The Club & Bar Scene
From cool jazz lounges in top-end hotels to streetside dives in the backpacker district, Bangkok's got somewhere for everyone to feel good after dark. Many bars feature live music, and decor ranges from Wild West Saloon to English pub to futuristic dance club. The city is famed for its go-go bars, which are clustered in Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy, so this aspect of the city is easy to avoid if it offends you.
Rooftop Bars -- Taking an ear-popping elevator ride to a rooftop bar is an iconic Bangkok experience, and visitors will have their choice of locations across town. Many bars have strict dress codes that forbid flip-flops, shorts, tank tops (for men and women), or athletic clothing.
Moon Bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree (21/100 South Sathorn Road; www.banyantree.com; tel. 02679-1200) is one of the top picks for libation seekers with views of Lumpini Park, Sathorn Road, and across town to the river. Sky Bar atop the gilded lebua at State Tower (1055 Silom Road; www.lebua.com/sky-bar; tel. 02624-9555) was famously depicted in the Hangover: Part II and is jam-packed with humanity nightly. The drink prices match the sky-high views (soda water is a whopping 400B!), but it has great views of the snaking Chao Phraya River. CentralWorld shopping mall has two sky-high bars: CRU Champagne Bar (999/99 Rama I; www.champagnecru.com; tel. 02659-9000) sells creative bubbly-based cocktails while Red Sky (999/99 Rama I; www.centarahotelsresorts.com/redsky; tel. 02100-6255) has martinis, beers, and well-mixed drinks.
If you’re not dressed to impress the bouncers, Brewski (Radisson Blu Hotel, 489 Sukhumvit Road; www.radissonblu.com; tel. 02302-3333) is a super chilled-out beer bar 30 floors above it all with a variety of IPAs and craft bottles. AIRE Bar (22/5 Sukhumvit Soi 24; www.bangkoksukhumvit.place.hyatt.com; tel. 02055-1234) at the newly opened Hyatt Place has no dress code and refreshingly caps drink prices at 280B.
Jazz and Blues Bars -- The Bamboo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (48 Oriental Ave.; www.mandarinoriental.com; tel. 02659-9000) was named Thailand’s best bar at the Asia’s 50 Best awards in 2018, and it’s a legendary home to jazz. The intimate setting, outstanding cocktails, and rich history (it first opened in 1953) make this one of the best bars in town. Brown Sugar (469 Phra Sumen Road; www.brownsugarbangkok.com; tel. 02282-0396) is another decades-old jazz hole with a rowdy atmosphere and casual cocktails. A mix of jazz and moody blues are on regular rotation at Saxophone Pub (3/8 Phaya Thai Road; www.saxophonepub.com; tel. 02246-5472). While not much bigger than a walk-in closet, Adhere the 13th (13 Samsen Road; www.fb.com/adhere13thbluesbar; tel. 089769-4613) is a blues bar where local musicians play soulful tunes to a fun-loving crowd.
Chinatown -- Once a dead zone for nightlife and cocktails (a beer at 7-Eleven was the best you could do), Chinatown has undergone a major rebirth to become one of the trendiest drinking ‘hoods in town. What the bars lack in square footage, they make up for in personality and well-mixed craft cocktails. Soi Nana is ground zero for the neighborhood’s nightlife and the resurgence started at Teens of Thailand (76 Soi Nana; www.fb.com/teensofthailand; tel. 081443-3784), an award-winning gin bar with creative gin & tonics that’s not nearly as shady as it sounds. Around the corner, the same team owns Asia Today (35 Soi Maitri Chit; www.fb.com/asiatodaybar; tel. 097134-4704) where the bar is stocked with rum, including a few locally produced options, and a giant shark hangs from the ceiling. Ba Hao (8 Soi Nana; www.ba-hao.com; tel. 064635-1989) is an art gallery-cum-bar with a cool Hong Kong vibe. The hippest spot on the block is Tep Bar (69-71 Soi Nana; www.fb.com/tepbar; tel. 098467-2944) where ya-dong (herb-infused local alcohol) cocktails are served while Thai twentysomethings play local instruments. The bar at Rabbit Hill (1 Santiphap Road; www.rabbithillbkk.com; tel. 091780-8896) stocks a host of Japanese liquors and beers from a microbrewery in Hong Kong while 23 Bar and Gallery (92 Soi Nana; tel. 080264-4471) is a total dive with lots of charm and American rock playlists.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood is Tropic City (672/65 Charoen Krung Soi 28; www.fb.com/tropiccitybkk; tel. 091870-9825), an indoor/outdoor space fully committed to making tiki bars great again; one sip and you’ll see they succeed.
