Whether you love to explore the local food at markets and hole-in-the-wall shops, or go for the comfort of a traveller-friendly restaurant/bar, Satun has got you covered.
Satun's excellent night market comes to life amid an empty lot on Satun Thani Road, just east of the clock tower and Satun Thanee Hotel. You'll find familiar finger foods like fried chicken, springs rolls and chicken satay to go with several shops slinging noodle soup and khao gaeng (curry with rice) with a few tables to sit and eat. Southern Thai chilli pastes and turmeric-touched curries like gaeng neua (beef curry) and massaman chicken are rich, spicy and abundant. Lit by fluorescent bulbs and buzzing from 17:00 to 21:00, the night market is also a good option for fresh fruit and Thai sweets. You might poke around for bu-nga pudak, a traditional Malay dessert made from the dok lamchiak flower.
On nearby Burivanich Road, a second, larger night market materialises every Saturday night and is the "thing to do" for many Satunians, including the high school kids. The festive atmosphere has its share of deep-fried wontons and meats-on-sticks to go with clothing and cell phone cases. Sitting alongside the river at the far western end of Tirasathat Road, the day market is also worth a wander to check out the area's bountiful produce and seafood.
Like Trang to the north, Satun has an intriguing cafe culture that centres on kodu, a locally grown Robusta coffee that's dark-roasted and quite bitter until you add a little sweetened condensed milk. It's available at street cafes all over town, especially at night, and is always served with a pot of Jasmine tea. A vendor usually sets up nearby to whip up roti, fried unleavened bread that's usually made with fruit or other sweet ingredients.
Satun is also known for its chaa yen, known the world over as Thai iced tea. You might think that the version served in your neighbourhood Thai restaurant is great, but just wait until you taste the dark orange Satun version that's locally concocted from a blend of herbal ingredients before being shaken vigorously with sweetened condensed milk. It's also available at any street-side cafe, though we kept going back to a little stand that sets up just south of the night market.
All over town, you'll find hole-in-the-wall shops churning out steaming plates of khao man gai (Thai-style Hainanese chicken rice) and khao mok gai (biryani rice with roasted chicken). Both of these dishes are well known throughout Thailand but you'll often find superior versions in Satun and other Southern Thai cities. To find both, look for huge pots of steaming yellow turmeric rice and whole steamed chickens hanging in street-side displays. Many of these eateries do a range of made-to-order dishes and soups as well.
For a more upmarket spread, Time Restaurant towards the southern end of Satun Thani Road is one of the fancier eateries in Satun, boasting air-con, attentive staff and some very Thai decor. Take a few minutes to flip through the encyclopaedic menu, which covers everything from roasted duck to banana blossom salad. Dishes run from 50 to 200 baht, and they serve beer -- not all that common in these parts.
Next door to Time you'll find Phrik Thai Steak & Food, another good but somewhat pricey option that will satisfy your Western food craving. Salmon, chicken or beef steaks are served with French fries, and there are also a few pasta dishes along with Thai options like roti with green curry. Phrik Thai gets bonus points for outdoor tables and sparkling bathrooms, but no pork or alcohol.
Home of the same-named "Living Room," On's is arguably Satun's standout restaurant and bar. The menu is stacked with Western options like baguette sandwiches, burgers, pizza, full English breakfasts and baked potatoes drenched in cheese and bacon. We were blown away by both the quality and portion sizes. The traveller-oriented vibe might lend the impression that the Thai food will be lacklustre, but locals also regularly take advantage of the delicious Thai dishes. The gaeng luang (sour yellow curry with fish) and slow-roasted massaman with beef were both fantastic. On's has indoor air-con seating and street-side tables where you can also enjoy a cold beer or fresh coffee.
The bar at On's main restaurant and a second On's bar just up the street are both great places to chat up other travellers along with the occasional expat over a cocktail or single-malt scotch. The bar at Cliff's Man is also a fun place to unwind. Cliff's often has barbecues that can get lively, though the food here is inconsistent -- as in they don't always have food to sell.