Compared to the raging party scenes found in Bangkok and the islands in Thailand, Chiang Mai nightlife is a little less out of control. In fact, the city has a reputation as being fairly conservative because of alcohol laws and strictly enforced closing times.
Even still, with a large expat population, plenty of students, and a constant stream of backpackers in Chiang Mai on any given night, you'll still find plenty of decent places to enjoy a good night out.
Chiang Mai Nightlife Basics
- Due to city ordinance, a majority of bars and clubs close around midnight—many often close earlier, depending on how many patrons are sat inside. A few places simply choose to disregard the rules and stay open until the morning hours.
- The large area around Tapae Gate, as well as all the areas surrounding the moat, have been declared "no alcohol zones" with big fines for people caught sitting on the benches with drinks. Although the ordinance is only loosely enforced, find a less public area for enjoying a cheap party.
- All minimarts such as the ubiquitous 7-Elevens stop selling alcohol at midnight, although you may find smaller, independently owned shops still willing to sell after midnight.
- You'll very rarely ever encounter a cover charge for venues around the old city. One exception is the Mandalay Nightclub that charges foreigners a whopping $10 to get inside. Anyone asking for money at an entrance somewhere else may be part of a scam.
- Alcohol cannot be legally sold during local and national elections, on holidays such as the King of Thailand's birthday, and on certain Buddhist holidays usually timed around full moons.
- Drugs are not a serious problem in Chiang Mai, however, they are around. Keep in mind that getting busted with drugs in Thailand is a serious, potentially deadly offense.
- Those empty beer bottles have a deposit—don't throw them away! Find a recycling bin or set them next to the garbage; enterprising locals grab them to cash in later.
Chiang Mai Hotspots
This is only a tiny sample of Chiang Mai nightlife easily reached on foot around the old city. Nightlife hotspots tend to change, however, these bars have been making travelers happy for years:
- THC Rooftop Bar: Just outside of Tapae Gate perched atop a tall building, you'll find the THC Rooftop Bar—a famous hotspot for backpackers and budget travelers. The shoes-off environment with a view allows for plenty of enjoyable socializing when the trance music isn't too loud. No cover charge; closes 1 a.m. or when they feel like it.
- Spicy: Dark and a little seedy, Spicy has closed and reopened more than once. The nightclub is one of the very few after-hours options once other bars close. Despite the mass of prostitutes that set up camp in the lounge, the dance floor gets smoky and crowded with travelers from all over the world. Find Spicy along the outside of the moat, just a little north of Tapae Gate. No cover charge; open late.
- Zoe in Yellow: A cluster of popular bars can be found around a courtyard just off of Thanon Ratchaphakhinai in the old city. Multiple live-music venues, a popular reggae bar, a heavy metal bar, a ska bar, small discos, and a social courtyard with tables and umbrellas provide a lively atmosphere and plenty of choices for entertainment. No cover charge; closes when they feel like.
- Northgate Jazz Co-op: If open-mic nights, impromptu jams, and great live jazz are your thing you certainly won't be disappointed with the popular Northgate Jazz Co-op located on the north side of the old city, inside the moat on Sri Phoom Road. A friendly atmosphere and fun jam/open-mic nights keep people coming back. No cover charge; open until 1 a.m.
Bars Around Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Unsurprisingly, a number of international bars with various themes, even including a German beer garden, cater to the many tourists who grow tired of walking the night bazaar. Most of the bars are pricey by Chiang Mai standards.
Find the bars opposite of the night market along Thanon Chang Klang and Thanon Loi Kroh. No cover charge; closing times vary.
Chiang Mai Van and Car Bars
A handful of small vans or Volkswagen buses converted into tiny bars can be found throughout the city. These charming little venues are typically cheaper and a fun way to start a night out. Look for a "van bar" just inside Tapae Gate, as well as a larger, more established one on Thanon Chaiyaphum along the moat just north of Tapae Gate. Due to their nature, these bars sometimes move or roll away.
Chiang Mai Nightlife on the Riverside
Just 15 minutes outside of the old city on Charoenrat Road, you'll find a mix of midrange bars—some with live music—situated side by side along the banks of the river. Although the area is just outside of the tourist zone, the bars are mostly frequented by expats, local residents, and people with their own transportation.
The views are nice, but the mosquitoes can be fierce.
Go-Go Bars in Chiang Mai
You'll find no shortage of "go go" or "girly" bars dotted around the moat along Moon Muang Road, on Soi 2, and throughout the city. Although at first glance the rows of bars both inside and outside of the moat would make one think the potential for nightlife in Chiang Mai is unlimited, the reality is that a majority of these bars consist of only a pool table, a few regulars sipping beer, and more than a few Thai girls interested in meeting Western men.
Although the go-go bars in Chiang Mai aren't exactly seedy, and anyone is welcomed inside for a drink, as a single man you'll probably be approached to buy one or more ladies a drink.
Late-Night Food Options in Chiang Mai
After a big night out, there are plenty of late-night street carts to handle a case of the munchies. The popular McDonald's at Tapae Gate next to the THC Rooftop Bar gets lots of late business, but you can find excellent street-food options around the city.
Lots of enterprising vendors set up just outside of Zoe in Yellow; lines for food grow long at closing time. You'll also find plenty of late-night carts by the market at the southwest corner of the Old City just inside of the moat. Noodle soup and other dishes can always be found.