While we love adventure travel, experiencing new cultures, and learning as much as we can about the places we visit, we also like to have a good time. To quote one of our favorite bands, “We like to party, sorry if you don’t.” We believe that it’s possible to strike a balance between day and nightlife when on the road. Once in a while, it’s nice to just go out and rage and then spend the next day lounging on the beach. There are also plenty of nights where we do absolutely nothing so that we can get up early and have a full day to do whatever, minus the debilitating hangover. For those of you night owls out there who also like to let loose and get a little wild from time to time, here are our Top 10 Places to Party in Southeast Asia:
10. South Bali, Indonesia
Although it’s definitely not our favorite part of the Island of the Gods, there’s no denying that South Bali is a great place to party. Those itching to get rowdy need look no further than the infamous Kuta Beach, where you can’t throw a dead cat without hitting a bar full of Bintang-schwilling backpackers. If you’d prefer to have a more adult evening, there are also plenty of options in Legian and Seminyak that are a bit more toned down.
9. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
This little island on the Andaman Coast of Thailand is a backpacking hotspot, and it’s got the nightlife to prove it. There’s no shortage of places to wet your whistle here, whether you’re looking for a beer or a bucket. At the Reggae Bar, you can even step into the ring and try your hand at Muay Thai. You might get your ass kicked, but at least you’ll get a free drink. Head over to the beachside Hippies, spark a doobie, crack a beer, and get cozy in a bean bag for a fire show. The best part about getting trashed on Phi Phi is that you can literally stumble home no matter where you’re staying.
8. Siem Reap, Cambodia
It’s not all about the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, as the nightly shenanigans on the infamous Pub Street proves. Head into the legendary Angkor What? bar for cheap beers, loud music, and a raucous crowd. The fun often spills out into the street here, where it’s not just backpackers having a good time. On our visit, we saw the coolest Korean guy ever doing his damnedest to get his boring tour group to let loose and cut a rug in the street. Way to go, dude. You give us a sliver of hope for all the packaged tour Asians out there. When you need to take a break from sweaty backpackers, head to the rooftop X Bar for some fresh air and live tunes. If you want to get really rowdy, stay out all night and then head to Angkor for an alternative sunrise trip.
7. Pai, Thailand
Although it’s not nearly as famous for its party scene as other places in Thailand, we absolutely loved going out in Pai. Start your day by tubing down the Pai River with a bag full of Chang beers, and you’ll be feeling pretty good by the time you get back to town. Kick off your night with street beers and a stroll around the night market, catch some live music, and then wind things down in the super chill PM Spirit bar tucked away down an alley. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in town for the monthly art & music party with tons of unique vendors, rockin’ bands, and amazingly talented poi spinners. After all, who said there has to be buckets and ladyboys for it to be a party in Thailand?
6. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
If you’re looking to catch a buzz without emptying your wallet, you’ll love the former Vietnamese capital. Head to the backpacker area on Pham Ngu Lao any night of the week, and you’ll find crowds of locals and backpackers packing both sides of the street. Pull up a plastic stool, order a draft beer for about $0.25 or a cocktail for $1, and enjoy a night of nonsense. When you get sick of the beggar kids and drunken fools, you can always head to one of the city’s many bars or clubs for a nightcap.
5. Sihanoukville, Cambodia
The beach town of Sihankoukville, or Snookyville as it’s known to many, has definitely earned its reputation as Cambodia’s top party destination. On the most popular beach Serendipity, you can find super cheap draft beers during Happy Hour, nightly parties, and a variety of other mind-altering substances. Never before had we seen bars openly selling balloons full of nitrous until we partied in Snookyville, which reminded us old hippies of hanging out on Phish lot. When you need to escape the madness, head to the weekly Otres Market on Saturday night for good food, drinks, people, and music.
