Living and Working in Bangkok Food
To me, food is one of life's pleasures and in Thailand, we are spoiled. Wherever you happen to venture to in the Kingdom, food is tasty and inexpensive. You will have few problems finding good cheap food anywhere in Bangkok and at any time of the day – one of the great things about the city is that when it comes to food, it really is 24 hours. Bangers is full of zillions of great restaurants and places to eat so if you enjoy your food as much as I do, you'll have a great time! For low income Westerners resident in Thailand, your apartments may not have any kitchen facilities (and may not even have a fridge!) so you may be virtually forced to eat out anyway – damn, no cooking, how I hate that! I believe that you couldn't make the food nearly as well and certainly not as cheaply as any of the street vendors do so why bother even trying? Eating out is quite simply a way of life in Thailand.
First, let me state that many of the big American fast food stores are particularly well represented in Bangkok so if you crave it, a Big Mac fix is never far away. Fast food is a lot harder to come by outside of Bangkok basically because beef is still not that popular with the Thais. The reason for this is because traditionally, Thailand has had an agriculture based economy and buffaloes are used to work the fields in Thailand. To eat an animal so useful is considered a sin by many in Thailand – much the same as the Indian belief. A 1999 Bangkok Post article stated that 58 of the 64 McDonalds restaurants in Thailand are in Bangkok – though new branches are starting to pop up elsewhere. But hell, you are in Thailand, with one of, if not the best cuisine in the world, so why do you want to eat McDonalds et al now?
Western style food can also be found relatively easily in Thailand and frankly, it's pretty good too – if you are willing to pay for the good stuff. Want a good American steak? Yep, you can find that! Succulent New Zealand lamb? No problem! German sausages and sauerkraut? Yep, some great German restaurants here. A good rich, creamy Italian pasta? Yep, that's no problem too. In the more central areas of Bangkok, you will be falling over all manner of authentic Western style food places. However, while I still enjoy, perhaps even need my western food fix, I tend to find that this sort of food is less agreeable with my body in the heat and humidity of Thailand. Eating Thai food simply seems to allow my body to function better in this environment. (When I first arrived in Bangkok, the opposite was true.) Make no mistake, the Western food here is as good as anywhere in the world! About the only Western food that they don't seem to do too well here is bread but if you go to the more expensive bakeries then you can still get decent stuff though it's not cheap.
Good restaurants can be found all over Bangkok. Service tends to be fast and the food that you order is usually brought to you fairly quickly – much quicker than it would be at most restaurants in the West. Usually you won't get all that you ordered at the same time, but often you will get a plate or two at a time…this is indicative of the Thai way of eating where everyone shares every dish – it works with Thai food but not really with farang style food!
Virtually all restaurants in the popular areas, tourist areas, shopping centres etc have menus in English and functional English is usually spoken by the staff. Thai waiting staff have a damned annoying habit of giving you the menu and then standing right over you, waiting for you to order, without giving you an time to look over the menu. Don't be shy to shoo them away and tell them to come back in 5 minutes.
For wine drinkers, the prices charged for a bottle of wine in restaurants varies and can range from unreasonably expensive to totally outrageous. You can take a bottle of wine along to most restaurants and the corkage charge ranges from 200 – 500 baht although some restaurants can charge as much as 1,000 baht and then charge you tax and service on top of that, meaning almost 1,200 baht or in real money, $US30! If you have a big group or are spending a lot, you can often negotiate for the restaurant to waive the charge. Don't be shy to ask. I have found a big smile often works! One of the sad things about the extortionate rates charged for wine in Thailand is that Thailand has a very low duty free allowance with each passenger only allowed to bring one litre of alcohol into the country duty free, irrespective of whether it is beer, wine, whisky, whatever!
There are many good local restaurant chains in Bangkok with branches all over the city. S&P have decent food though the portions are a little small for the price and the service can be a bit slow at times. Their penang gai is a favourite of mine. Another decent bet is Bua that serves food which is fairly traditional in the way it is prepared. See Fah isn't bad and has been in business for over 50 years and 13 Coins is a chain that remains popular and serves large portions – they also have a very extensive menu – but to me, their offerings are not great in the quality stakes. There are several chains offering suki style noodles such as MK and these always seem to be full. Nooddi Bar has a few branches selling all manner of excellent noodle dishes – very reasonably priced with most dishes around 60 – 70 baht. Little Home Bakery have several stores around the city and have reasonable breakfasts, especially if you like pancakes. There are several other chains and most of them are worth trying.
