More than just pad Thai
With so many eateries around Khao San Road serving bland and pricey Thai food, it’s no surprise that street food vendors dish out some of the cheapest and tastiest eats around. The ubiquitous pad Thai is fine, but do poke around to expand your Thai food horizons.
A handful of street foods pop up everywhere you look on Khao San Road and Soi Rambutri—and pad Thai is king (even though it’s not all that popular among Thai people). Available with various meats and egg or vegan, the thin rice noodles are sizzled up in woks and sold for 40 baht a plate. While it doesn’t come close to matching the pad Thai at Thip Samai, for example, it can be darn satisfying, and gobbling up a portion with chopsticks on a Khao San curb is a rite of passage among backpackers.
Other street bites readily available all over Khao San include deep-fried spring rolls, grilled meat skewers, roti, coconut ice cream, kebabs, corn on the cob, fresh fruit and smoothies. There’s also no shortage of fried bugs—or the drunk dudes who feel the need to force them down in order to show off how badass they are.
For a lower-key street food scene that’s also geared towards travellers, stroll down to the west end of Soi Rambutri to find a few long-running kitchens serving cheap som tam, grilled chicken and cold beer along with standard Thai dishes (tom yum, green curry, krapao) to tightly packed tables on the pavement. These are on the left as you walk away from Khao San, just after the lane curves south and right before you hit Soi Chana Songkhram.
If you want to sample what many of the local bartenders, receptionists and tuk tuk drivers eat, head to the stalls with a cluster of tables at the far east end of Soi Rambutri, across from Swensen’s Ice Cream and a 200-metre walk north from the east end of Khao San Road. Here you can grab fried chicken with sticky rice and Thai sweets before tucking into rice with gaeng som (sour orange curry) or pad kana muu grob (stir-fried kale with crispy pork), among many others, from the large displays of pre-prepared curries and stir-fries.
The most varied and interesting selection of street eats comes from a string of vendors who set up in the afternoons on Chakrabongse Road. Turn right at the west end of Khao San Road, walk past the T-shirt stalls and you’ll see loads of market-style fare like sai grok (Isaan-style grilled fermented sausage), chilli pastes with fried acacia omellette and pla tuu tom khem (braised mackerel in a dark broth flavoured with fresh cane sugar). There’s no room for eating on site, but you could always head back to that Khao San curb to show the pad Thai heads how savvy you are.
The Chakrabongse Road market is also a good place to try traditional Thai sweets and snacks like khanom krok (coconut dumplings fried in little cups for a caramelised coating and a pudding-like inside) and khao niao bing (coconut sticky rice with fillings grilled in banana husk). Another good one is miang kham, featuring peanut, dried shrimp, lime, fried coconut, shrimp paste, ginger, chilli and shallot, all wrapped up burrito style in wild pepper leaves. It goes great with beer.
All of the food mentioned here is served directly on the streets at makeshift stalls and carts. You’ll also find cheap and delicious meals at humble shophouse kitchens near Khao San, including Roti Mataba, A-isa Rot Dee and Nai Soey. If you’re a dedicated foodie, consider heading to Trok Mor Market for breakfast, Nang Loeng Market for lunch and the Dinso Road vicinity for dinner.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Khao San Road