Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the country’s big culinary centres, boasting the cream of gourmet Thai restaurants and the best international cuisines. The rest of the country is by no means a gastronomic wasteland, however, and you can eat well and cheaply in even the smallest provincial towns, many of which offer the additional attraction of regional specialities. In fact you could eat more than adequately without ever entering a restaurant, as itinerant food vendors hawking hot and cold snacks materialize in even the most remote spots, as well as on trains and buses – and night markets often serve customers from dusk until dawn.
Hygiene is a consideration when eating anywhere in Thailand, but being too cautious means you’ll end up spending a lot of money and missing out on some real local treats. Wean your stomach gently by avoiding excessive amounts of chillies and too much fresh fruit in the first few days.
You can be pretty sure that any noodle stall or curry shop that’s permanently packed with customers is a safe bet. Furthermore, because most Thai dishes can be cooked in under five minutes, you’ll rarely have to contend with stuff that’s been left to smoulder and stew. Foods that are generally considered high risk include salads, ice cream, shellfish and raw or undercooked meat, fish or eggs. If you’re really concerned about health standards you could stick to restaurants and food stalls displaying a “Clean Food Good Taste” sign, part of a food sanitation project set up by the Ministry of Public Health, TAT and the Ministry of the Interior.
Most restaurants in Thailand are open every day for lunch and dinner; we’ve given full opening hours throughout the Guide. In a few of the country’s most expensive restaurants, mostly in Bangkok, a ten percent service charge and possibly even seven percent VAT may be added to your bill.
For those interested in learning Thai cookery, short courses designed for visitors are held in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and dozens of other tourist centres around the country.