A street vendor where meals typically cost 25 – 30 baht.
If you want to eat cheaply, the street vendors in Bangkok serve tasty food at bargain prices. A meal can be had at a vendor as seen above for 20 – 30 baht. If you want to eat at the top end of the market, head for the glitzy 5 star hotels like The Oriental, The Regent, The Dusit Thani, The Peninsula or The Shangri-La where you could easily spend 1000+ baht per person. One of the great things about Thai food is that even those on an extremely tight budget can get a decent meal for very little money. As an example, a gra-pow gai rard khao (chicken with chilly and basel leaves on rice) at 25 baht on the street or 100 – 200 baht in a flash restaurant won't be that different in taste – it is possible that on the street it may even be better! I used to eat at a favourite street vendor several times a week for a few years before I moved to another part of town. If you are on a budget it is hard to justify going to better restaurants when the food served on the street tastes so good.
The difficulty with eating at street vendors is that there is usually no menu – or if there is, it will invariably be in Thai, incomprehensible to most foreigners. The odd street vendor may have an English menu but you should find that vendors speak some very basic English and “fried rice” is usually understood (though you don't want to limit yourself only to that boring dish). When you decide that you are prepared to eat at such vendors, it is a good idea to take along a phrase book with names of the dishes written in Thai and point to what you want. Point at the phrases and the vendor will be able to make it up for you.
There are various different types of food vendors, usually specialising in just one style of food. Perhaps the most common are the vendors selling barbecue grilled pieces of meat on a stick, pictured here. These vendors usually also sell sticky rice which makes a nice accompaniment. The typical price for a few pieces of meat on a short stick is 5 – 10 baht. Noodle soup vendors are everywhere and sell different types of noodles in a watery soup with a few pieces of meat thrown in for good measure. Known as gooey-deow in Thai, it usually goes for about 20 baht a plate. Many vendors sell pre-cooked curries sitting in trays. You tell them what curries you want (most people get two or three) and they will put them on top of rice. Usually 20 – 30 baht a plate. You may wonder what this food tastes like when it has been sitting there for an hour or two and is cold? Well, because it is spicy, you don't usually realise that it isn't actually hot (temperature) because the spices will hit you. My favourite type of vendors are those who have a wok there and make the food fresh to your order. This type of vendor will typically sell fried rice, chicken / pork with basil leaves and so forth and such dishes usually go for around 25 – 30 baht a plate when bought on the street. Popular with the Thais are the som tum (papaya salad) vendors. These are the folks who you often see pounding a salad in a bowl. There are all sorts of other interesting things that you can buy on the street and you should experiment. At these prices, you can't go wrong.
Many people pass up the opportunity to eat at the street vendors as they feel that the preparation of the food and general conditions are not hygienic. Just remember that all of the food is bought freshly at markets each morning and that the meat is usually stored in a cold box with plenty of ice. I have never found eating at such a place to be a problem – and I don't have the proverbial stomach of iron. I strongly recommend you have at least one meal at a street vendor – it's the way that the Thais eat and after one, I'm sure you'll eat there again and again! If you are still concerned, look and see if there are any expat foreigners eating at the vendors – if there are, that is often a sign that the food is good. I have heard that avoiding vendors on busy roads is wise as lead poisoning is a real danger but I don't know this for a fact. I try and eat at street vendors at least once a day. If you are on a really tight budget, you could eat four meals from street vendors or small street-side restaurants, have a couple of portions of fruit, and a few bottles of generic brand water, all for under 150 baht a day.
There is a certain romance for Westerners eating Thai style on the street amongst the Thais and watching everyday life. But let's be honest about it, hygiene is pretty bad at many of the street vendors. The person who cooks the food is the same person who prepares the food is the same person who collects your payment for the food and gives you your change – and washing hands between each step just doesn't happen. Food dropped on toe ground may not be thrown away but still cooked up and the rag used to dry their hands or wipe the sweat from the vendor's forehead may be the same one used to dry plates. As disgusting as it sounds, I kid you not!
There are many food halls located in shopping centres all over Bangkok. Meals in food halls usually range from about 25 – 60 baht with most meals around 30 – 40 baht. I've never figured out why, but the dishes served in food halls never seem to be quite as tasty as those served at vendors based outside, on the street. Maybe it is just that with the outside vendors, you get a free dose of pollution with your meal?
