Thai food is eaten with a fork and spoon; the spoon held in the right hand and the fork is used like a plow to push food into the spoon. Chopsticks are used only for Chinese food, such as noodle dishes. After you have finished eating, place your fork and spoon on the plate at the 5:25 position; otherwise the server will assume you would like another helping.
If you want to catch a waiter's attention, use the all-purpose polite word, krup if you are a man and ka if you are a woman. Beckoning with a hand and fingers pointed upward is considered rude; point your fingers downward instead.
Thai cuisine's distinctive flavor comes particularly from the use of fresh Thai basil, lemongrass, tamarind, lime, and citrus leaves. And though some Thai food is fiery hot from garlic and chilies, an equal number of dishes serve the spices on the side, so that you can adjust the incendiary level. Thais use nam pla, a fish sauce, instead of salt.
Restaurant hours vary, but Thais eat at all times of day, and in cities you will find eateries open through the night. In Thailand breakfast outside the hotel often means noodle soup or curry on the street (or banana pancakes in backpacker areas). Street vendors also sell coffee, although die-hard caffeine addicts may not get enough of a fix; Thai coffee isn't simply coffee, but a combination of ground beans with nuts and spices. If you're desperate, look for a western-style espresso machine or a Chinese coffee shop.
The lunch hour is long—roughly 11:30 to 2—in smaller towns and rural areas, a holdover from when Thailand was primarily a country of rice farmers and everyone napped during the hottest hours of the day.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Expect to pay for most meals in cash. Larger hotels and fancy restaurants in metropolitan areas accept some major credit cards, but they will often charge an extra 2% to 4% for the convenience. If you are at the restaurant of the hotel where you are staying, you can generally just add the bill to your room and leave a cash tip if you desire. Street vendors and small, local restaurants only accept cash.
Generally, reservations are not necessary at Thai restaurants, and even then are only accepted at the most expensive and popular ones.
Because Thailand has a hot climate, jackets and ties are rarely worn at dinner except in expensive hotel restaurants. Attire tends to fit the setting: People dress casually at simple restaurants and in small towns, but the Bangkok and Chiang Mai elite love dressing to the hilt for a posh night on the town. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or tie.
Singha, Tiger, and Heineken are at the top end of Thailand's beer market, while Chang, Leo, and a host of other brands fight it out for the budget drinkers. It's also becoming more common to find imports such as Guinness, Corona, Budweiser, and the ever-popular Beerlao lining the shelves of cosmopolitan bars.
If you want to drink like the hip locals, don't bother with beer. Grab a bottle of whisky (Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker, or the very affordable 100 Pipers) to mix with soda.
Rice whisky, which tastes sweet and has a whopping 35% alcohol content, is another favorite throughout Thailand. It tastes and mixes more like rum than whisky. Mekong and Sam Song are by far the most popular rice whiskies, but you will also see labels such as Kwangthong, Hong Thong, Hong Ngoen, Hong Yok, and Hong Tho. Thais mix their rice whisky with soda water, though it goes great with Coke, too.
Many Thais are just beginning to develop a taste for wine, and the foreign tipples on offer are expensive and generally mediocre. Thirty years ago the king first brought up the idea of growing grapes for wine and fruit through his Royal Projects Foundation. Now both fruit- and grape-based wines are made in various places upcountry. Their quality generally does not match international offerings (they tend to taste better if you don't think of them as wines, as such), but some are quite pleasant. International markets often carry them, and they can occasionally be found on the menus of larger restaurants.