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Bangkok - Thailand

Thai cuisine has spread across the globe in the past three decades at an unprecedented speed. The reason is not hard to fathom -- the food is absolutely delicious. There are two types of Thai cooking: royal Thai cuisine and "common" fare. The former is traditionally served to royalty, and usually garnished with exquisitely carved fruits and vegetables. "Common" Thai food is what Thais eat every day. Each of the four regions in Thailand has a distinct cuisine, but unless you are dining in a restaurant specializing in regional cooking, you are likely to find a blend of cuisines on most menus.

In the central region, the food is known for being hot, salty, sweet and sour. Dishes such as nam phrik (dips) and soups served with boiled rice are standard fare. In the northeastern region, sticky rice is the staple accompaniment to such popular dishes as som tam (green papaya salad), gai yang (barbecued chicken) and laap (salads of meat and fresh herbs). Much of the street food in Bangkok is from the northeast, due to the large number of vendors coming from the region. Food from the north tends to be mild, salty and sour, but not sweet. Fermented sour pork sausages (you can see them being barbecued on the street) are a favorite. In the south, fish and sour curries (without coconut milk) are the normal diet.

Phra Nakorn
There are plenty of restaurants in this district where you will find the best in Thai cuisine. Phranakorn Bar & Gallery has a popular rooftop bar where the drinks are reasonably-priced. Be sure to try an authentic Thai whiskey and enjoy the local, contemporary music playing in the background. The restaurant Thiptara built on the Chao Praya River has been made to resemble a traditional Thai compound. Rim Nam Terrace can be found within the Royal River Hotel, and serves local Thai cuisine in a modern dining room. The tiny and ancient Chote Chitr has been turning out court style food for over 90 years while the Brick Bar serves up beer and satisfying Thai snacks.

On the other hand, if it is international cuisine you are hungry for, Bangkok will satisfy you all the same. From Indian to Greek, Middle Eastern and Latin — name your cuisine and somewhere there will be a waiter ready with an appropriate menu. Sample Pacific Rim offerings at Jesters or riverfront Supatra House. Enjoy Cantonese favorites at Mei Jiang. Trader Vics Polynesian bar in Bangkok is always ready to welcome the wayfaring traveler.

If you're in the mood for fresh seafood, try Harmonique, where the menu is Thai and the main ingredient is fish. Good places to start your Thai culinary adventure include Baan Khanitha, where the food is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Large hotels usually have excellent Thai restaurants, among them the Celadon. While European restaurants are relatively new on the scene, there has been a recent boom in Italian cuisine, with oldies such as Angelini's attracting huge crowds. Several French restaurants have also opened to rave reviews, one of the best is Le Café Siam. Coffee is enjoying a boom in Bangkok, and although Starbucks may now be everywhere, other chains like Au Bon Pain are springing up with great success.

Then there are the "international" restaurants serving Asian and Italian-inspired dishes, but which refuse to be easily pigeonholed: Eat Me and Indigo are just two that defy labels. Bangkok's pubs and bars are up there with the best, although it is worth noting that steep taxes on wine push even basic table vino into the expensive bracket. At its very core, Bangkok is a beer-and-whiskey town. In many establishments you can order a bottle of whiskey which will be kept for your next visit. There are a number of micro-breweries to keep ale lovers happy and plenty of bars for spirit sippers, such as the more upmarket Barbican.

Then there are the pubs where live bands play popular Thai songs and, at some stage in the evening, the ubiquitous Hotel California. Henry J Bean's is just such a pub. Note that pubs and bars in Bangkok serve delectable food, making an evening of bar-hopping a fine way to pass the time. Try the area around Phra Arthit Road or Narathiwat Soi 15.

Bangkok is dotted with literally hundreds of eateries and nightspots. Do not be afraid to be adventurous because it is difficult to find a bad meal in the "City of Angels." In fact, dining and drinking will most likely become one of the highlights of your trip here.

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