Anything goes: South-East Asia's top five party towns

From classy cocktails to ping-pong peril, in South-East Asia you can find parties to suit all tastes, writes Ben Groundwater.

We have a lot of rules in Australia. Especially when it comes to pubs and clubs. Rules on how to dress, how to behave, how much to drink, when to leave.

It can get a little tiring after a while, which is when you start to cast your eye to party places that may not have quite so many regulations. Where you have a bit more freedom. Where you can let loose and have a good time.

And, importantly, where you have the money to facilitate it.

That's where South-East Asia comes in. It's cheap, it's fun, it's relatively close by, and it doesn't have all those pesky rules. If you want to party rules-free with our neighbours to the north, here's where you should be heading.

Seminyak, Bali

Forget Kuta, unless you really do want to watch the Collingwood game from the weekend. Just up the beach is Seminyak, Kuta's classy sister. There's no Bintang chugging or thong chucking here – it's all about cocktails and dressing in something a little more impressive than footy shorts. And it has a price tag to match.

There are a few laid-back little pubs on the main street in Seminyak, but the real action happens in the upmarket beachside clubs that kick off well after dark.

The beautiful people have lately started flocking to WooBar, the beachfront, open-air venue at the new W Hotel. International DJs and stupidly priced cocktails have the place more packed than the local streets at rush hour. Vodka can be ordered by the bottle (which has 'danger' written all over it). Just don't get any ideas about wandering down to the beach for a midnight dip – there are some serious currents there; it's a no-go zone.


Just up the beach is the famous Potato Head Beach Club, a massive, heaving place of gyrating bodies and thumping tunes. The place looks incredible, and most of the patrons match it. Dress well, and watch out for the infinity pool.

Of all the famed Seminyak establishments, however, none can compete with Ku de Ta. It's the perfect place to watch the sun crawl below the horizon while drinking cocktails at prices that easily rival those from back home. Bring plenty of cash.

WooBar, Jl. Petitenget, Seminyak (+62 361 473 8106); Potato Head, Jl. Petitenget, Seminyak; Ku de Ta, Jalan Kayu Aya 9, Seminyak (+62 361 73 6767),

Bangkok, Thailand

You can do anything in Bangkok. An-y-thing. And whatever just sprang to your mind there at the mention of “anything” is a good indication of the sort of party animal you are.

If “anything” conjured images of fantastic food and a few quiet beers with the locals, then that can be achieved. If “anything” meant an all-out debauchery fest of quite possibly illegal activities in some seedy Asian hellhole, then that can also be arranged. This is Bangkok.

Patpong is a notorious den of sin, where “menus” have ping-pong balls on them, and where many a naïve traveller has found themselves fleeced out of a few baht too many. Nearby Khao San Road is a infamous hive of backpacker activity, with travel agents vying for business from seedy bars and street vendors selling bland versions of pad Thai. If you want a cheap place to party with fellow travellers, there's nowhere better.

For something a little more upmarket, Silom is a place where you can spank some serious baht at classy establishments. Moon Bar is ridiculously opulent, an open-air rooftop venue high up in the sky on the Banyan Tree Hotel. Sirocco is more of the same. To party the night away minus the presence of go-go dancers but with the addition of some swanky cocktails, anywhere around Sukhumvit will do the trick, although Q Bar is a local favourite.

Moon Bar, 21/100 South Sathon Rd, Sathon (+66 2679 1200),; Sirocco, 1055 Silom Rd, Bangrak (+66 2624 9555),; Q Bar, 34 Sukhumvit Soi 11, Klongtoey (+66 2252 3274)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Uncle Ho probably never envisaged that the city bestowed with his name would become such a famed destination for Westerners chasing cheap booze and a good party atmosphere. But hang around Pham Ngu Lao once the sun goes down, and it's pretty clear that that's what has happened.

