A big reason was that I wanted to be one of the thousands of tourists that caught that iconic sunrise shot at Angkor Wat. Siem Reap’s pub street made sure that I was never awake or sober enough to actually make it happen. Oh well, maybe one day. Although it is famous mostly for Angkor Wat, there is quite a lot to do within the area, both for partiers and non-partiers. The archaeological sites go far beyond just Angkor Wat. On the other side of the spectrum, you could even go on a booze cruise through the muddy river. Once you’ve downed a few Angkors, you won’t care too much.
9. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s only real party destination. As its capital and largest city, this might be the only place to find real clubs and wild nights. The island of Penang has a passable nightlife scene but after hitting KL’s hottest spots, I can safely say that nowhere else in Malaysia compares.
One of my favorite nightlife spots in Kuala Lumpur is the Bukit Bintang area. Lined with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, you’re sure to find something that fits your style. Aside from that particular nightlife area, KL also has a number of skybars, including Heli-Bar where you can get an unreal view of the city.
8. Vang Vieng, Laos
I lost a lot of things in Vang Vieng. Most backpackers who make their way through Laos know about the notorious tubing adventure that has become a staple for anyone stopping in Vang Vieng. It sounds ridiculously dangerous to throw a bunch of drunk people down the river and it totally is. In the past, people have died so recently, this has been toned down significantly. Only a few bars line the river now but it is still a lot of fun.
I told myself I wasn’t going to do it but peer pressure goes a long way. It was a lot of fun and not nearly as dangerous or as crazy if you don’t get too out of control. I did lose my GoPro, hat, and sunglasses at the very end but I wouldn’t attribute that to being drunk. I just got up funny at the end and everything slid off of my tummy and was quickly swept away by the fast-moving river. That’s the only scary part of the whole ordeal. The river moves fast and sometimes you get a little scare if you pass the next bar and one of the locals has to frantically swim after your tube while you lay there drunk and helpless.
It’s one of those places that I definitely wish I’d looked into travel insurance before getting drunk and jumping on a tube on a fast-moving river. Does insurance cover that? I actually just checked and am surprised that SafetyWing actually does. It’s important to have it for the wild adventures you’ll be going on in Asia. For my fellow backpackers, SafetyWing travel medical insurance is the way to go.
7. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
After working my way through Vietnam devoid of any booming nightlife, Ho Chi Minh City proved to be a wild surprise. For travelers, the nightlife centers mainly around the insanely fun Bui Vien street. It had proper clubs, proper DJs, and lots of people. Hundreds of hostels and hotels are within this area so your drunk walk home thankfully won’t be too much of a trek.
I did encounter some amazing bars in other parts of Vietnam. Crazy Bar in Da Lat was completely mind-blowing, for example. What would this post be if I didn’t mention Hair of the Dog in Hanoi or the Tiger Tiger Bars in Hoi An? Fun times, but no other city in Vietnam had a more complete nightlife experience than the capital of the South. You’ll be Sai-gone out of your mind.
6. Boracay, Philippines
There are few things better than partying on the beach. Boracay is one of the Philippines’ most famous islands which makes it a bit overly touristy. It also means that you will have proper nightclubs on your island getaway. Legit clubs are the only thing missing from most South East Asian paradise party islands. Boracay actually has them and the Filipino people actually love to party. Ask anyone who has been to the Philippines and they will agree, the Filipino people are the most fun to party with.
While writing this article, I just heard that the Philippine president plans to shut down tourist activity on the island for at least six months, citing environmental reasons. Well, what he actually said was something along the lines of “this island is becoming a shithole.”
Honestly, that’s probably a good thing. I was born about an hour away from this island. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been here four times, the latest being August 2017. It has gotten significantly worse every time. The island is known for its stunning blue waters and white sandy beaches and it should be kept that way. Boracay is undeniably the most touristy part of the Philippines so a little quiet time should do the island well. Add this to your itinerary in six months, I guess.
5. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
The belligerent party and paradise island of Koh Phi Phi is one of my favorite islands in all of South East Asia. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in partying. While peaceful during the day, at night, the entire strip of beach lights up with fire shows, nightclubs, and bucket stands. For those unfamiliar with Thailand’s party scene, let me give you the run down of buckets real quick. It is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, you literally drink alcohol out of a bucket. You can imagine how hectic Koh Phi Phi gets once the party-goers have moved on to their second or third buckets.
The party shuts down relatively early with all music on the beach stopping by 2 AM. Of all the islands I’ve been to in Thailand, Koh Phi Phi was the one that felt the most like I was truly escaping the real world. Laze all day away on the beaches. Party all night. Sleep as much as you damn well please. People come here to see Maya Bay (“the beach”) and end up staying way longer just because this island makes it so hard to leave. Life is just better here.
4. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
Gili T is Indonesia’s most notorious party destination for a good reason. Mushrooms. A lot of people come for the mushrooms and stay because they’re too hungover to leave the following day. Story of my life.
