Everyone knows the mainstream party scenes around the world; Ibiza, Las Vegas, Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan… but what if I told you I’ve had as much, if not more fun in the Bairro Alto neighborhood in Lisbon, Portugal and Koh Phi Phi island in Thailand.
You read that right, my party experiences in Bairro Alto and Koh Phi Phi were better than Business Insider’s, Reader’s Digest, Time Magazine’s top party scenes around the world.
My first reaction to the Bairro Alto neighborhood was that it had a nice and quiet vibe with restaurants and bars with occupancies that consisted of regulars. I could not have been more wrong, but that will come later... I was visiting with my girlfriend (now fiancé) Thera and four of our friends. Around 10pm on the night before we were heading back to the US, we were looking for a place to eat and thought these narrow, restaurant-lined streets were a cute place to try a new new restaurant.
We found a seafood (big surprise right?!) place at the corner of one of the streets and we were seated upstairs. Since I was with five girls and I was the only guy in our group, as soon as we sat down the waiter started yelling ‘hey bossman, hey bossman’! We all had a good laugh before ordering drinks and food. As we were eating, it sounded like something was going on outside as it was progressively getting louder and louder. We finished our food around 11:30pm and at this point it was hard to hold a conversation with the person sitting next to you due to the noise outside, so I stuck my head outside the window to see what was going on.
People in masses were lined down the streets as far as I could see drinking in bars, drinking on the streets, and just having a good time. I thought this had to be some sort of festival as it was a Tuesday night and it looked like the streets were closed.
I ran back to our table and told everyone we have to pay our bill and head down there right away to join in on the fun. As soon as we got down there, in unison everyone yelled “CAR” and like a synchronized dance, everyone went to one side of the street or the other and pinned themselves against a building. As soon as the car passed, everyone filled the streets again and picked up where their conversations and partying left off.
I asked someone what festival was going on and yet again I was wrong, they said there was no festival, this was a “normal” night in the streets of Bairro Alto. My friends and I all looked at each other with the same ear to ear smile and we all knew this would be a night that was just getting started and one we would not forget.
We headed into a bar and saw a live band was playing. We grabbed drinks, hung out for a few minutes, and then decided it was time to head to the next bar. As we walked outside, again everyone yelled “CAR” and we all pinned ourselves against the building. Being that the streets were so narrow, my girlfriend stepped on another girl’s foot and immediately apologized as soon as the craziness died down. The girl was understanding and we had a great laugh about the entire situation. We ended up staying in the street and talking to her and that’s when her two friends walked up with refills on their drinks. They raised their glasses to cheers and we asked what they were celebrating. They said it was one of the guy’s birthdays the next day and since they were pilots they were on the road a lot and didn’t really have a chance to celebrate their birthdays with their families and friends.
One of the guys was drinking much slower than the others and I asked him if everything was alright. He said that he was fine, but that he had to fly back to the US tomorrow so he couldn’t drink too much. I asked them what airlines they were employed by and they responded “United Airlines.”
What was odd was that I was flying United Airlines back to the US tomorrow and my girlfriend and our friends were going on to Seville for another week. I then asked them what flight and they said the same flight number that I was flying. Instantly I turned to my friends and told them they did a great job of pranking me and they all stood there with blank stares on their faces. Instantly I knew this wasn’t a prank.
We all started laughing hysterically and we ran to the next bar to get a round of shots to celebrate the pilot’s birthday. In a world of 7 billion people, sometimes it feels like it’s a world of 7 people.
The next 5 hours consisted of walking along the street, stopping to talk to anyone and everyone, taking shots, listening to live music, and thinking this has to be one of the craziest and best places to party. Everywhere I looked, everyone was having a great time, buying drinks for random strangers on the street, high-fiving each other, and yelling “CAR” and helping each other to the side of the curb.
The next morning was definitely not as much fun. My head was pounding and I had a hangover that I thought was going to last a lifetime, but I made it to the airport. As I boarded the plane and found my seat, the flight attendant over PA system said “Anthony Messina, please hit your assistance button.” Immediately, I hit it and a few minutes later the flight attendant came over and said the pilot has requested you to be moved to first class. The last 12 hours were like something out of a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ movie. In the end, I can honestly say partying in Bairro Alto was the most unassuming, yet best party places I’ve been in the world.
While the Bairro Alto neighborhood were lined with street parties, Koh Phi Phi in Thailand is an island dedicated to partying. As soon as we arrived by ferry to the island of Koh Phi Phi, I knew it was going to be a special place. The entire island was free of cars, motorbikes, and essentially anything with wheels. We were staying in a hotel where all rooms were treehouses and our view from our private balcony was nothing short of breathtaking.
After unpacking and eating dinner, we headed out to explore the island. The first building we saw was a bank, the second a bar, third a bar, fourth a restaurant, and that trend continued down every street we turned. It was around 10:30pm, which in Thailand was still a little early to start partying. Thera and I grabbed beers at a bar and headed back out onto the street to keep exploring.
As we were about to head into a second bar, I heard two guys yell “TONY” and I turned to see two Australian guys we met on the ferry running towards us shirtless and a few beers in their hands. These guys have been traveling the world for about 6 months and had no intentions of heading back home anytime soon.
One lifted me off the ground when they reached us and said this is the best place they’ve ever been. We all had a good laugh and they told us about a bar down the street that was having free beer pong tournaments and told us we should head there. We started to head to the bar they told us about when a bartender at a nearby bar called Slinky Bar yelled “Free beer bongs here.” I couldn’t believe this place was one big party and everyone seemed to be extremely friendly.
We passed on the beer bongs and headed towards the beach where the bar that had beer pong was located. When we got to Sun Flower Beach Bar and Restaurant, no beer pong tournaments were going on, but we bought our own pitcher and started playing beer pong on our own. After a game or two, we heard cheers from the bar next door. We looked and four or five kids that could not have been more than 10 or 11, headed to the stage with what looked like sticks in their hands. Next thing we knew, they were twirling, spinning, and tossing their “sticks,” which they had lit on fire, in the air and were putting on an amazing beachside performance. Thera and I ran over there and enjoyed the half hour show. Next to the stage was a big neon sign that read Apache Beach Bar. The kids were unbelievable, as they climbed on each other and performed acrobatic stunts all while juggling flaming sticks.
When the show ended, it was about 1:00am and we thought we should start heading back to our tree house hotel as we’ve already had a long first day. As soon as we stood up and turned around, the bar next door had a flaming jump rope which people were taking turns running and jumping through. Although I had quite a few drinks, I wasn’t brave (is that the right word?) enough to run in there. In all honesty, I’m glad I didn’t as we watched several people, including an elderly woman get tangled in rope and her leg caught on fire.
Throughout our 20 minute walk back to our hotel, the parties at each beach side bar seemed to just be getting started. The next three days were much of the same and I have never experienced a place where the entire island and what seemed like every inhabitant partied until sunrise each and every day. I will say, if you are not a deep sleeper, I would not recommend visiting the island as our hotel was about as remote as you could be and we could hear the music and cheers throughout the night.