Dining in Thailand: A Primer

Food and Drink

Thailand has a huge selection of excellent international and regional restaurants, especially in Bangkok. Thai food is SPICY but most places have adapted to foreign needs and reduced the number of chillies per dish from 25 to 20! If you really don’t like spicy say ‘my ow prik krap’. If you do like your food with some kick, enjoy these fantastic dishes.

A special mention must go to ‘Som Tum’ or Papaya Salad. This is addictive and every place does it slightly differently. Even with all the chillies after a while you can tell if there is too much fish sauce or too little lemon. If you can eat spicy food the best places to buy are on the street. Avoid intimate contact for a few hours after!

Street food, although not looking particularly clean, offers a real look at Thailand. Each stand has its own speciality and there is nothing like sitting virtually on the floor soaking up the atmosphere of an all night street market or bazar.

Try to choose a stand that has other Thai people buying from it or sitting at it. This is normally a good sign that things are clean and tasty.

Chopsticks (ta kiap) are only really used for soups. Otherwise a spoon and fork are used to take small amounts of whatever dish is in the middle of the table and mix it with the rice on your plate one mouthful at a time. Knives are not used at Thai tables, the food should be ‘bite size’.

When eating and drinking with Thai people, as a foreigner you are often expected to pay the bill. This is not because they just see you as a ‘walking ATM’ machine but a social custom of kun yai (big people) and kun noi (little people). Kun yai have money, power and social standing and therefore pay, kun noi do not, but are expected to show respect and gratitude. As a foreigner, you are automatically kun yai (and a walking ATM!) unless you dine with the PM…..

Eating in most places is cheap compared to Western prices so a meal for 4 in an average Thai restaurant should cost around  1000 Bt excluding drinks. You can of course pay as much as you want and there are many top Thai and international restaurants so check before you go. On the street, 4 can eat for around 300 Bt. It is also OK in some places to bring some of your own food; at others, you may be charged – so ask.


Most international brands can be located in Thailand. The only odd thing about drink and Thailand is that when one of the Royal family has a birthday drinking is banned and bars close for 2 days! They say it is time for the family to get together.

Major Buddhist festivals (set according to the lunar calendar), are also alcohol free, these include:

Wan Makha Bucha – Late February to early March

Wan Wisakha Bucha – Late May to early June

Wan Asalaha Bucha and Wan Khao Phansaa – Mid to late July.

Other days – Check with your hotel.

Excerpted and adapted from the ebook “Speak Easy Thai” by James Ann.