We’re somewhat noodle soup connoisseurs and even in the most remote Lao town you can usually find a good bowl. In Tha Khaek we tried three different shops recommended to us by locals, all with disappointing results.
One positive is the food night market that opens every sunset in the main square on the Mekong. It’s one of the most Thai-style food markets we’ve seen in Laos and budget travellers can fill their belly for only a few dollars with grilled meat skewers, fried chicken, yellow noodle soup with wontons (15,000 kip), deep fried dumplings (only 1,000 kip each), drinks, hot soy milk, donuts and sinful flaky roti drizzled with condensed milk. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, where everyone grabs different nibbles and chows down at a table.
Also at sunset, barbecue and papaya salad stands pop up along the town’s Mekong riverfront. It’s an excellent place to sip a cold drink and watch the water glowing from the setting sun. For a less rustic affair, head just north or south of the night market and you’ll find local pubs with wooden terraces offering sturdy tables and chairs with unobstructed panoramic views of the Mekong. There’s even a floating restaurant on the water.
Another ideal sunset spot, just north of the night market, is Le Bouton D’Or Boutique Hotel’s restaurant, a pleasant terrace sporting a fantastic view. The menu seems overly ambitious, covering the gamut of Lao, Thai and Asian dishes. But we can attest that the pizza is surprisingly tasty. Cooked in a real brick oven, it’s a treat if in need of a break from rice and noodles, and starting at 45,000 kip, the price is right too.
The Kitchen, located on the ground floor of Inthira Hotel at the corner of the night market, is by far the most tourist-orientated restaurant in the town centre. The breezy interior, mix of dining and coffee lounge atmosphere and sidewalk tables are inviting, as is the fast WiFi. The menu is the usual East and West fare to please the masses, lots of variety, all very mediocre and delivered with hopeless service However, this is the place if you want to drink something other than beer.
An alternative to The Kitchen, at the opposite corner of the square on the river, is Sabaidee Thakek. With outdoor seating, an exposed brick interior and jazz music floating in the background, it’s a cute place to hang out. The menu is the usual backpacker fodder: Lao, Thai and Western food and a breakfast menu.
Just next door to The Kitchen, the simple family run joint Mama Lao features a variety of stir-fried vegetables and meat dishes and soups like tom yum for 30,000 kip and up. Portions are huge, designed for family-style sharing. Be warned, even though we asked (in Lao) for not spicy, our dish had a healthy dose of chilli.
Le Rendez-Vous is a local indoor/outdoor pub popular with the after work crowd that gather to sip icy beer with friends. As the night progresses, things get more boisterous with a steady flow of arriving people, beer and cheap tasty Lao snack food. Find it located half way between the roundabout and the river. Open for dinner only.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.