Bangkok has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best destinations in the world for foodies. From humble street stalls to classy rooftop restaurants, Bangkok is home to an eclectic food scene. Whatever your budget and whatever your style, there are endless choices in the Thai capital. What makes the best venue to eat is highly subjective, but those featured here offer a variety of options for you to try on your next visit to Bangkok. In no particular order, here are some of the best food experiences served up in the Big Mango.
1) Uncle John
This wonderful little restaurant has been a labour of love for Thai restaurateur, Sanjohn Chamnipa. It was while working as head chef at the luxury Sukhothai Hotel that Sanjohn came up with the idea for his new enterprise which would see him cook affordable 5-star food and serve it up in a simple street-side setting. There is no compromise on the quality of ingredients and you will see Sanjohn working his magic in a tiny open-sided kitchen in front of his restaurant. Uncle John serves up Thai and Western dishes with an adjacent second restaurant concentrating on French cuisine. And after a delicious meal at Uncle John, round off the evening with drinks and music at the nearby Smalls bar or Junker and Bar.
Location: Uncle John is located in Suan Plu Soi 8 off South Sathorn Road. It’s a 15-minute walk to the nearest BTS Skytrain station at Chong Nonsi.
2) Afternoon tea at the House on Sathorn
For a slice of affordable decadence, treat yourself to a classy afternoon tea at the elegant House on Sathorn. Built in the 1900s, the mansion house is now part of the W Hotel and has enjoyed an illustrious history. Over the years the building has been a residence for nobility, an exclusive hotel and a home to diplomats. In recent years the House on Sathorn has been beautifully restored with the elegant colonial-style design and pastel colours providing a striking contrast to the gleaming modern buildings all around. The courtyard of the mansion is a stylish and relaxed venue for a scrumptious afternoon tea and well worth seeking out the next time you are in Bangkok. And if the afternoon tea wins your approval you can always return for dinner too.
Location: The W Hotel adjacent to Chong Nonsi BTS Skytrain station.
3) Eat Phat Thai at Thip Samai
The long queues that form outside Thip Samai are a testimony to the popularity of this restaurant which has often been described as serving the best Phat Thai in Bangkok. Whether Thip Samai lives up to that lofty accolade is open to debate, but with a steady stream of locals and tourists lining up to sample the signature dishes, Thip Samai must be doing something right. There are no advance reservations here so if you do visit be prepared to queue. Watching the chefs at work in the outdoor kitchen is all part of the dining experience and should whet your appetite even before you enter. Opens at 5pm, but queues usually start to form before then.
Location: on Maha Chai Road in the old town area of Bangkok. In between the Golden Mount and the Giant Swing.
4) Dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River
During daylight hours, the Chao Phraya River is still a working waterway with slow-moving barges ferrying goods, and express boats carrying commuters. The river takes on a different look during the evening and there is no better way to see the ‘River of Kings’ at night than an evening dinner cruise. There are plenty of cruises to choose from although some boats are crowded and the service hit and miss. For a more comfortable experience, book a trip on the luxurious Manohra riverboat. The converted teak rice barge travels at a leisurely pace serving up excellent Thai food to go with the nighttime views of some of the most prominent landmarks in the City of Angels.
Location: boat departs from the private pier at Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort.
With a charming setting and celebrity Thai chef Ian Kittichai in the kitchen, Issaya Siamese Club is the perfect choice for a dinner date. The restaurant is housed in a mansion which dates back to the 1920s and with its delightful gardens provides a classic backdrop for what is a modern Thai dining experience. The food is fabulous and the atmosphere agreeably relaxed for such a prestigious restaurant.
Location: Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Road, Sathorn. Not far from Klong Toey MRT metro station, but easier to take a taxi.
It’s a unique name for a restaurant and it’s certainly a unique dining experience. The man behind Cabbages and Condoms is Mechai Viravaidya, a prominent figure in the campaign for family planning and safe sex in Thailand. Mechai once said that it should be as easy to buy a condom as a cabbage, hence the name for the restaurant. Proceeds from the restaurant and the gift shop go to the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) to support their various family planning initiatives.
A visit to Cabbages and Condoms is a novel experience with condom decorations on display all around the restaurant and signs proudly proclaiming, ‘our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy’. It’s a light-hearted approach to a serious issue, but Cabbages and Condoms isn’t just a gimmick. The restaurant is successful because of the quality of the food and the efficient service. With attractive lighting and the gentle lilt of traditional Thai music, it’s also a surprisingly romantic setting for a meal. Take your camera and your appetite and support a good cause. And do pay a visit to the shop near the entrance for some unique condom-themed gifts.
Location: Sukhumvit Road Soi 12, a short walk from Asok BTS Skytrain station.
7) Sample street food in Chinatown
If you want to taste some of the best street food Bangkok has to offer, make a beeline for Yaowarat, the Chinatown district. The area is undergoing some changes at the moment with local authorities trying to regulate Chinatown more carefully, but the sheer number and diversity of street stalls and restaurants makes this district a haven for foodies. You’ll find all manner of dishes here from seafood to som tam and roasted chestnuts to roast duck. The joy of Chinatown isn’t just the food, it’s all the sights and sounds you experience that adds to the enjoyment. Exploring Chinatown independently can be fun, but it can also be overwhelming. Joining a small food tour with local guides is a great way to get the most out of Chinatown. Specialist companies including Local Alike and Expique run recommended food tours that include Chinatown.
Location: Metro to Hualamphong MRT station or Chao Phraya River boat to pier number N5 (Tha Rachavongse).
