Food is another of Bangkok's greatest draws; newly launched, cutting-edge restaurants compete with traditional Thai diners here, and almost all are excellent. I've listed some of the best in this guide.
If you have tasted Thai food back home, it may not necessarily taste like the stuff you're about to try here. What you'll eat in Bangkok will (with any luck) be the real thing; be warned that many restaurants catering to foreigners in big resort towns adjust their Thai cuisine radically to cater to foreign palates. Happily, Bangkok offers many authentic choices, from simple noodle stands to sophisticated, upmarket joints. You don't have to limit your diet to Thai food either; the city is one of the best places in the world to dine out on international fare. Check the free listings magazines, such as BK Magazine, and you may even stumble across a visiting chef from an overseas Michelin-starred eatery making a quick visit to a five-star hotel or an annual food festival.
You will not go hungry in the Big Mango, and the truly adventurous will find interesting and more authentic fare off the beaten track in smaller roadside eateries. Prices vary from really rock-bottom-priced street food to unashamedly wallet-melting, posh new restaurants. But on the whole, menu costs are comparatively reasonable. You'll be able to eat well for around 1,000B for two, even at some of the town's better restaurants. (If you order wine, Thai taxes on good vintages mean you may double that figure, though.)
Silom & Surawong Roads
This is where you'll find the country's most expensive joints, nestled a few meters from busy street vendors and more familiar fare, ranging from McDonald's to pizzas. Head to the basements of any large shopping mall (for example, Silom Complex), great value Japanese sushi chains such as Fuji, or small cafes serving different noodles or Chinese hot pot to find excellent low-priced dinners. This area also has many independent restaurants; but beware, the majority serve up Thai food for tourists, so look out for places patronized by locals for more authentic eats.
Banglampoo & Khao San Road
Khao San Road used to be Bangkok's busy backpacker quarter, but it's moved rapidly upmarket in recent years. It's still where you'll find every manner of food, from kosher and halal cuisine, to Italian, as well as tasty Thai food served streetside. Avoid the blander versions of Western food served at budget guesthouses, but do have a seat somewhere along the busy road, order up a fruit shake, and watch the nightly parade of young travelers. Below are a few well-known choices near Khao San.
Dinner Cruises On The Chao Phraya River
There are a number of tour operators who offer dinner cruises along the Chao Phraya River. These vary from massive, floating discotheques with all-you-can-eat buffets to plush rice barges with delightful old-world decor and more intimate surrounds. Most offer special rates for children. All serve Thai set dinners or buffets; less pricey cruises may just offer cocktails at sunset. Some may come with traditional music, live rock bands, or Thai dance shows, depending on the operator. Based out of the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa, the Manohra, Manohra Moon, and Manohra Star (tel. 02477-0770; www.manohracruises.com) are elegantly restored rice barges that offer dinner and cocktail cruises on the Chao Phraya River, from 2,500B. Numbers are limited and boats can be chartered for private functions. The Shangri-La Hotel (tel. 02236-7777) offers a totally different experience on the gargantuan Horizon II; this neon-drenched vessel heads upstream with Thai and Western pop music blasting out from 8 to 10pm and offers fun-packed nights of feasting and dancing. Cruises start at 2,200B. Similar in style to the Horizon II is the Grand Pearl cruise (tel. 02861-0255, ext. 201; www.grandpearlcruise.com), with rates from 1,500B, while another rice barge option (though carrying more passengers than the Manohra) is offered by Loy Nava (tel. 02437-7329; www.loynava.com), with two sailings daily at 6 to 8pm and 8 to 10pm; prices start from 1,500B.
Most cruises start from their respective hotels, or in the case of the two latter cruises, leave from River City Shopping Mall pier, next to the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel.
Bangkok Cheap Eats
As in most areas of the country, the city's many night bazaars and hawker stalls are where you'll find the best eats, but those who are nervous of tummy bugs or who are not inclined toward culinary adventures would do well to stick to the many food courts usually located inside shopping malls. Here, young Thais enjoy cheap eats in the luxury of air-conditioning; they can get packed with office workers noon to 1pm. In all food courts, you should buy coupons first, and cash in any you don't use afterward. In addition to the ones reviewed below, other notable food courts include All Seasons Place, Emporium, Siam Square, MBK, and the CentralWorld's Loft concept. All are usually located on the top floor or basement of stores and resemble simple self-service cafeterias.
The city's small, open-air joints and markets are also popular for snacks and quick lunches; they open Tuesday to Sunday from dawn until late. Food vendors are now banned on Mondays in Bangkok, in an effort to free up the already cluttered pavements. Eating right next to smoke-belching buses may not be your idea of gastronomic heaven, but being surrounded by the pungent aromas of garlic, chili, and barbecued meats, as well as the cacophony of the traffic or glaring lights, makes it a totally Thai experience. On the other hand, if you are missing hearty home fare or a sugar fix from Western desserts, fear not; even budget-strapped travelers can enjoy a range of clean and hearty dining spots all over town, at all hours.
Surawong and Silom Roads -- Every day except Mondays, the length of upper Surawong Road (the end closest to Rama IV Rd.) is a cluster of snack stalls and fruit vendors that spill into adjoining Thaniya Plaza. In places such as Soi Convent off Silom Road (close to California Gym), you'll find stalls selling crab and shrimp, noodles, fried vegetarian patties, and delicious boiled chicken on rice.
Suan Lum Night Bazaar -- Just next to Lumphini Park, this sprawling shopping compound has been slated to be torn down for years, but things move slowly in Thailand, so it is still operating. The open-air food court is hardly Thai haute cuisine, but it's open from 6pm and costs little. Because it boasts a large central stage, you'll be serenaded by Thai rock bands who belt out deafening (and pretty tuneless) renditions of Western hits during your meal. Prepurchase food coupons (about 100B is enough) and choose from the many stalls.
Siam Paragon Food Court -- Right at Siam BTS, this glitzy megamall doesn't just cater to big-brand boutique shoppers; downstairs, it has a host of low-cost diners, pastry shops, and ice-cream parlors, as well as classy restaurants. The cheaper food stalls have just about every type of fare, including Thai, Indian, Japanese, and Vietnamese.
Khao San Road Area -- Starting from Phra Arthit Road, cutting through Soi Rambutri and heading toward Khao San Road, leads you past heaps of low-budget diners that serve Thai and Western food. Look out for great BBQ fish, served hot off the coals, or sizzling satays. These small-time diners extend to the busy Rambutri Road (parallel to Khao San Rd.), and many cater to late-night nibblers. Apart from Burger King and McDonald's, there are also plenty of stalls selling cheap pad Thai, Chinese congee (johk), or fried rice.
Look for the snack stands along Sukhumvit Road (also Khao San Rd.) that sell all sorts of fried insects. Grasshoppers, beetles that look like cockroaches, scorpions, ants, and grubs are all favorite snacks for folks from Isan, in the northeast, where bugs, in fact, are cultivated for the dining table and are an important source of protein in the region. How does it taste? Crickets are a bit like popcorn, and the beetles are something like a crispy chicken. Even if you don't indulge, it's a great photo op.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.