Bangkok is notorious for its wild nightlife aimed at tourists looking for sex; nonetheless, mainly, you will find nightlife concentrated in three relatively small areas in a city with 10 million inhabitants.
Several artists have written songs about the nightlife in Bangkok; the most famous is One Night in Bangkok, written by the ABBA men and Tim Rice, with this chorus:
One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free
You'll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you're lucky then the god's a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me
The lyric is as relevant today as when they wrote it more than 30 years ago.
In most of Bangkok, you will not find the wild nightlife with scantily dressed Thai girls you may have seen on TV or read about in newspapers and magazines. You can find prostitution everywhere in Bangkok just as you can find it anywhere in the world; however, the prostitution targeting local customers is low-key.
The nightlife targeting foreigners is very different. You will find the nightlife in three relatively small areas: Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, and Patpong.
In Soi Cowboy, you will find many go-go bars with bright neon lights and scantily dressed girls on the outside trying to lure you inside. Although the neon lights in Nana Plaza are as bright as in Soi Cowboy, there is less advertising by girls on the outside. In Patpong there are no girls on the outside, you have to go inside to see the offerings.
Unlike the Bangla Road party street in Patong in Phuket, these places are all about sex. The clientele is also slightly different. In Patong, you will find many young people enjoying the nightlife not looking for a Thai girl for sex. In the naughty areas of Bangkok, most of the clientele are middle-aged or old men in search of young Thai girls – or ladyboys.
Please be aware that some hotels charge a joiner fee if you bring a guest in the room. Read more in the article Joiner Fee. If your hotel does not allow guests or if is far from the chosen entertainment area, you can hire a room for an hour nearby. The girls know where to find a place.
While the shows in the various venues may be free, the drinks are not. Be sure to ask for a price list before ordering anything to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
I have made a map of Bangkok with Metro and Skytrains stations, shopping malls, etc at Google Maps. The map includes the naughty areas; however, I have disabled the layer with the naughty areas by default for the sake of people not looking for the nightlife, you have to enable the layer yourself.
Soi Cowboy is a small side street to Sukhumvit 21, also known as Asoke ("soi" means side street, alley). The rest of the neighbourhood is well dead after office hours, but that is when Soi Cowboy starts to wake up. A few hours after dark, bright neon lights shine throughout the street.
Soi Cowboy is only 140 metres (150 yards) long and seems to be a showcase for sellers of neon lights trying to outshine each other with luminous advertising. However, it is not the neon lights they sell here. If you want to see the goods, you have to look below the neon lights; here you will see scantily clad girls trying to lure you into the numerous go-go bars in Soi Cowboy. Inside the go-go bars, the girls may wear even less clothing.
In Soi Cowboy, you will find a couple of places with live music, a couple of restaurants and a handful of bars where the girls are for rent; however, most of the establishments in the street are go-go bars with dancing girls. They will sit with you if you buy them ladydrinks; if you pay a bar fine and an agreed fee for the girl, they will go with you to your hotel.
A few years ago, there were no ladyboys in Soi Cowboy; however, now you will find them in several establishments. In Cockatoo, all the girls are ladyboys.
This video will give you an impression of the nightlife in Soi Cowboy, at least outside the establishments; filming inside is not allowed.
Soi Cowboy is in walking distance from the Sukhumvit Metro station and the Asok Skytrain station.
Hotels Close to Soi Cowboy
If you want to stay at a hotel close to Soi Cowboy, the following is known not to demand a joiner fee: Jasmine City Hotel, S Sukhumvit Suites, and the four-star hotel Pullman Bangkok Grande Sukhumvit.
The biggest nightlife area for tourists is Nana Plaza and the area around Sukhumvit Soi 4.
The Nana Plaza itself is a three storey establishment. Here, you will find girl bars at ground level, on the second floor, you will find go-go bars, and on the third floor, you will find both go-go bars and rooms for rent on an hourly basis. Several of the go-go bars in Nana Plaza offer ladyboys.