4. Koh Tao, Thailand
The three islands on the Gulf of Thailand tend to be categorized as such: diving (Koh Tao), partying (Koh Pha Ngan), and honeymooners (Koh Samui), but things are not quite as they seem. Sure, Koh Pha Ngan is still home to the lunacy of Full Moon, but every other large-scale party on the island has been cancelled – no more Half Moon, Waterfall, or Jungle parties. The party’s still going strong over on Koh Tao, though, with a tri-weekly pub crawl that includes a pool party, live music, a ladyboy burlesque show, and a late-night beach bash. In all 7 months that we backpacked across SE Asia, this was hands down one of the most fun nights.
3. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
The tiny Gili Islands off of Lombok are a great addition to your Bali trip. Biggest of the three, Gili Trawangan (or Gili Tra-la-la as some like to call it) is definitely the place to party. Spend your day lounging by the pool with our favorite vacation drink – a coco-rum-onut, and then get ready for a night out. Although nearly all of the island’s permanent residents are Muslim and therefore object to booze and drug-fueled ragers, the island has smartly decided to designate three party nights for three different bars. The backpackers get to have their fun without driving all of the locals crazy in the middle of the night. It certainly makes for a funny scene at 5 AM when red-eyed backpackers are stumbling back to their hostels as local men head to the mosque.
2. Vang Vieng, Laos
When the Laotian government tore down the bars on the Nam Song River a few years ago, people bemoaned the loss of “in the tubing” – an insane party where backpackers full of booze, weed, shrooms, and opium tubed down the river amongst a wide array of ziplines, swings, and the cleverly named “death slide.” While Vang Vieng will never be what it was, it is once again one of the best places to party on the Banana Pancake Trail. Having seen it in both forms, we’re actually quite happy with the change – there’s still a good time to be had on the river (and a much safer one at that), and the local government has allowed the bars in town to stay open later as a trade-off for the more chill tubing scene. Hit the remaining bars, pack a bag of beers, and tube during the day, and then head to Jay Dee’s bar at night. The owner is the definition of party animal and makes damn sure that everyone is having a good time, or at least that they’re too drunk and stoned to know the difference.
1. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok’s nightlife is the stuff of legends for good reason – no matter what you’re looking for, you can find it here. From classy rooftop bars pouring fancy cocktails, to local watering holes down the city’s countless Sois, to new craft beer bars, to the debauchery of Khao Son Road, to the various go-go bar areas full of dancing ladies (and ladyboys), your options are endless in BKK. Although things have definitely calmed down a bit with the new military government, the party’s still kicking in the Thai capital and will hopefully be back in full swing eventually. It still gets our #1 spot for the sheer variety and people – Bangkok recently overtook London as the world’s most visited city, so you get to party with travelers from all over the world plus cool expats and the always fun-loving Thais.
To help plan your traveling party across the Banana Pancake Trail, here are all ten locations on the map:
It was tough narrowing our list down to a Top 10, so naturally a few good places got left out. Here are three honorable mentions:
Koh Pha Ngan
Even though it’s not quite our scene, we realize that the Full Moon Party is still far and away the biggest bash in SE Asia. We preferred the vibe of the smaller parties in the Jungle and by the Waterfall but those have since been canceled, forcing us to bump Koh Pha Ngan off the list.
*Editor’s Note (Dec. 2016): It appears as if the other parties on Koh Pha Ngan are back on, so you’ve got more options than just Full Moon now and we’d definitely recommend the island if you’re looking for a party.
Thailand’s second city may pale in comparison to Bangkok when it comes to nightlife, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Chiang Mai has plenty of night markets, bars, venues, and more to keep night owls happy. Perhaps it would have made our list had we spent more time going out there, but whenever we’re in Chiang Mai we’re focused on adventure activities.
Just like in HCMC, you can find dirt cheap draft beer on the streets of Hanoi. Pair it up with some delicious Vietnamese snacks and you’ve got a good night in our book. The only reason the Vietnamese capital doesn’t make our list is because things shut down at midnight, with police waving taser guns to clear out the bars. That doesn’t exactly scream, “Party on, Wayne!” to us…