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It's hard to eat badly in Thailand--either the food is just plain fantastic, or you're too blissed out by the latest dive/trek/excursion to criticize.

My previous trips were mainly intended to dive and drink on remote beaches (success!), but I'm spending the last couple of weeks of April there on vacation and looking to add good eats to the mix. I'll be based out of a friend's house in Bangkok, traveling to Chiang Mai for a few days and probably to my favorite island in the world, Ko Tao, for a short week of diving (but may end up instead in Khao Lak or Trat depending on transport schedules) (but those won't matter as much because after diving, you just want FOOD).

My Bangkok friends are oddly against long dinners (!!), so we'll be eating mostly casual meals, planned by them. But I also will be wandering around Bangkok a bit by myself, as well as marking my 35th birthday with the gang there, so would love some ideas for street food, lunch spots, and at least one night out at a ... remarkable place. Not necessarily a multi-course, crazy, Michelin night, but a ... remarkable one.

Bangkok restaurant ideas?
Chiang Mai restaurant ideas?
Chiang Mai cooking class ideas?
Best non-liveaboard dive site ideas? (OK, that's not about food, but I thought I'd toss it in there.)

Thank you kindly!

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I'm sure your Bangkok hosts will take you anyway but while in Bangkok make sure you check out:

Suan Lum Night Bazaar - Beside some good gift shopping, in the center is a large beer garden (like larger than an American football field big) surrounded by beer and food vendors. Stage up front with bands. Lots of asian and German beers, try and find a vendor serving grilled pork neck!

Chatuchak Weekend Market - This place is massive warren of shopping stalls, of just about every kind, lots of market food vendors...I remember a lady set up with a vat of live prawns and a grill. You could spend good part of day here, it does get very crowded.

Asians do shopping mall food courts very well (unlike American food courts)...there are several large shopping malls in central downtown Bangkok. MBK center, Siam Paragon are all next to each other. MBK has a local food court serving up pig knuckle, soups/noodle dishes, roast meats etc. IMPORTANT - there are lots of places to eat in the mall, the MBK local food court runs off a coupon system (you trade in money for coupons) and is set up american style (ie: food vendors surrounding a central seating area.) Everything is crazy cheap, couple dollars for a plate of food...it may sound weird to go to a Mall while on vacation, but you should at least check it out if you have time.

Tourists stuff: spend an afternoon going up and down the Chao Phraya River visting temples and palaces. The Grand Palace and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn)...you can go up and down the river via water taxis...also consider renting a water taxis and touring the canals. After spening a day walking around the temples it's a nice hour or so of trolling around the back canals of Bangkok.

Finally, figure out the Skyway and Metro transportation systems. It's an easy way to get you around central Bangkok...traffic can be a nightmare.

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I've got to either stop visiting Thailand or just move there. God, what a country. Even in mid-April--the hottest time of year, when you will sweat out your body weight at least once a day if you set foot outside--it is just unfailingly a wonderful place to be.

Yeah, okay, the last couple of months have been rough, but unless something changes radically, I stand by my assessment.

Koh Tao is my idea of paradise. You have to take a plane to an island and then a three-hour boat ride to get there. It's the best diving spot I've been to, and the culture is the perfect middle ground between Koh Phangnan (party!) and Bonaire (maturity!). I don't remember any restaurant standing out, but on Sairee beach, some rules of thumb: Food is always better off the beach, in Sairee village, than on it. Asking for something non-spicy or not-so-spicy is just a request and will probably be disregarded. Whole lobster is a rip off. Nothing tastes better than an egg sandwich made by the captain on the dive boat. Most importantly, you can never go wrong with a banana pancake and watermelon juice.

Chiang Mai. The night bazaar has a food court with a dizzying array of Asian options. I was quite happy with my choice of pork ramen ($2.50), and I picked up some great stuff to take home, including some delicious coconut jellies, chili-lime peanuts, and a big bag of dried "tom yum mix"--a football-sized mess of dried chilies, lemongrass, ginger, and all sorts of good stuff. The sweet and sour pork at Le Meridien tastes exactly the way you want sweet and sour pork to taste but which you never can quite find.

Bangkok. Bless the demonstrators, they stayed quiet while I was in town and I had two spectacular nights out painting the town. The first night, we did a bar hop. We started at Mali in Sathorn. It's a charming little neighborhood spot. We only drank beers, and I wouldn't be inclined to travel for it, but it's a nice little local.

