Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is where the country’s regional cuisines come together for a smorgasbord of options. Pork dishes from the north, fish dishes from the south, and cuisines from China, Burma, Laos, and Malaysia are all on offer. Bangkok doesn’t necessarily have a signature dish or food; rather, what makes it unique is that it’s a gathering place for all of Thailand’s varied and excellent cuisine. Besides tangible variances, you’ll also find that every budget is catered to. You can dine in a swank 5-star restaurant or on the street at one of the city’s awesome markets. We recommend you indulge in the entire spectrum.
As for drinking, you’ll find plenty of options there as well. Whether you’re into drinking Chang beer outside a 7-11 or sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar, Bangkok has what you want. Nightclubs, go-go bars, and live music venues are all popular places to kick back with a cold one, as well.
While the supply of bars, restaurants and stalls is endless, we have a few recommendations for areas and venues to check out:
Thailand’s food seems most alive when it’s steaming, smoking, frying or boiling in a street stall somewhere. Cheap, fast, and fresh, food from street markets is as individual as the cooks running them. Street stalls can be found on almost any street or alley in Bangkok, but the markets are a great place to sample a wide variety of food. Note that street stalls close on Mondays for street cleaning.
Soi 38 Night Market: On Sukhumvit’s Soi 38, this market is open late and is a great place to load up if you’ve been out clubbing. It opens at 8pm and doesn’t close until 3am.
Nang Loen Market: Filled with sweets and dating back to 1889, this is a great market for Thai desserts. Come at lunchtime for savory dishes.
If you’re interested in a special night out, explore Bangkok’s hip dining scene. You’ll find experimental chefs, amazing views, and atmospheric surrounds.
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Bo.lan: Regional Thai dishes, lovingly prepared and immaculately presented, are showcased at this upscale and classy eatery. The chefs strive to honor Thailand’s traditional cuisine (the name, a combination of the two chefs who founed the restaurant, is a play on the Thai word for “ancient:” boran), and use seasonal and local vegetables. We highly recommend it.
Bo.lan is located off the the Skytrain Phrom Phong station, at 42 soi Pichai Ronnarong.
Baan Klang Nam: One of Bangkok’s finest seafood restaurants, Baan Klang Nam is situated in a teak house on the Chao Phraya river, overlooking the
Rama IX cable bridge. Lobster, prawns, crab, oysters, scallops – if it lives in the sea, you can probably order it here.
Chinatown is definitely your best bet for food from Thailand’s northern neighbor, but note that noodle dishes in general are considered Chinese (and are the only dishes eaten with chopsticks); therefore, even a traditional “Thai” favorite such as pad thai can be considered to have a Chinese influence.
Vegetarians should have no problems finding meat-free dishes, especially in popular foreigner haunts such as Khao San Road. Note, however, that fish sauce is often added even if you request that your meal be vegetarian; if you’re not into it, learn to say mai ao nam plaa, “I don’t want fish sauce.”
May Kaidee: A chain of vegetarian restaurants (you’ll find a branch in Chiang Mai), the casual May Kaidee is not only totally meat- and seafood-free, it’s also health conscious. For example, it serves brown rice rather than regular white rice. Check here for its Bangkok and Chiang Mai locations.
Anotai: Casual fine dining, vegetarian style. Though mostly Thai, Anotai exhibits other influences: nori-wrapped tofu with wasabi, for example, or a salad with apples and pine nuts. Many ingredients are organic, and their desserts (blueberry cheesecake, pumpkin cake, to name a couple) get rave reviews. Anotai’s address is 976/17 Soi Rama 9.
After-dinner drinks, afternoon beers, and swish cocktails are all on Bangkok’s drinks menu. Bars close a bit early here, around 1am (giving you more time to dabble in street food), but the great news is that all indoor venues are smoke-free.
Khao San Road: Both the Road and nearby sois fill with backpackers and Thais after dark, all of whom wander, people watch, or play cards at one of the cocktail stalls set up. Though there are a few nightclubs here, none of them are very special.
Patpong: Bangkok’s Red Light District and the home of Thailand’s Go-Go culture, Patpong has a lively, if fairly seedy, nightlife. We wrote a whole post on it here.
Sukhumvit: We like to hang out a Cheap Charlie’s, and so does Bangkok’s working expats. The street stall bar, off of Soi 11, opens at 6pm and is a fun place for a beer or simple cocktail. Take the Nana stop on the Skytrain.
Finally, have fun exploring Bangkok’s countless stalls, shacks, cafes, and bars. There’s lots to discover in the city!
[Photo credit: oksidor, Flickr]