If you want to hear Thai country music, the best place to go is Baan Krua Nok, just meters from the major intersection in Kathu on the way to Patong Hill. Here they have an excellent house band playing country favourites with great passion. If you get bored, another venue playing Thai pop is located just opposite.
As for Thai protest songs, try and find The Factory. If you want a taste of real rural Thailand, this is the place to go. This tiny ramshackled Thai bar is tucked in next to the Phuket Leather Shop on Phuket Rd in Phuket Town and is run by its owner, Khun Aek. There’s no point in getting there before 9:30pm as that’s when people will start drifting in to play their Carabao songs (Thailand’s equivalent to Bob Dylan). This is very much an open mic venue, so you might even find me there knocking out Woody Guthrie numbers and ‘The Times They are A-Changing!’ Friday and Saturday nights are best.
As for noisier Thai pop, There is a very popular Thai music venue on the Seahorse traffic circle a half-kilometre east of Robinson Department Store in Phuket Town. It was pretty moribund until a few years ago when it was refurbished under new management.
The fun starts early, at 6:30pm with DJ Khun Bee playing warm-up tunes before the first band takes the stage at 7:30pm, playing Thai and Western pop. Occasionally, bands with a national following play here as well as at ‘Ploenchit’, an even noisier venue about 200 metres away. Ploenchit moved there a few years ago from the old town (now found online as ‘เพลินจิต x Phuket’). You will find some similar, smaller and equally-deafening venues nearby.
If you’re looking for a different and quieter style of music, there is the Sure Pub, again in Phuket Town. It’s down by the canal on the Takuapa Rd a few hundred metres south of the Baan Suzuki motorcycle showroom. This caters to lovers of ‘Phleng phuea chiwit’ (Songs of Life). This is a genre of Thai folk music strongly influenced by Western folk and rock music. The excellent four-piece house band plays from around 8:30pm onwards. No need for ear plugs here.
I can also firmly recommend the Dibuka and Night and Day restaurants opposite each other on Dibuk Rd, Phuket Town. They are great for small Thai ensembles and bands and they are also good places to eat. Here they play Thai pop, but far less noisily than venues around the Seahorse traffic circle. You’ll also find a couple of small music venues popular with Thai youngsters just around the corner near the Standard Chartered Bank clocktower.
If you are in Chalong, why not try out Somtam Saep Gern, a venue much like the Thai pop venues around the Seahorse traffic circle. It’s about 500m from the Chalong Circle on the right on the way to Kata. They have live bands all week. Ear plugs required.
Finally, if in Rawai, check out The Sunshine Bar a third of the way down the beach road. It’s not a live music venue, but it’s still one of my regular hangouts and great fun if you get there early about 7pm. It’s then the staff do formation dancing to Isan dance music and a little singing too. Climb the pole in the middle and ring the bell and you’ll get a stimulating free Thai beverage. Now that’s a bonus!
Andy Tong Dee is a local expat, musician and live music enthusiast. You can find out more about Phuket’s bands and venues at www.phuketmusicscene.com.
Andy would like to thank local Thai music enthusiast Simon Godwin for his help in researching this article.