Welcome To Chiang Mai
The "Northern Capitol" is far less vibrant than the more obvious party destinations in Thailand, like Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya.
The main spots for farangs are centrally located. In Loi Kroh Road there are a cluster of bars where that road ends towards the old city moat.
Along this moat, on the inside in that very area, there are a number of bars along Moon Muang Road and a few also on the outside, from the end of Loi Kroh towards Tapae Gate. Here you find the Spotlight, the oldest going gogo in town.
Before Tapae Gate is the old Bar Beer Center which was a going concern a decade ago. Today it has lost what charm it may have had, and most of the customers. On some nights they have a cover charge due to Muay Thai performances. These are rarely more than tourist shows, and certainly not of interest to anyone who has ever seen the real thing at the two big stadiums in Bangkok. The one good thing about them is that they actually raise money for local Muay Thai Schools. But this does not make it less boring.
Inside Moon Muang soi 2 and so on until Tapae Gate itself are also a number of bars.
Down Ratvithi road from Moon Muang you will find the Irish Pub and a number of other small pubs and restaurants. On the inside of this road, down from the Irish Pub, there is a bar area catering mostly to the backpacker crowd.
Further down Loi Kroh there are a couple of bars just inside soi one, and a beer bar area backing the Imperial Maeping Hotel, where also the star six gogo is located.
One of the sadder gogos this side of, well, just about anywhere. The place had a high years back, then catering to more affluent Thai males. There where some unbelievable grand looking girls and super service. At a price, but still. I was in a few times back then in company with locals. Now, the heritance of catering to nationals is reduced to asking a entrance fee, redeemable in a drink, to hold the really broke ones out. Sad. You will be welcome but chances are you will be less than impressed.
There is a new gogo in the small road behind the original Night Bazaar building, and a number of bars along the Charoen Prathet road near the Porn Ping Hotel. That new gogo can let loose at times, but it is no sure thing, it varies much and seemingly somewhat independently of weeknights and season.
The Porn Ping is a good place to stay for the single gentleman, about 1.000 Baht or so per night, with the downstairs disco, the Bubbles, heavily populated with accessible maidens of the night.
The one place that is going openly all night is the Spicy on Chaiyaphum road, which parallels Moon Muang on the outside of the moat. This is the "Thermae" of Chiang Mai, where a lot of bar girls will go after hours. The place have had a mixed reputation, in older days it was the "Nice Illusion" infamous for fights and trouble at late hours. This has quieted, and the place sees fare more farang customers now than before.
A few new places has popped up down the road from Spicy, towards Tapae Gate. In that direction lies Mike's Burger, one of the best in town for late grease.
In the small sois behind Spicy there are a few odd places, looks like a few new ones as well. Down here and towards the Prince Hotel, a survivor since the Vietnam war, was a area with more action in former days. It shows faint signs of bumping back. The Price Hotel by the way is friendly towards single gentlemen and his needs. Sort of Nana Hotel standards and about 700 Baht a night. The poolside bar was a meeting point up to about 5 years ago, now it is run down and quiet. Across the street is a very friendly Aussie bar, the Aussie Cafe.
A click or so down Rachadamnoen road (from Moon Muang) are a small cluster of restaurant-bars, among which the Writers Club, run by friendly Robert, is a Friday afternoon favourite among the expat writers, photographers and journalist in town.
Along the Ping River, on Chiang Mai – Lampun Road, are a cluster of places catering to foreigners and locals alike. These includes the ever popular Riverside, the Brasserie (where Khun Tuk often plays live – he is considered to be one of the best on guitar in the Kingdom) and further down The Bear's Den, a slightly upscale expat favourite pub.
For the gay crowd out there it is supposed to be a scene in the sois between Chang Klan and Charoen Prathet, level with the Night Bazaar. The amount of ads in local free magazines and attached to free maps suggests there is ample opportunity for the gay's in town. I have personally no interests in that direction, but neither any objections, again as long as no underage activities goes on. I mention what I know. For you boys who have that particular idea, the free magazines such as City Life and the rest have ads of parlors named and described in a way that is clear.
For lesbians, I do not know. I would be surprised if there was nothing.
If you are attracted to underage you are welcome few if any places, and certainly not in Chiang Mai. The town is small enough that for someone with such on his mind the news can quickly get around. There has been the odd example in my time here, and I can tell you that your luck is with you if you get arrested while still alive. Much is tolerated in Chiang Mai, really, but certain things are not.
There are a lot of entertainment places that caters more to the locals than to farangs. I have been to many, and I have never felt unwelcome or intimidated.
Quite a few are located along the Ping River, down from the Nawarat bridge. Then there are a few spots down Chang Klan road if you go south from the Night Bazaar area a click or 3.
