Review: Bangkok Food Tours

Filed Under: Travel

As we’d had such an incredible experience on our recent food tour in Madrid, we decided to try something similar in Bangkok. I thought it was a great way to get to know a new city, and felt the girls would be more comfortable experiencing some new foods and eating styles if the environment was a bit more structured. The reviews on TripAdvisor were good, so we settled on the Midnight Tour from Bangkok Food Tours.

If nothing else, we figured it would keep us out of the hotel and help us adjust to the new time zone without requiring too much mental coordination.

Taking a toddler on a series of late-night tuk tuk rides is a recipe for disaster, so Heather and her husband drew straws for babysitting duty, and it ended up just being five of us on the tour. A very festive five of us, as the tour guide gave us santa hats when we arrived at the meeting point.

As if we didn’t already look like tourists…

The meeting point for Bangkok Food Tours was at Chamchuri Square, which was about a 30 minute walk from the Royal Orchid Sheraton.

Here’s one of those fancy Google maps, if you’d like to follow along:

Since we’d been on planes all day we decided to walk, which ended up being fascinating (though odiferous). I’m not sure if my favorite part was listening to my husband explain the difference between a laundry shop and a “laundry” shop to my nieces, stepping around the people who were sleeping on the sidewalks, or the rat that ran across my foot while we were waiting to cross the street.

But, you know, at least it wasn’t a sterile experience.

Once we met up with the group we piled in to a fleet of tuk tuks, which was hilarious in and of itself. If you haven’t had a “tuk tuk experience” in Bangkok, it’s a bit like the Knight Bus:

So having a parade of a half dozen of these things motoring around the city was just incredibly entertaining.

The drivers got Santa hats too, because why not?

Disclaimer before we go any further: I am not a food critic, and know approximately zero words in Thai. So if I get the names of restaurants, foods, websites, whatever wrong, just let me know, and I’ll fix it.

Go Ang Khao Mun Gai Pratunam

This was our first stop on the tour, and was about a 35-minute tuk tuk ride away from the meeting point.

Stacks of plates and baskets of cucumbers. They turn food quickly here.

Indoor/outdoor seating

There weren’t any tables available when we arrived, so our guide explained the history of the restaurant, and gave some insights into Thai cuisine, but at this point I think the group was just really hungry, because I don’t remember a word of what she said.

Once seated, we received an admonition not to place our utensils on the tables, “they clean the tables, but not so well,” and plates of papaya salad, Thai chicken rice, and a mango sticky rice were promptly delivered.

Papaya salad (I think?). It was spicy, that’s all I know.

Chicken, rice, cucumbers. Simple and tasty!

The food was good, and it was a fun introduction to Asian street-style food for the girls. I don’t think I would have convinced them to sit down at a place like this if we’d walked by it, but everyone enjoyed it, so we were off to a good start!

Nong Ann Kuay Teow Kua Gai

Our next stop was a tiny restaurant with an alley kitchen in the Phlap Phla Chai area of Bangkok. Still street food, just with tables.

Just because there’s a store front doesn’t mean it’s not street food

One table for prep, one for cooking, one for dirty dishes

Here we had yummy wide noodles fried with chicken, egg, squid, and deliciousness.

Presentation isn’t really a priority at these places, we quickly learned

Apparently the unique flavors come from the charcoal pits and the oil the noodles are cooked in. Or maybe magic.

I’m going with magic.

Flower market

The tuk tuks then took us over to the flower market, and we walked for about twenty minutes through the stalls of flowers and vegetables.

Piles and piles of orchids

And cart-fulls of marigolds

This might sound ridiculous, but I was really surprised at how passive all the vendors were. I might have just spent too much time in rural Sicily (those ladies will literally force you to take bunches of fennel and take the money out of your hand, while their men will shout prices up and down the street while insulting the family trees of their competitors), but it seemed like no one really cared whether or not they sold anything? Maybe just me?

Not even a dollar for an armful of tropical flowers

Wat Pho

The next stop was at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha Temple. This is someplace I would probably avoid during the day, given I’m a bit of an agoraphobe, but it was pretty cool to be there at night when no one else was around.

Gateway at Wat Pho

Wat Pho at night

Chinese ceramics covering the chedi

Buddha images at Wat Pho

Illuminated stupas

We spent almost an hour here though, which I thought was way too long, given we couldn’t go inside anywhere.