I had a lot of expectations going into Gili T. I expected a trashy island overpopulated by drunk kids that couldn’t handle their alcohol. I was preparing for a good ol’ “trashy dive bar” kind of night but I was pleasantly surprised in multiple ways. You actually have a lot of nice clubs, fancy bars, luxury resorts and no shortage of hangouts by the beach.
However, it was the vibe of the island that won me over. It is so chill and laid-back. I know I say that about a lot of places but Gili T takes the chill cake. The party and tourism converge on one corner of the small island. That allows you to party if you want but also to take a breather and take in all of the incredible stars without the light pollution from more developed places. Trust me, when you’re on those illicit substances that Gili T is known for, the stars are the only nightlife you will need.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
For backpackers, Bangkok is known mostly for Khao San Road and street food. For the travelers that stray from the grimy backpacker haven, Bangkok has an insane amount of nightlife to offer. The district of Sukhumvit has a nightlife scene comparable with anywhere in the world. The up and coming neighborhood of Ari has an artsy feel to it, highlighted by classy nightlife hotspots like Salt. If you want something more local, Thonglor has some of the craziest clubs in all of South East Asia.
The diversity of things to do in Bangkok is what makes it rank so high for me. If you want to have a chill night, you can find a quiet local bar somewhere. If you want to go crazy, then find any of the boomin’ nightclubs. If you want cheap, go to Khao San Road. If you want luxury, hit up one of the many sky bars. If you want to get even wilder, hit up any of the various red light districts. There are a lot of them.
There is a lot of stuff to do in Bangkok. Few of them would be legal in the U.S. or most Western countries. Take advantage of all of it while you are in Bangkok. Sure, it’s a rite of passage to go to Khao San Road at least a couple of times but I promise if you stray away, then Bangkok has way more to offer than toasties and buckets.
2. Koh Phangan, Thailand
I came into Koh Phangan just looking to cross the Full Moon Party off my list. It is something that all travelers and partiers should experience at least once in their lifetime. However, the more commercialized and famous it gets, the less fun it feels.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Koh Phangan had way more to offer than just the Full Moon Party. I had an insanely good time at the Full Moon Party but the highlights of the week in Koh Phangan were the number of other parties while I was there. The days are laidback and the nights are wild. Sleep until the afternoon, eat a lot of food, smoke a lot of weed, find a nice bar to catch the sunset and then prep for what will be a wild party ahead.
There’s always a party going on in Koh Phangan. Some places are insanely beautiful. Eden Bar had an incredible view once the sun rose. The Lighthouse Party had another insane sunrise as the party winded down and all of the crazy free spirits moved to the giant rocks to watch the sunrise from the ocean.
You won’t get a lot of sleep on this island but that’s fine because it’s not like you’ll have anything you need to do, right?
What could possibly top the home of the infamous Full Moon Party?
1. Bali, Indonesia
Where do I even begin with Bali? It’s almost cheating having Bali at number one because Bali is such a big island with such varied districts. For the most part, this will cover the southern part of the island, particularly those places. You know what I’m talking about, the Aussie bogan-infested hotspots. Kuta, Seminyak, and to a lesser extent, Canggu and Uluwatu. Ignoring the sheer number of tourists and overwhelmingly “Instagram” culture, Bali is undeniably one of the top party destinations in the entire world.
Let’s start with the actual clubs. It felt like every bar or club that I went to in Bali was extravagant, luxurious, and unique. There is no shortage of beachside clubs. As soon as you walk in to one of them, you feel like you are living a life only Hollywood actors could afford. Infinity pools, palm trees, coconut mojitos and epic sunsets make Bali’s beach clubs among the best in the world.
Even the clubs that weren’t by the beach were still stunning. La Favela in Seminyak, for example, is a massive nightclub spanning several stories and several rooms. It even comes complete with its own mini-Cristo Redentor. The variety of Bali’s nightlife should win anyone over. You can go to the unbelievably luxurious Omnia Bali in Uluwatu for the best views of Uluwatu’s cliffs while living your best damn life.
If you’re looking for something a little less pretentious and overrun with Instagram culture, you can hit up anywhere else in Uluwatu for a stunning view of the cliffs. Single Fin and Rock Bar are just two more examples. If those are too much still, you can head to Pretty Poison in Canggu. It is as minimalistic as it gets, excelling only in what it needs to. Cheap beers, good hip-hop, and a fun crowd. Oh yeah, and a skate bowl where skaters put on a show the entire night. That shit would never fly in most countries.
I was living in Bali for a month, mostly working in Ubud, but there was no shortage of places for me to let loose on the weekends. And let loose, I did. From festivals at La Laguna to catching sunset beers in Nusa Lembongan, I loved every minute of life in Bali. I was tentative at first to fall in love with this island that seemingly everyone has been to but hey, there’s a reason everyone loves it here, right? Bali is the best, for whatever your poison is.