There has been a resurgence of things retro in Bangkok in the last few years, and one of the most enjoyable, economical, and popular nightlife venues these days is that of the Volkswagen bus cocktail bars. They don't really have a fixed address, phone number, nor website, although you can count on them being in the same place most of the time, but they are a great place to people watch, grab a 100 baht cocktail or 60 baht beer, and really get down with the locals. The Soi Rambutri area, which is opposite Khao San Road on the north side of the temple is the prime location for most of these, 4-5 of them set up shop around dusk and the street is bathed in soft red light, making it very atmospheric.
Hidden away in a back alley near Khao San, this funky little spot not only serves some decent Indian food, but is a great chill out shisha bar that happens to spin Bollywood tunes and become quite trendy come weekends. Located in an old house tucked into the very back side of Soi Rambutri, visitors often get lost looking for Bombay Blues, but it is pretty recognisable by its bright red lit facade and red tent like tables across the way outside. From the outdoor divans to the comfy on the floor table settings inside, you can kick off your shoes and really settle in here. While plenty of folks come just for dinner, it's recommended to stay awhile or visit on the weekends when the house DJ's start spinning tunes, while guests suck down buckets and slick drink concoctions or else just sit out on the chilled rooftop area and puff a few shishas while staring at the sky.
Set in the basement of the Bayon Building in the middle of Khao San Road, The Lava Gold Club is decked out in scarlet light and resembles an underworld dungeon, which attracts plenty of Thai and foreign revelers into its loud and raucous dance sessions. Hosting club parties and regular DJ events, the Lava Club features spectacular lighting and laser shows along with a daily dose of all kinds of electronica piped through its crystal clear sound system. The tunes and the outfits make this one of Bangkok's most authentic hip hop clubs, and the parties here rage until the wee hours.
The Brick Bar is certainly one of Khao San's most happening places. The focus here is on live ska and reggae, and the huge joint can hold 1200 people, which it often does. Despite being in the heart of Khao San Road, the Brick Bar gets lots of young Thais who come to party and dance the night away. 3 bands play each night between 8 and 130, with Teddy Ska being the current favorite and top draw. It gets hot and sweaty in here, but everyone is having a good time and this remains one of the most lively clubs and nightspots in all the area if not in Bangkok.
Soi Rambutri runs parallel to Khao San Road and then continues alongside the temple off of Chakrapong Road, and is a slightly more chilled Khao San experience. Madame Musur is leading the charge here of hip new relax venues with good food and drink, and an excellent vibe that is making it one of the most popular nightspots in the area. The proprietress here ran the food and beverage departments for several five-star hotels for years, so she's got plenty of experience of taking good care of demanding customers, and this is her venture into something small, simple, and sweet. The bar has rattan chairs and sofas, wooden plank floors, and a northern Thai Lanna decor, filled with trinkets from the owner's travels. The menu features harder to find northern Thai cuisine like sai oua spicy pork sausages stuffed with sticky rice, and gaeng hang lay Burmese Shan curry, and there are lots of signature drinks that use ma jai dam northern spirits or mojito variations with local Sangsom rum. While weekends feature a bit louder tunes than the rest of the week, there are plenty of Thai pop and 60's classics on the stereo accompanying the good cheer, making Madame Musur a big hit with both locals and tourists.
Music aficionados will love it here. This unpretentious cool jazz bar gets packed with a young Thai crowd each evening, and is one of the more happening spots along Phra Athit Road, which is just a 5-minute stroll from Khao San central, but more noted for bohemian bars frequented by Thais than for foreign backpackers. Jazz Happens is run by Nu Vudthivichai, one of Thailand's top pianists, and there are nightly performances by students and alumni from the Silpakorn University Jazz Faculty. In addition to the talented musical offerings, there is also a large Thai food menu as well as plenty of creative drinks or just bottles of Singha or Sangsom rum. It's far cheaper than most places, and the focus really is on quality here, and is a great spot for seeing some superb young jazz talent, as well as the occasional bit of pop.
One of Bangkok's first and still one of its better bars for live music and a night out. Brown Sugar was touted by Newsweek as "one of the best bars in the world," and while that was over a decade ago, the suave jazz hangout has drawn party crowds continuously ever since. With all their success, the club has updated from a jazz bar to a jazz boutique, relocating to a new home in Phra Sumen (just 10-minutes from Khao San), which has a spacious upstairs, and now features art exhibitions along with the music, as well as being a coffee house and restaurant during the day before the jazz gets going.
With a big DJ booth and huge sound system, The Club is one of the most pulsating spots along Khao San Road. Resembling an Ibiza style nightclub, this place packs in both locals and visiting tourists and blasts out electronic dance music until the wee hours. Lighting, smoke machines, and lasers enhance the showy atmosphere, and the music pumps out loud. Drinks are cheap and there is no dress code, which is a rarity at a Bangkok nightclub like this. The crowd is young, energetic, and nights here are pretty fun, with lots of drinking, dancing, and even the occasional crowd surfing going on!
This little hole in the wall has been going strong as long as Bangkok. Despite being as big as a shoe closet and a bit out of the way, locals pack the joint every night for Bangkok's best live jazz and blues, with the house band playing BB King, Louis Armstrong, and John Lee Hooker to the appreciative crowd. Describing Adhere as a honky tonk dive bar isn't too far off, and everyone who shows up has fun. If you bring along an instrument, you will inevitably be invited up to jam and the vibe here is an easy going one, where Thais and foreigners mix happily.
This new kid on the block is also Khao San's top party spot. Set to resemble an island escape, it might not be the real thing, but there is sand under your feet, tiki huts with palm fronds to lounge under, and plenty of huge "bucket" cocktails to enjoy while you dance the night away. The club features some of Bangkok's top DJs to go along with house music and live bands, and there are even Full Moon parties featured each month for those too lazy to head down to Koh Phangan. It's a young and wild crowd here, and if you get too hungover from partying the night away, the beach club even opens at 11am so you can come in the next day and chill out in the sand, dreaming that you are elsewhere. Songkran Thai New Year parties are particularly crazy here, with everyone getting very wet.