Thailand Nightlife: 6 Expert Travel Tips for Staying Safe

Thailand's nightlife is legendary, but it's not always safe or kind to travelers. Find out how to avoid trouble in the nightlife districts of Bangkok, Kho Samui, Pattaya, Phuket and more.

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Crowds and neon signs in a busy nighltife area of Pattaya, Thailand. Photo © Getty Images /Алексей Облов

Thailand’s nightlife is world-renowned, with visitors flocking from around the globe to revel at its beach bars, rooftop pubs, and thumping nightclubs. But partying here comes with risks, some of which will be new to foreigners, from scams to bucket drinks and hot-headed bouncers. Informed by my 20-plus trips to this beautiful country, here are six tips for staying safe on a night out in Thailand.

Thai bouncers do not mess around

While completing university I worked as a bouncer at bars and nightclubs in my Australian home city of Perth. It was astonishing how many drunken Aussies, and tourists, would insult me and my colleagues, or challenge us to fist fights. We just laughed at them, wary of the legal trouble that could beset us if we engaged physically.

I’ve witnessed similar aggression towards bouncers throughout Europe and the US. But try that in Thailand and you’ll quickly be met with punches and kicks. Thai bouncers rarely get prosecuted for assault unless they severely injure someone, or the victim is a wealthy, well-connected local.

Many are trained in kickboxing, and will happily pummel a disrespectful tourist. A minority of them, meanwhile, actively look for reasons to wallop foreigners. So, if security approaches you at a Thai bar or club, be polite and follow their instructions, even if they’re being totally unreasonable.

Beware of the bucket drinks

Bucket drinks have long been popular with tourists to Thailand, especially budget-minded backpackers. Their appeal is obvious – for as little as USD $7, tourists can get a plastic bucket filled with about five standard drinks worth of whiskey, mixed with soda or energy drinks.

Bucket drinks are sold in backpacker-focused nightlife areas, such as Khao San Road, Patong, Koh Samui, and Koh Pha Ngan, as well as at the many Full Moon parties hosted across Thailand. Typically, these buckets contain ice, an unopened soda, and an unopened, 200ml bottle of local whiskey.

These versions are far less risky than pre-mixed buckets, where tourists buy a ready-to-drink concoction. In this case, they can’t know exactly what is in their bucket. Even the traditional buckets, with unopened whiskey and soda, are dangerous due to the very low quality of the spirit alcohol.

Not to mention the potential that the ice used in them is not clean. One of the worst cases of gastro I ever suffered was due to drinking a cocktail with ice at a beach bar in Koh Samui. The solution is to spend a little bit more money to buy bottled drinks from behind the bar.

Thai boat parties can be dangerous

It sounds heavenly – an evening of drinking and dancing on board a vessel as it scythes along the coast of Thailand. Such booze cruises are advertised in every major Thai beach resort area. Many of them are safe and joyous. Others have the potential for disaster.

In general, travelers need to be extremely cautious about boat rides in Thailand, where every week the news reports deaths due to vessels capsized or sinking. Late in 2023 I read one Thai news report that revealed there had been five deadly boat accidents in just one week, most of which involved tourists.

This spate of catastrophes was blamed on boat tour companies ignoring storm warnings issued by Thai authorities. At other times, tourist boats have sunk due to overcrowding and poor vessel maintenance. Often those same boats didn’t have the life jackets or emergency provisions required in the event of an accident.

Thailand simply doesn’t monitor vessel safety anywhere near as closely as Western countries do, which means the risk of being in a boating accident is far higher here than in your home country. So, be sure to book any boat tours, or booze cruises, via a large, five-star hotel. These properties have so much at stake, in terms of reputation, that they are heavily motivated to provide their guests with the safest available boat tours, and sunset cruises.

Pickpockets are an issue in nightlife zones

While pickpockets are not a major problem in Thailand, you’re most likely to encounter them in a nightlife precinct popular with tourists. Such as Nana and Khao San Road in Bangkok, Patong in Phuket, Beach Road in Pattaya, Chaweng in Koh Samui, and the Old City area of Chiang Mai.

That’s because excessive alcohol consumption makes people dopey. Pickpockets know a drunk victim is less likely to notice someone following them closely, or the physical sensation of a hand slipping into their pocket or bag. They target tourist party zones because foreign travelers are more likely to be carrying significant amounts of cash than locals, many of whom use bank cards and phone apps to make all their purchases.

The solution is simple: wear clothes with zipper pockets. While traveling to 60-plus countries over the last decade, I’ve exclusively worn such shorts and pants, which make it greatly harder for a pickpocket to fleece you. Drinking in moderation is the other obvious strategy.

How to protect against drink spiking

Similar to pickpocketing, drink spiking is not hugely common in Thailand. But it happens enough, especially to female tourists, that you need to take precautions. Firstly, keep your drink in your hand at all times, with the exception of asking a trusted friend to hold it.

Secondly, some drugs used for spiking can create a slightly bitter or salty taste. So if your drink tastes strange, put it down. Thirdly, if you feel a sudden onset of drowsiness or dizziness, immediately find a friend and ask them to look after you.

Lastly, remember that it’s much more difficult to protect yourself against being drugged if you become drunk. When intoxicated, you are more likely to forget to keep hold of your drink, less likely to notice someone spiking your drink, and your inebriated behavior will draw the attention of drink spikers, who look for easy targets.

Beware bar tab scams

It sounds obvious, but do not order drinks at a bar or club which doesn’t have prices listed on the wall or have a menu available. In Thailand’s rowdiest nightlife areas, like Patong and Nana, some bars will avoid listing prices to scam customers who are foolish enough to make an order before they see a menu.

They prey on drunk tourists who assume every venue in Thailand is cheap compared to back home. Then, when you ask for your final bill, it will be ridiculously high. If you protest, aggressive bouncers will step in. In this case, the best option is to stay calm, negotiate a lower bill, and leave the venue quietly, having learned a lesson.

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