Surin’s food scene is difficult to conceptualise. For a small city, it has far more Western food choices than you would expect, but the usual Thai street food can seem strangely hard to find unless you know where to look. All in all, Surin does have something for everyone.
If seeking local foods, head straight to the central market and snag grilled chicken (or grilled frogs) with sticky rice, curries for take-away, all sorts of colourful Thai sweets and sausages, and no shortage of fried bugs or red ant eggs. The prepared food is cheap and a healthy range of fresh fruit is also available. Food stalls are open all day within the central market, although the greatest variety can be found between 17:00 and 22:00, when a night market sets up directly west of the proper market. We noticed a lot of Khmer speakers here so don’t be surprised if that curry tastes similar to what you had down in Siem Reap.
Apart from the central market, there’s a smattering of local-style noodle and chicken-rice (khao mun gai) shops around town, including no shortage around the bus station. For lunch, look for the hole-in-the-wall kap khao joint on the west side of Thanasan Road just north of the roundabout. Here you can enjoy spicy curries and stir-fries for 30 baht per dish, and all the offerings are displayed so you can just point to what you want.
For a great Thai meal in a more comfortable setting, head to Koka restaurant, located one block east of the roundabout on Thetsaban 1, on the right if heading east. It’s a large two-tiered open-air deal set back from the road, with chunky wooden tables and a similarly chunky Thai-Chinese menu. The steamed New Zealand mussels with garlic and shiitake mushroom and spicy shrimp salad with lemongrass were fantastic, and reasonably priced -- most dishes come in between 40 and 120 baht.
Many of the bars and Western restaurants are grouped on the northern side of town near the bus station and Sirirat Road. The car park just east of the bus station is home to a series of foreigner-run watering holes/restaurants: Farang Connection, directly opposite is the English-Thai run Sportsman Pub then almost next door the Norwegian-Thai owned Oasis Bar. The former is the largest, most organised bar with an extensive selection of Western and Thai dishes. If you want a full English breakfast or Norwegian meatballs, Oasis is the place. Sportsman is particularly friendly and serves a range of European food and also Indian curries to go with cheap Thai food. All of the above foreigner-run spots close between 22:00 and 01:00, depending on customers, and all are good places to meet local expats.
If you need some air-con and WiFi to go with quality Doi Chaang coffee and baked goods, head to Top Bakery on Krungsri Nai Road, just north of Wat Burapharam and a five-minute walk east of the market. Next door, an old woman sells homemade sala bao (steamed Chinese buns) and khao niao bing, banana and taro wrapped in sticky rice and grilled in banana leaves.
Over on Sirirat Road, in front of Thong Tarin Hotel, Big Bite restaurant serves a huge menu of Thai, Western and Chinese food. It’s a tad pricey but portions are large and the steak and fries probably won’t disappoint you. German-Thai run Noi & Norbert restaurant just north of Big Bite sells homemade sausage, sandwiches on German rye and good pizza for 200 baht to go with 20 kinds of German beer, and they stay open late. Continue north on Sirirat then hang a left on Surin Phakdi Road and you’ll find more Western food: Sri Neipe Thai-German restaurant serves schnitzel and Thai food in an inviting open-air setting, and neighbouring Starbeam restaurant covers pizza and Thai food, and free WiFi, in cute air-con confines.
For nightlife there are the aforementioned bars near the bus station, but if you want to really let loose, check out the soi, known locally as Soi Coca, just down from Thong Tharin’s beer garden. There you’ll find several bumping nightclubs -- Speed3 is the largest -- and some late-night bars advertising “Coyote Dancing”. If seeking something more low-key than Soi Coca but more happening than the foreigner-run joints, there are several beer gardens on Sirirat Road.