Where to eat and drink: Nakhon Si Thammarat

Nakhon Si Thammarat: Where to eat and drink

From streetside curry to old-style coffee shops and Western-inspired pubs, Nakhon really hits the spot when it comes to food and drink.

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Nakhon has several good options for a hearty breakfast. A go-to cafe with air-con, free WiFi, plenty of tables and excellent fresh coffee is the A&A Bakery and Restaurant -- a party being held here by a group of English teachers during our last visit served as a testament to A&A’s popularity among the local expat population. The friendly staff serves reasonable English and American breakfasts along with Thai rice plates and Western-style baked goods; the carrot cake, in particular, is phenomenal.

A pair of good Thai-Chinese style coffee shops can be found in Bovorn Bazaar, a tight cluster of shops and eateries situated across from the Thai Hotel’s Rajdamnern Road entrance and just south of the Chinese pagoda pedestrian bridge. At the corner of Rajdamnern, the Ligor Home Bakery does house-baked sala bao (steamed buns with sweet or savoury fillings) along with local coffee, Western-style cakes and some savoury dishes. Stroll a little further into Bovorn Bazaar and you’ll find Hao Coffee, an old-style kopi joint serving jet-black “Kaffe Hoa” to marble-top round tables inside and some wooden tables set up out front. The menu includes a couple of basic Western breakfast options that take a backseat to the Thai-style rice plates. Try an “almost hot” wild boar curry, or play it safer with a kai jiao (Thai-style omelette) prepared with crab or prawn.

A good place to start for authentic Southern Thai fare is the no-frills khao gaeng (curry and rice) shop across from the Bua Luang Hotel on Klongtha Road. The open-fronted shop displays a dizzying array of curries out front in wide trays, many of them kept warm by old-school clay charcoal grills that lend a smoky hint to downplay the abundant chillies. Dishes like gaeng tai pla (fiery fish bladder curry) will be more than some travellers can handle, but you’ll also find some not-so-spicy curries with chicken, beef and no shortage of exotic vegetables. If the spice feels like it’s ripping your tongue into pieces, walk to one of the many nearby fruit vendors for some refreshing mangosteen or rich durian.

For a proper sit-down meal that will allow you to sift through a large menu of Southern Thai offerings with English descriptions, we’ve heard good things about Krua Nai Nang out on Phatthanakan Road. The spacious open-air roofed dining area is set up with long tables that are suited to groups out for a splurge, and they even have a puppet theatre on some nights.

Nakhon is famous for its khanom jeen, fresh sticky rice noodles served with a choice of Southern Thai curries, hard-boiled eggs and a handful of fresh and pickled veggies. Several places specialise in this genre around town, including Khanom Jeen Mae Add near Wat Phra Mahathat and Khanom Jeen Muang Nakhon on Phan Yom Road. At the smaller Khanom Jeen Sen Sod in the plaza that fronts the Baan Khun Tun Historical House, we topped our noodles with the mild and slightly sweet gaeng nam prik, but those who are feeling more adventurous could try the fishy gaeng nam yaa or any of the other fresh-made curries displayed in clay pots out front. The small shop also offers a selection of local products, including wood-fired durian from Baan Khiri Wong and khao sang yod, an extremely healthy grain of rice that grows in nearby Phatthalung province.

A good in-town option for seafood is Krua Talay on Neramit Road, where a large menu displays all of the many options along with photos and English descriptions. Cockles, prawns and squid are grilled over a charcoal stove out on the footpath, while mussels are steamed in steel pots with lemongrass, basil, kaffir lime leaf and galangal. More typical Thai dishes like cashew nut with chicken and stir-fried morning glory are also available. The restaurant has a pleasant garden dining area out back and a few of the staff members can speak some English -- they even gave us some complimentary guava slices with the bill. If you’re up for a trip outside of town, a bunch of seafood restaurants with actual sea views are found at the east end of Route 4102, around 10 kilometres east of Nakhon town.

Starting daily at around 17:00, the Lang Dao Night Market sets up just south of the train station on Jamroenwithi Road and is a good bet to dip into deep bowls of chilli pastes served with pla tuu (Thai mackerel) and veggies; fried chicken served with sticky rice and fried garlic; slender pla sai fish deep-fried with turmeric and garlic; and more standard Thai market fare like kuay tiao nam (noodle soup) and som tam (papaya salad). Most of the stalls only offer food to go, but a table or two are available at some of the rice, curry and noodle spots.

If you prefer to explore a sizeable market between morning and afternoon, look no further than Talad Tha Ma. Ideally situated for a munch stop while touring Nakhon’s historical attractions, the sprawling roofed market is a great place to try Thai-style sweets, fried bananas and other decadent goodies. Not far from Tha Ma Market, in front of Wat Sema Mueang on the west side of Rajdamnern Road, a makeshift street kitchen whips up delicious wok-tossed pad Thai and hoy tort (oyster omellette) in the evenings, starting at around 18:00.

Moving on to nightlife, a go-to spot for both expats and local Thais is Rock 99, a working-class pub/restaurant in the back corner of the Bovorn Bazaar. The cool owner selects from a mix of rock and jazz from behind a long bar serving cold beer and a fair selection of spirits. The kitchen churns out fat burgers along with steaks, grilled chicken, fish and chips, and pasta, plus a handful of local specialties like grilled crocodile and gaeng cumin, a Southern Thai soup. The clientele and staff are friendly; it shouldn’t take more than a beer or two before you’re swept into a conversation.

Most of Nakhon’s nightclubs are peppered along Phatthanakan Road. While we didn’t have time to check them out when open, the Full House Music Bar appeared to be worth checking out for live music, while the nearby Willow Tree is a popular spot for expats, so we’ve heard.

A&A Bakery and Restaurant: Neramit Rd (just west of the Nakorn Garden Inn); open daily 07:00-21:00.
Hao Coffee: Bovorn Bazaar on Rajdamnern Rd; open daily 07:00-16:00.
Khao Gaeng Shop: Klongtha Rd (across from the Bua Luang Hotel); open daily early morning to early afternoon.
Krua Nai Nang: Phatthanakan-Khu Khwang Rd (just north of Soi 76); open lunch and dinner.
Khanom Jeen Sen Sod: Baan Khun Tun plaza on Rajdamnern Rd (to the far right if facing the historical house from the front); open daily 09:30-17:00.
Krua Talay: Neramit Rd (across from the Nakorn Garden Inn); open 17:00-22:00.
Lang Dao Night Market: Jamroenwithi Rd; open daily 17:00-21:00.
Ligor Home Bakery: Bovorn Bazaar on Rajdamnern Rd; open daily 07:00-17:30.
Rock 99: Bovorn Bazaar on Rajdamnern Rd; open daily 16:00-24:00.
Tha Ma Market: Rajdamnern Rd (just north of the provincial hall); open daily early morning to late afternoon.

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