Sathorn, Silom & Surawong-- Patpong, which covers Soi Patpong 1 and 2, between Surawong and Silom roads, gets crammed with crowds, and is prime territory for pickpockets. Though the area is known for its go-go bars and sex shows, you don't need to visit for risqué entertainment -- there's a night market area to check out, too and some fun bars. The go-go bars are relatively modest, but if you venture into a sex show in an upstairs bar, be prepared to pay hugely inflated prices for your drinks. When punters object to the high rates, bouncers have been called in to "help." It can all end very nastily. We suggest one of the following bars instead:
There’s always a party at Revolucion Cocktail (50 Sathorn Soi 10; www.revolucion-cocktail.com; tel. 084709-9630) and the colorful drinks are ripe for Instagram. Smalls (186/3 Suan Phlu Soi 1; www.fb.com/smallsbkk; tel. 095585-1398) is a shophouse with strong cocktails and it’s where Bangkok’s bartenders go to drink (with abandon) on their nights off. Vesper (10/15 Convent Road; www.vesperbar.co; tel. 02235-2777) employs some of the best bartenders in the city and everything from classics to bespoke cocktails are expertly mixed here, and it’s the kind of place you could stay all night. Whiteline (Silom Soi 8; http://whitelinebangkok.com; tel. 087061-1117) turned a four-story warehouse into a hotbed for creative music acts. Maggie Choo’s (320 Silom Road; www.maggiechoos.com; tel. 091772-2144) has a raucous gay night on Sunday that is regularly hosted by Pangina Heals (www.fb.com/panginaheals), the Ru Paul of Thailand and the country’s best-known drag queen. Burgers, Thai beers, and gin drinks go down easy at Junker & Bar (454 Suna Phlu Soi 1; tel. 085100-3608); and The House on Sathorn (106 N. Sathorn Road; www.thehouseonsathorn.com; tel. 02344-4000) is arguably the most beautiful bar in the area. If a night ends at Wong’s Place (27/3 Soi Sribumphen (Sathorn Soi 1); tel. 081901-0235), Bangkok’s legendary after-hours dive bar, you know you’ve done something right, which will likely feel terribly wrong in the morning.
Khao San Road -- Over on Rattanakosin Island, in Old Bangkok, the backpackers on Khao San Road still party on at The Club (123 Khao San Road; www.clubkhaosan.com; tel. 02629-1100) smack dab in the middle of Khao San Road. It is a mainstay among the small dance clubs that come and go around here. Brick Bar (265 Khao San Road (at Buddy Lodge); www.brickbarkhaosan.com; tel. 02629-4556) is a basement pub at 265 Khao San Road that hosts Thai bands and local patrons, emboldened by whiskey sodas, have been known to dance on the tables by the end of the night. At 469 Phra Sumen Road, climb three flights of decrepit stairs to reach Ku Bar (www.fb.com/ku.bangkok; [tel] 02067-6731), where the décor is plain to better keep the focus on the drinks. The spirit-forward drink menu changes monthly but keeps a fruit and vegetable-theme (like lychee or tomato), and the head bartender has stacks of awards to his name. For a more laid-back evening, head west of Khao San to Phra Athit Road, where there are any number of small cafes with live performances of folk, blues, and rock tunes. These small venues are full of Thai college students going "beat." Acts change nightly, so walk the road's length, and have a peek in each spot. Down the small sois surrounding the temple compound (on the river end of Khao San), look for lots of little open-air bars -- they're a good place to meet fellow travelers.
Sukhumvit Road -- Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (518/5 Phloenchit Road; www.fccthai.com; tel. 02652-0580) is a watering hole for the city’s creatives, photographers, writers, and more. They host a regularly rotating exhibit of photojournalism, contemporary art, and TED-style talks; check the website for the schedule. In addition to the odd-but-successful Japanese and Peruvian menu, Above Eleven (38/8 Sukhumvit Soi 11 at the Fraser Suites; www.aboveeleven.com; tel. 02038-5111) offers rooftop drinks with DJ sets. Come down to sea level and look for a broken phone booth and a graffiti wall. Through the phone booth is hidden door leading to Havana Social (1/1 Sukhumvit Soi 11; www.fb.com/havanasocialbkk; tel. 02061-5344) which feel just like Cuba, complete with cigars, rum, music, and lots of dancing. Another secret spot is Q&A (235/13 Sukhumvit Soi 21; www.qnabar.com; tel. 02664-1445). It’s designed to look like a vintage train car; their negroni is outstanding. With dozens of taps and a super-chill vibe, Craft (16 Sukhumvit Soi 23; www.craftbangkok.com; tel. 02258-0541; a second location at 981 Silom Road) has lots of space and a sociable atmosphere, making it a great spot to come with friends. Dim Dim (27/1 Sukhumvit Soi 33; www.fb.com/dimdimbarbkk; tel. 02085-2788) has six chairs and creative Chinese-themed cocktails. One of the best spots in town to dance and drink the night away is Sing Sing Theater (Sukhumvit Soi 45; www.singsingbangkok.com; tel. 063225-1331). Designed by Ashley Sutton, Sing Sing captivates patrons with a Shanghai vibe, hidden rooms, beautiful girls swinging from the ceiling, and all sorts of crazy staff costumes. Outside of cocktails, Bottles of Beer (2/7 Sukhumvit Soi 34; www.bottlesofbeer.co; tel. 02040-0473) is tiny but stocked with an impressive selection of crafts from around the world; the staff is incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. Hair of the Dog (888/26 Phloen Chit Road; www.hairofthedogbkk.com; tel. 02650-7589) is another topnotch beer hauns and epitomizes the hold the craft brew movement has held over the capital in the last few years.
