The vast multitude of nightlife options are a large reason that many visitors come to vacation in Phuket. From laid-back beach bars to pulsating discos, from flashy costumed dance numbers to naughty adults-only shows, Phuket truly has something to entertain every traveler.
Many of Phuket’s resorts and hotels have on-site bars and lounges; some include music, while others are more simple. Many of these bars offer excellent views of the beach, the sea, or the local hills; it’s no surprise that tropical drinks are a specialty.
The larger towns on Phuket offer more in the way of nightlife options; most towns have a specific street or a district in which there are a number of different bars and discos that attract visitors once the sun goes down. While some bars and discos open as early as 5 or 6 PM, most respectable nighttime venues won’t start happening until 10 or 11 PM.
The Thai government has officially declared uniform times for bars to close, but on Phuket, many nighttime businesses do not observe these closing times, especially those bars and discos in the Patong Beach area. Be aware that bars and discos that stay open after the official closing time are subject to police raids, which happen rarely.
Among all of Phuket’s resorts and beaches with high tourist appeal, there is one which is by far the most notorious when it comes to entertainment and night-life: Patong Beach. And, within that, Bangla Road represents the main focal point for those wishing to have a blast during the night, regardless of what their definition of ‘fun’ is.
Indeed, Patong looks as if it offers them all. In spite of the more strongly enforced, stricter regulations put in place in recent years to make it more accessible and acceptable for families with children or tourists just looking to relax, which have been successful to a certain extent, even those looking for entertainment of a rather more ‘exotic’ nature are still able to find what they seek provided they look carefully enough. However, it should be kept in mind that, presently, all bars and night clubs in the resort are required to close by 2a.m. and that those remaining open until the early hours of the morning are not exactly on the right side of the law.
Furthermore, present regulations state that identification must be provided before entering any kind of night-time establishment – and especially those where drinks and maybe food are not exactly the only things on the menu – in order to prevent tourists under the legal age from going in or causing trouble. Most bars and discos in Patong are actually enforcing the rule, as it has been observed to make the area more tourist-friendly and less dangerous, leading to significantly fewer brawls or incidents. Compared to several years back, Patong has become an area friendly to both party-lovers and families, where there needn’t be any worries about the ‘fashion police’ so often found in places such as Ibiza. Phuket’s main entertainment area does not, fortunately, have the opulence or high-class fashion orientation of other similar places around the world, leaving anyone free to dress however they want in a friendly atmosphere filled with an international air, as long as it is not particularly offending, while enjoying a few drinks next to other tourists from all of the world’s countries who do not see a main purpose in getting drunk into oblivion.
And for those wondering what kind of night-time entertainment they can enjoy in Patong, the following lines will speak a few words about its beer bars, go-go bars, night clubs, karaoke bars, live music pubs, gay bars and even luxury establishments available there. A short overview of what visitors should be aware of while walking down Bangla and the neighbouring sois – or side streets – in order to avoid unpleasant incidents will also be given.
Beer Bar: This is a bar, usually open to the street, in which many working girls try to entice male customers to drink (and possibly more) with them. The majority of bars along Bangla and the side streets are Beer Bars.
Go-Go Bar: A Go-Go Bar includes a stage with girls dancing, often around poles; Go-Go Bars are usually enclosed. Some establishments charge entry fees, but will allow patrons a look inside first; it is perfectly acceptable to do look before paying admission.
Bar Girl: Also known as Bar Hostesses, these are girls who are employed by the bar to drink with, chat up, and otherwise entertain the customers.
Lady Drink: A small drink that a customer buys for the Bar Girl; usually expensive, this drink will increase the amount of attention she pays to a given customer.
Bar Fine: When a customer chooses to take a Bar Girl elsewhere for a “date,” the customer must pay a fee to cover the time that the girl is out of the bar. In addition, the girl herself expects some sort of compensation.
Hanging Bell: Many Beer Bars have installed a hanging bell in a location where customers can easily ring it; when rung, it indicates that the bell-ringer has just purchased a round of drinks for the patrons in the bar.
Ladyboy; Katoey: These are the transvestites who inhabit the bars and streets of Bangla Road. It’s often very difficult to distinguish them from Bar Girls; fancy colorful dresses and height can help to identify the true gender, but sometimes not.
