Bangkok After Dark

Nightlife options run the gamut from dancing to dining, drinking to shopping

By: Susan Cunningham

BANGKOK It’s a shame, really, that this city’s “notorious nightlife” has been publicized so profusely. After a day-long city tour and ride on the khlongs, many visitors probably confine themselves to their hotels for the night.

Actually, Bangkok nightlife is so extensive that prostitution and sex shows occupy only a small drab corner. From all walks of life, Thais take their food, fun, music, drinking, dancing and conviviality very seriously. Nightlife venues run into the thousands.

So don’t conclude that the following glimpse of three very different neighborhoods is in any way exhaustive. The surface has been barely scratched.

What can be said is that these are three long-running neighborhoods that will deliver sanuk (fun) wanderings and meetings with ordinary, chatty Thai people.

Upper Silom Road

It’s impossible to pinpoint Bangkok’s coolest neighborhood. The trendsetters are just too fickle.

But Silom Soi 2 and Silom Soi 4 two lanes branching off the east end of Silom Road somehow endure while more fabulous spots are mere memories. The two small lanes are great for people-watching and gender guessing until the very wee hours.

The DJs’ themes at Speed Hip Hop R&B, on Soi 4, are self-explanatory. Om is strictly trance. Telephone is the gay bar. The nightly four-hour happy hour might explain two-storied Tapas’s long run. The DJs there spin house, Latin, garage.

Jutting off the opposite side of Silom Road is Soi Convent and Shenanigans. This Irish bar has a lock on the after-work expat crowd and their Thai colleagues. Even a single woman can be sure of a relaxed friendly welcome.

If you can’t stomach Irish food, Convent and its parallel partner, Soi Saladaeng, host plenty of trendy little Thai and Mediterranean restaurants. They’re often lodged in old colonial-style houses. Exhibit number one: Anna’s Cafe on Saladaeng. It has proved so popular that it has sprouted a second branch on the same lane.

Sarasin-Lang Suan

North of Silom and Lumpini Park, Sarasin Road and Soi Lang Suan pull a slightly older, more casual crowd.

The venerable Brown Sugar features live rhythm- and-blues bands. Spacious Ma Mao Ma Mao has three bands playing pop standards.

Next door, Zarazine pub alternates between DJ dance music and live Thai and Western folk music. Around the corner on Lang Suan, Round Midnight features mellow rock. Farther on, listen for Metal Zone, the den where Satan worshippers congregate.

Whole Earth, one of the city’s few vegetarian restaurants, has drawn diners to Lang Suan for 20 years. More recently, upmarket restaurants have been multiplying with Italian cuisine leading the pack.

Thais adore Italian food. It’s easy to see why. Thai and Italian cuisines share many prime ingredients.

On Lang Suan alone, Italian restaurants include Airplane, Calderazzo, Ma Be Ba, Pan Pan and White Heart. Thang Long is a stylish Vietnamese restaurant of minimalist design. Le Lys serves “royal Thai,” dishes that were once prepared only for the royal palates.

Phra Athit Road

If you prefer more laid-back and very cheap, head for the funky artsy pubs and cafes lining the east side of Phra Athit Road. Although the riverside street is only a block from the budget tourist enclave of Kaosan Road, it still attracts more Thais than backpackers.

Most of the proprietors and clientele have ties to the two nearby universities. The art for sale on many walls was created by current Silpakorn University students.

Hemlock, the first drab shophouse to be transformed about a decade ago, still boasts excellent, cheap and “ancient” Thai dishes and a refined sound system.

Walk northward and you’ll come to the cozy haunts of Suntana, ToSit, Indy, Dog Days (post your dog’s photo!), Apostrophe S and Roti Mataba (Malay Muslim basics).

As Phra Athit morphs into Phra Sumen Road, there’s the reliable pink-toned Joy Luck Club. But some of the Bohos are going bourgeois. Note Pla’zzz (with a tree-shaded terrace), Primavera (hardwood floors, Austrian baker) and Ricky’s Coffee Shop (Ching Dynasty trappings).

The west side of Phra Athit is mostly occupied by a park and an old fort.

But then there’s a single seafood restaurant that old-timers swear can’t be beaten by the upstarts. This is Ton Pho, which consists of 60 tables on a rickety deck overlooking the Chao Phraya River. The catfish salad and snakehead fish with curry paste have been supped by prime ministers.


There’s not much point in detailing prices in Bangkok since they’re so low by Western standards. At a clean, air-conditioned mid-range restaurant, it’s hard to spend even 200 baht ($5) for a meal. At the highest-end restaurants, with several courses and dessert, one might clock up a $30 check.

What does mount quickly, though, is the cost of drinking alcohol. A glass of local draft beer tends to run at least $2. Because of very high import duties, wine and spirits cost at least twice as much as in the United States. However, Thailand’s own rice whiskey, Mekhong, runs cheaper than beer, especially if you buy a bottle.

Music clubs often have cover charges ranging between $5 and $10, but they do include one or two drinks. At the trendiest clubs, such as the Ministry of Sound on Sukhumvit Road, a visiting foreign DJ might command a $20 cover charge.

Many restaurants and clubs in Thailand accept credit cards. That doesn’t mean you should use them. In fact, you shouldn’t use a credit card for purchases in shops, department stores, travel agencies or most other venues in Thailand. It’s probably safe to pay for a hotel bill or an airline ticket with one. The reason for caution: Thais are justly infamous for innovations in credit card fraud. You might not even discover until you and your card arrive home that the card number has been used to charge thousands of dollars in purchases.

The three-year-old monorail, known as the Skytrain or BTS, operates from 6 a.m. until midnight. Saladaeng Station is very close to upper Silom Road. Sarasin Road is best reached by the Ratchadamri Station while northern Soi Lang Suan spots are closer to Chidlom Station. Phra Athit Road is not near the Skytrain. It is well served by the Phra Athit riverboat stop. It is also only about a block from the Kaosan Road guesthouses and hotels. A few buses run all night, but not many. Most have stopped running by midnight, but they start up again by 6 a.m.

For a city of more than 8 million people, Bangkok is amazingly safe at night for foreigners, probably because it’s a city that never sleeps. Of course, there’s the occasional pickpocketing or snatched gold necklace. But, aside from the red-light districts catering to Western men, it’s rare to hear of a foreigner suffering serious assaults or even a rude remark.

Numerous English-language monthlies purport to be city entertainment guides. Only two magazines are worth a glance. Farang is free. Metro costs the equivalent of $2.50. Ignore the articles and hasten to the listings in the back of the magazines. Metro is a superior guide to restaurants and art galleries. Farang is a hipper guide to music venues. For late-breaking events, check out the lifestyle pages of the two lively daily English-language newspapers, The Nation and Bangkok Post, especially on Friday. Look for art gallery shows, film festivals, street festivals and musical performances.

For almost a decade, all taxis in Bangkok have been equipped with meters. Some meters have been tampered with, but not many. Although the three-wheeled tuk-tuks are cute, precarious and open to the air, they’re not cheaper than taxis. Passengers must bargain for the fare and very few foreigners are adept bargainers. In the early-morning hours there are always taxis lingering around nightspot areas such as Silom Soi 2, but the drivers may refuse to use their meters and insist on bargaining for the fare.