Thonglor and Ekkamai -- Throbbing with nightlife on nearly every corner, this is one of Bangkok’s most hopping neighborhood when the sun goes down. Before dipping into all the cocktail bars, start with wine and tapas at Chez Jay (49 Terrace (Sukhumvit Soi 49; www.fb.com/49terrace; tel. 092639-2895); owner Jay is a true wine connoisseur. Hop between WTF (7 Sukhumvit Soi 51; www.wtfbangkok.com; tel. 02662;6246) an art gallery slash bar beloved by the expat community and the neighboring Studio Lam (3/1 Sukhumvit Soi 51; www.fb.com/studiolambkk; tel. 02261-6661) where molam (Thai folk music) gets the hipster treatment. Gin aficionados head to Just a Drink (Maybe) (44/3 Thonglor Soi 1; www.fb.com/justadrinkmaybe; tel. 02023-7285). The Iron Fairies (394 Sukhumvit Soi 55; www.fb.com/ironfairiesbkk; tel. 02659-9000) has hidden corners, intimate spaces, a fun open-mic night on Mondays—and tons of tiny jars containing colorful glitter the staff calls “fairy dust”. Near Thonglor Soi 5 are two unmarked bars: Rabbit Hole (125 Sukhumvit Soi 55; www.rabbitholebkk.com; tel. 081-822-3392), has a great truffle martini, and J.Boroski (behind an unmarked door down an alley between Thonglor Soi 5 and 7; tel. 02712-6025), is a hidden, menu-less bar where drinks are made only after consulting the bartender. Board games, video games, pool, and burgers make Game Over (1000/39 Sukhumvit Soi 55 (in Liberty Plaza); www.fb.com/GAMEOVERBKK; tel. 02170-7684) the rare nightlife venue that’s appropriate for people of all ages (many parents bring their kids here). Near Ekkamai Road (Sukhumvit Soi 63) is Tuba (34 Ekkamai Soi 21; www.fb.com/tubabkk; tel. 02711-5500) a neighborhood hangout and if you can find the hidden Sugar Ray You’ve Just Been Poisoned (88/2 Sukhumvit Soi 24 Alley; www.fb.com/sugarraybkk tel. 094417-9898), you’ll have found my favorite bar in the city. The owners make everyone feel like friends, the tipples are creative drinks and the setting is dark and moody but also cozy, making the bar feel like a living room speakeasy. Mikkeller (26 Ekkamai Soi 10, Yeak 2; www.mikkellerbangkok.com; tel. 02381-9891) brings the best Danish brews to the Big Mango in a cool, backyard setting.
The Sex Scene
Since the 1960s -- and particularly since the Vietnam War -- Bangkok has had a reputation as the sin capital of Asia. Its hundreds of saunas, sex clubs, bars, and massage parlors act as fronts for organized prostitution, drug peddling, child-trafficking rackets, pedophile rings, and people smugglers. First-time tourists are sometimes staggered by the numbers of septuagenarian gentlemen trawling these areas looking for teenage Thais of either sex. Of course, the clientele is not just foreign; Thai men frequently engage the services of hookers.
While prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, this law is rarely enforced, making foreigners feel it is therefore "safe" to pay for sex in Thailand. It is not. Too often, the people working this industry are doing this because they have no choice; and some are underage, though they may purport to be older than they are. Reports about poor families selling their children into prostitution are true -- many children are held in brothels against their will. Those adults seen making even the slightest sexual advances toward them, if caught, risk a heavy prison sentence and a subsequent, global media frenzy, and that happened numerous times in 2006 and 2007. The worst areas are concentrated around Patpong (off Silom Rd.), Nana Plaza (Sukhumvit Soi 4), and Soi Cowboy (btw. Sukhumvit Soi 21 and 23) districts.
A startling increase in HIV-positive cases in the past 20 years has encouraged the education of commercial sex workers about the use of condoms, but AIDS is still a major concern, as are other STDs. Occasional crackdowns in Patpong close some of the raunchier shows, but still, men and women in the clubs are all "for sale" -- clients simply pay a "bar fine." If this is your scene, be aware of the risks and play it safe.
Note that the city's smarter hotels will all stop you if you bring a hooker into the lobby. Other hotels require guests to register night visitors, and the client will have to pay the hotel for this privilege. Also know that, every year in Bangkok, hundreds of cases are reported of prostitutes drugging their customers and robbing them in their hotel rooms. If you believe this cannot happen to you, think again.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.