The nightlife in Chiang Mai is a unique blend of the hedonistic and the chilled, the hippy and the happening. For years, the northern city of the Land of Smiles has taken something of a backseat to Bangkok and places like Koh Phangan on the party front. Yep, content to let the ravers hit the beaches of Haad Rin and Khaosan Road, it offers something of a more refined after-dark scene. Though there’s plenty of pizzazz thrown in if you know where to look for it…
That’s where this guide to the nightlife in Chiang Mai comes in. It can help you pinpoint all the best clubs and bars. And it looks at the top areas to let loose when the sun dips behind the Tenasserim Hills. We’ll delve into the buzzing Night Bazaar and check out the chic new cocktail bars and Bali-style clubs that have popped up with the digital nomad crowd (Chiang Mai’s main international residents since circa 2013!).
You can expect a scene that’s at once quirky and edgy, with a big focus on live music – notice the distinct reggae twist! – and chillout sessions. There are also oodles of bigger clubs to match Bangkok’s buzzy nightlife selection, balanced out by vegan eateries and relaxed rooftop cocktail bars that gaze out towards Chiang Mai’s amazing temples. On top of all that, you get arguably Southeast Asia’s best night market and more late-night foodie options than you can throw your Khao Soi egg noodles at! Let’s get stuck in…
What’s the nightlife in Chiang Mai really like?
The nightlife in Chiang Mai has grown to cater to a whole range of different sorts of travelers. From the classic Thai farang (tourist) bars to multi-story mega clubs, you’ll find all sorts in this enchanting northern town. If we had to pin it down, we’d say that live music is the main feature of the Chiang Mai nightlife. Many of the bars here are heavily influenced by the curious Buddhist-reggae mishmash that north Thailand does so well. The city is also one of the best places in Asia to experience a true, no-holes-barred night bazaar.
The best areas for nightlife in Chiang Mai
One of the great things about Chiang Mai nightlife compared to Bangkok nightlife is that this northern town is WAY smaller. You should be able to walk between most of the hotspots. And, if not, there’s usually a tuk-tuk or a songtheaw waiting to help you do the trip for just a handful of baht. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the top areas for partying in Chiang Mai. You can either pick just one or string together a night on the town that involves the whole shebang…
The Old City
The historic core of Chiang Mai, where most tourists choose to base themselves. There’s the usual mix of international drinking holes and walking streets. Sadly, we’d say the nightlife here is actually pretty mediocre. It’s okay for meeting new people in a hostel bar or having a meal of vegan stir fry between the temples, but there’s nothing outlandishly great about the venues. That said, those after a more chilled evening of wandering atmospheric lanes amid timber-built Lanna homes from centuries gone by have come to precisely the right place.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Loads of the action shifts to the Night Bazaar of Chiang Mai when the sun dips. We’ve dedicated a complete guide to the place, so let’s just say it’s positively buzzing after 5pm in the evening. There are streets upon streets of shopping to get through. Everything from knock-off electronic gizmos to elephant-print hippy pants is sold in the stalls, of which there are thousands. It’s also a fantastic place to sample authentic north Thai street food. For beers, head into the huge covered marketplace of the Kalare Night Bazaar, where the are loads of ramshackle beer houses with pretty enticing happy-hour deals!
Let’s put it this way – Nimmanhaeman is the single best area for nightlife in Chiang Mai. If you only have one night and really want to party, choose this one. Life was breathed into the district, which sits just on the northwest side of the Chiang Mai old city, by the newcomer digital nomads and international workers who flooded Chiang Mai in the 2010s. They brought uber-cool cafes and creative eateries. They also came with some wild nightlife venues inspired by the DJ clubs of areas like Sukhumvit in Bangkok.
If you push through the crowds of the heady Chiang Mai Night Bazaar you’ll eventually happen upon the wiggling Ping River. The area is known locally as, simply, Riverside, and it has a pretty nice array of low-key guesthouses and restaurants. The main nightlife core runs down Charoen Prathet Rd, which comes alive with oodles of al fresco Thai kitchens and beer bars when the sun’s disappeared.
Chiang Mai Red Light District (Loi Kroh)
The infamous Chiang Mai Red Light District runs the length of long Loi Kroh road. It links up the top end of the Night Market with the Old City gates, so it’s usually busy with folk of all stripes – not just those after a happy ending, ahem! The truth is that Chiang Mai’s riskay area has been going for centuries – some of the oldest brothels here were thought to have been built into the earthen walls of the historic fortifications. These days, it’s more about so-called “massage parlours” and the usual farang bar, where skimpily dressed hostesses cluster around groups of red-faced European visitors. If it ain’t your scene, push on and you’ll get to the night market and Riverside.
Boon Yoon Market
There’s a cluster of smaller bars and open-air venues around the so-called Boon Yoon Market. It’s a half-covered nightlife bazaar that pulses until very late on, a little along Ratvithi Road. There are some mainstay venues here, like Zoe in Yellow, but the vibes a tad more chilled than, say, Nimmanhaeman. Reggae and dub are the tunes of choice. There’s also a big tourist contingent, mainly down to the Old Town location.
