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The smallest "shop" to eat out is doubtless the food stall or "hawker", as it is shown on the left hand side picture. In the car snacks are being sold. It is well possible, however, that in a car like this complete meals are being sold, for people to take home. A situation like that is shown in the right hand side picture. You can either take the food from that stall home, or eat it on one of the small tables they also have.
These "hawkers" play an important part in the food chain in Thailand. At dinner time (when it is dark already; it is always dark there at around 6 p.m.) they have their "rush hour", when many people on motorcycles or by car come to buy some snacks or complete meals there to take home. Especially at this "rush hour" the food has been freshly prepared and is therefore safe to eat.
As far as your health is concerned: The danger with very small restaurants on the streets is, that the plates are often not washed properly, because the stall does not have access to fresh water. So, if you want to eat your meal "on the spot", you should look how they do the washing up. If they take the plates inside and wash them in a proper kitchen, it is OK. If they wash them on the street, it is probably not OK for us Westerners!
This picture shows the smallest "restaurant" I can imagine, and I only know one place in Bangkok where you can see a restaurant like this. It is at the "Wat Pho-side" of the Pak Klong Talad flower market. In fact this is no more than a table on which the owner does the cooking, while the guests are sitting around the same table and have their meal. This "restaurant" is definitely not meant for tourists! This restaurant was there when I was for the first time in Thailand, in 1989, and it was still there in 2012!
Then there are the -probably- most popular restaurants with the Thais. They are open to the street and the cooking is done near the street. You point at what you would like to eat, and inside you will be served. If you hesitate if this place is as hygienic as you would like it to be, take a look at how the cooking is done and decide then. But generally spoken you can safely eat in these places.
If you have been shopping, I can recommend to take your (simple) dinner afterward in the "Food Center" of the Department Store. You buy coupons (or nowadays you sometimes get a magnetic card), with which you can pay your food at the small food shops, located next to each other. You will find an interesting choice in such a Food Center. They come in many varieties. From quite simple (left hand side picture) to large (right hand side picture).
You get your money back for the unused coupons (unused balance on your magnetic card). Refund them, because they are only valid for one day!
Now we are coming to my favorite type of restaurant: one of the numerous "Riverside" restaurants". You find them everywhere in Thailand where there is a river or where there is the sea, and you do not only get a delicious meal there, but also a magnificent view over the river or the sea. (There is a river in most places in Thailand, as you will soon discover). The picture I show here was made in Bangkok. There are many riverside
restaurants, and some come, others go. In the past five years I have
seen two of my favorites disappear.
The picture above shows you a good riverside restaurant in Bangkok, opposite the Royal River Hotel. (The name has changed a few times through the years, but the food was always good when we were there. They speak English and you have a lovely view.
Next to the Royal River Hotel, near the Express Boat pier is another good restaurant "Kanaab Naam" (picture lost somehow), where most evenings you can also listen to live music. Their English is not very good.
Now we are coming to restaurants that look more or less like the ones at home. However, somehow they look more charming than at home. Above you find two examples of simple, but very attractive restaurants, with excellent food. The left hand side one is in Phuket Town, the right hand side one is at Ratchadamneun Avenue in Bangkok.
One restaurant deserves a place of honor on this page. It is on the left hand side picture above. It is called "Mae Porn", is located in Phuket Town. It was located on one of the best spots in town (roughly opposite the On On Hotel). Sadly some bank found it necessary to build a high building on this spot, and Mae Porn had to move (around 2000) to the location on the picture. This new location is hard to find and the most foreigners who ate there day after day, because Mae Porn was an excellent restaurant, stay away now. Known all over the World once, now almost forgotten (but still good). Mae Porn.
As I said before: Hotels and restaurants come and go in Thailand. So some of this information, although correct in 2012, may already be outdated! I have seen good restaurants disappear, but - luckily - I have also seen also good restaurants appear.
Some final remarks about eating out in Thailand:
- In the "business district" (Ratchadaphisek Road) restaurants can be unreasonably expensive. Check the menu there before entering. I have been unpleasantly surprised by the bill of the restaurant in the Emerald Hotel for a not really good meal.
Not far from Don Muang airport you find Rama Gardens. This is a good, but also unreasonably expensive restaurant.
- What should you order? Many restaurants have a menu with pictures, to make things easy for foreigners. Don't be afraid to order something you do not know. Most Thai dishes are not spicy! If they are, you will mostly be alerted by the menu. Northern dishes are often spicy.
- For years "Tamnak Thai" has been in the Guinness Book of Records, for being the largest restaurant in the World. They serve you on roller skates. True or not, the quality of the food is far from good, however). Having not been there for quite some years, I am not certain if it is still in business.
- A lunch in the Chinese restaurant of the Oriental Hotel is something not to be missed. Apart from the Chinese restaurant, they also have a Seafood restaurant across the river and a normal Thai restaurant in the hotel. The Oriental Hotel is an experience of its own. All these restaurants are affordable.
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