Photo: Khao soi in Chiang Mai.


More chilled than Bangkok


Chiang Mai is far from a party destination, but the town is still home to plenty of clubs, with the vibe here less snooty and more low-key than in many of their Bangkok counterparts. Here’s the lowdown on where we’d recommend heading.

Infamous Zoe in Yellow at its best.

Zoe in Yellow at its best.

ZOE in Yellow
This is often the first place frequented by travellers and expats desperate to get their dance on, so we’ll write about it first so we can move on to more, em, redeeming venues. Zoe in Yellow is the largest venue on the block, but the whole area, which consists of a string of bars and dance clubs inside Chiang Mai’s old city, is also often referred to as Zoe in Yellow.

Zoe’s itself plays top 100 dance hits, Babylon hits the dubstep hard, Roots Rock Reggae, plays well, reggae, and Pentatonic Rock Bar plays covers of Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers. This is the only place in Chiang Mai where you’ll witness Western-style dancing and it’s packed on weekends. That said, sex workers, wasted foreigners and ethnic minority women and children who aren’t often treated with respect as they attempt to peddle trinkets, are also a part of the landscape. It’s quite possible to have a great time at Zoe’s, but it may require a fair amount of alcohol to shut out its downfalls — though it is home to some of the best drunk food in town.

THC Rooftop Bar
A two-minute walk from Thapae Gate is THC Rooftop Bar . Climb what seems to be an interminable staircase, dimly lit with black lights and neon writing on the walls to emerge at a bird’s eye view of the old city. Decor is marijuana themed, which pretty much sums the place up. That said, the low tables and chilled out music make for a pleasant beginning to an evening in a central location. Still, if given the choice, we’d head to CNX Rooftop Bar. Watch your step on the stairs on the way down.

Warm Up
This is the most popular Thai nightclub in town, closely followed by Monkey Club. Warm Up has three separate spaces: one outdoors boasting live music and two indoors, one with top 100 dance hits and the occasional live band, the other dedicated to electronica. The vibe here (and in Nimman in general) is quite the opposite of Zoe’s; this is the last place you’ll run into people decked out in elephant pants.

Instead, expect a lot of dressed up Thais, quite often students from nearby CMU (Chiang Mai University). And while dancing isn’t the norm at Warm Up, the place is bursting with energy and perfect for people watching.

Warm-Up: packed by midnight.

Packed by midnight.

Along with Northgate, Sudsanan has great live music, which is not too common in Chiang Mai. It also has a kitchen that’s open late (try their larb pla) and is tucked away in a traditional teak house on Huay Kaew Road, making it an easy stop on the way either to Nimman or Zoe’s. Sudsanan is great for large groups to meet and down a couple of beers while enjoying live music that goes beyond cheesy covers of Bruno Mars.

Small House
Small House is neither a Thai nor farang club and it’s nothing like the party scene of Ko Pha Ngan or Pattaya. Catering mostly to young expats living in Chiang Mai, owners Chris and Dao have garnered a steady following for running what many consider to be the best bar in town. With a pool table, indoor and outdoor seating, good music and two of the friendliest bar tenders you’ll likely come across in your Southeast Asian travels, we can see why it’s so popular.

THC Rooftop Bar Third floor, 19/4-5 Kotchasarn Rd
Monkey Club 7 Nimmarnhemin Soi 9 Rd; T: (053) 226 9978;
Small House 18/1 Sermsuk Rd, Chiang Mai [just off Huay Kaew Rd on the road that's opposite the Shell Gas Station]; T: (083) 176 3013;
Sudsanan 30 Ratchapuak Rd [down the dirt road across from the Shell Station on Huay Kaew Rd]; T: (085) 038 0764
Warm Up 40 Nimmarnhemin Rd; T: (053) 400-676;
Zoe in Yellow 40/12 Ratvithi Rd; (084) 222 9388;

Our rating:
3.5 stars, based on 1 expert review

Last updated on 5th February, 2014.

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