Food in Thailand - Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle - November 2015
Thailand is one of the best counties for eating in the world. In this 'Land of Smiles' they forgo the usual 3 time a day diet in exchange for many small meals. As a result food is everywhere. Meals aim for balance, sometimes each bite is salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter at the same time. A full sit down meal will likely range from cold to hot, spicy to mild, saucy to dry, even raw to cooked. The range of food in Thailand is impressive and seemingly never ending in its regional variations from the South, to Bangkok, to the Northern style and to perhaps my favorite style Isan which comes from the North East. The food is inexpensive, often spicy and always delicious.

View this trip's non food pictures:
View the food pictures from my first trip to Thailand in 2013:

We landed in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport at about 12:30 AM on a Sunday, grabbed our bags, took a cab to our hotel, and washed up before heading out for some late night food. Out hotel was conveniently located just a few blocks from Sukhumvit 38. Unfortunately most of the food carts were closing up by the time we arrived, but we did get a bag of chicken skewers with peanut sauce and cucumber slices.

By the time we finished our chicken skewers it was around 2:00AM but we still needed a good meal after 24 hours of flying with a brief stop in Tokyo. We walked a few blocks without finding anything open, but eventually we noticed the lights of Kuang Pochana.  We saw only locals eating on the street and a big diverse menu of mainly Bangkok style Thai food so we knew we were in the right place. The Tom Yum Goong, Stir Fried Collard Greens with Pork, and the Shrimp Salad where were all very good. The only miss was the egg omelet/broken crepe which was mushy, under cooked and oily

By 3Am, some late night exploring brought us to an early morning market just getting started. We did not eat anything but we saw endless rows of food, living, dead and preserved.


Cats are everywhere in Thailand. Always relaxed, they go where they please. 

The next morning we flew to a place very special to us, Chiang Mai, Thailand. As most places in Thailand, there is food everywhere in Chiang Mai. Here on the side of the highway in front of a restaurant, this woman has a huge pile of bamboo shavings. Behind her is the result, stuffed with rice and grilled over coals until hot and gooey. I've eaten this on the side of the road in Cambodia, in the north and south of Thailand, and its always absolutely delicious, especially when its fresh. It is on the sweet side, sometimes cooked with coconut milk and stuffed with beans. One of my favorite street treats in Southeast Asia.

Next to her were 2 friendly people with their own specialty....

Freshly fried Pork Belly and Nam Phrik. The spicy, bright chili dip cuts the fatty meat. Oily but good.

Chiang Mai has multiple night markets, each with their own food court serving a wide variety of Thai foods with some Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese and other styles including at times. The biggest one each week is the huge Sunday Night Market where the main street and a few adjacent streets are closed to traffic and opened to vendors selling a surprisingly high quality variety of arts, crafts, and other touristy stuff. As usual in Thai markets, the food is clustered around the middle of the market slightly off the path, a trend we witnessed again and again. In our first night back in Chiang Mai the Sunday market offered endless options for food, my first stop of course had to be the classic Thai dish, Som Tam, one of my favorites. A nice cold, clean, spicy Green Papaya Salad to start a night of eating.

One of the few places with seats in the night market serves bowls of noodles in a light broth with seafood, peanuts, roasted garlic and cilantro.

One morning we skipped the adequate but uninspiring breakfast at the hotel to venture out for something a bit more authentic. Around from the corner from our hotel was a restaurant with at least 20 covered metal pots out front and the owner/cook in front dishing out plate after plate of freshly cooked Thai food. There was no English menu, and no 'wifi password' sign anywhere, so we knew this was our best bet for breakfast. Indeed it was a perfect start to the day. Admittedly not every dish was as warm as we would have liked but the food was delicious and filling. We got our usual eggs, Hor Mok the fish custard steamed in Banana leaves, sauteed pork in a sweet soy based sauce, and the best dish, warm pumpkin with eggs, a umami bomb of flavor we loved. The meal was just a few dollars including a fresh lime juice and as usual they were very friendly.

 Around the other corner from our hotel, down a long alley was where we found the local congregation of food hawkers. No tourists, but packed with locals slurping their morning noodles, this was another great morning stop.