Onward, we went to Witch's Tavern, a nice little spot with a great beer list, and--at least the night we were there--good live jazz guitar (I hear that other nights the music ain't so great).

Then to The Iron Fairies. This place would be swamped every night if the bouncers didn't enforce the customer limit--as well it should be. This place is just a sweet, sweet bar. Two stories of quirky, somewhat creepy antiques and dark, old wood. A three-piece jazz band. Silent 1920s movies projected onto the walls upstairs and in the strange, strange bathroom. The manhattan I had wasn't great, but the burger is probably the best I've had outside of the United States. The Iron Fairies is THE place to be, and totally deserving of the honor.

But we had places to go and things to see, so we took off and crashed a friend's party, then ended the night at Mr. Wong's back in Sathorn. Mr. Wong is a classic dive bar--it opens at 10pm, Mr. Wong is there every night, and it is one of the few bars left in Bangkok that allows smoking. You grab your beers out of a cooler and pay at the bar. On the small TV in the corner, they play an endless loop of 1960s-1980s videos. I have no idea when it closes. The next night was my birthday, and Mr. Wong treated me to a flaming shot of god-knows-what and led the packed bar in a round of "Happy Birthday" to me. When we left at 4:30, there were still more people coming in than leaving.

But I'm getting ahead of myself! After staying up until 6am the bar-hopping night, we needed to meet people at 5pm the next ... morning??? on my birthday at Hyde & Seek, another fantastic bar. Lucky for me, with its great patio and some seriously awesome cocktails, this place had me out of my hangover in a hot minute and would be on my regular rotation if we had one in DC. The cheese plate was quite good; the calamari wasn't, but friends said that was an anomoly and it had been much better in the past. Nice service touches too, including quietly putting a scentless burning mosquito repellent under our table at sunset. Great place. Moderately expensive.

For dinner, my friends took me to the Blue Elephant. A chain, yes, I know, but they chose it for me and let me order for everyone, and it was a beautiful restaurant with excellent service. The prices were staggering; the food, while good, unfortunately, was not quite worth the price--except for the masaman lamb, which is, hands down, the best masaman I've ever had and probably the best dish I had in my two weeks in country. For a special night for a foodie, I might pick somewhere else, but we had a wonderful dinner nonetheless. Handing every lady an orchid on her way out was a nice touch.

Then Mr. Wong's and a flaming shot and god knows what else...

God I love Thailand.

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Although we only had a planned group meal for 40 at Face (in the gorgeous, private Buddha Hall), I wouldn't hesitate to go back there in a second. I can't believe that I've never had the pomelo salad before, which is apparently as common as the green papaya salad, but which has now edged out the old standby as my favorite Thai salad. This, the whole fish, the masaman curry (not usually one of my favorites), the chicken with cashews, the veggies, the coconut sorbet--everything was top notch, and the service was exceptional. I can only imagine how good it would be if I got to pick my own menu. Awesome.

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I was passing through--literally in Bangkok for 36 hours--but had a chance to have dinner at Hemlock. I found it on a Lonely Planet forum, which isn't necessarily the highest form of recommendation, but I was in a pinch and gave it a shot.

It was fantastic. We started with a miang kham-style dish, with betel leaves arranged around a bowl containing green mango, dried shrimp, maybe some lemongrass, some chilies, and perhaps some onion. Fantastic.

Next we had the banana flower salad, which was very rich, flavorful, and alone would have made a pretty good meal.

After that, two further dishes: the isan sausage, sour-sweet sausage with sticky rice inside, served with fresh ginger, cabbage, and very hot chilies, and Indonesian fried rice. a cumin-flavored fried rice with strongly flavored bitter beans. Interesting and worthwhile.

I'm not sure when I'll get back, but the next time I'm in Bangkok this place is at the top of my list.

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I'm helping my husband plan a vacation for November, and he's going to be in Chiang Mai for a week. This is his first visit to that part of Thailand. Has anyone been recently or have recommendations? He'd love to try "street food," but isn't sure how safe it is. I've shared the recommendation above for the night bazaar. TYIA!

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Eating Asia is one of the best SE Asian food blogs around, the authors write frequently for food magazines and newspapers (NY Times, Saveur etc.)...they have numerous posts about Chiang Mai. Should be a good starting point...and great photos!