There are quite a few bars, in format somewhat similar to the farang style places, behind the Tesco Lotus on the superhighway. I have passed many times, but I have yet to explore personally.
Otherwise, entertainment venues tends to be more scattered about. Some logic to that, their clients are also everywhere.
With the closing hours and more frequent police checks a great number of very small drinking places has been thrown up all over creation, I think part of the idea is that very local police that you know is easier to relate to than strangers with powers.
Sometimes these are nothing more than a small bamboo roof with a few stools and very basic offerings. Often there will be a karaoke machine, and as time passes some are being developed and expanded. Such places can be uncomfortable for the uninitiated farang, with rowdy local boys who wants to get to know the stranger from outside. But they can also be good for getting new friends if you are up to the scene.
The ground floor live-music bar at the previously mentioned Porn Ping Hotel is for some reason a predominantly Thai venue, though with the location there are usually a few farangs about. I have been there a number of times with "gangs" of Thai friends, and I have had a good time.
The area up Suthep road and Huai Kaew road and in between is littered with all kinds of places. The Chiang Mai University up her, and it is not small, loads of students from both the north and other parts around. Hence a market for entertainment venues. You will find it easier in these parts if you come with Thai friends, even if you speak the language. Not as in hostile, but to break the ice. Of which there are plenty at the top floor of the complex housing Central Department store at the beginning end of Huai Kaew – they have a full-scale ice hockey stadium up there. You can rent skates.
In Bangkok, the Siam BTS station is one place to be in early mornings when people goes to work. Shopping centres are popular amongst some for good places to see, and sometimes meet. Siam Square likewise.
In Chiang Mai, the mentioned complex housing Central is a good spot. It is near the university, for one. The Airport Plaza is another possible, there are more than a few places to have a bite to eat there as well.
In the food courts of Big C, Tesco and Carrefour the beer companies tends to employ waitresses by looks. I am not a big fan of these superstores, but I get at times invitations from Thai friends who wants to go to Big C or one of them just to drink beer in the food court – and to chat with the waitresses. Or the other way around, possibly.
Just walking the streets, something you can actually do in Chiang Mai, can be good. For my eyes anyway there is no lack of beauty.
It was said in former times that Chiang Mai was a "Shangri La", this for the easy life due to a very fertile land and also due to the beautiful people living here. I do think that the percentage of woman easy on the eye is higher here than most other places in Thailand.
The Riverside, mentioned under "Nightlife", can be great for looking about. Just make sure you do not hit on some local hotshot's date. This is not Pattaya, it is less desperate, but still.
As elsewhere, we are closed. The term "nightclub" is hardly relevant in Thailand anymore. There is always the odd spot open though. I have mentioned the Spicy here in Chiang Mai, it is all in the open so the name can be printed. It is located on ground level on a major road in the center of town, no secret is being made of it.
What has become a regular practice here up north is to "pretend" to be closed. The bar will close the door, but customers are then not asked to leave. A look-out will check before you are let out, to ensure than no raiding authorities are about. And if you know which of the bars are still semi-open you will normally be let in, especially if they have a back door that allows discretion.
In Chiang Mai the tourist part of the nightlife is really hurting from the closing regulations. The local scene is obviously also hurting, but local people have more late hours alternatives – both because they can more easily find them and also because they are mostly outside the tourist haunts, as in being geared towards locals.
I have a lot of friends involved with the tourism industry here. They range from freelance writers and guides to owners of guesthouses and up to large luxury hotels. The closing hour thing is being felt all over. It is felt embarrassing by some to, for example, explain to a party of Danish businessmen why it gets so quiet after one in the morning – them being used to having nightclubs that OPENS hours after midnight. For one. Anyway. My little rant on that subject.
Alcohol is now not to be sold after midnight. In the day not between 11 am and 5 pm. That daytime thing is a tad strange. If in Chiang Mai you want to get something after midnight there is a shop, sort of seven-eleven format that sells many things, that is open 24 hours and does not restrict anything. It is easily found, on the lot of a petrol station on the corner of Chang Klan road and Sri Dornchai road, across from the new Panthip Plaza (yep, we now have a CM branch). Chiang Mai being as compact as it is, you are rarely more than 10 or 15 minutes away from here. And the staff tends to be nice, bordering on flirty.
Otherwise small shops open late tends to be very easy, though they will have a limited selection.
The best liquor store in town is on Charoen Prathet road, just before you get to the Porn Ping Hotel. It is small but has the best selection in these parts. They have Underberger, a Swiss miracle of a hangover remedy – and something that can save an upset stomach as well. Not many shops in Thailand sells this.
