Bangkok’s nightlife has something for everybody – and that’s particularly true of the city’s live music scene. But the vast choice on offer can be intimidating if you only have a limited time in this crowded city before you continue on your travels. My local’s guide to Bangkok’s vibrant live music scene will give you a few pointers.
Live blues in Bangkok
He’s swaying in the warm light, his fingers moving effortlessly up and down the neck of his electric guitar, his eyes closed tightly behind his black-rimmed glasses as he sings the Sam Cooke civil rights anthem ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. He delivers the song with so much emotion that every lyric feels like it is being shot through my heart. His guitar solo leaves goosebumps on my skin.
It’s the kind of world-class performance you’d expect in a blues bar in New Orleans or New York, but it’s happening in Bangkok at one of the oldest live music venues in Thailand: The Saxophone Pub near the Victory Monument sky train station.
The Thai performer is called Chai and he’s been wowing tourists and locals with his soulfulness in this establishment for more than a decade. The pub, which also happens to be the place where UK artist Seal began his music career, puts on three live music acts, seven days a week with a focus on the blues. But jazz, folk, reggae and ska are also on the menu along with a range of delicious Thai food and affordable drinks.
If you’re staying near Khao San Road, another blues bar worth checking out – especially if you’re a musician – is the unusually named Adhere 13th Blues Bar. It’s a hole-in-the-wall venue where you have to squeeze past the band to get to the bar. The music is gritty and real and the vibe is always friendly. Most nights end in a big jam session and on weekends the audience tends to be pushed out onto the street due to the popularity of the place. The video below shows Chai Blues at a different gig at Adhere 13th Blues Bar (he does get around).
The Saxophone Pub, 3/8 Phayathai Road Victory Monument, Bangkok 10400
Adhere 13th Blues Bar, 13 Samsen Road, Bangkok 10200.
Molam, the genuine article
Back in 2009, Bangkok-based DJs Maft Sai and Chris Menist decided they wanted to share their collection of molam (an old style of music that originates in eastern Thailand) with their friends.
They had no idea that this desire would lead to a musical revival and the birth of one of Thailand’s most successful music exports, The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band.
The group has performed sell-out shows from Berlin to Bucharest and played festivals such as Glastonbury. They’ve also given a new generation of Thais and foreigners a reason to fall in love with a style of music that was dying in the region.
The best place to lap up this east-meets-west music is Studio Lam where, on any given night of the week, you can hear DJs mixing the sounds of Korat in northeastern Thailand with the reggae beats of Kingston in Jamaica. You’ll find the bar near Thong Lo sky train station.
Studio Lam, 3/1 Sukhumvit 51, Bangkok 10110
Live jazz in Bangkok
A larger than life portrait of Louis Armstrong can be found on the walls of Brown Sugar, Thailand’s most famous jazz club. If you dig his music or the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock or John Coltrane – or if you’re just looking for a cool bar to hang out in for a few hours, check this place out.
From Tuesday to Sunday you can enjoy some of the country’s finest musicians performing everything from experimental jazz to big band standards. The venue is open as a restaurant and café during the day.
There’s also the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s uber-classy Bamboo Bar, which is worth a visit for the jazz music as well as the lush dark wood interiors and elegant mirrored ceilings. Here you’ll find Bangkok’s high society sipping cocktails to the songs of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday – performed by touring international jazz artists.
But a word of warning – don’t bother going to the Bamboo Bar unless you’ve got cash to burn: drinks are NOT cheap!
Bamboo Bar, 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok 10500
Brown Sugar, 469 Thanon Phra Sumen Bowon Niwet, Bangkok 10200.
Live rock music in Bangkok
From thrash metal to black metal, funk to death – The Rock Pub near Ratchathewi sky train station is quite possibly the loudest live music venue in the city and is definitely worth a visit if you like heavy metal music.
Here you’ll find tattooed Thais banging their heads to a variety of local rock bands. Expect lots of roaring and a lively mosh pit.
If you’re into something less hardcore, the pub hosts tribute nights to bands like Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses – as well as 80s and 90s themed nights for those just wanting to go out for a boogie.
Bangkok, like most major cities, has a Hard Rock Café, which ironically caters for those who prefer a softer kind of rock. If you don’t mind paying top price for a burger while you listen to a cover band performing Hotel California, then check it out. But don’t expect to find anything overly inspiring on stage.
The Rock Pub, 93/26-28 Hollywood Street Building, Payathai Road, Bangkok 10400.
Hard Rock Café, 424/3-6 Siam Square, Bangkok 10330.