Many travellers never stray from the restaurant at Fame, a multi-purpose restaurant, bar, travel office and guesthouse on Saladaeng. Start with a full English breakfast and then grab a pizza or notably good sandwich on fresh bread for lunch, finishing up after dark with a mild but flavourful panang curry or tom yum to go with a cold Chang beer. You could also satisfy your Western food craving a little further south at the long-running Farang Bar, which is run by a friendly crew of Thai women and caters specifically to foreign expats and travellers in search of baguettes and whiskey.
Chumphon’s modest night market sets up just east of the train station and offers all of the usual cheap Thai street dishes, such as pad Thai, hoy tort (oyster omelette), kuay tiao (noodle soup) and khao man gai (chicken rice), with a few tables squeezed on to the footpaths for eating on site. Food enthusiasts should also walk down to the Municipal Market (Talad Sod Chumphon) that stretches between Pracha Uthit and Poraminmanka on the south side of town. Munch on finger foods like khanom beuang (crispy taco-shaped sweets) and kluay tort (deep-fried bananas with sesame) while perusing stalls filled with fresh-chopped pig heads, squirming eels and flower garlands.
Fiery Southern Thai curries and soups are displayed in trays and bowls along footpaths all over town, with popular dishes including spicy gaeng neua (beef curry), bold massaman curry with chicken and gaeng som tai (Southern Thai orange curry with pickled pineapple and fish). A plate of curry with rice goes for around 40 baht. We had good luck at a little wood shop that doubles as a liquor store located just south of Fame on Saladaeng -- look for a yellow sign with red Thai script (it says Khao Gaeng Tai, or “Southern Thai Curry and Rice”) on the east side of the street.
The large Prikhorm Restaurant also has a Southern Thai curry display along the footpath, though it specialises in more refined regional dishes served in an air-con dining room. Spicy chilli pastes are served with fresh sator (stink beans) and turmeric along with fresh veggies, though more straightforward Thai dishes like pad Thai and cashew nut are also served. Items start at 100 baht.
Just east of the train station, Papa is one of the city’s largest seafood restaurants and is accustomed to serving foreign travellers. Whole grilled fish, steamed saltwater crabs and giant prawns are served on a spacious open-sided dining terrace, with the seafood displayed on ice at the front. Papa also runs a large nightclub next door that’s open until 02:00.
For cheaper seafood in more scenic surrounds, grab a motorbike or hop in a songthaew and make your way out to Pak Nam Chumphon and Sairi Beach, both featuring loads of seaside eateries. We had a great dinner of grilled squid, pad pong karee puu (mild yellow curry with egg and crab) and tom yum soup at one of many no-frills kitchens serving seafood to beachside tables on Sairi Beach. Around 10 different kitchens look identical and offer English menus -- just pick a table and enjoy.
Fame Restaurant and Tour: 188-20-21 Saladaeng Rd; T: (077) 571 077; open 04:30-24:00.
Farang Bar: 69/36 Thataphao Rd; T: (077) 501 003; open 12:00-23:00.
Night market: West end of Kromluang Rd; open 17:00-22:00.
Papa Seafood: In front of Chumphon Train Station; open for lunch and dinner, nightclub open 21:00-02:00.
Prikhorm Restaurant: Thataphao Rd (in front of A-Te Hotel); open 11:00-23:00.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.