Nightlife in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai's nightlife has become incredibly diverse and sophisticated in recent years. There's something to do for everyone and for all ages, music tastes and preferences (Sorry, adult entertainment places and "girlie" (hostess) venues will not be covered here).
Younger folk and backpackers may prefer the music pubs inside the moat such "Root Rock Reggae", "Babylon" or the current inner-town nightlife magnet, Zoe Bar/Zoe in Yellow.
Those seeking to mingle with the local Thai revelers may opt for the Thai-style discoteques such as "Infinity" or "Fabrique", both slightly out of the inner city.
A good international mix can be found at "Warm Up" on Nimmanheamin Road and "Riverside Restaurant" on Charaoneprathet Road on the river. The Riverside was opened in the early 1980s and has o.k. food, live music by a variety of bands and many young Thais seeking contact in an international scene.
The nightlife catering predominantly to a Thai clientele is extremely volatile. There have been dozens of super-popular places in the last two decades (Quartz, Discovery, Song Salueng, Bossy, Bubble, Society, Airbus, Red Rose, Club G, Gigi, Mandalay, 61 etc. etc., too many to mention or remember) that remained open for a number of months or years, just to disappear completely soon after.
On the one hand, this may be due to trouble with the police or other authorities, i.e. being forced to close for serving alcohol to minors, or drug-related issues. On the other hand, this is owed to the Thai obsession with face: Everyone has to be seen in the latest fad and no one will be caught dead in a place that's on its way down.
Then there are the perennial favorites which over the last few years have been:
Warm Up Cafe
Young students, some live music, extremely busy, reasonable prices, the go-to place for the under-25 crowd.
North Gate Jazz Coop
Near Chang Peuak gate on the Northern Moat, a meetings place for jazz aficionados and professional or semi-professional musicians of all styles.
Zoe in Yellow
Attracts a diverse crowd (and a large number of "working girls"), open and airy garden setting, reasonable prices. Be sure to get your full change back from the bartenders but don't complain about being overcharged as you might get beaten up.
A large club with aircon, recently renovated and quite clean, top 40 and techno music. It's very popular with local bar hostesses, after the bars close at midnight. As with other clubs: ALWAYS carry a photo ID (or copy, or photo on your smart phone) to be allowed into the club. If there's a police raid and even one person under 20 present, the club can be closed for months or even years.
UPDATE 2016: Fabrique has closed its doors. Mandalay on Moon Meuang is now an alternative for foreigners.
Update 2017: Fabrique is still closed.
Here's the old description: A place that keeps improving its infrastructure, sound system and even the bands playing live music. A foreigner-Thai joint venture that appears to be very well managed. The sound system is world class. For once a place that doesn't milk its popularity dry and the withers. A bit annoying for foreigners is the 300 Baht entrance fee (only for non-Asians) that buys three beers. Closing time is usally four in the morning, although that changes with the social-order tides enforced by the police.
The nightlife in Chiang Mai is easy to navigate. If you stay inside the inner city moat most distances can be covered on foot.
Larger distances, such as to Infinity, Tawan Daeng or Riverside, require a scooter or (safer) a tuk-tuk ride. Tuk-tuks will vastly inflate prices in the early morning. This is understandable to some extent as the drivers have to wait in queues, and then ferry heavy and drunk farangs to places they hardly remember. It's therefore advisable to share tuk-tuks and negotiate fares, to the point of walking away from expensive ones.
Important Notice: Closing times in Chiang Mai are wildly volatile, but fixed once set by the BIB (Boys in Brown = Police). They have to be observed by all venues, lest the police shuts down the place for a ruinous 30 days or more.
This means that at closing time (usually 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., sometimes midnight), the streets are full of drunk drivers in pickup-trucks, some driven to racing each other by the booze.
This hour is extremely dangerous, especially for drivers of motorcycles and scooters, let alone bicycles (in our opinion riding a bicycle in Chiang Mai is suicidal any time day or night). It may be advisable to go home earlier or later than the standard closing time, unless you want to witness road carnage, or be victim of it yourself.
UPDATE 2016 There were several unfortunate nightlife incidents in 2015 that led to a crackdown initiated by convervative citizens of Chiang Mai together with the military: Most places now have to adhere to midnight closing times. Inside the most is mostly residential and citizens have long complained over the noise from nightlife and drunk punters.
For years only liquor licenses have been issued, but for late night club places an entertainment license is needed. These have not been issued for many years. So as some places on the river (Riverside, Good View) hold the correct licenses and can remain open until 1 a.m., the backpacker areas of the central moat are devoid of places that can be legally open after midnight.
Such places exist of course but their closing times are wildly volatile and depend on "police relations".
To be continued...
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