Delicious, rich, warm dark pork noodle soup with pork balls and braised pork parts. Great filling start to the day.

One of the best parts of traveling for me is experiencing new languages, cultures and especially new flavors.  This fruit, not even well known around Northern Thailand and certainly nothing I've seen or heard of in America is called Salak or Snake Fruit. Sour and sweet with an amazing funky slightly gooey texture after its pealed.

I think its fair to assume you can judge the quality of a mall in Asia by its food court, or as is the case in most Asian malls, its food floor. Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center in Chiang Mai is no exception. Typically located in the basement, Maya positions the food near the top floor, giving you a reason to see the other floors, it is actually a nice mall, although the prices for non food items are a bit high for the area. Too many options of food to list, but a wide variety of mainly Thai options.

One place in the Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center food court specialized in Boat Noodles, the Thai specialty thickened with Pork Blood. Although this version was missing something, it was decent and a good value for just a few dollars. We also got Passion Fruit juice, a bright compliment to the rich soup.

In Thailand its common for food to be cooked in advance and served from behind glass on demand. Occasionally you get something under temperature but it gives you an opportunity to view your choices and get a range of foods on one plate. One such place is in the Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center. From top to bottom we got greens and carrots, eggplant, white rice (Khao Plao), Green Curry with Chicken (in the bowl), fried eggs with sweet sauce, Hor Mok (Steamed Fish C and inexpensive.

One of the most popular street foods in Thailand and much of Southeast Asia is the Roti. Its a fast, cheap, crunchy thin pocket of think dough cooked to order in enough oil that its practically fried. Either savory or sweet, banana being the most popular choice at this cart and usually topped with Nutela, Chocolate, Raisins, condensed milk or honey. Savory options from other carts include eggs and cheese. Roti is available all day long, but popular at night for dessert or a late night snack after the bars close.

I had this egg Roti about 1 hour outside Chiang Mai on the way to Chiang Rai. This version was filled with Eggs, and could have used, salt (or Fish Sauce!).

Pork is everywhere in Thailand, this version is Crispy Pork with Holy Basil and Chilies, a typical dish. Nice small portion allowed us to order a few more plates of food. Spicy, herbaceous, rich and umami, while also bright, I love this dish.
Grilled banana and sticky rice stuffed in banana leaves and grilled over coals. Amazing caramelized sweet banana flavor packed around gooey warm sticky rice. A real street food treat, hard to eat just one. Sometimes stuffed with taro and other flavors. One of the absolute best street foods.

Another version of the amazing grilled Sticky Rice, this time with coconut on the Saturday night market in Chiang Rai. Small, rich, slightly heavy bites of perfection.

Some form of frozen ice or milk is popular all over the world, especially in hot regions. Thailand is no exception, and while their particular version of Ice cream is not particularly memorable, how they present and eat it is. Thai's make actual Ice Cream sandwiches on fresh bread, sometimes as this vendor has it flavored with Pandanus leaves.

Coconut Ice Cream, with lots of toppings including condensed milk.

 Under the Ice Cream is a ball of sticky rice and its topped with peanuts. The bread is a great sponge for the melting Ice Cream.

One of the many options available at the Yeeping lana Lantern Release in Chiang Mai... Interesting name...

I usually avoid hotel food, at least beyond the complimentary breakfast, but I was intrigued by the menu at the beautiful Tamarind Village, where we stayed for a few nights while in Chiang Mai. They had a few dish I wanted to try while in Thailand but could not find anywhere else. This dish is a fried soft shell crab curry. Amazing deep flavored curry with coconut mild, crunchy veggies and crab. We order a version of this regularly back home at Sripraphai. Loved this dish!

Pomelo is a great fruit local to Southeast Asia that looks like a grapefruit and taste milder and sweeter. It makes for refreshing and bright Thai salad with crunchy peanuts, tofu or shrimp, shallots or garlic, lime, chillies, fish sauce and a few others bits. Cold, tart, crunchy, light; my favorite type of food.

Another great fruit for a Thai salad is Pineapple. This version above served in the same style with crispy shallots, shrimp, chillies, lime, garlic, and a few other flavors. A little sweet for a savory dish, but the crunchy bits and shrimp mellow it out a bit.