With the cost of good food being so cheap, you should try and eat well as often as possible. A chocolate bar at 25 baht costs about the same as a plate of fried rice or half a pineapple and a big bunch of bananas. Leave the junk food alone while you are in Bangkok – it is worth visiting this city for the food alone! Many, many restaurants and food vendors will put MSG into the food that you order so if you have an aversion to MSG, you may want to tell them not to put it in.
If you have never visited tropical Asia before, the first thing that will hit you is the unrelenting heat. Newcomers to Bangkok should drink at least two litres more per day than you had been drinking at home. This will reduce the chance of you becoming dehydrated. Note: many people who come to Bangkok suffer diarrhea early in their trip. This is usually attributed to bad food – which may have been the cause. However, it is just as likely to have been due to dehydration so remember to drink as many fluids as you can. If you are offered water, drink it – even if you don't feel thirsty. If you start to feel thirsty, chances are that you are already a little dehydrated. 950 ml bottles of water can be found from as little as 3 baht, but are usually sold at around 5 baht a bottle. I used to drink this type of water when I was new in Bangkok because I was super cheap, but I long ago gave up on them. I tend to stick with the branded bottles of water such as Singha, Minere and Aura. 1.5 litre bottles usually go for around 12 – 15 baht and 6 litre bottles for around 30 – 40 baht. Frankly, I do not trust the cheaper bottles of water and from time to time one reads articles about them containing all manner of impurities. Any water that is offered to you, at someone's house, in a restaurant or in a business situation will be bottled or distilled water and should be ok. I say "should" be because there have been numerous articles in the local press reporting how bottled water is not always that different from tap water… In fact I know of some locals who actually drink water straight out of the tap. It is claimed that many areas of Bangkok are reportedly safe. For peace of mind however, it may be best to stick with the bottled stuff and if you are really paranoid, go for the name brands.
For the drinkers out there, Bangkok can burn a big hole in your wallet. Drinking in Bangkok is often no cheaper than the West if you drink beer, wine or imported spirits in bars that target Westerners. If you are brave and like to try the Thai whiskies, then you can drink cheaply but watch out for those nasty hangovers! Alcohol varies wildly in price but as a very rough guide, a small bottle (330 ml) of Singha beer costs about 60 baht up in Thai style bars, 90 – 150 baht in gogo / girly bars and upwards of 200 baht at the flasher places such as flash bars and discos and the bars in the better hotels. Still, if you want to drink in your apartment, you can get a large (630 ml) bottle of Singha for around 50 baht and other Thai brands such as Leo or Chang a lot cheaper – sometimes as little as 30 baht. A few of these big bottles of beer will see you right. Singha beer has 6% alcohol content which makes it strong by beer standards. Thai whiskies are dirt cheap but some, particularly Mekong, can you give you the hangover from hell. There are a few other local beers available other than Singha including Leo (pretty good) and Chang (not to the Stickman's liking at all). Heineken and Amstel, two great Dutch beers are both brewed locally, decent beers at decent prices – around 35 baht for a small bottle or can in a supermarket or corner store or around 60 – 65 baht for a large bottle (640 ml). Carlsberg, the popular Danish beer, used to be brewed locally but due to some problems between the parent company in Denmark and the Thai operation, it hasn't been available since 2004. You can get most popular spirits imported from around the world here but as you'd expect, they are a hell of lot dearer than the local stuff. As an example of imported beers, in a supermarket, Corona / Budweiser beer goes for around 100 baht per bottle – and a hell of a lot more in a bar! The deal is the same on wines and a bottle that goes for just a few dollars at home costs 500 baht up here! Yikes! I notice that at certain supermarkets, and even some better / bigger department stores, they have a pretty good selection of wines. The biggest that I have seen seems to be in the excellent Villa Supermarket in the Ploenchit Centre – wine lovers, be prepared for a huge shock on the prices of wine! For wine lovers, whenever you have friends visiting from abroad, get them to bring you several bottles at a time – you'll be amazed at how much money this saves!
