Leisure and entertainment can be found in abundance in Chiang Mai as it’s a laidback city where the residents like to get out and enjoy a meal and drinks together. The restaurant and nightlife scene may not be the main reason visitors come here, but it is varied and lively nonetheless.
Fine eateries and northern-style dining as well as cuisine from almost every continent in the world make for exciting and economical eating at any time of the day. In fact, nowhere else in Thailand can you find such a concentration of restaurants at such good value.
Wining and dining in Chiang Mai
Hotel restaurants are often overpriced, but finding clean and tasty food is never difficult if you care to explore the immediate surroundings. There are an increasing number of sophisticated eateries cropping up, with the choice getting wider each year.
In the main tourist areas you can find one restaurant after another dishing up Italian, French, American, Middle Eastern, Mexican and even Nepalese cuisine. For Thai food, don’t be shy to try out one of the many street stalls dishing up noodle soup or pad thai. Most standard Thai restaurants will have menus in English, although these can at times be hard to decipher.
Northern hospitality has a long tradition, and there are some distinctive local dishes, often Burmese influenced, like kaeng hung lae (ginger pork curry), khao soi (spicy Burmese curry with egg noodles and chicken) and sai ua (spicy sausage).
Chiang Mai bar and nightlife scene
Chiang Mai’s nightlife scene may not rival that of Bangkok or Phuket, but you’ll find that you’ll be mixing much more with locals here, which makes going out so much more interesting. Established expat haunts compete for patronage with touristy girlie bars, upmarket clubs, trendy pubs and everything in between. More on recommended bars in Chiang Mai.
The Thapae Gate area is lined with plenty of bars and pubs catering mainly to tourists, but these can become dull pretty quickly. The odd go-go bar attracts punters, while the obligatory girlie bar strip is found along Loi Kroh Road. Half-a-dozen long-established bars here compete for customers with a string of new start-ups, which seem to come and go with each season.
For live music, try the riverside restaurants lining Charoen Rat Road. These are equally popular with tourists and locals looking for a romantic riverside setting. The nightlife scene here is very laidback with house bands belting out standard tunes ranging from John Denver to Deep Purple.
Nimmanhemin Road has seen a real revival in recent years and boasts plenty of upmarket bars and restaurants attracting the arty in-crowd. Plenty of mobile-toting students hang around here to see and be seen. Clubs come and go with a few established favourites such as Warm Up.
Gay scene in Chiang Mai
The gay scene in Chiang Mai is small but active and mainly centred around bars, massage parlours and go-go clubs. The area behind the Night Bazaar is one of the main gay drags and attracts a steady stream of punters. Chang Phuak and Chotana Roads are other popular areas with lots of cosy little bars with handsome young hosts.
Bear in mind that a large percentage of the young men who cater to foreign visitors are Shan immigrants from Burma and may indeed not be gay at all. But their delicate looks and physique make them popular with foreign punters and the high rates they can demand make this line of work a tempting option.
Aside from this, there is a very respectable side to Chiang Mai’s gay scene which is why many gay expats settle here. As with the rest of Thailand, the environment is very comfortable and tolerant. Bars such as the Glass Onion are very stylish and with a bit of effort you can soon be in with the local gay community