Shows: Some establishments have special shows that are performed at various intervals; common variations include the Ping Pong Show (involving ping pong balls and an intimate area of the body) and lesbian shows featuring two or more girls. Another popular type of show involves an artist quickly painting designs on a girl’s body under a black light.
Beer bars are essentially those where the action starts every evening, as they tend to open earliest. There are hundreds of them on and around the sois near Bangla and it may often be difficult to realise where one ends and another one begins, as most of them consist of a bar top with a few stools around it in the open air, sometimes with makeshift roofs or umbrellas.
Each tends to have its own music and powerful sound systems, as well as female hostesses who strive to attract male clients by initiating conversations, complimenting them and grabbing their arms or, in the case of the more daring, other areas. Once attracted into one of these bars by the group of hostesses, the client usually remains with a single one who will entertain and speak with him for the rest of their stay.
The girls are not typically employed by the bars and are free to spend their time as they wish, but will require the male client to buy them drinks if he wishes to maintain their interest. These drinks are typically known as “lady drinks” and are often smaller and more expensive than one’s own drinks, but will keep them interested and willing to carry on the conversation.
If talking seems to lead nowhere, there are several bar games usually available in each of these establishments, such as backgammon, craps, four in a row or the wood block with a hammer, by far the most popular. It consists of hitting a nail with the sharp end of a hammer and counting how many strikes it takes to drive it completely into the wooden board, with the loser buying the winner a drink. Apart from these games, there is also a bell usually hanging in a corner of the bar, with a string tied to it. Ringing that bell means everyone in the bar gets a free drink on the ringer’s expense, so one should be careful about standing too near to it, especially after a few beers, when temptation may kick in.
After talking to, buying drinks for and playing games with a hostess, the client may sometimes wish to continue on with her for the rest of the night, or perhaps a longer period of the holiday. In such cases, he must pay a “bar fine”, a fee typically between 100 and 500 baht, to the owner of the establishment for the business they may lose due to the hostess being away, despite her not being actually employed. Furthermore, a fee for the girl must also be negotiated beforehand and can be between 1,000 and 4,000 baht per night.
Care must be taken as to how long one will keep a girl. Although they will most often be willing and happy to show visitors around the island or even the country, they will start considering their client a boyfriend after about two days of staying together and may throw tantrums or even fights with other girls if he shows interest in them or vice versa. They will also need gifts occasionally, most often in the form of jewellery, and may ask for an e-mail address upon the tourist’s departure, which they will often use to ask for money for various reasons, so those who are not interested in long-term relations should avoid spending more than two days with a girl picked up in a bar.
The areas most popular with beer bars are Soi Crocodile, by far the most crowded, Soi Eric, which is much more quiet and suitable for watching sports on TV rather than partying, but is only second in popularity to Soi Crocodile, Soi Gonzo, which seldom sees any crowds, and Soi Easy, one of the few sois off Bangla Road that are completely covered.
Go-go bars are, theoretically, the hottest venues in Patong and, in fact, Phuket, as they advertise themselves as having the most beautiful girls on the island dancing for their customers. In reality, only the best of such bars hire the best-looking women as dancers, with the rest showing off all shapes and sizes.
A typical go-go bar is an enclosed venue containing, apart from the bar top, tables and stools, a heightened stage with several poles where between two and ten girls perform dances at any one time – depending on the establishment’s size – wearing more or fewer clothing items as the evening progresses. Despite new regulations specifying minimum limits of clothing for such a show to be considered legal, bars where the minimum entry age is 20 will often have displays of nudity during dances, although a control by the police may lead to trouble if they are discovered.
Sometimes, dancing girls will socialize with clients when not being next in line to perform, asking them to buy drinks and having conversations which may or may not lead to more, depending on the customer’s preferences. Some bars even offer rooms upstairs where the client may go with one of the girls of choice after the show.
The most popular venues for go-go bars can be seen on and around Soi Seadragon.
Night clubs are where the social life typically moves after midnight and – legally – until 2a.m., although several establishments will bend the law and remain open until 4 or 5 in the morning. They offer similar entertainment to beer and go-go bars, although “katoeys” – or gay transvestites – are more often present here. The most popular venues in this category are the Tai Pan, Tiger and Banana Discotheques, as well as the Hollywood Discotheque on Soi Easy and the Safari Disco and Pub in south Patong, heading towards Karon.
Karaoke bars and live music pubs are those where either clients or local bands can perform favourite or original songs live on the microphone, to the entertainment or annoyance of the crowds.