You can find the excellent Beer Lao in Thailand these days, particularly in Bangkok and other centres popular with Western tourists. Beer Lao is brewed in Laos and was originally created by Czech brew masters, I believe. Many beer drinkers claim it is the best, or at least one of the best beers, brewed in this part of the world. I am of the opinion that it is clearly the best. At this point in time it is only available at a limited number of bars and pubs, many in the Sukhumvit Road area. It is not yet available at the supermarket or at minimarts but it is hoped that that will change soon. Many of us believe that the Thai breweries are preventing its mass distribution in Thailand for fear that it will take over the market. Yes, it really is that good (and the local Thai brewed beers really are not that good at all!)
In 2005 legislation was passed which made the sale of alcohol in supermarkets, minimarts and the like prohibited between 2 and 5 PM – unless you buy 10 litres or more which makes it ok! Yes, this was all rather unusual, and you will see signs in most convenience stores and supermarkets stating clearly that alcohol cannot be sold between the hours of 2 and 5 PM.
There are supermarkets all over Bangkok, some good, some just adequate. The biggest stores are those of Tesco Lotus which are generally massive and pretty much everything is competitively priced. I'm not a great fan of Tesco Lotus because despite the prices, they are bland supermarkets that can get very busy – not a good place if you don't like large crowds. Tops is, I believe, a Dutch chain that carries some imported products, but not a lot of high end products, generally. A few of the smaller supermarket chains carry a better range of imported products and foodstuffs. The Foodland chain, which is about ten supermarkets or so, has a good range of both local and imported goods. For the best range of imported goods, try the Villa Supermarkets which carry both local produce and the best range of imported products. There are a handful of stores in Bangkok but two conveniently located stores are in the Ploenchit Plaza on Ploenchit Road and another not far from Emporium Shopping Centre near Sukhumvit Soi 33. I hear that they have opened a new branch on Thonglor Soi 15 which is supposed to be great, but I have yet to go there myself. The supermarket at the top of Emporium near the food court called Emporium Market is pretty good. In the Isetan department store on level 5 of the Central World Plaza also has a reasonable range of imported products including a lot of Japanese imported products.
While Thailand is a huge exporter of food and food products, there are obviously some food items that are hard to come by in Bangkok. Good coffee can be obtained but not that many cafes or coffee houses (especially the Thermae Coffee Shop!) actually make a good coffee – and for a cheap bugger like me, there really are not that many inexpensive places that do a good, cheap coffee. It's sort of ironic having to pay up to 100 baht for a good coffee when one can pay as little as 25 baht for a plate of food. And there is absolutely nothing worse than paying good money for a supposedly good coffee only to be served it with non-dairy creamer (that's powdered milk). Good, inexpensive red meat is also hard to come by. Coming from a Western country where we are spoiled for everything dairy related, the red meat here really is disappointing. Again, you can get good stuff but it will almost certainly be imported and thus be very expensive. Good lamb is especially hard to come by, unless you are prepared to spend an arm and a leg.
A note about Thai food in Thailand compared to western countries. When you eat Thai food in the West, restaurants tend to stock "gourmet" friend Thai food (arharn dtarm sung in Thai) such as chicken with cashew nuts, tom yum etc. Dishes like this are obviously available in many restaurants but many street vendors and food halls may not carry such dishes. Some Thai street vendors or streetside restaurants only offer one type of dish, or on style of food. They often have plainer dishes like khao mun gai – chicken on oily rice. Try and sample a variety of Thai dishes – not just what you may have previously tried in your home country. Some of the dishes may not sound quite so exotic but are usually delicious. Street vendors also sell all sorts of sweets and desserts at virtual give away prices. I have no idea what half of them are, but more often than not they taste very good. Up until August 2000, street vendors in Bangkok were prohibited from trading on a Wednesday due to a local bylaw that was in place to ensure that the city stayed clean – Wednesday being "cleaning day" but the new Bangkok Governor of the day, himself a gourmand, repealed this bylaw and now the street vendors can legally trade any day of the week – yippee! Update 2006 – Monday is the day when you won't find street vendors.
A friend in Bangkok once told me that the Thais can make anything delicious. When you get in to a few of the less popular styles of food, you will see that all sorts of things are available and from time to time, you may pass street vendors selling insects that look like cockroaches. Yes, the Thais eat these! A warning about them though. These insects are sometimes killed using a DDT based insect killer, a poison. The Thais seem to be able to stomach it ok but farangs eating insects killed with it can suffer nasty allergic reactions and in fact back in the year 2000, two English guys died from eating such "Thai delicacies". Just to make matters worse, some of the insects on sale for consumption are extracted from the shit of buffaloes! You've been warned!
