Mukdahan has a very good night market that opens from around 17:00 to 21:00 on a closed off stretch of Songnang Sathit Road and an adjacent side street, just south of the Ploy Palace Hotel. Along with several stalls selling cheap clothes and toys, you’ll find Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai-style banh xeo; som tam Lao served alongside pla plao (grilled fish); wok-fried dishes like hoi tort (oyster omellette) and pad see ew; spicy Isaan salads and soups; Isaan-style hor mok (fish curry cakes steamed in banana leaves); Southern Thai curries; Thai sweets; cakes; sushi; chilli pastes; fried bugs; lots of fresh fruit and the odd display of raw pig intestines or grilled buffalo skin. Most stalls sell only for take-away but some of the som tam, noodle and rice vendors have a few on-site tables.
Non Thai-speaking travellers will appreciate the Good Mook Traveller Cafe near the river on Songnang Sathit Road, which has an English menu to go with a cool personality that would fit into trendy parts of Bangkok. You’ll find quality fresh coffee, cocktails, free WiFi and a mixed Thai/Western menu with options like T-bone steak and fried soft shell crab with garlic. Prices are fairly steep -- 80 to 300 baht for food and 55 baht for an Americano -- but it’s worth it for the chilled out music and comfortable air-con atmosphere that’s perfect for killing time before a bus ride or taking a break from sightseeing on a hot day. Though it’s called “traveller cafe”, you’re likely to see more locals than travellers.
Arguably a better option for breakfast or lunch is Aw Aem, a hole-in-the-wall shop serving memorable Vietnamese food for cheap. The welcoming women in charge serve up big plates of fried or fresh rolls along with the house specialty, pak mor, a rice-flour noodle sheet served in a number of ways. You can go for the standard khanom pak mor, dumplings with ground pork and green onions eaten with lettuce, cilantro, chillies and fried garlic, but we prefer it stuffed between rice crackers in khao kriat pak mor, or served with a runny fried egg and white muu yor sausage in pak mor khai dao. All dishes are displayed in photos on the wall. The shop has no English sign, so look for a green-and-blue sign with red Thai script and a glass case out front displaying spring rolls and other items.
Aw Aem is one of many Vietnamese eateries in Mukdahan. For more choices, you might check out the larger Kufad Restaurant located further north on Samut Sakdarak, across the street from the Submukda Grand Hotel. It also has a picture menu and the sign out front says “Vietnam Food” loud and clear.
Also near the River City Hotel on the west side of Samut Sakdarak, we had a great experience at Away Restaurant’s no-frills open-air dining space. They only sell a handful of dishes, mostly noodles, and are open only during the day, but the khao soi that we tried here was a tasty surprise. This Northern Thai curry chicken soup with egg-wheat noodles is a must-try if Northern Thailand isn’t in your travel plans.
If looking for Western fare, walk directly next door from Away Restaurant to the Picking Cowboy. The chile con carne is recommended, and although we stuck to the Asian food while in Muk, one resident Travelfish member (thanks Madmac!) told us that the burgers at Picking Cowboy are the best he’s ever tried, anywhere in the world -- and he’s American. Picking Cowboy stays open until 01:00, often has live music and is a favourite haunt of expats and Thais. For home-cooked Western food with a river view, we’ve heard that the Australian-owned Waterfront Restaurant at Mukdahan Manor B&B is another good option.
Across Samut Sakdarak and a bit further west, Laem Chabang does a nightly seafood barbecue buffet for 259 per person that looks enticing for those who’ve worked up a serious appetite. Head further west and you’ll find a few roadside shacks selling fresh coconuts and Thai-style coconut ice cream -- the perfect refresher if you’re cycling out to Mukdahan Tower and Phu Manorom.
If fiery Lao-Isaan fare is what you crave, you’ll find it at several large open-air restaurants along the riverfront. A standout is Bao Pradit (or Mr Pradit Food Shop), a country-style spot serving “jungle food” on a spacious deck with great views. If you order a whole fish, there’s a good chance that it was caught in one of the tiny boats seen from your table caught. The cryptic English menu includes options like “python fish weakness” and “fish kae casually stabbed”, so you may have to simply point at something and hope for the best if you’re not familiar with Isaan food. We had good luck with the laap pla (spicy fish salad with toasted rice) and gaeng wai (a dark curry with rattan shoots among other aromatic herbs), though it came as a slight surprise when our “shot in the dark” order came back as a heaping plate of deep-fried cicadas. They’re like extra crispy French fries -- with legs.
A less adventurous riverside option that churns out consistently good food is Wine Wild Why, located a bit closer to Indochine Market. The riddle-sounding name is a curious one, but the owner speaks solid English and serves laap-style Isaan salads (the laap pla was also excellent here) along with tom yum and tom kha soups and a handful of quality curries that most foreigners will recognise on the English menu.
When it comes to nightlife, the Bangkok-style Grand Pub in front of the Mukdahan Grand Hotel is the most happening club in town, with live bands and hip hop/dance DJs rotating throughout the night. You’ll also find several nightclubs down around Mukdahan Tower. When hitting the town, don’t forget that you’re in a distant Isaan city and while you won’t look out of place if you dress to impress, most people dress casually, no matter what the venue.
Aw Aem: Corner of Samut Sakdarak Road and Soi Jangwang; open 07:00-16:00.
Bao Pradit: About a kilometre north of Indochine Market on Samranchaikhongtai Road (look for a yellow sign with blue Thai script and the phone number, placed above a Coca Cola sign); open 10:00-22:00; T: (042) 632 335.
Good Mook Traveller Cafe: Near the river on Songnang Sathit Rd; open Tues-Sun 09:00-22:00.
Laem Chabang Seafood Buffet: Just north of the Mukdahan International Hospital on Samut Sakdarak Rd; open 16:00-22:00.
The Picking Cowboy: Just north of the River City Hotel on Samut Sakdarak Road; open 17:00-01:00
Wine Wild Why: Samranchaikhongtai Road; open 10:00-22:00.