The area's narrow streets buzz with bars, nightclubs and karaoke joints. It's a mix of backpackers, expats and locals drinking beers at the sidewalk cafes before heading on to somewhere a little cosier. Le Pub is a great place to kick off an evening, and if things get out of hand, you'll probably find yourself floundering around the dancefloor at Go2 until the sun comes up. (No one goes out with the intention of visiting Go2 – it just happens. Usually around midnight, when all the other bars are closing.)

Away from Pham Ngu Lao, you can party with the expats at Vasco's, a not-excessively-seedy bar that usually has live bands playing. Just down the road is the famous Apocalypse Now, a place heaving with Westerners and prostitutes trying to pick up Westerners. Drink prices are inflated and it all feels a bit tacky – but hey, everyone else is there, so what are you going to do?

If you actually want to bump into a Vietnamese person or two, try Q Bar Saigon, one of the city's well known establishments that attracts a local as well as expat crowd.

Le Pub, 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (+84 8 3837 7679),; Go2, 187 De Tham, District 1 (+84 8 836 9575); Vasco's, 74/7D Hai Ba Trung, District 1 (+84 8 3824 2888); Apocalypse Now, 2C Thi Sach St, District 1 (+84 8 825 6124); Q Bar, 7 Lam Son Square, District 1 (+84 8 823 3480)

Vang Vieng, Laos

Ah, sleepy Vang Vieng. At first glance, a peaceful, beautiful little village nestled in a Laotian valley. But what's that floating down the river? And what are all those little wooden houses on the banks for? And is that a giant slide?

Vang Vieng really would be a sleepy little village if someone hadn't come up with the idea of “tubing”. Thanks to that strike of inspiration, the town has become a must-do on every party-loving backpacker's agenda.

The idea probably began quite innocently, with tourists getting a tuk-tuk a few kilometres up-river from the town, then jumping in the water on old tractor tyre inner tubes and floating serenely back home. But then someone added booze.

Now, the banks of the river are lined with makeshift wooden bars selling cut-price Beerlao and shots of lao-lao whiskey. There's one with a pet monkey. Another is run by a guy called “Mr Lao-Lao”, who takes his name very seriously. There's a place that sells “Newquay fish and chips”, another with a gigantic slide pointed at the river, and another with a volleyball court made entirely of mud.

Most have zip-lines and swings set up above the river to play on. All will be only too happy to throw a rope into the water and tow you to boozy safety if you give them a wave as you float past.

The whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen, and, predictably, disasters do happen. People hurt themselves all the time – you can't mix swings, slides, alcohol, water of indeterminate depth and the complete absence of rules and expect it to go smoothly.

However, if you're prepared to take the risk – or to just keep those risks to the minimum, as you can easily do – then a day tubing in Vang Vieng will easily be one of the best you'll have in South-East Asia. And quite possibly your life.

Manila, Philippines

To say Manila caters to varied tastes would be a gigantic understatement. This is a city with serious options to satisfy all whims – or, if you like, fetishes.

Those with money and taste can head to up-market nightclubs bulging with the city's cashed-up elite. Those with vocal chords and passion can call past one of Manila's thousands of karaoke bars. Those with big cajones can go to a dive bar and mix with gun-toting locals. Those with lax morals can go to one of the city's “girlie bars”. Those with friends can hang out in the expat bars. And those with a passion for the smaller things in life can get comfy at a place called the Hobbit House.

The what? The Hobbit House, a bar staffed entirely by midgets. Or dwarves. Little people. Whatever. It's wrong on so many levels, but at least they've got rid of the guy dressed in a Velcro suit that you could throw against a wall, so this is clearly an exploitation bar with a conscience. And as they say at the Hobbit House, a little goes a long way.

Outside of that oddity, Makati is the district with the city's best (and worst) nightlife. On the side of good, Kalayan Avenue is packed with drinking dens, from dive bars to relatively upmarket clubs with prices to match. For more familiar names like the Hard Rock Café and TGI Friday's, head to the Glorietta shopping mall, a gigantic shrine to western influence.

Most of the city's more inadvisable establishments are up on P. Burgos Street – enter those at your peril.

The Hobbit House, 1212 MH del Pilar St, Ermita (02 484 0982),