I must say that I always thought the Thai food back in my native homeland compared very well with what is available here in Thailand. I told some of my Thai friends this and they scoffed off at me as a bit of a fool so I dismissed it as a figment of my imagination. I have since learned that pretty much all of the ingredients needed to make authentic Thai food are available all around the world. Recently, a student of mine went to Germany for a holiday and when he returned to Thailand he told me that the Thai food in Berlin was the best Thai food he had ever had!
For the Thais, eating is a very important time and they will usually eat together either with their family, their workmates or their friends. For a Thai, eating alone is a very lonely experience and the ritual of eating together is very much a bonding experience with those close to them. Not only do Thais eat the three main meals but they will often snack throughout the day too. For a Thai, the "pain" of being hungry is actually quite a big deal. While us Westerners are often able to battle on with a busy schedule and miss the occasional meal and make up for it later, a Thai will be most distressed if they do not eat when they feel hungry. While the stature of a Thai is not as big as the average Westerner, they seem to put back a truckload of food!
The way Thais eat is in groups and eating a alone is considered a very lonely experience for a Thai, something many will do everything they possibly can to avoid. Everyone shares the food and with Thai food this works well, but if you go to a farang food venue and are dining with Thais, don't be surprised if some of the diners start to pick things off your plate! Western educated Thais would seldom do this but those from other echelons of society who are less sophisticated may not realise that in the West, we tend to order what we want and at it ourselves! Also, do not be surprised when dining with Thais if they way over order with dish after dish after dish coming in what really can only be described as avarice. Unfortunately when there is a farang at the table – especially in instances when the farang is expected to pay – the Thais may order a ridiculous amount of food. Also don't be surprised when a Thai orders a dessert before eating their main meal! The norms of dining in the West really do not apply in Thailand.
Thailand has a huge selection of fruit and vegetables and a visit to a local market is a must. Some of the fruits that may be common at home such as apples, oranges and pears are not able to be grown in Thailand, are imported and are therefore fairly expensive. I got a hell of a fright once when I went to buy a peach which I thought was 89 baht a kg but was told that it was 89 baht a piece! Also, when strawberries are in season in Thailand, you are looking at about 20 baht for a small bag of locally grown strawberries. A similar sized bag of imported strawberries costs around 150 baht. Basically, imported fruit and vegetables can be very expensive. Imported packaged foods are expensive, but the prices are not usually this steep.
However, Thailand more than makes up for this with some truly wonderful fruit available. The Thais love durian, referred to locally as "the king of fruits". It is just too hard to describe and most Westerners are put off it by it's odour which, the first time you smell it, is not the most pleasant of aromas. However, if you persevere, durian is one of the most wonderful delicacies that one can experience. Mangosteen is another fruit that I have never had back in the west and again, it's just about impossible to describe. Sort of like smaller and sweeter than a pear but much bigger than a grape. I guess the closest thing to it is rambuttan, another fruit that is abundant and delicious, though funnily enough, this is one fruit that I actually prefer to eat canned, as opposed to eating fresh. Lumyai is another of these South East Asian delicacies and my lack of writing skills are shown in my inability to describe these fruits. Rumour has it that some of these Thai fruits, particularly durian, can be dangerous if you consume a lot of it and mix it with alcohol. Urban legend or not, I don't know. Further, durian is said to be the least healthy of all fruits and is incredibly fattening – so don't get addicted otherwise your waistline is going to get a lot bigger. Actually, most farangs don't seem to go for durian which is very much an acquired taste. My personal favourite of the Thai fruits is ripe mango served on top of sweet sticky rice and topped with a sweetened coconut milk – truly delicious.
A great variety of fruits are available at the many markets all over the city where you can get them very cheap. Produce in the supermarket may be dearer but you usually get the good stuff – but can pay quite a bit more for essentially the same thing. All over Bangkok you will find fruit vendors with small carts with ice cooled portions of various fruits for sale – usually 10 baht, sometimes 15, a portion. You get pineapple and watermelon year round and the other fruits tend to vary with unripe mango, cantaloupe, guava, grapes and oranges making up some of the others. At 10 baht, it's a quick, cheap, refreshing and nutritious snack.
