You’ve spent the perfect day in Chiang Mai discovering glittering wats, savouring your fill of kôw soy (famous noodle soup) and fitting in a foot massage. As the sun sets, it’s time to figure out what to do for the evening – some live music, perhaps?

Throughout this northern Thai city you’ll find musicians playing at markets, bars and hotel lounges. While some are extremely talented, others admittedly will have you questioning what you’re listening to. Fortunately, if you know where to go, you can find various music styles and venues catering to those who appreciate sitting back with a fine glass of SangSom and taking in the tunes.

People walk past a man playing a guitar at the Sunday Night Market on Rachadamnoen Rd in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
There's plenty of opportunities to hear live music in Chiang Mai, and not just from buskers © Stephen J. Boitano / Getty Images

Feel the beat at North Gate Jazz Co-Op

This unassuming jazz bar located just inside the old city walls at the north gate (or Pratu Chang Pheuak) has been a Chiang Mai institution for more than a decade. Drawing in a number of local musicians playing live seven nights a week, North Gate Jazz Co-Op is one of the few places in town where you’ll find a mix of locals, expats, musicians and travellers all coming together to enjoy jazzy beats in a casual setting. Though the bar opens earlier, things don’t heat up until around 8.30pm with music going until midnight. The Tuesday night jam sessions and Sunday blues and rock nights bring in some of the biggest crowds of the week, with people spilling into the street.

Soak up the local colour at Sudsanan

Another long-time local favourite, Sudsanan offers a quintessential northern Thai experience of leisurely eating and drinking in a relaxed, almost rural, atmosphere. Though its location on the Canal Road is slightly inconvenient (you’ll need your own set of wheels or a ride to get there), an evening spent at Sudsanan is sure to stand out from your time in Chiang Mai. Grab a group of friends, order several dishes to share, sip beer with ice – it’s the Thai way – and enjoy some acoustic guitar tunes with the locals. Chances are that you’ll meet some long-time expats but no other tourists!

Thapae East has music acts performing almost every night of the week
You never know who will take the stage at Thapae East © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

Catch a new act at Thapae East

You never know who may take the stage at Thapae East – Venue for the Creative Arts, arguably the most diverse music venue in town. Just off Tha Pae Road, the intimate, eclectic space which is connected to a hostel, craft shop and Mexican restaurant (try their margaritas) showcases a variety of local and foreign music acts performing nearly every night of the week. There’s typically no cover fee and you can buy beer and simple cocktails at the bar to enjoy inside or out in the courtyard aglow with festive white lights. Check their Facebook page for current event listings.

Rock on at the Riverside Bar & Restaurant

With lively cover bands playing at Riverside Bar & Restaurant every evening, you know there will always be a crowd of fun-loving Thais and tourists bouncing to the beat while devouring noodle dishes and sharing a bottle of whiskey. Ranging from country to rock and pop, the music may not be quite your style but we bet you’ll still have a grand old time. Grooving to a Thai cover of Maroon 5 at full volume is surprisingly silly but fun! The restaurant and bar is also one of the only places in Chiang Mai with a license to stay open and serve alcohol until 1am (versus the usual midnight).

Live acoustic music adds to the atmosphere at Piccolo Wine & Tapas
Smooth sounds and small plates await at Piccolo Wine & Tapas © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

Wine and dine at Piccolo Wine and Tapas

For a more upscale evening of wine, tapas and tunes, Piccolo Wine and Tapas serves an authentic array of small plates created by its Spanish chef while talented duos and trios play acoustic music ranging from fiery flamenco to lively gypsy jazz. If you’re craving more European vibes and music you can’t find anywhere else in Chiang Mai, this is your place. While prices are certainly higher than backpacker fare, they’re reasonable for the quality – and the wines are divine! – plus there’s no cover to enjoy the music. The intimate spot is open daily from 6pm to midnight.

Unwind at Boy Blues Bar

Situated above the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Boy Blues Bar is known for the owner, Boy, and his signature smile as he wails on the guitar playing jazz, rhythm and blues. You’ve never seen a band clearly enjoying themselves this much without an air of pretentiousness! The bar is open Monday through Saturday until midnight, and the music typically starts around 8.15pm with the Boy Blues Band, headed by the beaming Boy himself, playing the second set of the evening. Drinks are reasonably priced although a bit weak so it’s better to stick to beer. What the bar lacks in pours or ambience, however, is easily made up in the live music and easy atmosphere.

Musicians performing at North Gate Jazz Co-Op, a Chiang Mai institution
Head to North Gate Jazz Co-Op for live music every night © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

Chill out at Roots Rock Reggae Bar

Tucked in the Zoe in Yellow complex, Roots Rock Reggae Bar looks like your typical Thai reggae bar, but surprisingly organises some solid shows with local musicians and others passing through town. The small bar quickly fills up with backpackers and the local Rasta crowd sipping on drinks and swaying to the music. Fortunately, while crowded, it is usually more manageable than the larger Zoe in Yellow bars.

As with most places in Thailand, opening times and who’s playing can always change at the last minute. When planning your night, be sure to check the venues’ Facebook pages for the most up-to-date info to avoid missing out.

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