Compared to the thumping and thriving nightlife in Bangkok, Chiang Mai at night is sleepy and reserved. But, sleepy and reserved in a way that isn’t really sleepy or reserved at all.
From backpacker enclaves to seedier lady bars, to local dives and the places where the hip and fabulous hang out, there’s something for everyone.
Before we get into where to go, depending on what you’re look for, let’s talk about the booze and prices.
The cheapest bottle to be had that guarantees a buzz, if not more (as well as a hangover the next day) is the popular Sangsom. A dark rum, but referred to by locals as Thai whisky, is one of way to kick off an evening. Often combined with soda or soda water, you can also order it by the bucket. Yes. Bucket. There are some other liquors out there that are cheaper than Sangsom, but I don’t recommend them. Yes, I’m looking at you Hong Tong and Lao Kao.
While in America, I tend to opt for wine, in Thailand, I was all about the beer. For one, it was affordable, and two, I actually didn’t mind it. I’m a Leo girl through and through. Thailand’s best sellingÂ beer, Leo also happens to be the tastiestÂ of the three major beers served up.
Speaking of wine, it is available. But, if you’re looking for anything that isn’t served chilled and from a box, you’re going to have to go to a western grocery store or wine merchant, or hit up the more high-society restaurants. You’re also going to pay a lot.
Most bars offer a selection of liquors, but keep in mind, if you’re on a budget, these name brands are going to be pricey.
What to Wear for a Night Out
It’s Chiang Mai, which means the dress is super casual. You’re not going to see many people here — at least tourists — dressed to the nines. In fact, the most popular look among visitors is the backpacker outfit. Perhaps you’ve seen it. For women, it’s baggy harem-style pants with elastic at the ankles that typically have elephant print, paired with a tank top. For men, it’s shorts and cheap muscle tank tops with a beer or other alcohol logo on them.
If you’re heading to Nimmanehaemin, you may want to dress a little more upscale. This is where all the high-so locals and university students hang out, so think a bit more hip and polished. If you want to stand out, then that backpacker look is fine. Otherwise, ladies clean it up a bit with a sundress or shorts and a nice top. Men, collared shirts and shorts.
Please, be mindful of the culture in Thailand and don’t wear anything to “impolite.”
The Guide to Nightlife in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is an incredibly diverse city when it comes to neighborhoods. Depending on what you’re looking for, there are different parts of town right for you.
The Old City
Located inside the ancient walls and moat, The Old City is home to the majority of guest houses, coffee shops and bars. While you won’t find a nightclub here per se, you will find plenty of adorable little bars with outdoor seating and twinkling lights. However, you won’t find heaps of locals to mingle with.
My personal favorite spots in The Old City are Moon Mueang Soi 1 and Soi 2. Located south of Thapae Gate on the east side of the city, it’s home to adorable bars that range the gamut from nightly jam sessions. To find it head first to the super relaxed Lost Hut and then bop next door. Want pool or darts? Hit the Half Moon down on Soi 2. Or, for rooftop drinks, check out Â John’s Place, a two-story bar with rooftop seating.
However, the perennial favorite with backpackers and budget travelers is Zoe in Yellow complex. This backpacker hotspot is tucked off of Rajvithi Road, north of Thaepae Gate, Â it is an enclave packed with tiny bars and outdoor areas to dance, the main attraction being Zoe. This is the spot locals come to party, child hustlers come to hustle (please, don’t buy anything from them), bar girls come to meet western men, and travelers come to drink buckets, have dance parties and then grab some street food before stumbling home. Personally, I find it lacking the charm other spots do, but from time-to-time, it can be a lot of fun. My favorite bar? The reggae bar. You can’t miss it.
For a different experience, Loco Elvis has karaoke nightly until around midnight. It’s free and some of the singers are seriously on point. Others? Well. The buckets do the singing. Or head to North Gate Jazz Co-op. Tuesdays there are jam nights and bring in world-famous musicians. Get there early to grab a seat, otherwise you’re hanging with the motorbikes.
Looking for a more western feel? UN Irish Pub is your jam. They’ve got all the food. Plus, all the sports.
ThaePae Gate and Loi Kroh
Across from the Old City, the area near ThaePae Gate has plenty of options for some drinks. A mix of seedy (think blatant bar girls) and party, favorite bars here include InterBar with live cover bands (and buckets), plus the THC Rooftop Bar and more.
South of ThaePae Gate is Loi Kroh. While it’s a mix of older men looking to meet the bar girl of their dreams, it’s also a hot spot for travelers. Playhouse Bar and My Place Lounge are two of my favorites because, unlike the rest of the bars on the road, there aren’t typically women standing outside trying to lure people in. Bonus points go to Playhouse for beer pong and their creative cocktail menu and party vibe.
Also located on Loi Kroh is one of the Thai boxing rings. Encircled by bars packed with Thai women, it’s a popular spot for tourists to grab a drink (albeit at jacked up prices) before watching some fights.
Head to the end of Loi Kroh and you intersect with the Night Bazaar. Find the Lady Boy cabaret show, a nightly act packed with (you guessed it) gorgeous (and I meanÂ gorgeous) lady boys. This lip-synched show is a fantastic place to start the night and then explore the market and bars tucked inside.
Far off the beaten path from The Old City, the Ping river is an entirely different vibe. Here, people listen to live music while sitting at massive open-air restaurants drinking beer and eating Thai food. While travelers do make it over here, it’s not nearly as popular as the other spots and is a fantastic way to see a more local side of life.
Good View is my favorite restaurant here. With a massive menu, it’s not too far from the majority of the guest houses in town, and offers a fantastic atmosphere worthy of spending the entire evening versus bar hopping.
If you choose to bar hop, that’s cool, too. There are plenty of bars along the river to enjoy.
The super trendy, super posh neighborhood if Nimmanhaemin (also known as Nimman) is north west of the city. A world apart from The Old City, Nimman is dotted with adorable little coffee shops that also serve booze, lavish (by Thai standard) restaurants, wine bars, craft beer spots and the bulk of the Chiang Mai clubs.
Start a night out in Nimman by grabbing tapas and gourmet fries at Bar Fry, then head over to Why Not (which offers a special discounted all-you-can-drink wine at night on the weekends). When you’re done with that, hit up the popular clubs that include Warm Up and Infinity.
Where are your favorite places to hang out at night?
Looking for more things to do in Chiang Mai? Check out this guide that highlights five of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.