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Where to party like a local in Asia
We'll get you to the best bars in the best cities. It's up to you to figure out what to do once you're there
Breaking into the culture and nightlife scenes in most Asian mega-cities can seem impossible for the uninformed outsider.
In addition to major cultural differences, language barriers prevent visitors from even asking where the best parties are.
Many travelers get disenchanted with the shining lights of the East -– they find it hard to settle in and enjoy themselves after dark without falling into tourist traps. Or worse.
That's where we come in, with this handy guide to the local hotspots in Asia's top party cities.
Get there, belly up and order a beer, whiskey or martini (like Coca-Cola and Gangnam Style, all three are now part of the universally understood global lexicon) and figure out the rest.
The Thai capital has a reputation for sweaty insanity. Though the insanity part of that equation is overblown, it's definitely the kind of city that can be anything you make it.
Assuming you want a genuine party experience, not bar girls or dancing ladies, avoid Soi Cowboy, Patpong and Nana. Unless you're into backpacker chaos, stay away from Khao San Road.
Though a true Thai-style night out involves sharing a bottle of whiskey and mixers with friends, Bangkok's cocktail scene has come a long way in recent years.
A highly recommended place where moneyed locals like to start the night is the Speakeasy at Hotel Muse (55/555 Lang Suan Road, +66 (0)2 630 4000).
The Thonglor and Ekamai area off Sukhumvit Road (BTS: Thonglor) is where Bangkok's trend-setters -- and followers -- hit, with its huge range of pubs and restaurants.
Highlights include the quirky Iron Fairies (384 Thonglor Soi 10; +66 (0)84 425 8080), funky after-work favorite Tuba (34 Room 11-12A Ekkamai soi 21; +66 (0) 271 5500) and, for live indie rock, Sonic (90 Ekamai, soi 10; +66 (0)2 382 339).
If you want a legit Bangkok party experience with a young crowd, acquaint yourself with Royal City Avenue (all taxi drivers know it as RCA). This small strip of night clubs and bars is packed with twenty-something, educated, locals.
Another place for full-on Bangkok nightlife immersion -- with far more tourists -- is Sukhumvit soi 11, a packed city street with a tinge of sleaze where you might easily spend the entire night.
A quality venue within stumbling distance of soi 11's big nightclubs -- Bed Supperclub, Q Bar and the newest clubs on the scene, Levels and Bash -- for dinner and drinks is Oskar Bistro (24 Sukhumvit soi 11, +66 (0)2 255 3377).
Bar closing times in Bangkok vary, with some pubs shutting their doors at 1 a.m. and clubs in designated nightlife zones staying open till 2 a.m. A few nightclubs, located mostly in hotel basements, stretch that past 4 and 5 a.m., including this month's big newcomer, Bash, which doesn't even open till 1 a.m.
Thais are friendly and Bangkok is fairly safe. You can enjoy a good night out for a relatively affordable cost, though drink prices at high-end nightclubs are on par with any global city.
But at least one piece of Bangkok's reputation is deserved. Pay-to-play is prevalent. So gents, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Hong Kong nightlife is concentrated in three neighborhoods: Tsim Sha Sui, Lan Kwai Fong and Wanchai.
These geographical siblings of after-dark fun are brimming with dance clubs, sports pubs, live music stages, pretentious cocktail bars, karaoke lounges, billiards halls and the like.
Lan Kwai Fong is the most glamorous. Groomed men and women like to play at this steep slope of bars and clubs in Hong Kong's moneyed Central district, slowly losing their composure as the night goes on.
Check out Dragon-i (UG/F The Centrium, 60 Wyndham Street, Central; +852 3110 1222) where Shaquille O'Neal was once spotted, pick up a beautiful stranger at cocktail bar Lily & Bloom (5/F & 6/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street; +852 2810 6166), have a craft brew at The Globe (45-53 Graham Street; +852 2543 1941) and end the night with the cover band at Insomnia (38-44 D'Aguilar Street; +852 2525 0957).
More on CNN: Best Hong Kong bars with a view
Wanchai -- historically the red light district frequented by sailors -- has glammed up with several successful and glossy bars and clubs amidst the weary-looking topless bars that have a confounding longevity.
Its seedy history only makes it more charming. Creative types like to hang out in the beautiful historical venues, such as The Pawn (62 Johnston Road; +852 866 3444) and Tai Lung Fung (5 Hing Wan Street; +852 2572 0055).
