How to eat like a local on the Thai islands

Ok, we all love Phad Thai and Khao Pad. These noodle and rice classics are beloved by everyone on southern beaches to Bangkok streets. But there’s a whole world of Thai food out there; seafood, Southern food and some rather delicious curries that will set your mouth on fire, just waiting to be sampled on your next island hopping trip.

Yum Talay seafood salad at Bingo Koh Tao

As much as we appreciate the food advice of Google, Foursquare and Anthony Bourdain when we’re far from home, you can’t always rely on an internet connection in these parts. Plus, isn’t it fun to discover a new delicious dish in a foreign land all on your own? So, in the spirit of exploration, here are some tips to easily suss out authentic Thai food while you island hop.

Maharaj Market in Krabi

Head away from the beach

We hate to break it to you but your best bet for authentic food at the beach is heading inland for your meal. Beachfront dining is reserved for the most touristy (and most pricey) restaurants. There are some places where you do get lucky, though, like the boulder-adjacent Bingo on Koh Tao’s Sairee Beach.

Look for places with in-the-know locals

Each island has its own local population and they gotta eat too, damnit. At island eateries like Khao Hom, Nong View and Nam Yoi you’ll see Thais who live on the islands, and those on vacation from the big cities, chowing down on their favorite local delicacies.

Say yes to street food

Along the small laneways of islands like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan you’ll find the most amazing snacks, Thai desserts and easy meals like Kuay Tiew, noodle soup that comes in an endless variety from steamed fish to chicken with bitter gourd. Look for dishes with fresh seafood that are cooked to order to take advantage of fresh island ingredients.

Hit up island markets and walking streets

Thai food culture revolves around fresh markets. These outdoor gathering places have the freshest, cheapest locally sourced food. The morning Maharaj Market in Krabi is a great example. If you don’t know what something is, just ask! Friendly sellers will do their best to explain it to you, or just give you a bite.

Walking streets are another island treasure and you’ll find them all over the Thai islands – some more touristy than others. The most authentic ones will be farther from the tourist areas, but even the well-known walking streets of Lamai Beach on Koh Samui or Lard Yai Sunday Street Market in Phuket Old Town are worth a visit.

Read more Food articles:

Five must-try island food classics

Beachside snacks we can’t live without

Flaming Lips: The spiciest Thai curries ever

The definitive guide to Thai seafood

Phuket Town: The weird wild world of Southern Thai cuisine

Unexpectedly amazing non-Thai restaurants from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan