Compared to the raging party scenes found in Bangkok and the islands in Thailand, Chiang Mai nightlife is a little less out of control. Even still, with a large expat population, plenty of students, and a constant stream of backpackers and tourists, you'll find plenty of decent places to enjoy a good night out.
First, see this Chiang Mai travel guide.
Chiang Mai Nightlife Basics
- Due to city ordinance, a majority of bars and clubs close around 1 a.m. -- many often close earlier based upon how many patrons are sat inside. A few places simply choose to disregard the rules, pay the fines, 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 1000-baht fines for people caught sitting with drinks. Although the ordinance is only loosely enforced, find another common area for enjoying a cheap party.
- All minimarts such as the ubiquitous 7-11s 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 may be part of a scam! Read more about the scams in Asia.
- Alcohol cannot be legally sold during both local and country-wide 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, however, they are around. Keep in mind that getting busted with drugs in Thailand is a deadly serious offense. Read about the risks of drugs in Thailand.
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.
- Spicy: Dark and a little seedy, Spicy is one of the very few afterhours 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, small discos, and a social courtyard with tables and umbrellas provide a lively atmosphere and plenty of choices for entertainment. No cover charge; closes around 1 a.m.
- 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 nights keep people coming back. No cover charge; open until 1 a.m.
Around the 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.
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 are 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.
- Read about getting around in Chiang Mai.
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. Read about how to avoid mosquito bites.
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. While 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.