Mystery rooftop bar

Following the temple, we stopped at one of Bangkok’s famous rooftop bars. I didn’t catch the name, but it was up several flights of stairs of what I think was a hostel? It was a super cool neighborhood!

We were offered a choice of beer or a mocktail, and left to enjoy the views, which were spectacular:

Views across the river

Views of Wat Pho

Views of the Grand Palace

Pad Thai Thip Samai

Our final stop was for pad thai, at what is apparently one of the most famous pad thai restaurants in Bangkok.

I think I watched this woman cook a few hundred pounds of noodles while we were there

The place was super busy, but the line moved quickly. This was the most expensive restaurant on the tour, but a plate of pad thai was still only 70 Baht (~$2).

Maybe not the tidiest prep area, but amazing how many people they served

This guy took his job very, very, seriously

And holy cow it was amazing. I mean, there are probably 500 equally good pad thai places in Bangkok, so if there are others you like more please let us know, but we all enjoyed it.

I would highly recommend a stop here while you’re in Bangkok, as it was a great blend being of authentic without being unapproachable, and who doesn’t like pad thai?

Taxis and tuk tuks

The end of the tour is where things got really interesting (and ended up being the favorite part of the entire trip for my younger and more-adventuresome niece).

One of the great things Bangkok Food Tours provides is return transportation to your hotel. Given that it was well after midnight by the time we were finished, this is a nice touch.

There are two Sheratons in Bangkok, so I was certain to specify the Royal Orchid on our booking form. Our guide confirmed the hotel name, though the drivers seemed confused about the location. One asked the guide if it was “by the station,” and when she relayed the question we said “no, by the river,” and showed her my phone with the hotel name and location (in Thai).

So I was a little concerned that we were headed off to the wrong place, but you know — worst case you’re ending up at another Sheraton, which isn’t that big of a deal.

Off on a tuk tuk adventure!

We headed off in two tuk tuks (after receiving a third confirmation “yes yes, Sheraton Royal Orchid”). Heather and the girls were in one vehicle, and my husband and I were in another. After we blitzed past our meeting location and didn’t turn towards our hotel, it became obvious that we were, in fact, heading to the wrong Sheraton.

Annoying, but not the end of the world.

The tuk tuks were separated in traffic, and it quickly became apparent that not only was our driver headed to the wrong Sheraton, he didn’t actually know where it was either. After a few trips down Sukhumvit Road he finally pulled over to call someone. I showed him the hotel name and location (still in Thai!), but he didn’t seem to understand. After sitting despondently for a few moments, he went to start the tuk tuk up, and the engine wouldn’t turn over.

Clearly the guy was having a bad night, so once he started taking the engine apart I left him with a few baht and a mangled attempt at “kob khun ka” as we got out of the tuk tuk.

We flagged a taxi, who knew right away where the hotel was, but didn’t start the meter and spent the entire ride trying to convince us to stop at a bar with “nice girls.”

You win some, you lose some.

We arrived at our hotel about twenty minutes later, where my sweet and honest husband made the mistake of asking how much he owed. The driver actively looked sketchy and said “800 baht.” I started laughing and got out of the car, and quick to catch on at least, my husband did the same. The driver began to panic, probably thinking we were going to cause a fuss or not pay him at all, and started lowering his prices. We handed him a 100 baht note, which is about what I’d felt the ride should have cost, and walked inside.

That’s my general strategy for dishonest taxis, by the way. Get where you’re going, laugh, pay the fair rate, move on with your day.

Meanwhile, Heather’s driver had taken them to the wrong Sheraton, but at least they were at a Sheraton (said no one ever). They explained it was the wrong hotel, and the staff there tried to send him in the right direction. He then took them a few blocks, and started asking other tuk tuk drivers for directions. Heather took the same approach as we had, bailed, and grabbed a taxi (hers ran the meter, which displayed a 92 baht fare), and arrived at the hotel about ten minutes after us.

So that was exciting, but a great “stuff happens when traveling” experience for the girls. Just maybe not one I’d have liked to have at 2AM. 😉

Bangkok Food Tours bottom line

The organizational guru in me wanted to die a little at the logistics of this entire operation, even before the tuk tuk adventure. The meeting point and the first stop were really far from everything else, so there was over an hour of driving through the city that could have been streamlined.

