Pick up a copy of any free magazine or visit the local publications online -- we recommend Welcome to Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai, 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. (www.oldchiangmai.com; tel. 05320-2993), stages a good show 8 to 9:30pm every night for 430B, 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.
For live music, one of the best hunting grounds is along the east bank of the River Ping, north of the Nawarat Bridge. Here you’ll find three of the city’s most popular bar/restaurants that popular with a mix of locals and tourists. Good View (13 Charoenrat Rd.; www.goodview.co.th; tel. 05324-1866) and The Riverside (9/11 Charoenrat Rd.; www.theriversidechiangmai.com; tel. 05324-3239) both feature live music after 7pm with the beat getting progressively faster as the evening wears on. (The food is kind of crummy so plan to come for drinks and music only.) For something all around wholesome with knee-slapping good music, Piccolo Wine & Tapas (www.fb.com/piccolowineandtapas; an extension of David’s Kitchen) is the place to be. A great wine list and Spanish tapas accompany jam sessions played on fiddles and acoustic guitars. Jazz fans should head to the North Gate Jazz Co-op (Sri Phum Rd.; www.fb.com/northgate.jazzcoop; tel. 081765-5246), just a few steps east of Chang Puak Gate inside the north moat of the Old City, to listen to top local talent or to join in the Tuesday jam sessions.
The bars at the western end of Loy Kroh Road constitute the town’s red-light district, with many hostess bars doubling up as brothels or pickup joints. If you’re curious to see how the students from Chiang Mai University spend their evenings, head along to Warm Up Cafe (40 Nimmanheimin Rd; www.fb.com/warmupcafe1999; tel. 05340-0676), where various DJs compete for the attentions of the crowds. Beer geeks will love the selection of microbrews at the tiny Mixology (61/6 Arak; www.fb.com/MixologyChiangmai; tel. 093192-4951); they also have easy-drinking cocktails. Beer Lab (Nimmanhaemin Soi 12; www.fb.com/beerlabchiangmai; tel. 097997-4566) offers more atmosphere and 80 beers to choose from. You don’t have to be a journalist to drink at Writers Club & Wine Bar (141/1 Ratchadamnoen; tel. 05381-4187) but come with a story because it’s a great place to meet fellow travelers over a glass of wine.
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.