Where is Bangkok’s main nightlife area? If you lived in the 90s, the answer would exclusively be Royal City Avenue or RCA. But thanks to the fast development, nighttime entertainment seems to be present in every nook and cranny of the capital. So, does the RCA stand the test of time and remain the heart of Bangkok’s night party?
Bangkok’s rapid urbanization proved to be too much for Royal City Avenue. RCA Bangkok has lost its title of the main nightlife area to those of Thong Lor, Sukhumvit 11, Khao San Road., and the like. However, the evidence of its glory still stands. Clubs, bars, and party venues from the 90s remain to this day.
But what does that mean for a foreign traveler like you? Can you still have a great time at RCA in 2023 and the future? Read on and find out.
What makes (or made) RCA the main Bangkok nightlife attraction?
As mentioned, Royal City Avenue was THE destination for Thai party-goers in the 90s. It was titled to be the only area in Bangkok where you can drink, dance, and date without a care in the world.
Clubs and bars, like on other night streets in the present, are packed in the area. People would dress up and hop from one drinking spot to another. Neon lights and music brought the night to life and kept everyone energetic. It was nothing like other spots in the capital.
Unfortunately, that liveliness didn’t last. Here is the story that makes and breaks Thailand’s most popular clubbing site.
An uncertain beginning
At first glance, you might have noticed one thing about RCA. The area’s name and its entertainment-focused character have nothing to do with each other. Nothing is so royal about nightlife (at least in local’s logic).
But if you dig down a bit of history, the name will make more sense.
In the 80s, Royal City Avenue was meant to be a shopping area. They had planned to showcase imported brand-name products there for nobles and the wealthy to visit and make purchases. Hence the “royal” part — kind of.
However, the dream was too ambitious. Thailand at that time was not ready enough to magically transform an empty land into a high-end downtown. Thus, the project was thrown out the window. (Source)
However, some big businesses had already pre-invested and couldn’t pull their break. So they still leave their shop open there. As a result, the area was known for cars and motorcycle showrooms. But that didn’t last long either.
The unexpected turn
Thanks to its location in the capital’s center, RCA still attracted all kinds of investors. And one of those groups happened to be nightclub owners. (Source)
Thai people of that time would say, “Clubs, pubs, and bars popped up like mushrooms” (a Thai saying comparing quick growth in number to the growth rate of fungus groups).
Among the many venues, Old Leng saw the most success. It was one of the first pubs in RCA. Its distinguishing character was the Chinese tea parlor interior mixed with Elvis music. In a short time, Old Leng became famous enough to make its name synonymous with the street.
Everyone wanted to go to Old Leng to drink and party. After all, there was nowhere else like this at that time.
However, Old Leng alone wasn’t enough.
Every night, Old Leng would be packed and full in minutes after opening. So, the nearby venues were responsible for welcoming the “leftover” customers. One such place was Route 66.
Route 66 was basically the number 2 in the area. All the late party-goers recognized this place as their meeting spot. After all, they couldn’t expect to find a seat in the oh-so-famous Old Leng.
The two pubs carried the reputation of RCA to its peak. Thousands of people flock to this little street every night to let loose. Teenagers of that time (mostly in their 50s now) named such a prime time as the Old Leng & Route 66 era.
The unfortunate fall
Another selling point of RCA is its tenacity. This little street has seen its ups and downs in the short span between the 90s and the present (2023).
Businesses came and went as the economy rose and fell. Not to mention the disastrous time of the bubble in the late 90s. However, RCA withstood all of those and maintained its entertainment characteristics. The locals even said that “RCA never dies.”
However, every party has to end. And RCA eventually crumbled under the new entertainment venue law. (Source)
There are lots of details in this law. But the nitty-gritty is the 2:00 a.m. closing time and frequent police check on drugs. The former limited the income flow of businesses, while the latter made things difficult.
Not to say that this law makes no sense whatsoever. Entertainment venues were known for excessive drug and substance use at that time. The government wanted to “polish” the face of the country. So, this new law was written to exterminate the root of the problem (or so they believed).
Unable to adapt, many businesses closed down for good, never to return. At first, some places try to work around the schedule change. However, the police raid proved to be too much. Even though there was no drug use, the frequent visit of the police devastated their reputation. So they gave up.
Nowadays, RCA is but a remnant of what it used to be. The locals don’t go there anymore. They opt to party in newer nightlife areas around Bangkok. Those who still visit RCA are mostly foreigners.
Where to party in RCA Bangkok?
As mentioned, RCA now is but a shadow of its glorious self. (Especially after COVID.) Time has taken its toll. Once a meeting point for thousands. Now a much quieter place.
Today, you can still visit RCA for a more relaxing party experience. Not as crowded per se. If you want to go wild, there are better options like Thonglor, Sukhumvit Soi 11, Khao San Road, and Silom. But if you really want to let loose here, it’s still possible.
Now that you understand what you’ll get, here are the recommended party places.
1. Onyx RCA
One of the best modern clubs in the area. With top-tier light and sound technology, Onyx stands out among the rest of RCA. Of course, the food and drink are on par with the vibes.
You might want to time your visit here to be around August 2024. It will be its 10th anniversary then. A special event could be waiting for you.
2. Old Leng
|Location:||โอลด์เล้ง 古龍 OLD LENG BAR @RCA|
|Opening hours:||6.00 PM – 2:00 AM|
|Phone:||+66 (0) 81-255-4845|
This place is nothing but legendary. It’s one of the few businesses that withstand the rise and fall of RCA from the beginning to the present.
Once the landmark of RCA, Old Leng still sticks with its original Chinese tea parlor interior and live Elvis music. You could say that most people go here for nostalgia’s sake.
Nevertheless, any newcomers are welcome. Old Leng presents a time-traveling trip to the past.
3. Route 66
|Opening hours:||8.00 PM – 2:00 AM|
|Phone:||+66 (0) 2-203-0407 or +66 (0) 6-394-0035|
Yet another legend that has stood with RCA since the beginning. But unlike Old Leng, Route 66 has adopted the live DJ sound and light of the modern world.
It sees hundreds of visitors on a good day. Events and mini-concerts are still held regularly. Of course, each one is as lively and energetic as you expect from a nightclub.
What about other places?
Unfortunately, RCA is not as full-service as other nightlife areas now. The pub, bars, and party venues are mostly stand-alone deals. A quality hotel or restaurant to accommodate your party is rare. And that makes sense, considering the decline of businesses in the area.
So, plan your trip wisely when visiting RCA. If you’re too wasted to return to your hotel, a place to crash can be hard to find.
Royal City Avenue, the story of the past
It’s rare to see Thai people inviting friends to RCA these days. Most discussions concerning the area are about its history.
But if you want to visit Bangkok’s former main nightlife area, feel free to do so. The spirit of the old times is still there. Just don’t expect to see Silom or Sukhumvit crowds.
Like always, if you want to discover more about Thailand, stay guided with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.
Want more content? CHECK OUT THIS ▸ Complete Guide to Bangkok Nightlife
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