A couple of years ago, we spent three weeks in Thailand, escaping a dark, cold and wet London winter for the colour, sunshine and excitement of a holiday in Thailand. Although few of us are travelling right now, I know I’m not alone in dreaming about future holidays, and reminiscing about fantastic trips in the past.
One of the best aspects of our trip to Thailand was being able to enjoy fantastic, delicious and highly varied street food all around the country. Our favourite places to buy and eat food were the many ‘night markets’ specialising in food. In some popular markets, food vendors were mingled in amongst vendors selling souvenirs, craft and clothing but the food-only places were our favourites.
Eating street food in Thailand is not only delicious, but is also a great way to taste a large variety of dishes in every meal, not to mention a very affordable way to dine. Here are some of our favourite memories of enjoying street food around Thailand, and a low down on the markets we loved the best in Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Ayutthaya, a small city not far from Bangkok, is best known for the multitude of temple ruins scattered around its historical centre. Because of it’s proximity to the capital, many visitors come for a day trip with transport, a guide, and visits to three or four temples included before they are whizzed back to Bangkok. We self-drove and stayed for two nights so that we could explore the temples at our own pace, visit some of the quieter ones, and also take in what else Ayutthaya had to offer.
The guide books recommended visiting Hua Ro Night Market for dinner, but we really enjoyed our day time visit to the market instead, when the main food market was open and we could wander around exploring all manner of wonderful fruits, vegetables and food products. There were food stalls inside, selling hot, tasty meals to local workers. During the day time, few other tourists were present, though at night time, we hear it’s a different picture.
For dinner we followed the recommendations of staff at our hotel to head to Bang Lan Night Market. Having a rental car made this easy, as we headed into town early evening, parked on a neighbouring street and walked into the market as the last couple of vendors were still setting up. During the day, the road is busy with traffic, but in the evening, it’s blocked to vehicles so that the night market can be held.
Most of this market is dedicated to food with the occasional fashion, make-up or electronic stall thrown in. Some food vendors have one or two small tables set up for their customers, but for others you’ll need to eat on the hoof. Several stalls sell hot food to takeaway which is very popular with local visitors.
We had delicious stir fries of pork and morning glory, some great grilled meat and fish, and lovely desserts which we took away to enjoy later in the evening.
We were a little nervous and unsure of ourselves when we first landed in Bangkok, our arrival point and the first stop on our Thailand itinerary, so we really appreciated Terminal 21, a large modern shopping mall next to Asok BTS Station in which two entire floors are dedicated to dining, including a wide range of street food-style vendors in a food court area. To order from these stalls, you first need to purchase and load some money onto a card which is needed to make payment to the individual retailers. You can either save unspent currency for your next visit or cash in anything remaining before you leave. There are plenty of tables, which are regularly cleaned. This is a great introduction to typical street food dishes for those new to Thailand and feeling a little nervous to head outside onto the street.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is a great place to snack on the go, with a wide range of food, predominantly Chinese but sometimes with Thai influences. It’s worth visiting more than the main Yaowarat road—walk around the old market along Soi Yaowarat 6 and 11 and have a good meander.
Silom Road sits in a bustling business district full of office workers seeking out delicious and keenly priced street food. Soi Convent has some great options including a casual and very busy som tam restaurant we loved, called Hai Som Tam. There are plenty of street food vendors in this area.
Between Banglamphu Market, Soi Rambuttri and Khao San Road, an area known primarily as backpacker central, is a neighbourhood heaving with hostels, bars, nightclubs and a huge array of street foot.
Another must-do is to visit some of the floating markets that are a short distance outside the city.
Many tourists head to Amphawa and Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets, both of which are large and very busy. Instead, we recommend Tha Kha Floating Market which is smaller, and with fewer vendors but those vendors are easily accessible and it’s a very photogenic spot too.
As the largest city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is very firmly on the tourist trail. It’s historical heart has survived relatively in tact, and there are plenty of markets to visit. In fact, Chiang Mai has so many great street food offerings that we didn’t eat any of our evening meals in restaurants, instead visiting different night markets all four evenings.
The Chiang Mai Saturday Walking Street Market (Wualai) and Sunday Walking Street Market (Tha Pae) are both hugely popular, and in high season both are an absolute crush of visitors, making it impossible to walk through the market at any pace. Although we enjoyed browsing for souvenirs and gifts, we found these two markets less enjoyable for dining, with long queues at most food stalls and very limited availability of places to sit and eat.
Visitors can also head to the Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road, which is also popular, with a great choice of food stalls as well as the usual souvenirs on sale. The newer open-air food court next door is more spacious, but also a fair bit more expensive. Indoors is where you’ll find the more crowded, less expensive, and more exciting options including some amazing Northern Thai sausages which I still dream about! We had a couple of drinks in the outdoor space before heading inside to eat, sharing tables with locals and fellow tourists, people were more open to chatting here.
Our favourite night market in Chiang Mai was a small one close to our hotel, known alternatively as the North Market and the Chang Phueak Market, it’s a few paces from Chang Phueak Gate. This market sells hot food, snacks, desserts, drinks and fresh fruit. During our visit, it was busy enough that turnover was brisk and food was cooked to order, but not so crowded that we couldn’t move in the crush nor find a spot at a table to sit and eat.
If you want to buy fresh produce rather than hot food to eat straight away, head to either Warorot Market (Kad Luang) or Sompet Market, a short distance north of Tha Pae Gate.
Chiang Rai is the northernmost city on Thailand’s tourist trail, a small and quiet place located amid a green and mountainous province. It tends to get fewer visitors than Chiang Mai to its south west with many stopping for one night or less, as a stepping point for excursions to the Golden Triangle.
However, it’s well worth giving this beautiful city at least two nights, more if you want to visit a local hill tribe in an ethical way.
We adored Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar, in fact it was our favourite of the whole trip. In a large pedestrianised area were two large seating areas, our go-to being a large open square full of yellow tables and chairs that was surrounded by food stalls on three sides.
Usually one of us would grab a table, whilst the other headed off to get beers. When the drinks bearer was back, the other would go and order some food from one or two stalls, and then it was the other’s turn. Most dishes were soon ready to takeaway, but the hot pot was delivered to our table when ready, with hot broth bubbling away and fresh meat and vegetables to cook inside it.
The range of food was superb at this market, and we tried plenty of dishes during our two nights, including battered vegetables, chicken skewers, omelette-wrapped pad thai, stir fry green vegetables with crispy pork, black sesame pancakes cooked hot on the grill, the wonderful hot pot, and a particularly good sticky rice and mango.
Street Food in Thailand
As someone who’s always struggled with a less-than-cast-iron constitution, I was reassured by the reputation of street food in Thailand as being fresh, of good quality, and made to good hygiene standards. Given that we ate so very many wonderful street food snacks and meals, and that I remained in excellent health throughout the trip, I would say that the reputation is well-deserved.
Do follow the usual advice to select vendors that are busy (and therefore likely to be serving food that is either cooked to order or has been cooked very recently), and of course, you can always ask local visitors if there’s a stall they particularly love and recommend.
This post is sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) as part of their Fan Club Thailand campaign in which previous visitors share our memories of #AmazingThailand #ThrowbackThailand. Well known London restaurant Rosa’s Thai have launched some delicious Thai meal kits for people to enjoy Thai food whilst we are unable to visit Thailand or eat out locally.