On the street outside Nana Plaza and in the car park opposite Nana Plaza, in front of Nana Hotel, girls are lined up, waiting for customers. A good part of them are ladyboys; however, if you are interested in getting acquainted with a ladyboy, it is safer to find one in a go-go bar. The price will be higher in the go-go bar, but you have a place to contact if you have any problems, like robbery or theft.
This video will give you an impression of Nana Plaza; the video includes both girls and ladyboys.
If you prefer discotheques over bars and go-go bars, then you can visit the Nana Liquid Nightclub, which is part of the Nana Hotel, located opposite Nana Plaza. It will be much easier for you to pick up a local girl here than at a disco at home; do not fool yourself thinking it is your charm they cannot resist; it is your money, they cannot resist. If a girl goes with you to your hotel, she expects you to pay for her time. Please read the article Sex in Thailand is not free.
If you want to find a very clean girl or two, you can visit the Chrome Bar in Sukhumvit Soi 7; a short walk from Nana Plaza. Here, you can get a full body soapy massage by a girl or two. Chrome Bar employs the staff from the now closed famous Annies Massage. Please read their FAQ before visiting, especially the part of what not to do to get there. The website includes photos of some of the staff.
In Soi Cowboy, the girls (and ladyboys) for rent confine to the establishments; in the area near Nana Plaza, you will find them all over the place. Nana Plaza is in Sukhumvit Soi 4 where you, as mentioned above, also will find girls and ladyboys on the street. Sukhumvit Soi 3 has Russian offers while you will find African offers in Sukhumvit Soi 1. In addition, you will find offers along Sukhumvit Road.
Nana Plaza is a short walk from the Nana Skytrain station.
Hotels Close to Nana Plaza
While Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza exclusively address an adult, preferably male audience, Patpong is a weird mix of a night market, bars and go-go bars. Nearby, you will find bars and hotels targeting gay men.
In the middle of the street, you will find two rows of double-sided stalls with the usual tourist offerings, while in the street buildings you will find a few ordinary shops in addition to various bars and go-go bars with a different kind of offerings.
It seems a bit unreal because it is hard to believe that the bar customers are particularly interested in market goods, and conversely, tourists that are shopping might not be that interested in scantily dressed girls. Nonetheless, Patpong has existed with that mix for many years, so, apparently, it works just fine.
Due to the night market, the bars and go-go bars do not draw much attention to itself. Here, you will not see scantily dressed girls in front of the establishments trying to lure you inside; instead, men holding small flyers with offerings will entice you to go inside.
250 metres (279 yards) long, Patpong is almost twice as long as Soi Cowboy. The go-go bars on the ground floor is free to visit if only you buy drinks while there, which is also how it works in Soi Cowboy and in Nana Plaza. However, in Patpong, you will also find establishments on the second floor, and here, the rules are different.
Some of the establishments on the second floor offer ping pong shows and sex shows. Be aware that these places have a bad reputation. The people luring you to visit may tell you it is free, just come in and look for five minutes. If so, it may be only the first five minutes that are free; or the prices for the drinks are exorbitant. I will recommend that you stay away from those places; if you visit them nonetheless, be sure to ask for a price list before ordering anything.
Even if you ask for a price list, they may show you another price list later when you contest the bill. They may also spike the bill with drinks you never had. If you do not pay, it will be a holiday you never forget.
If you are looking for guys rather than girls or ladyboys, Patpong is more interesting than Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza; you will find gay bars just around the corner in Soi Twilight, Silom Soi 2 and Silom Soi 4.
In general, I would say that if you want to see go-go girls dancing and maybe find a girl for rent, then visit the Soi Cowboy or Nana Plaza. In Patpong, you can do some shopping, but even that is a bad idea as you can buy the same items cheaper elsewhere; read the article Shopping in Bangkok.
This video will give you an impression of Patpong:
You will find Patpong 250 metres (270 yards) from the Sala Daeng Skytrain station and a little less than 500 (540 yards) meters from the Silom Metro station.
Hotels Close to Patpong
Map of the Naughty Areas
I have made a map at Google Maps with the naughty areas mentioned here, the map includes Metro and Skytrain stations, shopping malls, etc. However, I have disabled the layer with the naughty areas by default for the sake of people not looking for the nightlife, you have to enable the layer yourself.