I also felt like the length of the tour could have been cut down dramatically. We spent a really long time at many of the stops; either waiting for tables, or lingering, or listening to the guide try and share information (she talked a lot, and wasn’t particularly easy to understand). Two to three hours would have been plenty of time, I think, rather than nearly five.

The tour was also very pricey at 1700 Baht (~$50) per person. I didn’t think about it much when we booked, because that seems like a normal enough price to pay in most places, and we’d just come off the Madrid food tour, which was ~$100 each. Unlike in Madrid, where the prices we saw on menus justified the tour pricing, the total cost for food and drinks on the Bangkok Food Tour was less than 300 Baht per person. Even with the cost of the tuk tuks that’s a pretty inflated price.

But of course, we didn’t have to decide where to go, or what to order, or figure out how to get there, and there’s a value to all of that as well. And it wasn’t that much money in the grand scheme of things, so I was happy to pay it.

Overall, it was a fun evening, the food was great, and we went to places we wouldn’t have otherwise tried. So while I don’t feel it was a particularly good value, it was still a good experience. But you could go to any one of these places and have a fantastic meal for less than 100 Baht per person.

Have you been to any of these restaurants? Any other favorites?

  1. Holy 1700 is expensive. You can probably arrange them yourself for under 500THB/person, though it is the fact that Bangkok is quite hard to navigate that they see the opportunity to jack the price up.

    I think the meeting point is because there are also tons of hotels around Chamchuri Square.

    And to be honest, asked me off hand, where I regularly commute on around that area, I don’t know where Royal Orchid Sheraton is either.

  2. It seems unfortunate that there was as much driving or a closed temple or pad thai. It almost seems like what a Thai person THINKS a tourist wants instead of using the opportunity to really show what Bangkok has to offer and what amazing food u can have if you are more adventurous. At least you were all together which always makes it fun.

  3. Maybe i’m just old, but whats the difference between a laundry shop and a ‘laundry shop’? I havent been to Thailand in 15 years but would love to go back someday. SE Asia has been our destination of choice these days. Unique and affordable and one of the few parts of the world that still comes off as unique.

  4. I took this tour on the 22nd of december, I think we almost ended up in the same tour!

    It was lovely and the guide was actually the same for you and me. I agree with the part that the english was a bit hard to understand, but I also felt the was sweet and funny, which i really appreaciated.

    Our entire group was so much fun that I actually didn`t think the tour duration was too long. Whenever we started at a venue we were talking about our lives back in our countries and sharing experience, is was really fun.

    Again, coming from Brazil and knowing Bangkok from a couple of trips, I didn`t think the price was half bad. Whenever I am in Bangkok I`m always having some kind of hard time staying away from scams or similars. People try to charge you more for everything, from the restaurants, to the flowers, taxis and tuktuks. 50 dolars is pretty inexpensive for a 04 hours tour with everything included. Even if the food is not expensive where they are selling, you literally have to just go and eat.


  5. @Tiffany — Loving these write ups; especially with the perspective of taking a large family. My wife and I absolutely loved our brief stay in Bangkok at the Millennium Hilton–where the club lounge has great views and great (free!) food and drinks. That being said, there’s just something about a $2 chicken pad thai hot off the street. Too good!

  6. @ innocenat — Yeah, Bangkok is a big enough city that I wasn’t upset that they didn’t know where it was, just felt badly that they’d been sent off with the wrong instructions.

  7. @ SOLTATIO — Agreed, was totally set up for tourists. Which, that’s probably who is willing to spend that kind of money on these things, so can’t criticize the business model! And we did have a great time.

  8. @ Alex — Welllll…..would you generally put on formal wear and a lot of makeup if you were planning on ironing clothes?

  9. @Fernando – do you recall the name or location of the rooftop bar on the tour? Going to Bangkok in the future and I’d love to have a drink there. Views look really cool.

  10. Tiffany, you gotta love folks that fault you for staying at a hotel that is “corporate” etc. in Bangkok when this website is dedicated to the best use or points and miles, etc. For folks that want the “authentic, local experience, you should probably be spending more time on the “Lonely Planet forums” they sort of dedicate themselves to that type of travel.

  11. A lot of the tuk tuk drivers can’t read so that’s why when they’re shown addresses, even in Thai, they have to ask for directions instead.

  12. I did a tour with this same company, but I chose the Yaowarat Street Food tour. It sounds as if maybe it’s a little better value in terms of price to food ratio – it’s cheaper and I think we had food from 14 different places (although at some of them we didn’t even sit down). I really liked it.

