Chiang Mai is more famous for its historic Old City, mountainous scenery, and the nearby elephant sanctuaries than it is for its nightlife. While it may not offer the raging party scenes that you can find in Bangkok or the islands of Thailand, Chiang Mai does boast a diverse mix of bars, nightclubs, and events.
With a large expat population, plenty of students from the local university, and a constant stream of backpackers, Chiang Mai on any given night has something for everyone.
Walk around Chiang Mai and you'll come across all types of bars spattered across the city, from grungy reggae joints to posh rooftop bars and everything in between. Most bars are concentrated in one of three areas: the Old City, along the river, or Nimman Road near the university. Each neighborhood offers something unique, and the high-turnover rate means there are constantly new bars popping up.
The three most popular Thai beers—Leo, Chang, and Singha—are ubiquitous, cheap, and refreshing. Most bars include a variety of imported bottled beers as well for a few extra baht, and it's even possible to find beer gardens with different craft beers on tap. Cocktails also vary from bar to bar.
- 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.
- Lost Hut: This cozy little bar located in the Old Town is an actual bamboo hut, and often has a mix of travelers, expats, and locals. Those who want a break from the backpacker vibe will enjoy this laid-back spot with happy hour drinks and good music.
- Bus Bar: Named for the double-decker bus that guests can sit on, this open-air bar offers stunning views of the river and Iron Bridge. If you arrive hungry, food is available to order. Being by the river, don't forget to pack your mosquito repellant.
- Parallel Universe Of Lunar 2 On The Hidden Moon: The name is a mouthful, but don't let that discourage you from visiting this craft beer locale in the hip Nimman Road neighborhood. It isn't the cheapest place to have a drink in Chiang Mai, but the selection of beers and views from the balcony are more than worth the price.
Tourists love to go clubbing in Thailand, but Chiang Mai is definitely more low key compared to the non-stop parties offered in Bangkok and Koh Phi Phi. The primary reason is that Chiang Mai enforces a strict closing time for nearly all bars at midnight. A small number of changing venues stay open later, but you may have to ask locals, expats, or a taxi driver where to go once the main bars close down.
- 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.
- 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, so most people looking to continue the party inevitably end up here. Located just a little north of the Tapae Gate, Spicy is empty before midnight but starts to pick up around 1 a.m.
- Warm Up Cafe: One of Chiang Mai's largest and oldest nightclubs, Warm Up Cafe is an institution of the city. There are several different areas, so you can enjoy a peaceful cocktail on the terrace, rock out to local bands, and dance the night away to electronic music all in the same venue.
After a big night out, there are plenty of late-night street carts to handle a case of the munchies. If you're craving a Western meal, McDonald's at Tapae Gate next to the THC Rooftop Bar gets plenty of late business.
Even at night, there are still plenty of street-food options around the city. Lots of enterprising vendors set up just outside of Zoe in Yellow and other late-night clubs, but 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.
Live Music and Performances
Chiang Mai may not have the same late-night party scene as other cities in Thailand, but it's arguably one of the best to enjoy live music and concerts. It's not uncommon for bars and restaurants to offer live performances of all genres of music, both Thai and international. Even nightclubs may have one room with a DJ and another with a live band.
- 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.
- Chiang Mai Cabaret Show: This over-the-top drag production is popular with all tourists. These ladies dance, lip-sync, sing, and more. No trip to Thailand is complete without at least one stop at a cabaret drag show, and this one is worth visiting.
Tips for Going Out in Chiang Mai
- Due to city ordinance, a majority of bars and clubs close around midnight. Many often close earlier, depending on how many patrons are inside.
- 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.
- You'll rarely encounter a cover charge for venues and clubs. Be aware that anyone asking for money at an entrance 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.
- Drugs are not a serious problem in Chiang Mai, but 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, so don't throw them away! Find a recycling bin or set them next to the garbage so locals can grab them to cash in later.