Across different countries, one of the many ways to discover a local culture is by engaging in its nightlife. Having had the privilege to travel and live in different cities, I had my fair share of peculiar experiences and culture shocks. Here’s what I learned while dancing, drinking and socialising across multiple continents.
By Stella Jee
Image Bruce Forton
Asia: early morning blood sausages and hella expensive Stellas
Let’s start with Asia where in popular cities you can usually find vibrant nightlife catered to both tourists and locals alike. Be it Bangkok, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore or Taipei, plenty of spots open till the crack of dawn during the weekend.
In Seoul, the university-centric area ‘Hongdae’ is a party district with a bustling music scene and drinking culture. During my week there, I joined a pub crawl and could skip the long queues while hopping to several different bars since they were all located within close proximity. The scene at 5AM after a night out is unforgettable and reminiscent of Korean dramas for me. Picture countless of soju (a typical Korean alcohol) bottles lying on the streets and drunk Koreans eating piping hot street food such as sundae (Korean blood sausage), odeng (fishcake) and tteokbokki (rice cake), even tourists like myself cannot help but dig in with the locals.
Most countries in Asia – Southeast Asia in particular – are known to be extremely affordable and tourist friendly. Except for Singapore, which is notoriously known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world and where alcohol prices are ridiculous. Be prepared to spend ten euros on a bottle of Stella Artois in a bar, even though it costs less than one euro in a Colruyt. Even when going out to regular bars in Singapore, it almost physically hurt to pay sixteen euros for a cocktail. It sure made going out for dates a financial strain, so I savoured every single sip of whatever I had ordered.
In regards to safety, some cities in Asia might have a reputation for being tad dangerous. However, from my experience, even when partying alone as a female, it has been generally safe as long as you are aware of your personal belongings and you remain respectful to locals and your surroundings.
United States: infinite barhopping
Moving on to The States, I can only speak from my experience in California, mainly San Francisco and Los Angeles (LA). It is important to check out the rules in every state as it differs. Even the culture from places within the same state can vary widely as well.
In San Francisco, I found it surprising that most clubs operate until 2AM due to the law where venues can only serve alcohol up to that time. As a result, I observed nightlife in San Francisco and Los Angeles at early hours compared to most countries. At 11PM most places are packed at popular venues and long queues form. The famous Castro District, one of the first gay neighbourhoods in United States, is one of my favourite districts in San Francisco because of the sort of flamboyant characters one might see in the streets at all times.
Another unexpected thing for me was the enormity of Los Angeles. Sure, you can jump from one place to another by taking an Uber, but it takes a while to get to your destination because of the traffic. Plus the costs of partying in Los Angeles are high.There are cool venues in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Koreatown, and the list goes on. Due to the overwhelming amount of choices, it was a struggle every night to decide where to go.
One memorable night I ended up at ‘Perch’, a restaurant with a rooftop bar. Despite not being able to afford any drinks, I marvelled the grand views of LA skyscrapers at sunset for some time before heading off to figure out where to party again.
In my opinion, the United States has a bigger house party culture than a club one . Perhaps try your hand at being a plus one to a tinder date’s house party invite, or count on your local friends to show you the best scenes!
Europe: bouncers, late nights and kebab
With the significant range of genres, raves and underground clubs, the nightlife in Europe is always vast and exciting.
Before going to Stockholm people had already warned me to always adhere to dress codes since bouncers can be quite strict. And it was true, several times I witnessed and experienced bouncers who refused entries for no reason whatsoever. Even if I went out with locals, it did not make any difference.
There were instances where one bouncer refused our entry but when we tried again with the other, we were let in. Once I was let in, however, people are friendly and respectful, as in most places in Europe as a matter of fact.
Going down South to Spain, everything happens later. Always add a couple of hours to what you are used to, even when partying. Depending on the city, some places will only start getting crowded from 3AM. During my time there, I felt that Spanish people were very sociable and affectionate, be it amongst friends, families or partners. There were plenty of instances where locals I met in or outside a club were so open and friendly that we kept in contact. Some became friends until this day.
Now living in Brussels, I’m slowly digging through the night scene. On almost every other day of the week a party is going on, both on campus and in the city centre. With the city’s reputation of diversity, I’ve met people from all around the world while partying. My experiences so far have always been at places jam packed with people, and being able to hop around from one club to the next easily since they are all in walking distance. After the party, my friends and I almost always end up in a kebab store while waiting for the first public transport available in the morning.
What awaits on a night out is always unpredictable, be it for young and energetic people dancing their heart out in clubs or for individuals who enjoy winding down in bars. Regardless of countries and cultures, party scenes are something to discover and explore. I imagine myself decades down the road still checking out various night scenes and continuously being intrigued by what there is to offer.