This is it. Zoe In Yellow. The end all, be all of Chiang Mai’s loud techno, sweaty dance pits and regret. It has everything you need to have a crazy raging night. While there are a few other clubs in Chiang Mai, none of them have worked their image as well as Zoe in Yellow, especially for tourists or our TEFL Students. In Chiang Mai you will find tons of people who swear by Zoe’s (this is what the infamous bar will be referred to from here on out).Zoe in Yellow is located on the corner of Ratvithi and Ratchaphakhinai Roads in the east side of the old city. Follow the various signs and you’ll go down an inevitably packed, little side road full of a whole plethora of types of people, dressed to impress for what is guaranteed to be a memorable night.
Walking down the Zoe’s side street, you will pass several other little bars on the right, but you likely will not notice them at first because of the captivating spectacle that is the Zoe’s dance pit. More on that later though. You pass the dance pit on your left and 3 other spots on your right; the Zoe in Yellow Restaurant and Pub, The Paradise Bar, and Havana Saloon. Between the Restaurant and the bars is a comically small alley leading to the bathroom, with a 5-baht entrance fee. The Paradise Bar and Havana Saloon are also clubs. The drinks are a little bit pricier, but a lot of people are totally willing to put up with a price hike due to the fact that these bars are often less packed, play better music, and sometimes they even put on air conditioning (which as you will quickly discover is a lifesaver during Thailand’s hotter months).
After passing these bars, you will come to a T-intersection, and at the top of the T is a pretty decent Indian Restaurant, but it will likely be closed if you’re there late enough to be having any fun. To the right of the Indian restaurant is Roots Rock Reggae, one of Chiang Mai’s best Reggae bars. With some surprisingly great cover bands every night, and the always excellent Croissant Band closing as the house band, it brings that chill, Chiang Mai vibe back to the middle of the insanity. If you ever need to take a breather from the loud pumping bass and strobe lights of the other bars, pop into Roots Rock, check what is going on.
To the left of the Indian Restaurant, you’ll come across several little bars on the left, and Babylon Bar on the right. When someone says Babylon Bar, one thing should pop into your head… cheap drinks. Because of the fame that Zoe In Yellow has attained, their ego has gone to their prices. While they do have some pretty fantastic, Zoe’s exclusive cocktails and buckets, if you are good with a beer or rum and coke, hit up Babylon Bar, or any of the other little spots around Zoe’s. Just finish those drinks before going to Zoe’s…
Passing the bubbly facade of the Babylon Bar, keep going and you will reach Pentatonic Rockbar (I see the fault in grammar, I’m just trying to be accurate to their sign). If you’re a headbanging, steel-toed-boot-wearing hardcore rocker, this is the only place in town I know of where you are pretty much guaranteed to hear some really good metal every night. Even if you don’t like metal or hard rock (and I’ll admit I generally am not a huge fan), it is honestly worth checking this little dive out just to appreciate the musicianship that some of these guys possess. When I went I saw a near perfect cover of Master of Puppets by Metallica, including a shredding guitar solo that could have given Kirk Hammett or James Hetfield runs for their money. You should stop in for a beer even if you think it is not “your thing”. I did not expect to like it half as much as I did.
Zoe’s is intense, loud, brash, unforgiving, great on a good night, but terrible on a bad night. If you do it right, you will have an amazing time. The people there are all dressed to impress, and they will impress. The dance pit is crammed and loud and intense, but the lighting set up and blasting bass is guaranteed to make you jump. Resistance is futile, if you have hips they will be moving in the Zoe’s dance pit. And then when you’re done dancing, there are a bunch of tables in a little square that are very comforting looking. If you don’t already have a drink specifically from Zoe’s, make sure to order one. They’re marked up a little bit, but taste great and they do not mix things for lightweights. The buckets tend to feel pretty close to a 1:1 ratio of booze to whatever else. Unlike a lot of bars here if you order a whiskey or rum other than Sang Som (the cheapest Thai booze [Honestly not that bad though]), they will not serve you Sang Som. A lot of bars here will assume you are too drunk to know the difference between a bottle of Jack Daniels and piss, so they will just give you the cheapest liquor they have stocked. If you order Jack at Zoe’s, you will get Jack.
While Zoe In Yellow is a really fun bar to be at, there is a dark side. They offer a free cocktail or shot, depending on the night, if you give them a 5-star review on TripAdvisor. If you do wade through the resulting wall of praise, you will find a lot of horror stories. If you bring a Babylon Bar drink in, the waiter will come and demand you order a drink. You think “Hey, this is Thailand, I’ll just order one when I’m done with this.” And then the bouncers show up. I do not care how confident or built you are, you cannot take 4 daily trained muay thai fighters. They regularly hospitalize people who mess with them, and not just from one punch. They have a reputation that they intend to keep so they will beat you bloody, kick you while you are down and chase you down the road. About a year ago, two foreigners were beaten for trying to start something with the bouncers, and so far as I am aware, the bouncers haven’t changed. If they tell you to leave, do not question them, just do it, and don’t come back for at least a few days.
Most of the time people have an amazing time at Zoe’s though. As long as you follow the rules, and go out at night with a plan, you will not have any trouble, and that night will go down in history as one of the wildest in your life.