The best bars and clubs in Chiang Mai
There’s no shortage of fantastic bars and clubs in Chiang Mai. Okay, so you don’t have the kaleidoscopic overload of venues that you do get in Bangkok. However, there’s something good about that. It means that more travelers congregate at certain places each night. It also means that venues are able to offer something of a more intimate atmosphere. Here’s our go-to selection, which includes the most famous nightlife names in the city and a few hidden options for good measure…
There’s an air of the 1930s speakeasy about the Nophaburi Bar. Tucked into a small alley on the south-west side of the Chiang Mai Old City, it’s lit by neon writing and dressed in geometric tiles. There’s only a handful of tables – remember what we said about intimate venues in this city? – along with a few roadside seating spots on the pavement outside. Menu wise, you’re looking at meticulously crafted cocktails, like the Kang Jong tonic orange and the Pit Sa Mai passionfruit-vanilla shakeup. We love starting a chilled evening here, sipping a highball and watching the world go by!
Bus Bar is right next to the Nawarat Bridge, a spot famed for the Yi Peng Lantern Festival during the months of October and November. If you’re wondering why it is called the Bus Bar, it’s because the bar is inside…well, a bus! Yep, you’ll be ordering your cold Chang (which is on draft here) from a big, red 18-wheeler. It’s just one of many quirky transport-themed bars in the city, but – we think – the best. They also host live bands and DJs later on in the evening.
Warm Up Café
Warm Up Cafe has been one of the leading names on the Chiang Mai nightlife circuit for 15 years. We love it because it’s one of the meeting points between the local university crowd and the regular stream of travelers that pass through the city. They’ve got everything under one roof – a club, a restaurant, a pub and a multi-arena venue. You can come to dine, drink, and dance the night away without having to hop a tuk-tuk anywhere else. A word of warning: Warm Up ain’t cheap. The menu has Jonnie Walker and the like, but they’re quite heavy on the wallet. There is a bring-your-own policy that helped keep costs down, but we’re not sure it’s still going in 2021.
Zoe in Yellow
If you’re into the whole Koh Phangan vibe of music festivals and drinking cheap alcohol in bucket-loads while raving to loud electronic music, then this is THE bar for you! Yep, Zoe in Yellow heads up the bar scene at the Boon Yoo market area. It channels a touch of the tropical island vibe you get in south Thailand, with ramshackle bar seats and reggae pumping from the speakers.
Full Moon Bar
Another of the relaxed little drinkeries in the Boon Yoon market, Full Moon Bar can transport you to the sandy nightlife strips of the Thai islands. It’s got a laid-back feel, with colorful lanterns and green-painted walls. The inside is crammed with tables that spill onto the streets and are always busy with backpackers and the odd local. Music wise, it’s typically Thai reggae mashups. There’s no dress code but wear your Aloha shirt to fit right in.
Infinity Club is probably the leading name in the Nimmanhaeman area right now. It’s a big, multi-room venue with a huge main stage that mimics the sort of mega clubs you get in Ibiza. The acts include famous DJs from all across Europe and Southeast Asia, along with rock bands and electronica duos – there’s loads. Seating wise, you can get little booths with table service, or join the crowds on the main dancefloor. Infinity officially closes at midnight, but that’s rarely the reality in our experience.
How Much Are Bar Girls in Chiang Mai?
Depending on whether you get along with the girl you met at the bar well or not, you would end up paying her bar fine to spend more time with her and perhaps take it ‘further’.
This payment is referred to as a ‘bar fine’, which can be from as little as 500 baht in Chiang Mai. This is often escalated to either 1,000 Baht if you just want to spend a short time with her or up to 2,500 Baht, if you want to be with her for a longer time i.e. take her back to your hotel. The price does depend on which venue you are at, not all of them charge the same price.
There are also some options of adult bars which are the go-go bars, which also follow the same routine as the girlie bars. Although they are strip places with women in skimpy clothes dancing on poles, they often discuss a drink first, if accepted by the other party i.e. the visitor, then the conversation goes into how much they charge for spending time for a short period or a long period.
Does Chiang Mai Have A Red-Light District?
Yep. Chiang Mai’s red-light district stretches for just over a kilometer. It goes between the Old City moat and the Ping River. It’s also known as Loi Kroh, or Loi Kroh Road, and it has all sorts of places to drink. There’s a particular focus on those seedy expat hostess bars. You’ll also find loads of “massage” parlours. The Chiang Mai Red Light District lies on the way to the Night Bazaar, too. That means it’s often busy with tourists walking between the historic center and the shops.
How many nights do you need in Chiang Mai?
There’s enough nightlife in Chiang Mai to keep you partying in a different part of the city for 4-5 days. Counting a couple of hangovers, we’d say a week is plenty to experience it all. You also might want to factor in some extra days to see the wonderful temples and explore the Old City when it’s light. You won’t want to miss them, and they’re best seen without a Changover!
Where is nightlife in Chiang Mai?
It’s all over the city! However, the area of Nimmanhaeman is now arguably the most hedonistic neighborhood, with its big DJ clubs. The Old Town, meanwhile, boasts lots of reggae bars and little backpacker beer stalls. Then there’s the Night Bazaar, and area to shop and dine that bustles with life until 11pm each evening.