  13. No idea if we did the same company, but we did the exact same tour, 100%, including the mystery rooftop bar. It was a good time.

  14. Always agree on the tuk-tuk fare BEFORE you get in.

    And if a driver says ‘no’ to your offer, you know you’ve found the approx. ‘market price.’ Move on to the next tuk-tuk and adjust your offer accordingly.

  15. I am not long back at the hotel after doing this tour tonight and agree with most of the writer’s comments. However, I felt the $50.00 price was well worth it as the logistics of arranging it yourself would be a huge challenge for most. It was a little on the long side but I would still wholeheartedly recommend the tour to anyone wanting to experience the culinary delights of Bangkok.

  16. We lived in BKK for two years and I’ve never heard brothels being referred to as “laundry shops”. Though the girl who used to do my laundry was always in full make up and stiletto heels, but that’s BKK, the girls are beautiful and VERY proud. 🙂

  17. I’m still bummed about the lack of slutty Mrs Claus pics, but do appreciate your review and excellent wrangling of words…

  18. @Tiffany- I love Pratunam Khao Mun Gai and I heard great things about the Pad Thai Thip Samai. Sorry to hear about the Tuk Tuk situation. I actually enjoyed taking UberBlack around town with BTS SkyTrain. I can’t wait to hear the rest of your trip!

  19. If you’re still in Bangkok go to Terminal 21 mall at Sukhumvit and Asoke. Besides being a huge mall they have an incredibly cheap food court on the top floor. I think my wife and I got dinner for $2 for both of us. It’s basically locals only, because we were the only westerners there. You exchange some baht for coupons and use those to pay. Then you exchange your leftover coupons back into baht. I have no idea why they do it like this, but they do.

  20. As a local, those places are authentic I can assure you. The chicken rice and the Pad Thai places are one of the most famous in town. The tour is kind of pricey but unless you want to test your chances against scammer Taxi and Tuktuk (That is the aspect I am not so proud of my home town), tour is the way to go to ensure less scamming. It’s always a good idea to ask the hotel to provide the hotel map in Thai since not so many Tuktuk/Taxi drivers are fluent enough to communicate clearly in English.
    Always have a hotel contact point in hand in case you get scammed, the hotel staff would know what to do such as contacting the tourist police or negotiate with the scammer.
    But after reading your last review on Royal Orchid Sheraton, I am not so sure the staff would gladly provide such service ; )

    Next time, try Shangri-La/The Peninsula if you want to stay next by the river. Unfortunately, Sheraton/Hilton seem to be the only major chains that have property next by the river.

  21. I love trying to eat local – I’ve been on two similar tours, one in Iceland and one in Bucharest!

    I absolutely love your writing style and this sentence ‘The organizational guru in me wanted to die a little at the logistics of this entire operation’ made me so happy. Hurrah for us organizational types!!

  22. @Ken
    The reason food court in BKK/Thailand use the coupon/cash card system is usually there is revenue sharing between vendors/shopping malls something like 70/30. This system helps shopping malls keep track of sale of each vendors.

  23. I agree with SOLTATIO – this was totally tourist food, or what Thai folks think tourists want to eat. It’s a shame that they did not give you any TRUE local food. Thanks for the review – I’ll make sure I don’t go on that tour when I go to Thailand!

  24. We took an all day food tour with Chile Paste tours when we were there at the end of November. Much better organized, way more food, probably about the same price. Great guide who was easy to understand – she vacations in Oregon, so her English was excellent.

    We also encountered an illiterate taxi driver, so showing Thai directions didn’t help. Fortunately, we were at the Hyatt, so repeating Erawan seemed to get through and we ended up a few blocks away. Pretty good considering he spoke no English and we spoke no Thai!

  25. @ brad and Soltatio- sorry, I’ll have to agree with the local, snory, and concur that the food is authentic Bangkok street food. I’ve been to both the chicken rice and the pad thai place with my local Thai friends before, and almost everyone there is local. I hadn’t been to the Guay Tiew Kua Gai place before, but definitely local, and one of the best I’ve ever had.

    I thought the tour was good value, considering it included a 4 hour tuk tuk rental, and a beer at the Eagle’s Nest (rooftop bar at Sala Arun, which is where they take you). I added up B500 worth of food, plus tuk tuk, plus the guide- you could maybe save $10-$20 doing it on your own, but it would be a lot of hassle, and take you longer…

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