Chiang Mai is a bustling city during the day, but at night, the streets come alive with smells of street vendors cooking, the sounds of music wafting through the air near the gates to Old City and so many colorful scenes that the eyes strain to comprehend and take it all in.
Like Bangkok, Chiang Mai has numerous temples tucked away down side streets and alleyways. So many in fact, you would almost miss them taking a tuk-tuk or red truck. I would suggest walking. As twilight falls, the temples are lit and the glow of the tall spires climbing towards the sky can be seen in between restaurants, hostels and houses as I make my way from my hotel into the center of Old Town.
As I near Rachadamnoen Road, the crowds pick up. This is the main section for tourists and it is busy. Street vendors sell their wares at stands and one or two mini night markets pop up along the way. Restaurants line the street as people enjoy meals while people watching. I walk until I come to Hot Chilli. You can’t miss this place. The sidewalk in front of the restaurant/bar is completely covered in fantastically colored umbrellas hanging from a trellis that runs the length of the space. Inside feels like a posh lounge as servers run back and forth to tables full of people carrying different delicious smelling dishes. I stop in for a cocktail and to take in all that the space has to offer.
Finishing my drink, I start to wander again. I start to notice the sound of a band playing what sounds like live music. I follow the sounds until they lead my through one of the city gates. A crowd of people has gathered and in the center sits the band Tuku. Made up of a guitarist, a drummer and two didgeridooists, the band is full of energy and has an original sound, at least to my ears, thanks in part to the aboriginal instruments. They play a 45 minute set and I stay for its entirety before wandering on.
To say one has choices when it comes to evening activities in Chiang Mai is an understatement. You can wander the streets like I did most evenings, choosing whether or not to get lost in the city or to head for the crowds of night markets and Rachadamnoen Road. You can also choose to catch some of the action at a local sports arena, which I also did. Muay Thai is huge, not only in Chiang Mai, but across the country. The combat sport, known also as the Art of Eight Limbs, started as a hand to hand combat fighting style and eventually transformed into a more traditional form of competitive fighting which has its own rules and governing bodies. Similar to kickboxing, Muay Thai is the national sport.
The Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium is renowned for showcasing some of the best local and international fighters in the world. For around $26 USD, you can be picked up from your hotel, whisked away to the stadium and watch the fights from the grandstands surrounding the ring. For under $50, which is what I opted for, you get all of the above, but you get to watch the action from the VIP section, which also includes unlimited alcohol (whiskey and beer) and a chance to enter the ring before the first fight to get photos taken. The photos taken and the drinks procured, I sit from an elevated vantage point to watch the carnage ensue. There are around eight fights the evening I went including one with Canadian Brett Ireland. The bouts start by weight class the best I can tell and the fighters ranged in age, some of whom only looked like young teenagers. For the next three or so hours, the crowd cheered for their favorite fighters as the booze flowed. As the night drew on, the more experienced combatants entered the ring and surprisingly there was only one knock out in all of the matches.