Another good one is the shop directly across the main Thai Airways office, on the corner of Phra Pokklao road and Wiang Kaew road. This one is bigger, decent prices also, but without some of the specialties of the one on Charoen Prathet. They do normally have the 5 (or is it 4.5) liter Black Label though, if you really want to make a show. I actually got that bottle a couple of times over the years, makes a right riot when you walk into the restaurant with it I can tell you.
Getting into things
Chiang Mai lends itself less to the immediate "all out" than spots further south, in line with what I wrote at the beginning of this submission. You have your pick-up spots for sure, but there are less of them.
It is my experience that the guys coming for more than just a weekend, and with less than immediately desperate needs, have a better time here. The city takes a bit getting used to.
I should tell you that some guys I know that are really into butterflying with Thai females, and who have long experience in Thailand, have found Chiang Mai just perfect for their wants and needs. It is here, it just takes some effort getting into it.
I am myself married. Had I not been I can assure you that Chiang Mai would have been my number one hunting ground, for romance as well as for play-for-play.
I am not a particularly handsome or well-built person, age about 40, financial situation in latter years nothing grand. And yet, this increasing with my years here, I have had uncountable opportunities.
Within the bars that I have frequented on my allowed nights out I could by now have sinned on a biblical scale. The thing is, in Chiang Mai they like familiar faces. If you are not a total idiot and you take the bother to shower and shave regularly, and to drop by from time to time sharing a friendly word and the odd drink, it makes the world of a difference.
This works elsewhere, (I spent a couple of years working in Bangkok – in and out of the office – haha) but in Chiang Mai I think more than many elsewheres.
Outside of the bar-scene even more impressive. Once, no bullshit, 3 girls from a school class tried to get me along with suggestions extremely inappropriate for 18-year olds – not only because their age compared to mine but because the class trip they where on where to the famous Wat Doi Suthep, a very holy temple. I was there with a visiting friend from Farangland, playing guide.
They started by asking me to pose for pictures, which their teacher, took, no less, and then they shuffled around me for a few shots positioning themselves VERY close to me, giggling, and I got handled a couple of notes James Bond spy style with some contact details. You can believe I was sweating more than usual, that was a strange situation. And I do not mind women being younger, but these where just kids! Perhaps there is something about the need for the moral crackdown after all. Charmed, I was, but also disturbed.
Then there are uncountable stories about females I have met, mostly among those I have met more than once – in shops, socially, around the village where I live, in work, at all times. From the disturbingly young to the way-too-old to inspire there has been come-on's.
Now what if I was a handsome unmarried guy with some extra money in the bank? Trouble, I am sure, and a lot of fun with it.
My point is that most chaps will need more than a couple of days, and also a willingness to make an effort, to really make the local scene.
There are plenty of returnees around. Very often I get into hello'es with chaps that are here regularly, have been for years or decades. And when I was in Bangkok there where more than a few working guys that expressed wishes of wanting to get out of town, Chiang Mai being frequently mentioned as a perceived better place to live.
These where guys who had spent time up north along the way, visiting friends or exploring, or perhaps just as an alternative to the beaches for the weekend.
Again, to the point, our Northern Capitol enjoys a following from folks from all walks of life.
And if nothing else, you can still find tuktuks here that does not rip you off. The taxi-meter was introduced early last year, they have still to accept having to use the "meter", so the tuk is not yet out of fashion in the Lanna Kingdom. This leads on to the next subtitle:
The Tuk Tuk thing I just let you on to. Prices goes from 20 or 25 baht short distance, the obvious farang may expect 35 upwards without haggling in Thai language. Still acceptable to me. With the price of oil hitting new highs, and with a new round of hostilities with a oil-producing country seeming close it will not get less dear.
In Chiang Mai there are pick-ups modified with a roof-thingy on the back that serves as busses. They are called Songtaews, and they run around in more or less set routes. You flag one down anywhere and tells the driver your destination. A nod means, yep, he will pass there. You hop in, and you need to know where you want to be let off – it is up to you to recognise your location and signal the driver that you are there. Prices are on the move along with petrol rates, at writing time 10 Baht is the deal within the city center. They do not display the regular hostility and habit of attacking passengers that does the similar and among tourists much hated "Baht-busses" of Pattaya.
Many of these can also be rented as taxi's, have they no other fare and are otherwise so inclined.
Tuk-tuks and Songtaews parked in the Night Bazaar area are the exception, they are normally asking for totally unrealistic money from tourists, or from any farang. Here, just walk away a short bit, negotiations will fast be easier.
The Taxi-meter car har been precariously introduced, although they have yet to display much villigness to actually use the meter. They are yet few, and are mostly stationed at the airport and at the Airport Plaza shopping centre.
