Discovering the best nightlife in Chiang Mai

How to navigate Chiang Mai's buzzing nightlife scene.

23 August 2018 / Luke C. / Chiang Mai

If you read most guide books, Chiang Mai's draws are centred around its hundreds of temples or its leafy surrounding countryside.

What most don't know is the Northern Thai city has one of the country's best live music and bar scenes.

Talk to any local about the best nightlife in Chaing Mai and you'll inevitable get a different answer - some hit the clubs, other while away the evenings in one of the live music joints or go cheap in one of the riverside university bars. There's even some rooftop bars in Chiang Mai if you know where to look.

Here's our rundown of the best nightlife in Chiang Mai and where to find it.

The North Gate Jazz Co-Op

91 1-2 Sri Poom Road

+66 81 765 5246

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This favourite little after-dinner spot in Chiang Mai is the North Gate Jazz Co-Operative. Located on the main road inside the city walls and within eye-sight of the crumbling North Gate itself, the Jazz club cannot be missed.

Its frontage opens out onto the street and due to its small size, patrons spill out all over the pavement on almost every night of the week drinks in hand as the bands or random open mic musicians play to a bohemian crowd.

Expect limited seating, faded signage, a jovial atmosphere, reasonably priced booze and loud live music to a welcoming mix of locals, ex-pats and those passing through. Get there early and if you’re willing and able you can climb a short ladder up to a small mezzanine loft space with barely enough room for six people, which overlooks the stage and the huddle of miss-matched chairs, stools and sofas below.

Started in 2009 by a saxophonist called Odor and his percussionist friend Russell, the place somehow has a timeless and very settled vibe (as if it had been around for decades).

Easily some of the best nightlife in Chiang Mai, perhaps even in the country.

Boy Blues Bar

Changklan Rd Kalare Night Bazaar

+66 89 192 8527

If Jazz isn’t your scene, but you still enjoy live music, then Boy Blues Bar is another venue in town that really should be searched for on a night out in Chiang Mai.

Situated inside the Kalare Night Bazaar and reached by a staircase that leads to a rooftop looking out across the market stalls below, Boy Blues Bar is always busy and you’ll soon realise why.

The music is far more varied, starting in the early evening with classic 12 bar blues from local bands (often featuring the owner Boy himself who opened the bar in 2010) and progressing later into more funky, disco numbers played to a merry crowd.

The staff are attentive and come to serve beer, wine and a selection of excellent cocktails at your table.

The music goes on late into the evening and the setting is particularly pleasant as its outside but under cover making it a good choice for year round best nightlife in Chiang Mai.


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The Riverside Bar & Restaurant

9-11 Charoenrat Road

+66 53 243 239

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While the name suggests something a little more peaceful, The Riverside Bar & Restaurant is actually a lively spot that's been a long-standing part of the best nightlife in Chiang Mai for years.

Every evening, new bands take over restaurant and play pop, rock and country covers to an energetic crowd of university students and expats. Add decently priced Thai whiskey, cold beers and and a surprisingly extensive menu and you've got all the elements of a good night.

It's housed in an attractive, albeit noisy, wooden building overlooking the Ping River which is best viewed from the quieter beer garden or the bar's own wooden boat that's moored up along the river edge. Its 1am license is also later than nightlife spots in Chiang Mai.

Warm Up Cafe

40 Nimmanhaemin Road

+66 53 400 677

Forget the misleading name - Warm Up Cafe isn't a spot for coffee and cake. Tip up most nights to find some of the city's best upcoming bands and DJs in a multi-zoned spot that's half nightclub, half pub.

It's one of Chiang Mai's most popular nightlife spots for young Thais, particularly university students, who bop away to electronic pop with surprisingly expensive cocktails. Be warned, if you arrive after 10pm on the weekend you are unlikely to nab a table, though you can reserve one in advance with a deposit.

If that doesn't sound like your thing, you can still soak up the atmosphere from the laid back alfresco patio area or order Thai pub classics like spicy som tum salad or muu yang grilled pork neck.

This long-standing nightclub in Chiang Mai is in the ever trendy Nimmanhaemin Road just west of the old town. If you're looking for the best nightlife in Chiang Mai, this is it.

Writer's Club & Wine Bar

141/3 Rachadamnoen Road

+66 5381 4187

This unassuming open-fronted joint in the centre of the old town has become the city's unofficial press club and meeting spot for travel writers and journalists. It's unclear which came first - the writers or the name - but it was started by a foreign correspondent who writes for the Daily Telegraph.