Locals love these and they represent a great way of getting a taste of the Thai culture and night-life compared to the more international venues already described. Rock City on Rat-U-Thit Road, Margaritas at Bangla intersection, Molly Malone’s with its Celtic music shows and the Banana Club all feature live or karaoke shows almost every night of the week.
Gay bars are another important component of Patong’s night-life and, although katoeys can be found virtually anywhere and tourists need to pay close attention to the gender of someone they meet, especially since the modern advances in medicine have made it particularly difficult to spot them, there are certain establishments where they are clearly dominant. The Royal Paradise Complex Area and Soi Crocodile are just two of the areas where bars catering for gay people are just as or even more common than heterosexual ones. Other options are The Flying Handbag, the Boat Bar, My Way and Boom Boom.
It should also be noted that katoeys will often be more pushy with their customers and demand 100-200 baht for being photographed. They are also typically more temperamental than real girls and may easily throw tantrums and even become aggressive if they feel insulted.
Apart from the wild and crazy entertainment for all genders and orientations described above, there are also a few quiet, classy venues in Patong where one can enjoy quality music and entertainment without the hassle and noise of the crowded sois outside. Among those, Club Rio comes with quality Latin jazz music, while the Patong Bay Garden Resort offers an intimate cocktail lounge right on the beach and Joe’s Downstairs has a piano bar overlooking the rocky headland in Patong’s northern end of the beach.
Of course, with all the entertainment around, it may sound like Patong is quite a risky place to go at night. That is quite far from the truth, although there are a few elements to watch out for.
Firstly, one should keep in mind that katoeys tend to pick pockets while talking to unsuspecting clients, while cases of pickpocketing and purse snatching have been reported in the past on the busy streets. However, cases of violence against tourists or disco brawls are quite rare – and even less frequent than in Western Europe – largely due to the very international crowds who do not aim to drink until they become completely irresponsible. Local touts are probably the most common annoyance, as they try to lure tourists into restaurants, tailor shops, time-share presentations or tuk-tuk tours, but ignoring them is usually an efficient repellent. Women are generally safe to go out alone at night, although they should avoid taking taxis or tuk-tuks alone.
The Tourist Police phone number in Patong is 1155, while the Police Emergency number is 191, although, hopefully, the quality entertainment offered around the resort will never necessitate dialling them.
Tiger Disco is a popular collection of twenty-some beer bars and dance bars on two floors under a jungle and tiger-styled roof. Most of the beer bars are located on the lower floor and dance bars upstairs, but the borders between one bar and the next are hard to tell, so Tiger Disco often seems like one gigantic party. The admission to The Tiger Bar complex is 300 baht, which includes one free drink. In the Tiger Disco, the club girls are dressed in seductive tiger costumes. Some of Tiger Disco’s most well-known establishments include Sharky’s, with schoolgirl-costumed girls dancing on the counters, Dreams Bar, with lots of Ladyboys, and Hot Rock, a go-go bar known for reasonable drink prices.
Seduction Disco, a more recent introduction to the Bangla nightlife scene, is located on the northern end of Soi Bangla and features hip hop, R&B, electro, and dance music in a classy two-story setting. Known for its high-quality DJs, Seduction also features a swankier interior than many other Bangla establishments, from the red carpet out front to the cleaner-than-average toilets. The first floor of Seduction is known as the Beach Club and often features R&B music, while dance music reigns upstairs in the Disco Room. A third area, the Blow Bar, offers relaxation on an open-air terrace. Seduction does not charge an admission fee, and drink prices vary; sometimes Seduction offers special prices on drinks.
The newly-opened Famous Phuket Nightclub, located in the third floor of Jungceylon shopping complex (100 meters of Bangla road), offers something for every visitor. With three venues from which to choose and food, coffee, and tea in addition to the usual beer and cocktails, it can be hard to decide where and how to party. The main part of the club features top DJs and VJs spinning a variety of beats while LED spotlights and LCD video screens amplify the visual experience. The VIP Lounge includes a number of private spaces; the Dragon Booth is particularly popular. A third venue, the rooftop terrace, allows casual relaxation by the pool, as well as fine rooftop dining in the restaurant. Top musical names often perform at the rooftop Beach Club venue; admission prices vary depending on the choice of venue and the musical guests who are performing there.