Getting good coffee in Bangkok used be a somewhat arduous affair but that is changing and over the last few years the number of cafes with genuinely good coffee is on the increase. While some cafe like establishments are starting to spring up, Bangkok neither has – nor will it probably ever have a cafe culture like Western Europe, quite simply because it is too hot most of the year to sit outside and enjoy a coffee! You can find branches of Starbucks on every corner and there are a couple of local coffee house chains, Black Canyon, and Coffee World. They are about as good as it gets in Bangkok. Some of the better hotels serve decent coffee but they charge silly prices for it. For example, a simply cup of hot coffee at the "library" at the Sheraton Grande on Sukhumvit will run to almost 200 baht – that is almost $US6 – and that is not a fancy coffee, just a regular hot coffee! To make matters even worse, many establishments serving coffee use that horrible Coffeemate milk powder instead of real milk, reliving memories of the old school camps drinking coffee while sitting around the camp fire. If you have any favourite coffee beans, or brands of coffee, you might want to bring a decent supply from home. The cheaper brand coffee can be purchased at local supermarkets affordable enough but the good stuff, say the likes of Illy and Lavassa, are much dearer than home. Damn it!
Sometimes one just craves farang food and no matter how cheap, nutritious and downright delicious Thai food is, sometimes one just HAS TO have their farang food fix. Here are a few of my favourite mid-range places for farang food. I'm not saying that these are the best places to ear or anything silly like that, but simply, these are a few affordable places in central areas that I frequent and enjoy.
The Londoner – Located in the below ground at the corner of Sukhumvit Road and Sukhumvit Soi 33, it might be British in name but The Londoner is more of a cross between a British pub and a German beer hall. The beer brewed on the premises is not to my taste but many people enjoy it but the food is pretty good. Decent sized portions and they use imported ingredients – but it isn't cheap, at least not by Bangkok standards. But don't worry too much about the prices because there are a number of specials and promotions. On Wednesday nights all drinks are 2 for 1. There's also a deal whereby if you spend 1,000 baht or more, you get a voucher that gives 50% off the food on Monday or Tuesday nights. Cocktails and house beers are two for one before 7 PM.
Offshore Fish & Chips – Located on Sukhumvit Soi 23, this is a favourite spot for British, Aussie and Kiwi locals to refuel and get a bit of sustenance in the belly before they hit Soi Cowboy, just around the corner. Laid out like a typical grease pit takeaway from back home, they do a good job of replicating greasy, fatty takeaway grub! The staff can be surly and the service is slow, but the prices are reasonable and the offerings fill a gap. If you are from one of the aforementioned countries, make sure you ask for chips, and not french fries as they are two quite different products. Chips are the fat variety and french fries are ala McDonalds.
Bradman's Bistro – Located less than 100 metres into Sukhumvit soi 23 and almost across the road from the Offshore Fish & Chips outlet is Bradman's, an Australian-owned and run single-shophouse bar and restaurant that does very decent food at reasonable prices. Food here is decent and about 30 – 40% cheaper than what you will pay in any of the British pubs where Western food tends to be a little pricey. It's also an excellent spot to watch sport and if you're an Aussie, they have all the Aussie Rules, league, rugby union and cricket shown live. The venue is a little cramped, but the food is good. Oh, the service is mediocre at best – I only ever eat there and have one drink and then am out of there! It's a great place for food, but I would not want to stick around and watch an entire sports event there.
Molly Malone's – on Soi Convent, just around the corner from the Sala Daeng skytrain station, this Irish pub is fairly busy on weeknights, but not nearly as busy at the weekend, due to the lack of residential housing in the immediate area. They do decent Western food but truth be told, the prices are high – often higher than what you would pay in a similar venue in the West i.e. a cheeseburger and fries at 350 odd baht is not cheap! In addition to the standard menu, they have a good value roast diner buffet every Sunday from midday until 7 PM which will set you back 399 baht – which is a good deal by Bangkok standards.
The Bus Stop – Australian-owned, this Sukhumvit soi 4 institution has decent Western food at very reasonable prices i.e. a cheeseburger and fries will set you back not much over 100 baht. The major downside with this venue is that it is open air so you can get a bit sweaty if you wat there during the day or in the hot season. They show most Australian sports on the many TVs spread around the bar. There are also a few women on the premises who may be available – which may or may not be to your liking.
