Where to eat and drink: Loei

Loei: Where to eat and drink

Loei town is a fun place to explore if you enjoy country Isaan cuisine, including some of the more bizarre (at least to most Westerners) selections that are readily available in the night market. Those who can’t make do without Western food will pretty much have to make do without Western food.

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Loei’s culinary highlight is the night market that sets up near the river in a few alleyways off Charoen Rat Road (including Charoen Rat Soi 1). Unlike other night markets with plenty of noodle shops and made-to-order wok joints, most of the vendors here sell pre-prepared soups, curries, chilli pastes, grilled meats, salads and sweets for takeaway, with sticky rice offered by just about everyone. The locals do a twist on spicy bamboo shoot salad (sup-naw-mai) by steaming it in bamboo husks. You’ll find fish-curry cakes prepared in a similar method, while several stalls dish out crickets, larva, snails, frogs and other "exotic" proteins prepared in so many spices that they’re actually quite tasty. Some vendors in the adjacent wholesale fruit market sell tropical fruits like longan and rambutan by the kilo.

If your palate is too tame for the regular night market but you still want to do some grazing, head over to the walking street that springs up towards the far eastern end of Chum Sai Road in the vicinity of Loei Vocational College on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Along with more bugs, you’ll find classics like balls of fried dough on sticks with hot dogs in the centre, barbecued pork and chicken skewers, and mango with sticky rice. It’s a lively atmosphere, with several stalls also selling potted plants and clothing.

You’ll find quite a few hole-in-the-wall shops in town dishing out noodle soup (kwit-tiao) and chicken rice (khao man kai) during the daytime, with Isaan food shops usually opening up after dark to satisfy cravings for som tam and laap. If these seem too daunting due to the lack of English menus, head to Idea Coffee on Chum Sai Road (just east of the traffic circle) for steak and fries, Thai standards, brownies, sundaes and fresh coffee to go with the air-con and WiFi.

A good choice for a dinner that leads into a night on the town is Khao Thom Nueng Baht (sign only in Thai) opposite the backside of the King Hotel just south of the roundabout on Soet Si Road. The place is usually hopping with university students and extended families taking advantage of the beer towers and whiskey selection. They offer an extensive menu of grilled fish, salads and stir-fries done spicy and pungent to suit the local tastes. The menu is written only in Thai but does have several pictures, and anyone familiar with Thai cuisine should be able tell the servers what they’d like. Just make sure to be clear as to whether you want your rice steamed (khao suoy) or porridge (khao thom).

Loei has a surprisingly high number of nightlife spots for such a small town, with several open-air bars lined up close together just west of the traffic circle on Nok Kaeo Road. They mainly serve a Thai clientele, so be ready for Singha with ice and bottles of 100 Pipers or Johnny Walker mixed with club soda or Coke at your table. Live bands and DJs can be heard on weekends. For something more refined (and accessible for non-Thai-speakers), drop by the Loei Palace Hotel for a taste of both local and imported wines in a minimalist cafe.

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