Pick up a copy of any free magazine -- such as Welcome to Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai, Guidelines, or Citylife -- at your hotel or in restaurants, for listings of special events in town during your stay. Most folks will spend at least 1 evening at the Night Bazaar. For an impromptu bar scene, you can duck into one of the back alleys behind the Night Bazaar mall that are lined with tiny bars -- there local singer-guitarists play modern tunes.
If you get tired and hungry during barhopping at the Night Bazaar, you'll want to stop at Kalare Food & Shopping Center, 89/2 Chang Klan Rd., on the corner of Soi 6, behind the bazaar (tel. 05327-2067). Free nightly traditional Thai folk dance and musical performances, beginning around 8:30pm, grace an informal beer garden, where shoppers can stop for a drink or pick up inexpensive Chinese, Thai, and Indian food from the stalls there.
For a more studied cultural performance, the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center, 185/3 Wua Lai Rd. (tel. 05320-2993), stages a good show 8 to 9:30pm every night for 370B, which includes dinner. Live music accompanies female dancers who perform traditional dances while dressed in lavish costumes. In between sets, men dance with knives and swords. A dinner is served on a khan toke (low table on the floor), and despite the crowds, the wait staff is attentive. Yes, it is touristy -- busloads find their way here -- but it is a good time. Call ahead and they'll plan transportation from your hotel.
Most discos and lounges, located in major hotels, feature live music, whether it is a quiet piano bar or a rock pub featuring a band. Good View (13 Charoenrat Rd.; tel. 05324-1866) and The Riverside (9/11 Charoenrat Rd.; tel. 05324-3239) are both popular restaurants along the Ping River and feature live music after 7pm and on into the evening. On the other side of town, Chai's Blues Bar (63/19 Soi Wat Umong, Suthep Rd.; tel. 05332-8296) is worth tracking down both for its gutsy music and for its funky decor. Jazz fans should head to the North Gate Jazz Co-op (Sri Phum Rd.; no phone), just a few steps east of Chang Puak Gate inside the north moat of the Old City, to listen to local talent or to join in the Tuesday jam sessions. The bars on and around Loy Kroh Road constitute the town's red-light district, with many hostess bars doubling up as brothels or pickup joints.
The Bubble Disco, in Pornping Tower (46 Charoen Prathet Rd.; tel. 05327-0099), is a dodgy nightspot that attracts a fair supply of hookers and gets shut down from time to time. Spicy (no phone), opposite Somphet Market on Chaiyaphum Road, is the place everyone heads to when everywhere else is closed, as it often stays open till dawn.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.