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Thailand is bursting with food, everywhere you look you’ll see something cooking and options and styles are endless. Deciding where to eat in Thailand is a pleasure, never a headache, and the choice must be based on how much you’d like to spend and personal taste. Thailand has all types of food on offer, from top-end hotels and restaurants serving gourmet Thai and Western dishes to the mom and pop stall on the side of the road. Its all here and easily accessible.
Bigger cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai offer the best range at the top end, as you’d imagine, but everywhere you go you’ll find it easy and affordable to eat well. Even if your tastes don’t stretch beyond burger and fries, you’ll find all the usual fast food and coffee outlets here.
Heading into the countryside, away from the tourists, or exploring the streets and markets of small towns is really where to find what the locals eat. These Thai dishes would be my pick if you were to ask me where to eat in Thailand, but if Asian food isn’t for you, every tourist destination will still feed you well.
Where to Eat in Thailand
Top End Restaurants
These are found in the major cities of Thailand and are either independent or part of the top hotels. The most famous is Nahm which was originally run by David Thompson but is now overseen by head chef Prin Polsuk. Serving up classic Thai food in a 5 star luxury setting the ethos here is about balance, authenticity and seasonal ingredients (in the right season of course). Not a cheap option by anybody’s standards but if you have the opportunity a must do.
My personal favourite, street stalls as the name suggests are found on most street corners and offer the best value and flavour across Thailand. These are our usual haunt in Bangkok.
Look out for where the local Thais eat. That is a sure sign it’s good. In the tourist areas the food is often toned down and lacks the same flavour and variety. The elements that make Thai food spicy appear in lower quantities.
Khoa San Road has numerous stalls selling Pad Thai but not much else unless you fancy deep-fried scorpion. A note on that is that in 20 years I’ve never seen a Thai person at one of these stalls. They are here for the tourist market. Even going 2 streets from the tourist areas you’ll find brilliant food again.
Not something most people would think of in Thailand but worth a visit if you’re out shopping all day. Bangkok has some brilliant food halls in the massive shopping centres like the MBK centre and Fifth Food avenue next door. Not serving the usual western fast food they have a variety of the local cuisine at a reasonable price.
The picture below is of a food court in a new, modern mall in Chiang Mai. Sit yourself down on a mini-stool, order from the picture menu and have a dish of noodles or soup freshly prepared in front of your eyes. Prices are low, think around a pound or a dollar a plate, the food is good.
Markets, Night Markets, Day Markets, Floating Markets
There is a magic in watching the night markets set up in Thailand, every town will have at least one, bigger cities have dozens, all serve good food. But not all markets are night markets and some floating markets are ideal for morning, others for afternoons and evenings.
Markets are my second favourite place to find great Thai dishes and where a lot of the locals will eat out while shopping.
Try to find out about regional food specialities if you can. It would be a shame to visit Chiang Mai without trying khao soi, for instance.
Some, like Amphawa, mentioned below, have such culinary klout and old world charm that they draw the domestic tourists too. Most markets have little restaurants attached. These might only be a few plastic table and chairs but don’t worry the food will be worth it.
Even the big floating markets that the tourists will go to have delicious food, Damnoen Saduak, the morning market that Bangkok tours visit, has good pork noodle soup. Amphawa floating market specialises in local seafood and is alive with tasty treats of cheap food. You could easily get yourself a 4 course meal for under a fiver. The stalls are arranged across the market and you can just point and pay. Most restaurants and stalls will have a menu in both Thai and English. We hope you found our guide on where to eat in Thailand useful, enjoy Thailand, try as many dishes and restaurants as you can, but stay away from tourist food outlets.