Do you like alcohol? Ha! I’m joking; of course you like alcohol because you’re reading this post. Knowing this about you, I can safely say that Chiang Mai is a good place to grab a drink. Not only are many of the adult beverages inexpensive, this city has also introduced me to a little event known as the ‘beer buffet’ (more on that later). Having a drink with your meal seems to be common around here, a practice that Erica and I have no problem getting accustomed to. Beer is on almost every menu we’ve run into, but mixed drinks are almost as prevalent. Whatever your palate desires, I’m sure you can find it here in one form or another, and thus, Erica and I have collaborated on the below mini guide to drinking in Chiang Mai.
The Most Important Things to Know About Alcohol in Chiang Mai
The one black eye on the liquor culture here is that alcohol is only sold between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – midnight. Also, on many Thai holidays, you cannot buy alcohol in the country. Nothing puts a damper on an evening faster than walking up to the counter with your alcohol purchase and the cashier politely telling you that it is 3 p.m. or Buddist Lent or fifteen seconds after midnight, and it’s now too late to buy it. (And yes, all of these things have happened to us…)
Also, please don’t be that tourist that comes here and drinks wherever they please in public. Sometimes, it’s acceptable, but many times it’s not. We’ve seen “no drinking” signs at the Sunday walking street market, in the Old City and a few other places. So, when in doubt, drink at your hotel or just go to a bar.
Leo, Chang and Singha, Oh My Chiang Mai!
When it comes to the options available here, beer drinkers rejoice! The domestic beer here is quite good (unless you are a craft beer snob or the like), and it’s offered almost everywhere. Leo, Chang and Singha are the most popular brands, and they can all provide the refreshing relief needed on these humid Chiang Mai afternoons. Just be wary of the Changover…it does exist and lasts all day long. A large domestic beer costs about 55-70 BHT ($1.50-$2 USD) when bought out of the cooler at your local 7-11. Expect to shell out about 100-150 BHT ($3-$4 USD) for the same beer at a restaurant, and even more for imported beer like Heineken.
When you’re in the mood to get a good buzz going in a friendly crowd for a reasonable price, go for a beer buffet. A beer buffet is a delightful situation in which for a specified amount of time (usually a few hours), you can drink as much beer as you can stand for a very reasonable price. Different places around town offer beer buffets with different selections of beer, but I’ll let you in on the bar we frequent the most. Rush Bar hosts a three-hour beer buffet for 180 BHT ($5 USD), and we definitely get our money’s worth whenever we go. Just know the following: they will offer you ice, they may mix multiple brands of beer and the last round is given once you hear the bell ring at 8:55 p.m.
Will Liquor Get You There Quicker?
If spirits are more your thing, there is no shortage in that department. I’ve seen vodka, gin, cognac, rum, etc. sold at bars and package stores all around the city, many of which boast liquor labels familiar to those from the U.S. We decided to splurge for my birthday and purchase a bottle of Hennessy cognac to celebrate. We spent a whopping 1350 BHT ($39 USD) for a 750mL bottle. You’ll find other brands like Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker to be just as expensive. So, when we’re not splurging (which is the other 363 days of the year…Erica’s birthday counts too), we recommend trying out the local liquor like Sangsom. It’s a lot cheaper, and gets the job done. Locals typically mix it with soda and add ice.
When it comes to mixed drinks in this city, we don’t recommend buying them unless you know the bartender/bar. Long story short: imported alcohol is heavily taxed and so bartenders are conservative with the amount of liquor they pour into your drink. So, it ends up tasting more like juice than an actual adult beverage, and it costs 2-3 times more than beer would. Believe us, we have had many mixed drink buckets, and they all end up tasting like some form of watered down Kool-Aid. But we’ve also had a select few cocktails that ended up being way stronger than we could have ever wished for.
A Tale for Wine Lovers in Chiang Mai
If you love wine, you’ll have to search long and hard for a decent bottle of wine and pay an exorbitant amount of money for it. Back in the U.S., Erica was used to drinking amazing wine (red, white, sparkling, rose) anywhere between $8-$20 USD. Well, that’s not happening here. A good glass of wine will set you back at least $10-$15 USD at a nice hotel bar or restaurant, and a good bottle goes for around $30 USD. So instead of shelling out the coins to buy wine, she just lets it ride and sips on a Chang.
Here are some of our favorite places to drink or grab drinks in Chiang Mai:
- Rush Bar (for the beer buffet)
- Small House
- Corner Bistro
- Black Door
- The unnamed bar right beside Zoe in Yellow (sells beer for super cheap!)
- Myst at the Maya
- Rise Rooftop Bar at Akyra Manor