Relatively affordable drinks and casual atmosphere can be had at the pubs along Lockhart Road.
Tsim Sha Tsui is across Victoria Harbour, on Kowloon side. The scene here is unpretentious and local, with a few tourist traps here and there. Knutsford Terrace is the main hub of late night eats and drinks.
Try the intense atmosphere at Japanese cocktail bar Butler (5/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road; +852 724 3828), big band jazz at Ned Kelly's Last Stand (11A Ashley Road;
+852 376 0562) and indie music at Phonograph (G/F, 2 Austin Avenue; +852 2730 6622).
More on CNN: The dirty-fun guide to Hong Kong's Wanchai bars
Shanghai is similar to Hong Kong in that it has a robust population of young professional foreigners, but different in that the nightlife is more integrated and uniform.
Of all of the cities in this guide, you'll run into the largest language barrier in Shanghai. But that shouldn’t prevent you from having a good time.
Everyone will tell you to go to the Bund (the old colonial section of town along the Huangpu River), but we say skip it and recommend starting the night in Xintiandi.
Xintiandi is like the Soho of China and has a cluster of foreign-friendly clubs.
Babyface is a popular choice with a reputation for wild and raunchy nights. (Rm. 101, Shanghai Square, 138 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Pu'an Lu, +86 21 6375 6667)
For quality cocktails, try The Alchemist (Sinan Mansions, Block 32, 45 Sinan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu; +86 21 6426 0660).
For rooftop drinks, it doesn't get swankier than Flair, the crowning glory of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong (58/F, 8 Shiji Da Dao Shanghai IFC; +86 21 2020 1778).
More on CNN: The bars and clubs that define Shanghai's nightlife
Don’t let the silly laws about chewing gum and spitting on the sidewalk fool you. Singapore is amazing.
It’s pristine, developed and completely safe. The population is made up of an eclectic mix of Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Malays and Westerners.
And it can party as long as you're prepared to stand. And spend. Along with Tokyo, Singapore may be one of the only cities in the world that makes Manhattan prices look reasonable.
Nightlife-wise, Singapore lacks the quantity of the other Asian mega-cities, but it makes up for that in quality.
Top options are between the three quays -- Clarke’s, Robertson and Boat Quay -- and Marina Bay Sands (10 Bayfront Avenue, MRT: Marina Bay). Clarke’s Quay is more touristy, but also larger than the others. It’s a beautiful outdoor complex of restaurants, bars and clubs.
On almost any night of the week you can find something going on here. Wednesday night is Ladies’ Night.
But Marina Bay Sands is the jewel of the island, and one of the nightlife highlights of the continent. Pangaea, Avalon, Fuse, Ku De Ta –- these are all classy clubs filled a mix of beautiful people of all nationalities.
Arguably the biggest city in the world, Tokyo has no shortage of nightlife options. The problem is deciding which bar stool to park on.
Roppongi is the traditional nightlife area for visitors of all stripes, from country folk up from the sticks to tourists. Avoid spending too much time there. It's rowdy and fun, but be wary of scams, inflated prices and shady characters.
If you must go, check out Vanity Lounge (Roi Building,13F, 5-5-1 Roppongi Minato-ku; +81 03 5474 0091). Long line, but the club is huge and goes hard until the early morning.
More on CNN: Roppongi, Tokyo's most controversial night spot
Hot, young locals congregate in Shibuya. Check out Womb (2-16 Maruyama-cho Shibuya-ku; +81 3 5459 0039) or hop on the shuttle bus out to ageHa (five-minutes walk from Shin-Kiba Station). The latter is the largest club in Japan and attracts some of the top DJ’s in the world.
Japan is famous for its karaoke, but the game is different here from how amateur crooners do it in the West. Instead of a stage on which random people take turns singing to the bar, groups of friends rent out small rooms or cubicles and sing to each other.
It’s worth noting that the infamous “sake bomb” (shot of sake dropped into beer) doesn’t exist in Japan. Spare yourself the embarrassment.
A night out in Tokyo can be comically expensive. Taxi meters start at around US$9 and most good clubs will cost at least $30 to $40 to enter.
The metro system is fantastic but closed from midnight until 5 a.m. Most locals either go home early or stay out until the sun comes up. You know which one we advise.