The Best of the Best: Chiang Mai Nightlife
Chiang Mai is a city of culture, temples and art, but it’s also a city of buzzing bars, cool clubs and bustling night markets. Never underestimate Chiang Mai nightlife!
Chiang Mai is deservedly famous for its rich cultural heritage and its beautifully preserved old town center. (Bodega Chiang Mai is located right at the heart of Old Town) Yes, you can cram every single day full of sightseeing and activities, but what about the evening? The islands of the south are renowned for their partying but what about Chiang Mai, can it compare?
While the city is never going to rival the hedonistic full moon parties of Koh Phangan or the debauched rowdiness of Bangla Road in Phuket, neither should it. There’s a buzzing nightlife scene here all of its own which is so much more than just bottles of Leo and plastic buckets…although don’t worry, you can get those here too! Here’s a run-down of what Chiang Mai nightlife has to offer.
The Night Markets of Chiang Mai
There are a couple of night market experiences that you shouldn’t miss while you’re in the city. The first of them is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, open every night so you can pop back again and again to stock up on elephant pants and cheap jewelry. The market is centred on the intersection of Chang Khlan road and Loi Khro road to the east of the old city and spreads for two blocks in every direction. Expect all your favorite Thai market amenities- food court, Chang stalls and plenty of knock-off DVDs. Check it out from 18:00 to 22:30 and then make like a local and head to one of a local bar to wind down afterwards.
The second market not to be missed is the famous Sunday Walking Street market in the historic center. This market is big. Like, really big! The roads are closed from 16:00 pm every Sunday to create more than a kilometer of pedestrianized street area, which is then colonized over by every kind of stall under the sun. Carved soaps sit next to insects on sticks, and beautiful silk shawls can be found next to sizzling chicken satay. Stop by a roadside massage stall for a quick foot rub and graze on street food as you wander around. This is one of the best spots for shopping in Thailand so don’t rush it. Start at Tha Pae Gate and let your senses guide you.
Northern Thailand Culture
If you haven’t got enough Chiang Mai culture packed in during the day then don’t worry, there’s more to come at night! Head to the Old Chiangmai Cultural Center to see some traditional dancing and sample some northern Thai food. A range of Lanna and hill tribe dance styles are on show, and the dinner is a Khantoke traditional menu including dishes like Lanna pork curry, crispy pork and sweet crispy noodles.
The well-known Sangdee Gallery mixes art with music in a really entertaining way. The gallery focuses on promoting the work of Asian artists so expect to see paintings from across the region, all set alongside a buzzing café where you can grab a beer and chill out. Open mic nights are very popular and the gallery stays open so you can view the art while the artists perform. Aside from Sangdee, there are plenty of art galleries in Chiang Mai worth checking out!
There’s just time here to throw in a quick mention for Loi Krathong, on the off chance you’re lucky enough to visit in November. This festival of light see thousands of Chinese lanterns released into the sky above the city, and the old town comes alive with colored lamps and carnival processions. Being there for the mass lantern ascent is a once in a lifetime experience and a whole lot of fun!
The Food of Chiang Mai
It’s Thailand, so of course the nighttime food options in Chiang Mai are excellent! For fast food after a few drinks then the food carts in the area around Zoe in Yellow are the place to go. Pick from Thai satay and noodles or western burgers and chips, and all at a great low price. If you want more of a substantial meal then you absolutely have to try Midnight Sticky Rice on Kampaeng Din Road. It doesn’t open until midnight but it’s worth the wait, serving up delicious fried chicken, marinated pork, the eponymous sticky rice and delicious desserts until dawn. This place is worth a night out on its own!
We’ve already mentioned the food in the night markets of the city, and of course that shouldn’t be missed, but there’s one particular stall in the market to the north of Chang Phueak gate which is a must-do. The owner is known affectionately as ‘Cowboy Hat Lady’ due to her choice of headgear, and she serves up absolutely delicious stewed pork on rice. Chef Anthony Bourdain loved her food when he visited, and he should know!
Bars of Chiang Mai
There’s little better than a cold beer on a warm evening and Chiang Mai has plenty to offer the bar-loving crowd. The atmosphere ranges from rough and ready throw-down to posh cocktail lounge, and there’s normally live music happening somewhere in the city.
If craft beer is your thing then start with a trip to Beer Republic just off Nimmanhaemin, which specializes in a range of international beers and ciders on tap. For a high-class conversation with your drink then try the the Writers’ Club and Wine Bar on Ratchadamnoen Road, home to the media set and destination of choice for visiting artists and authors. Strike up a conversation with the table next to you and you never know who you might meet!
For live music, the North Gate Jazz Co-op near Chang Puak Gate is hard to beat. The clientele is mainly expats but the music is excellent and most nights there will be two different bands playing. Moving on to cocktails with a view, head to the Oasis Rooftop Garden Bar just outside the moat. Arrive for sunset for a great view of Doi Suthep and then stay to sample their extensive menu of signature mixed drinks and snacks.
Night Clubs in Chiang Mai
Here’s where the Chiang Mai nightlife scene gets a bit familiar to anyone who’s partied down south. There are plenty of bars and clubs to enjoy, but places spring up and suddenly close in the city with surprising regularity so a quick chat with a local will give you a steer on what’s hot and what’s not when you’re in town. The clubs we mention here are long-term staples of the drinking scene so you should be safe to grab a drink in any of these!
The most famous of all the clubs is Zoe in Yellow. This is a rocking, rolling, open-air place which kicks off every night of the week with shots, buckets, music and a whole lot of drunk expats. It’s so famous it even has its own range of merchandise so don’t be surprised if you wake up in a new t-shirt in the morning! Zoe’s tends to shut at midnight so you’ll probably want to move on afterwards. Follow the crowd to Spicy, a dark and slightly down-market place that serves drinks way into the night and is always busy. Drinks are pretty cheap and the crowd is mixed.
The other popular late-night spot is the Living Room, tucked away in the streets of the new city to the east. It’s tricky to find but the red truck drivers will know where you mean if you get stuck. There’s a nominal 50 baht cover charge here (unusual in Chiang Mai) but that includes a free drink so it’s really not that bad!
If you want a proper tour of the bars and clubs, check out the Chiang Mai Pub Crawl!
Bodega Hostels Tips for Visiting Chiang Mai
Here are a few of our top tips to get the best out of Chiang Mai nightlife. Unlike the south, the licensing laws are quite strict in Chiang Mai and many places close earlier here than they do on the islands. 7-11s only serve alcohol until midnight and Zoe in Yellow has a rigorously enforced midnight curfew. It’s OK though, just start earlier and you’ll still get a full night out!
The area around the Tha Pae Gate has been designated a no street drinking zone, so if you have a party in that area then you may end up in paying a (variable) fine to the police. If you do host your own party anywhere in the city then don’t just throw your glass bottles away, as they’re worth money when returned (and it’s unsustainable!). Save them and return them to a recycling center, or leave them out next to a bin so that someone can do the returning for you. They’ll thank you for it!
The Best of Both Worlds
Is there anything that this city can’t do? A riot of culture and art by the day, and a great party town in the evening. The Chiang Mai nightlife scene is going from strength to strength so head out into the warm night and have fun!