There is a air-con bus running a route that includes the airport-downtown stretch. I do not know times or prices
Airport taxi's are ok priced at 120 Baht for all downtown locations. On a big board in the domestic arrival area they quote prices to destinations all the way back to Bangkok, that one was 5.000 Baht last I checked. So if you want, you can hop right into a car back south upon having cleared luggage and/or immigration.
Traffic is less tough than in Bangkok and it is easier to sort out directions. The police tends to be more lenient with farangs as well. But if people drive slower (on average), they also drive less professionally, if I can put it that way. Lots of rural style, please be very careful.
North Wheels on Chaiyaphum road, near Spicy, has a very good reputation. They have been around for many years, and offers 24 hours on-the-road service, apart from not demanding to keep your passport. A document you will need if driving about northwards from Chiang Mai. There are many checkpoints, increasingly as you come closer to the Burmese border, and if you are stopped your passport will be asked for. North Wheels also was one to offer "real" insurance from early on, and not the bogus mess a great many others peddled.
If Stick feels a bit of ad is acceptable I would like to mention another alternative (otherwise just delete the whole paragraph Stick). Khun Chalee, hailing from the "Why Not Bar" in Loi Kroh road, up near the moat, offers to drive you and yours in his Honda CRV for 2.000 Baht a day in Chiang Mai and the immediate abouts (last I checked).
This is a good deal for several reasons. Number one: He can actually drive. Two: The car is clean and well maintained. Tree: To rent the same vehicle without the driver costs more here.
All personal experience, in my case I have paid him to ferry friends and family about when I have not been available myself with my old trusty and rusty Hilux. And before that, for myself when needed. I am sure there are plenty of other freelancers in the transport business, this is just one that I know of from experience.
Do you have to report home?
Chiang Mai is a great excuse. Cultural center, remember? A postcard with temples and mountains displayed together with a picture of yourself at Wat Doi Suthep could go a long way in any explanations you may need.
Cement the idea of the man exploring culture with bringing back a copy of Oliver Hargreaves "Chiang Mai, city, valley and mountains", many good pictures and actually also a great guidebook for the North if you make the trip (if that is not too much like straight advertising / Stick delete where appropriate).
Bits and pieces
Chiang Mai is easier to get around in than Bangkok, and distances in town are not much longer than in Pattaya.
Getting here and back is easy, the airport is about 10 minutes from the center of town, perhaps 15 in rush hours, no more. There are more than 10 daily flights each way, not counting flight to and from other, both domestic and international, locations.
There are many flights, including low-price ones with Nok Air, One-to-go- and Asia Air.
Plenty of trains and buses as well, and if you are on a budget but want to stay for a bit you can get small but centrally located rooms (with shower) from 2.500 Baht a month. Plus electricity.
The first class on trains gives you a bed in a cabin. I have found for myself that this can be a bit odd, because if you travel alone the other bed in the cabin will be given to whomever else is travelling solo. They do restrict such sharing by gender, but still. Or perhaps, grrrr.
Travelling alone I have preferred second class, where the car is public area, and where the seats are converted to beds after hours. Less private, but also less strange than being closed in with a stranger in a cabin.
First Class on the train is good if you travel with someone. If you are 4 people, make sure that you get joining cabins with the door between. That is, on some of the trains there is a door between cabins, two by two, so that a group can stay in touch.
I have been on the bus a few times, not my favorite. One company, that has been changing names and I am not regular enough to keep track, has buses with only 3 seats – not 4 – wide. Corresponding extra legroom and a backrest that goes as far down as some airlines' business class makes this one the alternative to the trains, the price is also similar or a tad more.
We have cinemas here that screens movies with the original, normally English (or American English, rather, that can be understood, if not enjoyed, by most us), language. There are supermarkets, including Tops, where you can get farang food. Including cheese. The Rim Ping stores regularly sports Stilton, amongst other choices.
All kinds of restaurants, cuisine from most corners of the world. It is hard to compete with Bangkok here. But given the size and layout of the city it is easier to find what is here. And prices are lower.
Locals tends to be genuinely friendly, even when previously exposed to farangs. Ok, I experienced that in Bangkok as well when I lived there. But in my opinion CM is a winner here.
The overall best expat community in the country, again as I see it. It may take you some time to get recognised, but then that time spent can reward you with genuine friendships.
I meet here the first-ever honest second-hand car dealer in my life. I never though I would meet someone like that, ever. Ha!
So please do not discontinue Chiang Mai, perhaps take the chance and spend a week sometime. Great in the cold season, the average farang can sleep well and comfortable with only a fan going – less common cold from dripping air-cons.
Hope to meet some fellow Stick-readers up here in the north,
Sorry, busy like crazy so no comments today.