Bourbon Street – Located in Washington Square, a dingy down-market area just off Sukhumvit Road soi 22 popular with older Americans, particularly Vietnam vets. Amongst the bars in the Square is Bourbon Street, an American owned and influenced restaurant. The menu has a very American slant and as American friends tell me, it is the closest thing to an authentic American bar and grill in Bangkok. There's a small hotel upstairs so the restaurant open for breakfast at around 7 AM and is open all day until late, figure around midnight or so. Bourbon Street runs a special on Tuesday evening when there is a decent Mexican buffet, just 295 baht for good quality, all you can eat Mexican. Also, the eggs Benedict makes an excellent breakfast. The criticisms I have of Bourbon Street is that the Thai food is seriously overpriced and in my opinion, nothing special and all of the prices are subject to ++, being +10% service charge and +7% tax.
Finally, if you really want to have a big farang food pig out, head to one of the better 4 or 5 star hotels that will have the usual evening buffet dinner. Prices vary but at the better places expect to pay around 500 – 1,200 baht++ (the ++ is tax (7%) & service (10%)) for a quality and quantity. My favourite buffet in Bangkok is that of the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit – if you're really hungry and want to treat yourself, even at 1,250++ baht it's a good deal.
Funnily enough, after eating Thai food for a while, you may find that you are not able to shovel down as much Western food as you used to back when you were living in Farangland. This can often mean that while you have a truckload of sumptuous food in front of you, you are only able to nibble down a little and you might wonder at the end when it is time to pay the bill, if you would have been better off just getting a single plate of food. My eating habits have most certainly changed during my time in Thailand. Initially, the idea of a buffet of Western and Thai food would have gone down a treat, but now, I simply don't eat as much as I used to and it would seem like an awful waste of money to pay 500+ baht and only eat a relatively small amount.
The restaurants in the better hotels in Bangkok are amongst the best restaurants in the city. While they may seem expensive by local standards, most offer excellent value for money if you compare to similar places in major Western cities and are in all likelihood subsidized by the room rates which in the 5 star hotels typically go for $US150 – 200 per night. The better 5 star hotels will usually have several restaurants, any of which would likely be a good choice. And at such establishments you are almost always guaranteed of getting good service. The better hotels have to offer this in a place like Bangkok where traffic is so bad and getting out from a hotel to a place to eat can be a nightmare. Many travellers look at the chaos, noise and pollution outside their hotel and figure it is easier to stay in and eat. Speaking of Bangkok traffic and dining out, it seems to be the Bangkok way that people make reservations and while they may have every intention of dining in that particular establishment, if the traffic is bad on the journey there they may just stop and eat somewhere else instead – and not bother cancelling the reservation. This simply seems to be the way here!
I cannot talk highly enough about the selection of international restaurants, the quality of food and, despite significant increases in prices over the past few years, the fair value offered in Bangkok's fine dining houses. If you are looking for fabulous food, it can be found in countless venues. There are just so many such places that I could not possibly name them all. If you are looking for a fabulous setting, two restaurants really stand out, Sirocco which is atop State Tower and Vertigo which is atop the Banyan Tree Hotel. Each of these restaurants is open to the elements and about 60 storeys up in the sky. Sirocco is very pleasant and I am sure Vertigo is too, but I have not dined there myself. Do take your credit card with you though as you're looking at around $US100 or more per head, on average.
In years gone by I would eat out at cheaper restaurants in lower mid-range restaurants but these days I tend to eat at the better places. This is not so much due to increased salary or a change in lifestyle but more that I often felt let down when I went to cheaper establishments. It seemed that there were always mistakes made. The wrong food was brought to me (and sometimes they even lied about it, insisting that what was given to really was chicken, when in fact it was pork). Disinterested service, meals for different people coming at different times and poor service put me off several venues I used to dine out regularly.
Please remember that the information on this site is specifically about Bangkok and it is important to note that outside of Bangkok, specifically in the areas where fewer tourists go, it can be a lot more difficult to find good food. The quality of the meat is not so good, the grade of the rice not as high etc. Finding quality Western food in areas where there aren't a lot of Westerners can be something of a lottery. Yes, you can get good Thai food anywhere in Thailand, but just as in the West, there are plenty of restaurants that serve food that is not nearly as good as the place next door. It is a complete fallacy that every single Thai restaurant serves wonderful food. Some places are overpriced, some have a limited menu, some are not clean and some simply don't make nice food! Talk with other Westerners, or better still, get some Thai friends of colleagues to take you to some of their favourite places – Thais tend to be fussy about food so if they recommend something, it will usually be pretty good. (Just be careful about who is expected to pay!)