One of the best ways to fully experience a new place is to do what the locals do, which is often as simple as hanging out at the same places they do during their free time.
This usually means bars, cafés, clubs, or even sporting events or open markets – any place where people enjoy letting loose and spending time with friends.
Thailand, a destination that seems to be more popular with each passing year, has a particularly vibrant social scene that tends to be very welcoming towards travelers who are genuinely looking to get to know the place. So we thought we’d provide a few words on our favorite things to do in the country that involve mixing it up with the locals and enjoying an authentic experience.
First and foremost, we might as well start with that one thing so many younger travelers and international backpackers and nomads tend to seek out: the pub and nightlife scene. We’ve outlined some of our general tips for how to navigate Thai nightlife, given that it can actually be quite different from other places you might have been in the past.
As far as a unique Thai nightlife experience though, you should definitely go to a ladyboy bar for performances similar to what you’d expect at a drag show elsewhere. It may sound somewhat strange or even taboo depending on where you’re from, but rest assured these are mainstream events in Thailand, and can be an absolute blast to attend. Plenty shows of this sort can be found in Bangkok, which is certainly the nightlife and entertainment capital of the country despite all the late-night beach bars you’ll see photos of on the islands.
In addition to traditional bars and clubs you can find more or less all around the country, we’d also point you toward sports bars, which have become increasingly common in Thailand over the last several years. This is due in part to the ongoing rise in popularity of football among local sports fans. The Thais love following their national teams in addition to some of the big European leagues, and you’ll find that many of them are also active bettors.
Gambling in physical establishments is widely restricted in Thailand, but in the past decade many Thai sports fans have learned how to bet with webet and similar platforms that give them access to odds listings for international leagues. This adds a whole new dimension to the sports culture and particularly when significant football matches are on makes sports bars that much more exciting. Even if you’re not supporting one of the clubs on TV, or you don’t personally bet on the outcome, this is about as good a way as you can find to hang out with locals who are just being themselves.
Finally, on a more general level, we’d suggest you keep your eyes open for festivals, events, and celebrations that may be happening while you’re in town. Many of these may only be advertised locally, whether it’s on flyers pinned up in bars or online via Facebook pages specific to the city you’re in. Bigger events will definitely generate more buzz, like some of the cultural festivals celebrated all over the country. We’re not exactly breaking new ground here, but one of our favorites is Songkran, the world-famous festival of water used to mark the start of the Thai New Year in April of each year.
It may be a common recommendation, but it’s a blast to participate in. That said other, smaller celebrations unique to particular destinations include the Yi Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai and the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket. Regardless of which events you chose to attend, try to pick ones that are celebrating something about Thai culture, rather than those designed more for tourists. You won’t find many more authentic glimpses into local lifestyle.
Hopefully with these recommendations you’re ready to enjoy more than just the standard attractions if and when you make it to Thailand. Mixing it up with the locals and getting to know a few new people will often make you feel closer to a destination than any must-see attraction, and in Thailand, the above recommendations are some of the best ways to do it.