For all of the foreign-authored books, articles and websites on Bangkok “at night”, I have rarely seen insightful things written about the Bangkok nightlife that my friends know best. Far from the notorious, and clichéd, flesh-pots of Sukhumwit, Ratchada and Silom, there is a nightlife that appeals to well-heeled (and not so well-heeled) Thai urbanites. Students, workers, wannabe socialites, anyone–they all like to party, and gravitate, when they can, towards the same style of venue. Almost everybody wants to get in to a big, expensive club, filled with imported hip-hop beats, copious amounts of Red Label (or something even better?) and tables that are placed on the dance floor.
During this week, and as part of my regime of hanging out with old friends, I went out to one of Bangkok’s most durable and popular “youth” entertainment areas. It is sizeable, with at least a dozen major clubs, each targeting a specific gradation of social status and spending power. Because my friends were particularly happy to have me back in town, we went to a place that under normal circumstances we would not visit. It is just a little bit too “hi-so”–too far from their (and my) humble origins, and the kind of place where some of them have even been refused entry in the past. “Face control”, where only the most appropriately dressed, gratuitously wealthy or sublimely attractive can gain entry, is a real part of this “other” Bangkok night scene. Bring your trendiest threads and at least a few thousand baht, if you really want to see the action for yourself.
My group of friends and I arrived early in the night before many of the better-prepared patrons had taken up their “reserved” tables. We were unceremoniously shunted off to one side of the big dance floor. Next time, I will know to book ahead and get a choice of a booth or a table right in the middle of the room. By about 11 pm, the place was basically full and most of the tables with females present had started to dance. Many of the men, particularly those without females for company, just sat, or stood and swayed from side to side. All night long.
In this club, and, in my experience, at all similar places, very little effort is made to meet new people or to mingle. The pre-formed groups arrive together and, for the most part, they leave together. They dance together and pour their drinks from the same bottle of whiskey. It is communal, in a way that is often ignored by Thai pundits of “community culture”. It is hierarchical, radically defensive, and intended, first and foremost, to keep the group together…around their whiskey.
How this form of night-clubbing has evolved, what it was like 10 or 20 years ago, or where it all began, are all questions that I would love to try to answer. More interesting still, would be any analysis of the way that this Thai night scene (with these clubs and the people who keep them going) fits in to the wider stream of modern Thai social life.
It seems reasonably obvious why these places (and their cultures) have been largely ignored by non-Thai writers. This still does not explain why young Thai anthropologists aren’t examining these venues and their lifestyles and communities. I have spent many hours over the past few days trawling all of my favourite bookshops and–while I see shelves of books on “the disenfranchised”, “the community” and “development”–I see nothing about new Thai social forms, and their marriage to past and future Bangkok. Am I missing something?
I would be delighted to hear comments from anybody with further insight about RCA, Ratchada Soi See, or the various other areas that continue to “boom” during Bangkok’s long, hot nights.