For a Westerner, Thai clubs are baffling affairs. The music is alien, people are eating dinner on the dance floor and when you try to take a leak some guy starts giving you a shoulder massage. You have to come prepared.
Chiang Mai's clubs, like everywhere else, play wildly different kinds of music. Dubstep and drum and bass haven't quite hit yet, but there's still some variety in the scene. Warm Up plays pop-y dance music, Thai hits and hosts the occasional live band, while places like Tawandaeng go more towards Northeastern Thai stage shows and circa 1970s protest music (pleng peua chiwit). Really though, unless you're already into the Thai music scene it's better to forget about it and enjoy the whole experience.
Drinks are marked up as you'd expect, so the most economical option is to order a bottle of whiskey with soda water, coke, limes and a bucket of ice (believe it or not, this usually pleases everybody). You can bring your own bottle for a corkage fee as well.
Many clubs have a full kitchen and a dining area, if the whole club isn't a dining area. The food ranges from acceptable to decent and and is less expensive that you'd think - you're usually better off eating elsewhere, but a late-night snack isn't out of the question. This inevitably leads to a situation where you're eating a barbecue rib and drinking whiskey while dancing to mor lam, but we think that's pretty awesome.
Most clubs in town don't charge a cover, so you're free to check it out before you commit to a drink. The few that do, namely Mandalay and Fabrique, make an attempt at being upmarket and stay open much later than everything else. The price is usually around 300b (for foreigners) with a drink included.
If you're a guy and you use a urinal in a Thai club, there's a nonzero chance a man will come up behind you and massage your shoulders. Don't panic! This is completely normal and non-sexual Let him proceed. They'll give you a hardcore rubbin' better than any Thai massage you've ever had, crack every bone in your neck and spine and even flush for you. They'll follow you over to the sink and continue while you wash your hands and maybe even dry them for you. Then you tip them twenty baht. It's not a scam, it's not scary and it feels awesome. Do it. If you're a woman, you're out of luck. Sorry.
WHERE TO GO
Tawandaeng (ตะวันแดง) is absolutely insane. You're greeted by giant portraits of famous revolutionaries and communists before walking into a huge concert with Isaan music and bizarrely-costumed dancers. Aforementioned urinal massages and dance-floor ribs available.
Warm Up - Warm Up caters to a younger, 'hipper' set than Tawandaeng, mostly students, and the music might be a little more familiar to Western ears. The two inner dance floors play thumping dance music and outside often hosts live bands ranging from ska to hiphop. They also serve food.
Infinity - Infinity is a huge club off of Nimmanheiman Soi 6 (pictured above), with an atmosphere more familiar to Western club-goers. With a large stage and dance floor filled with young Thais, the club is always booked with live acts and DJs.
Provincial clubs - The most ridiculous nightlife in Thailand is hiding out in the provincial capitals, which despite having 7-11s are still a bit like the wild west. BM Club in Phayao is a great example - the logo is the bat signal with goofy little eyes, everybody gets hilariously drunk and the urinal massages are even better than at Tawandaeng. There's at least one in every provincial capital.
There are tons of other clubs in Chiang Mai and surrounds, each with a different flavor. What's your favorite? Got any stories? Let us know at [email protected]