As a long-term resident of Bangkok, Thailand, much of what I buy is from street vendors all over the city. For visitors to Thailand however, buying items from street vendors, particularly food, is often a scary prospect. It shouldn’t be. Shopping at stalls or from mobile street vendors is the best way to experience authentic Thailand, eat the tastiest food, and buy the cheapest products.
Buying Food at Street Stalls – One thing many tourists to Bangkok, Thailand worry about is eating food from street stalls. Don’t. I’ve eaten at street food stalls all over Thailand and, in ten years and probably 5,000 meals, I’ve had food poisoning exactly once. At street stalls you’ll find the cheapest food in Thailand, at an average price of 30 baht (95 cents) for a plate or bowl of food, and it’s usually the most authentic too.
If you’re tired of Thai food “made for foreign taste”, which many restaurants automatically serve a westerner, pull up a plastic chair at one of Bangkok’s tens of thousands of street stalls and try what the locals eat. Menus may be in Thai and you might not know what you’re ordering but, if you point at food being prepared, or at a dish at a neighboring table, the Thai cooking at the stall will be happy to duplicate it for you. Plus, they’ll usually be all smiles because a foreigner wants to eat their food too. Best dishes? Noodles, som tam (spicy papaya salad), rice with pork or chicken, and shrimp or chicken fried rice.
Mobile Ice Cream Vendors – One of the coolest (in more than just temperature) desserts in Thailand is coconut ice cream. You’ll find it being sold by a little old man or woman, pushing a small cart through the streets, selling scoops of ice cream on a cone, in a small tub or, yes, on a hot dog bun.
Try the hot dog bun ice cream, it’s awesome. One to two scoops of coconut ice cream, with peanuts, kernel corn, and evaporated milk on top and, oh yum, the best dessert in Thailand. It’s also only 15-20 baht (50-66 cents) and a great way to complete a street stall meal.
Buying Cut Fruit at Street Stalls – Thais buy most of their fresh fruit from fruit vendors, who sell bags of fresh fruit that’s cut into small pieces, put in a plastic bag, and handed to you with a long wooden cocktail-stick type piercing implement, and a small plastic bag full of sugar and chilis (you dip the fruit in this if you’re Thai).
Watermelon, papaya, pineapple, and guava are the most commonly-sold fruits and, at only 10 baht or 33 cents a bag, the cheapest fruit you’ll ever find anywhere.
Buying Fried Insects – Yep, I eat fried insects but I have lived in Thailand for 10 years. If you’re adventurous though, the best fried insects are from the street vendors, as you never get stale ones like you might in the bagged ones at local shops. Try some, just once. I recommend grasshoppers or bamboo worms. They’re high in protein and, oh, taste amazing with a cold beer. Price-wise? About 20 baht (66 cents) per bag.
Photograph Frames – I buy all my photograph frames at Bangkok street stalls. They sell everything from traditional wooden frames, to cute plastic Hello Kitty styles, and American-style frames with “World’s Best Mom” on them. You can find them as cheap as 30 baht ($1) and they’re a nice extra gift to take home for a loved one.
Street Stalls Selling Clothing – Of course, the cheapest clothes in Thailand are at street stalls and, at night, you can barely go one block in most areas of Bangkok without seeing several stalls set up selling clothes. T-shirts are the best bargains, with pricetags often as low as 99 baht ($3.20), but also look for great quality shorts, khaki pants, jeans, dress shirts, sports shirts, football jerseys, and of course accessories like belts and costume jewelry.
Student-Created Products – One of the latest fashions in Bangkok is for high school and university students to sell their handmade products on the street, to make extra money for school and to show off their work. I’ve picked up gorgeous artwork, hand-painted t shirts, purses and wallets, hand-decorated photo frames, hand-made jewelry — you name it, Bangkok’s creative students make it.
Best places to find them? Around Siam Square in downtown Bangkok, as this is next to Chulalongkorn University, so a big student hangout. Also don’t miss Talad Rot Fai (the Railway Market). An incredibly cool Saturday and Sunday night market, where many students sell their handmade products, as well as lots of funky old Thai products and flea market things. You can find more information on this amazing market here.