If you want to mingle with media types - both local and foreign - this is the place to go. It's a peaceful spot, one that has a good wine selection (relative for Thailand), excellent food (try the mango sticky rice which is particularly good).

Away from the tourist crowds and backpackers that descend upon the old town, you can have a quiet evening with good company and conversation.

The Lost Hut

Moon Muang Rd Lane 1

+66 61 860 2637

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This slightly shabby, but charming little bar down a backstreet in the southeastern corner of the old town attracts a friendly crowd of young Thais and foreigners.

It's got a tiki bar-feel about the place - a bamboo interior, surrounding banana fronds and twinkling outdoor fairy lights. Perhaps best of all, the lane it's on has virtually no traffic, something that many bars particularly those along the moat in Chiang Mai suffer from.

The bar makes for a good place to meet others on the road and nab some good value cocktails in an enchanting setting that's a refreshing change from the larger, noise nightlife in Chiang Mai. The staff are always friendly and accommodating.

CNX Rooftop Bar

Intrawarorot Road

+66 8502 91233

Unlike Bangkok, there is a lack of rooftop nightlife in Chiang Mai. One that's worth seeking out is CNX Rooftop Bar just a short walk from the Suan Dock West Gate and not far from most of the tourist hotels.

Don't come expecting a luxurious setting. But look past the rough edges and you'll find a rooftop bar with some fabulous views over the old town and Suthep Mountain.

It's a good choice for dinner too. The menu is peppered with some excellent versions of classics like gra pow muu (pork stir fry with Thai basil), pla neung manao (steamed fish with lime and garlic) and muu yang (grilled pork)

The drinks aren't bad value, particularly for the view you're getting and the staff are friendly.

We Didn’t Land on the Moon Since 1987

Tha Phae Road Soi 2

+66 8549 96245

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We Didn't Land on the Moon is the epitome of Thai cool. It's a tiny bar with white walls, simple decorations and neon lighting that makes it feel more like a trendy art gallery than a bar.

It's run by one of the founders of Itchy Band, an all-girls rock band, so you can expect good music and a young tattooed Thai crowd - foreigners haven't quite discovered this little haunt en mass quite yet.

Like the surroundings, the drinks menu is sparse - bottles of cold Singha beer and Sangom Thai whisky along with a surprisingly good mojito (always a benchmark for cocktails in a bar).

Give this place a try before the crowds discover it, if not for anything else than being able to say you've been to the bar with the world's best name.

Bus Bar

79/1 Loi Kroh Road

+66 84 173 3113

Bus Bar occupies a spot overlooking the Ping River near Nawarat Bridge, one of the reasons this open-air nightlife in Chiang Mai has become so popular.

The old buses on site give sense to the name and serve as the bar from which to order your drinks. There's also some seating on board, though most opt for the outdoor tables unless the weather takes a turn for the worse.

It might have an idyllic setting over the river, but don't expect a quiet evening. Nightly live bands play a mix of international covers and Thai pop music, while later into the night DJs pump out EDM.

The bar opens daily between 7pm until midnight and offers a decent selection of food along with cold draft beer and Thai whisky. It's a little further out that most bars, but worth the walk and could be combined with a visit to the nearby Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

Zoe in Yellow

Ratvithi Road

+66 95 695 6050

Zoe in Yellow is often tipped as the best nightlife in Chiang Mai. It's actually part of a larger complex of bars that sit around the corner along Ratvithi Road.

Don't come here expecting a quiet evening. Every night lively local bands (rock and reggae are popular) and DJs play out to a drunken crowd until the early hours. While it's not particularly cheap, it's a magnet for backpackers who throw down pitchers of cold beer and buckets of Thai whisky or cocktails.

You can get a little respite from the crowds in the beer garden and if you pitch up on Tuesdays there's a happy hour between 8pm and 10pm. They also serve food is you don't mind eating accompanied by earsplittingly loud music. A good place for bar hopping.

FUSE

61/6 Arak Road

+66 89 434 5646

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There's a reason FUSE bar in Chiang Mai gets such good reviews. It's a hipster spot with exposed brick walls that look more like a US jazz joint.

It's a tiny haunt, but the tall ceilings make it feel larger than it is and there's a terrace outside with more seating. Get here early - the bar often gets packed out later in the evening.

Most evenings there's live musicians or DJs, but the music is in the background and doesn't drown out the conversation. There's a good selection of well-made cocktails, something that the nightlife in Chiang Mai often lacks. It's a little more expensive than other bars in Chiang Mai, but worth the extra spend.

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