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Eating Asia is one of the best SE Asian food blogs around, the authors write frequently for food magazines and newspapers (NY Times, Saveur etc.)...they have numerous posts about Chiang Mai. Should be a good starting point...and great photos!

Thank you so much! This looks like a huge help! His other week is going to be in Siem Reap, and I'm sure we can find recommendations for that leg of the trip on this blog as well!

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Thank you so much! This looks like a huge help! His other week is going to be in Siem Reap, and I'm sure we can find recommendations for that leg of the trip on this blog as well!

Yep, in fact Eating Asia just did a series of posts from Siem Reap last month.

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Thank you so much! This looks like a huge help! His other week is going to be in Siem Reap, and I'm sure we can find recommendations for that leg of the trip on this blog as well!

At Angkor, get noodle soup from the side of the road for lunch. Seriously, it's delicious, cooked hot enough to kill any yuckies, and costs a dollar. No need to schlep around with food from Siem Reap, or pay a mint for a hot dog at the tourist centers.

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At Siem Reap I highly recommend two places: One is Khmer Kitchen, which was so delicious we went there twice. The other is a small Burmese restaurant that looks like little more than a garage, almost across the street from Viroth's restaurant - it was WONDERFUL! Get the tea salad.

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I've lived in Bangkok for a year now (with a year to go before heading home) and I've been stuck on how much to post up on Bangkok dining for Rockwellians. There is basically too much to eat here to do justice to unless you're eating professionally, four meals a day.

However, when you're in town you need to hit two food sectors and then you can be done. Otherwise you'll go insane trying to find "the best _____" in town and end up in screaming matches with cab drivers because obviously his cousin makes better som tam.

First is street food, so find a grouping of carts that looks busy and look for three things- kanom krok, which are sweet coconut dumplings that are cooked on a giant ebelskiver pan. While these cool (because the filling is molten long after you're able to pick them up and will totally scald your tongue with coconut milk hellfire) look for the fried chicken drumsticks cart. These involve a thin rice flour coating that is lighter than tempura and should come studded with bits of fried garlic. Then, if you're lucky, find the grilled egg on a stick cart. As far as I can tell, they take eggs, blow out the contents through two small holes in the shell, whip the eggs with pepper and soy sauce, cook it until it starts to thicken, pour it back into the egg shell, then skewer the whole egg back through the holes, then put a stick of three eggs over a fire. You end up with a hardboiled egg that tastes like a divine smoked omelette.

The second sector is sit-down restaurant fare, though you can find street food centers that have some seating (sometimes covered from the rain, too). In a generalization, if it comes with rice on the side that isn't given to you in a small plastic bag then you've moved into the second sector. I've had good luck with a place called Taling Pling, which is in the Central World mall on the food mezzanine level (not the giant food court). They have excellent curries (massaman duck is not something I've seen often in the US and it's a shame because it works much better than beef) and delicate fried dishes (chicken wrapped in pandan leaves or chicken fried with kaffir lime and a tamarind sauce) that are representative of what you eat when you're not eating on the street. It's a lot more expensive (meaning $6 a dish, it's relative) but you get napkins in return. Not unlimited napkins, mind you, because this isn't America.

There's a third sector that I haven't explored as deeply, the seafood places that hang out over the river. Maybe an update in the future?

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Hexerei, thanks for this information. It will surely be very helpful to someone in the near future.

Have you been to Chiang Mai? My husband is going to spend a few days there in November and is looking for tips and recommendations. He has some, but if you've been and have suggestions, please consider posting them here.

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Hexerei, thanks for this information. It will surely be very helpful to someone in the near future.

Have you been to Chiang Mai? My husband is going to spend a few days there in November and is looking for tips and recommendations. He has some, but if you've been and have suggestions, please consider posting them here.

Scottee, sad to say we haven't made it up to Chiang Mai yet, though there may be a weekend trip for Thanksgiving. I'll ask around, though.

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Since we are talking Chiang Mai, I will post this nugget from the Wash Post food blog:

Adam Sobel’s excellent ad­ven­ture in Asia:

"In Chiang Mai, I was lucky enough to catch the celebrated Sunday market. This is a 500-year-old tradition, in which much of the Old City becomes a pedestrian thoroughfare and hundreds of vendors sell food, art, handicrafts and much more. It was more than a feast for the eyes. It was here that we ate amazing Thai sausages seasoned with chiles, spices and kaffir lime leaves; I also had the best pad Thai I have ever tasted."

