From cheap street eats to Michelin-star fine dining, there’s no better way to experience Thai culture than through its diverse food scene. Whether you’re hopping off a tuk tuk to scarf boat noodles ladled by a fourth-generation street vendor, stepping out of an elevator to sip Mai Tais 61 floors up in the sky, or jumping off a boat to cook your own Thai feast by the river, these unforgettable dining experiences won’t only reveal to you Thailand’s spicy, sour, sweet and salty flavours but also its language, geography and people.
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Travel Thailand via your tastebuds
There’s no better way to experience authentic Thai cuisine than via street food – it’s part of the local way of life. For little more than the jingle in your pocket you can fill your belly with exuberant flavours from every corner of the country. Must visit hubs include Bangkok’s Chinatown Yaowarat, the birthplace of the city’s street food culture 200 years ago, where you can munch on crispy-edged oyster omelettes and snack on satay sticks by the dozen. For more traditional Thai, head over to Banglamphu in the city’s old town, where many of the most popular vendors have been stationed for decades, cooking recipes passed down the generations. Pile your plate high with seasonal curries, curried egg noodles or fermented pork sausages before pulling up to a plastic table, Singha beer in hand. From silky rice porridge for breakfast to mango sticky rice for dessert, everything you need to eat in Thailand can be found among the wares of a smiling street vendor.
While Bangkok might be famed for their fast and furiously delicious street eats, it’s also become a top destination for fine dining – look no further than the fact the city is getting its own Michelin Guide later this year. A number of international star chefs have set up culinary playgrounds in Bangkok. Gaggan Anand’s namesake progressive Indian restaurant was named the best in Asia in 2017, and the seventh best in the world. Anand, who trained under Ferran Adria, takes diners on a creative 25-course gastronomic journey with mind-bending dishes such as ‘magic’ mushrooms and sea urchin ice cream. Meanwhile, Australia’s own David Thompson takes Thai cuisine to fresh new heights at Nahm – the coconut turmeric blue swimmer crab curry with calamansi lime is a signature.
After relishing the Thai cuisine’s endless variety and punchy flavours on the street and in restaurants, many are eager to recreate their favourite dishes at home. Cooking schools are popping up all over the country, offering keen students everything from basic one-day workshops to months-long courses. Bilingual chefs will teach you to wield traditional utensils like mortars and pestles and carving knives with aplomb, and introduce herbs like galangal and lemongrass to amplify the flavour of every dish.
At Amita Thai, the day starts with a boat ride down the Chao Phraya river, where you’ll pass by monuments like the Royal Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn before pulling into the Bangkok Yai canal where the cooking school is situated. You’ll then be taken through the nursery, handpicking herbs such as kaffir lime and holy basil to be used in class to cook everything from tom yum goong and green curry to water chestnuts in coconut milk. At the end of it you’ll get to dine on a four-course prepared menu among the school’s mango, star fruit and rose apple trees.
While the hustle and bustle of Bangkok is already magical from the street, soaking in its glittering cityscape from above is a whole other beast. Luckily, the city has several rooftop bars towering dozens of storeys into the sky. Vertigo Bar sits on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel, offering 360 degree panoramic views – on balmy evenings their Blossom spritzer, made with Martini Bianco Vermouth, gin, elderflower honey, lime and orange bitters makes for perfect sipping as you listen to live jazz. If you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter, Octave at the Marriott offers equally spectacular views with less of a crowd. Their signature cocktails all have a Thai bent – there’s even one inspired by the classic dessert mango sticky rice, in which Kristal Thai rice spirit is shaken with mango, coconut milk and pandan.
For a quieter slice of Thai life you’ll want to head south for a bit of ocean living. If it hasn’t been proven already that a lack of four walls an unforgettable dining experience does make, then all doubt will be put to rest with a fine dining meal at Rayavadee on the pristine sands of Railay beach in Krabi. Over in Phuket, you can spend the day feasting on seafood freshly caught from the Andaman Sea at Le Meridien Resort’s beach barbecue, before spending an evening to remember in a private beach cabana at the Old Siam at Thavorn Beach Village, where you and your dining partner get to enjoy local cuisine with sand under your feet and stars above. For something even more unique, book a private candle-lit jungle waterfall dinner with Sarojin in Khaolak, where you're more than welcome to take a dip in the clear night waters after dessert's been cleared.