Located in a striking pink villa in the Silom district, Namsaah Bottling Trust is one of Bangkok’s trendier dining options. The restaurant describes itself as an Asian gastro bar with the menu featuring some classic Thai dishes with a modern twist. Subdued lighting and distinctive decor add to the ambience and if you’re looking for a sophisticated evening in Bangkok with creative cuisine and clever cocktails, head over to Namsaah.
Location: Silom Soi 7 (Soi Sirijullassayvok). BTS Chong Nonsi station.
9) Views of Wat Arun at Sala Rattanakosin
With a menu featuring a tempting mix of Thai and Western dishes, Sala Rattanakosin wins lots of praise for its food but it is the views which make this venue extra special. Overlooking the Chao Phraya River and directly opposite Wat Arun, this has to be one of the best-located restaurants in Bangkok. And if you look out from the rooftop terrace in the other direction you will see the glittering spires of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Pho which are all illuminated at night. This is a small venue which does get busy so be sure to make a reservation in advance. If you can’t get in, there is an alternative next door at the Sala Arun Hotel where you can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere at the Eagle’s Nest rooftop bar. You’ll only find bar snacks here rather than a full menu, but the views are equally spectacular.
Location: Tha Tian Alley off Maharat Road (near Wat Pho)
Nahm has been nominated as one of the best restaurants in Asia. It’s high praise and perhaps no great surprise when you discover that the master chef behind Nahm is David Thompson. The Australian maestro has earned huge respect from Thai chefs for his authentic approach to Thai cooking and he has helped reinvigorate the Bangkok food scene. Foodies can rest assured the mouth-watering Thai dishes you order here will be authentic and not a toned down version for tourists.
Location: ground floor of the Como Metropolitan Hotel on South Sathorn Road. The hotel is just a short walk away from Lumpini MRT metro station.
11) Klong Toey Food Market
It’s hot, it’s crowded, it’s smelly. It also happens to be the go-to food market in Bangkok. Whether you are buying lunch from a street hawker or dining in one of Bangkok’s finest restaurants the chances are some, and quite possibly all, of the ingredients have been sourced from Klong Toey market. If you’re serious about food, this sprawling outdoor market is a fascinating place to wander around. The market is open around the clock, but early mornings (approximately 6am) are usually the liveliest.
Location: approximately a 10-minute walk away from Klong Toey MRT metro station.
12) Cook with Poo
You really can cook with Poo in Bangkok! Poo is a common name in Thailand (it means crab) and is the nickname of Saiyuud Diwong the female chef behind the cookery school in Klong Toey, one of Bangkok’s most deprived areas. Before turning to cookery, Poo worked a number of low-paid jobs and struggled to support her family. With the backing of an Australian NGO and the support of Klong Toey residents, Poo set up her small business selling home-cooked food. After years of hard work, Poo was able to diversify her business and establish her own cookery school for local residents and tourists. The business has gone from strength to strength and although Poo has been successful she hasn’t forgotten her roots. Poo still runs her cookery school in Klong Toey and welcomes overseas visitors.
Location: located in Klong Toey, but transport from central Bangkok (Sukhumvit area) is included in the price.
Through cooking, Courageous Kitchen helps to educate and empower vulnerable youngsters living in Bangkok. With the motto, ‘leaders in the kitchen are leaders in the community’, Courageous Kitchen helps children learn the life skills needed so that they can go on to become leaders in their communities. The person behind the initiative is the affable Dwight Turner, a young expat who speaks Thai and is passionate about Thai food and culture. Visitors can support Courageous Kitchen by joining one of their food tours or cookery classes. See their website for more details.
Location: south-east Bangkok. Pick up arranged from BTS Skytrain stations at Punnawithi or Udom Sok.
The elegant Blue Elephant restaurant and cooking school is housed in a historic building that dates back to the early 1900s. Sympathetically renovated in 2002, this is a lovely setting for those wishing to eat sumptuous Thai food or those wanting to learn some of the secrets to creating quality Thai dishes. The Blue Elephant restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. The cooking school is open on weekday mornings.
Location: adjacent to Surasak BTS Skytrain station on South Sathorn Road.
There is no shortage of rooftop restaurants in Bangkok and for many you pay a sky-high premium for the food to go with the sky-high views. For something more reasonably priced, Park Society and the attached Hi-So Bar offer attentive service and magnificent views over Lumphini Park. And if you have a sweet tooth, check out the indulgent and ever-so-tempting chocolate treats on offer at Chocolab cafe on the ground floor of the So Sofitel hotel.
Location: So Sofitel Hotel (29th Floor) on Sathorn North Road near Lumphini MRT metro station.
16) Bangkok food and market tours
There are a number of companies running Bangkok food tours and trips to local markets. Whether you’ve visited Bangkok before or not, these tours can provide a different perspective of the Thai capital and are a sanuk experience too. Travelling on a night-time tuk-tuk tour or exploring local neighbourhoods on a walking food tour are wonderful ways to sample the Thai capital’s amazing food scene. Check out what’s on offer here:
17) Discover your own favourites
Hopefully, this will prove to be a useful guide for you on your next trip to Bangkok, but sometimes it’s good to forget the guidebooks. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. There are hundreds of dining venues and countless hawker stalls in the Thai capital and part of the enjoyment of eating in Bangkok is discovering new places for yourself. The best grilled chicken and sticky rice may be just around the corner from your hotel. You may stumble upon a vendor selling the most delicious fruit smoothies from a cart in an unassuming little side street. The most memorable food experiences on offer in Thailand are often about the people you meet and the smiles you share. That might be at a plush five-star restaurant or it could be at a simple roadside stall where customers are perched on plastic chairs that wouldn’t look out of place in a kindergarten.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or street stall that you like to visit in Bangkok? Get in touch via social media and share your top tips for Bangkok.
by Roy Cavanagh www.thaizer.com