Chiang Mai, Sunday, Old City...the place to be.

Also, for any Koh Samui travelers, EastigAsia on assignment (with some awesome food porn photos!)

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We're headed to Bangkok for a few days in early January.  I now have a good sense of which malls to visit and the restaurants where locals like to eat (Krua Apsorn, P'Aor), but still don't know if we should bother with any of the fine dining options.

Nahm and Bo.lan are the "conventional wisdom" candidates, as they get most of the mainstream press, but some folks claim that the food is more catered to Western palates than authentic.  Others disagree.  I don't know who to believe?

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We're headed to Bangkok for a few days in early January.  I now have a good sense of which malls to visit and the restaurants where locals like to eat (Krua Apsorn, P'Aor), but still don't know if we should bother with any of the fine dining options.

Nahm and Bo.lan are the "conventional wisdom" candidates, as they get most of the mainstream press, but some folks claim that the food is more catered to Western palates than authentic.  Others disagree.  I don't know who to believe?

I eat mostly street food in Bangkok. Look for the lines, then buy it. If you don't like the first bite, but something else. Restaurants are for suckers and are much more likely to be unsanitary as the culture is not used to food production in that manner. Stick to places, i.e., street stands, that serve one or two items with a lot of turnover.

I also highly recommend a walk through the khlong toey market. Amazing food scene. Don't plan to eat there though, just walk around.

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I eat mostly street food in Bangkok. Look for the lines, then buy it. If you don't like the first bite, but something else. Restaurants are for suckers and are much more likely to be unsanitary as the culture is not used to food production in that manner. Stick to places, i.e., street stands, that serve one or two items with a lot of turnover.

Does your advice remain the same, if we're traveling with a toddler?

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Does your advice remain the same, if we're traveling with a toddler?

I've only been there with a three year old and a six year old. Same kid, now seven. So, yes. Try a bite first to see if too spicy, but generally they will let you know and shake no to indicate the kid won't like it. She loved the street fruit with sugar dipping too. For adult breakfast, go for the soup in bags all over the place. They are awesome. I found my kid wasn't down with that, so I often resort to the bagged bready things at the 7-11s; on average three in every block. But otherwise, almost everything she has eaten there (for weeks at a time) has been from a cart.

Also, the kid loved khlong toey when she was three, but watch for the motor scooters. They are fast, furious, and everywhere. We also decided not to let her drink any of the ice teas there. Seemed a little suspect.

One more, unrelated to food. I highly recommend a visit to the travel doctor for vaccines, family-friendly Deet lotion (dengue-prevention) and a review of the malaria map if you haven't already. We have changed travel plans slightly on each trip after looking at the details.

As for food issues, we investigated thoroughly and discussed a lot with my sister-in-law, a Thai woman who has worked in high end restaurants in Thailand for years, and she explained how the culture is so tied to single item stands that the general restaurant workers don't really understand about cross-contamination. It causes a lot of problems. Thus it is best to look for high volume stands. Bonus, they have the best food.

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9 hours ago, Simul Parikh said:

Anyone go to Gaggan in Bangkok? On the top restaurants in the world lists. Have a reservation in December, but reviews seem hit or miss.

It will be hard for you not to go - especially if you'll be in Thailand for a week. You're looking at 5,000 Thai Baht ($150) per person, and you'll kick yourself if you pass it up. You're a crusader for Indian cuisine as modern, fine dining, so this seems like a natural fit for you.

Honestly, the photos on the website impress me as art more than cuisine, but the Chef (Gaggan Anand) seems to be really trying.

A Modern Indian restaurant in Thailand - that's a pretty cool chance to meld two cultures.

"Best Restaurant in Asia?" I doubt it seriously (I mean, look at this (and note the sous-vide that comes afterwards)), but who knows? I wouldn't trust these group-assembled "Best Of" lists. I'm sure that's a fine dish, but *Best Restaurant in Asia*?! 

"No wines allowed from outside" would make me email them and ask for a sample wine list, just so I'm not held hostage.

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Makes sense.

Only will be in Bangkok a day or two, I found it to be such a tedious city with traffic/pollution. Rest of the time on beaches and the Mae Hong Son loop.

I think one of the repeated major complaints was about the wine list... 

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Anyone do the Mae Hong Son loop? Going to do that very soon, and wondering if anyone had food suggestions... heard getting sick in Pai is a well known tradition.

S

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