Duck Larb, classic, and amazing, with extra crunchy duck skin. This is not usually my favorite Thai dish, but this version was memorable, especial the skin.

Thai grilled Shrimp from the Chiang Mai Night Market. Large, juicy shrimp, freshly grilled over charcoal and served with a spicy, chilly lime sauce.

Green Mango, Jackfruit and Papaya are fruits that resemble vegetables in Thai cooking when used unripe. This salad had Green Mango, Peanuts, Red Onions, Tomatoes, Fish Sauce and Chillies. It was alright but missing a few flavors.

A popular dish all over Thailand from the street to restaurants, the fish is first covered in salt and heavily grilled over goals. The layer of salt does not flavor the fish as much as it provides a barrier to keep the fish moist while cooking. The salt and skin is pealed leaving only the fillet below. Delicious, light, clean eating, just be mindful of the many small bones.

This gooey mess was perhaps the best bite to eat we had in Thailand. It was so good we ordered it twice. Durian and sticky rice with coconut milk and crispy rice topping from somewhere inside the Chiang Mai Night Market. Absolutely incredible. Sweet and funky! Durian has a really bad reputation for reasons I honestly do not understand. Some people find its smell offensive, and it is actually banned in airports and hotels in Southeast Asia (I've actually seen signs in both places), but to my wife and I as well as millions of people all over Southeast Asia it is not funky at all. Its delicious.

We experienced Burmese food for the first time ever while in Chiang Mai. The Swan Burmese Cuisine is to my knowledge the only Burmese restaurant in Chaing Mai, located just outside the Tha Phae Gate. Having done my homework I knew I wanted to try the famous Tea Leaf Salad (bottom left). We also ordered eggplant salad (bottom right), pork curry (top left) and pork and tomato curry (top left).

I was expecting something bitter and limp, but I was completely wrong. The Tea Leaf Salad was amazing!!! This dish was all about texture, with lots of super crunchy little bits, from fried nuts to crispy greens. No bitterness at all, mostly umami flavors with herbaceous notes and some acid, my wife and I absolutely loved this dish, go here and order this!

Sure its gimmicky, but I don't think there was any way I could avoid trying this. We found the infamous Snake Whiskey on a brief visit to Laos while exploring the Golden Triangle region.

A complimentary shot was offered as intensive to visit their store and perhaps purchase a bottle of the Whiskey to take home...Something tells me Customs might have an issue with bottled insects in curious liqueur but I was not willing to find out, one shot was enough for me. It tasted fine, nothing memorable. I got the impression you don't drink it for the taste. They recommend it for males, they say it makes you, ya know, strong....

Our last night in Thailand was spent in Chiang Rai. We hit the usual night time tourist attractions in Chiang Rai: the Saturday Market, Cat Cafe, Weekly Night Market, Jetyod Road for a drink at a Reggae bar, and even found an excellent Burger Food Truck places called Sanfran Burger and Beer. Our last meal in Thailand had to be something Thai, so we wondered around for a while until we found a place packed with locals. Jar He is a place that has been around for many years, has a huge menu, nobody speaks English and the food arrives fast and hot. My wife was very happy with this salted egg salad.

Very traditional Thai dish, ground Pork with Chillies and Green beans. Love the snap of the beans and the heat of the chillies, great over rice.

Another dish I have only seen at Sripraphai, Crispy Watercress Salad with and Shrimp in Vinegar dipping sauce. The Watercress was surprisingly light and not oily. Huge portion of food, way more than we could finish, but great unique dish. The dipping sauce is really the star of the dish, extremely bright and acidic with veggies that are sliced thin and appear to have been sitting in the vinegar long enough for a light pickle that add a great snap to the already crunchy fried leaves.


With so many options to eat in Thailand this is just a few examples. Thailand is my favorite destination in the world for food, a must visit location for extremely friendly people, beautiful landscapes from mountains to beaches, and a fascinating culture that may leave you wanting to return again and again as it has with me. Khob Khun krub for viewing, leave a comment if you enjoyed the post!

We also visited Vietnam and Japan on this trip:

Food Pictures from my first trip to Thailand in 2013 click here: