In Bangkok, chopsticks in hand

Freelance writer Casey Kittrell spent several days eating his way through Bangkok. Here is his report:

ating in Bangkok is as much of a bargain as shopping there. Adventurous travelers willing to eat on the street will find tempting food stalls on every block.

Though I didn't see any refrigerators at these sidewalk eateries, most vendors buy their ingredients daily, so produce is fresh. And many dishes are vegetarian, omitting meat and dairy products that might contain harmful bacteria.

Helpful rule of thumb for clients picking a street vendor: Tell them to look for a stall where a long line of customers is waiting, a strong indication that the food will be good, clean and cooked right in front of them.

Most roadside meals cost less than a dollar, and they can be delicious.

If you're looking for more luxury, head for the Oriental Hotel, the city's premier property and the legendary lodge of authors like Graham Greene.

The China House restaurant there is surprisingly affordable -- total price for my meal, including drinks and tip, was $25. The menu is mostly Cantonese, with many of the best dishes included in the dim sum lunch.

Even more memorable is the ambience. There are few other places in Thailand where you'll receive white linen napkins and silver-tipped chopsticks.

Although I can afford to eat at the Oriental, I can't afford to sleep there. Fortunately, the Vieng Tai Hotel is a comfortable alternative. Recently renovated, the 200-room hotel is now one of the best places to stay in Banglampu, a centrally located neighborhood near many tourist attractions.

It's just a few blocks over from the backpacker boulevard known as Khao San Road, but the Vieng Tai is no grungy guesthouse. It's a clean, modern place with many amenities. And the old women pushing the noodle carts at the end of the street make a mean pad thai.

Vieng Tai Hotel
Address: Rambuttri Road, Banglampu 10200 Bangkok
Phone: (011) 66-2 280-5434
Web:www.viengtai.co.th
Rates: Rooms from $31 to $83 include breakfast buffet of Western and Thai food.
Commission: 10%
Amenities: Internet connection through hotel's business office; restaurant, pool, banquet rooms; in-room cable TV.
Noteworthy: Real espresso in the coffee shop; good value for this level of accommodation.
Not worthy: You may have to wait for a table at breakfast; restaurant can't seat everyone when the hotel is full.

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