Photo: Small falls near Pak Chong.

Eat and meet

While good western food options are few, Pak Chong has no shortage of excellent Thai food, a good night market, and fine local wines to boot.

Starting with coffee, if you're dying for a cup of strong Thai kaffae immediately after arriving by bus or mini bus, head straight into Tae-Wa-Da Plaza smack in the centre of town to Coffee Prince. It's a small open air spot that's almost always packed with locals -- a testament to the quality. Here you can pick up a cheap plate of spicy Thai Isan food or a juicy steak to go with your coffee. For a more quiet, air-con coffee spot go across the street to Raan-gaa-fae, near the Rimtarninn Hotel. Aside from the strong brew, they serve ice cream, beer, as well as cheap and delicious small Thai salads and rice plates. Our pad krapow (spicy basil stir-fry) came laced with loads of spice, but a cool lemongrass juice did the trick to cool down. On the same side of the street, closer to the bus stop and town centre, you'll find Coffee Life, which also serves tasty small Thai plates, and the best western breakfasts in Pak Chong. Finally, if you're on your way north on Rte. 2243, stop for a coffee or tea and slice of cake at the almost annoyingly adorable Bunny Coffee cafe, located at See Sky Camp.

On to Thai food, the Pak Chong night market sets up every evening around 17:00 right at the city centre, and this is the place to sample locally made curries and stir-fries, locally grown corn and green salads, and locally produced juices, along with your standard authentic som tum, gai yang (grilled chicken), moo ping (grilled pork skewers), or khao mun gai (chicken with rice and spicy sauce), to name a few.

It's also worth mentioning that during the day the Pak Chong day market occupies an area stretching from the back of Tae-Wa-Da plaza all the way down two long side streets off the main road. While it doesn't have the ready to eat treats available by night, the day market is a good place to see the locals trading everything from pig's feet to local veggies to live turtles. If you're skipping Pak Chong and heading straight to Khao Yai, there is also a small but good day market close to Khao Yai's gates where you can stock up on cheap local eats to munch on in the national park.

There are countless small hole in the wall shops serving cheap Thai food throughout town and the surrounding area, but we found Food Pub to be especially delicious and inviting. Located across the street from the giraffes statue and up a short ways to the northeast, this bright open air spot serves an extensive menu with simple English translation. Holding true to the "pub" side of its name, they also serve beer and whiskey and are open until 24:00 or later each night.

For a more up-scale and scenic dining experience, Nannam restaurant at Nannam Resort offers tasty and authentic, albeit a little more pricey Thai food from a voluminous menu filled with pictures and proper English translations. The spicy cashew nut with chicken and fried morning glory were spot on in terms of flavor, and the spacious patio perched over a babbling river makes for a romantic dinner setting. Closer to town, the Rimtarninn's restaurant has a similar ambience and menu, but over a different part of the river. Finally, if you can handle real deal spicy Isan cuisine, head out to Mae Fai, on your left off Rte. 2243 if heading north, not far from town (there's no sign in English but you'll know it by the big multi-colored blocks each with a different letter of the word, "WELCOME"). Mae Fai is known for an enormous grilled snakehead fish -- served with head and tail still attached of course -- but we also enjoyed a pad prik talay (seafood stir-fry with chilis) and yum saab moo (spicy and dark red pork soup). Both were as fiery as it gets, so make sure to have a Chang on hand to cool down with.

If you love steak, you are in luck in Pak Chong -- as Thailand's largest beef producing region, a good cut of meat is never far. Chokchai Farm's steak house located several km to the southwest of town along Mittraphap Rd is the area's most famous place for steak. Here you can indulge on several different choices from T-bone to filet mignon, or enjoy one of the better burgers available in Thailand. When you've had your fill take a ride on the electric bull to help with digestion before moving on to the "Umm Milk" ice cream stand where you can sample Chokchai's house produced flavors. On Thanarat Rd a few kilometres to the south towards Khao Yai you'll find the somewhat disturbingly named Meat Me, which offers a full pork barbeque dinner to go with the beef steak fiesta -- the perfect place to unleash your carnivious cravings. Closer to the city centre, the Texas Saloon serves up juicy steaks for more reasonable prices in an American "wild west" theme.

Aside from the usual suspect fast food joints in and around Tesco Lotus, there's little western food to be found in Pak Chong. Luckily there is one exception -- Italian. A good ways down Thanarat Rd on the way to Khao Yai, in the Palio shopping complex, you'll find Al Fresca Fine Italian. It's pricey but sure to satisfy that bruschetta craving. The Palio complex is a bit tacky -- it's designed to resemble an old Italian village -- but there are some decent cafes, tea shops and ice cream parlours here as well. Further down the road towards Khao Yai, just before Jungle House, you'll find Roma Italian, an authentic, Italian owned spot where everything is made from scratch. While it's the better of the two, Roma seems to have somewhat erratic hours or operation. Back in Pak Chong proper, Star Gio's directly across the street from the Rimtarninn on Mittraphap Rd is the only Italian spot in town, and thankfully it's relatively high quality. Big Caeser salads go great with tasty and generous pasta portions. The pizza is also quite good, our own complaint being that even the large is on the small side. Star Gio's feels like a casual American style Italian joint, but it does offer a range of local and Italian wines.

Speaking of wines, the Pak Chong area is one of Thailand's premier wine making regions, and a trip out towards Muak Lek to do some wine tasting is a must for any wine lover. The larger vineyards also have restaurants on site, but Vincotto Restaurant at Granmonte Vineyard is a top notch, Food & Wine Magazine featured fine dining spot that blends Thai and European cuisines in a classy -- and pricey -- white table cloth setting.

Pak Chong is relatively quiet as far as nightlife goes, but there are a few bars worth checking out. Winners Bar, located on the left of Mittraphap Rd towards if heading towards Pak Chong's northeastern end, offers a full range of beer and whiskey in a somewhat rowdy cowboy theme. For a more urban feel with expensive martinis and subdued western music head to Troy Bar at the Landmark Hotel, which also has a foosball and pool table. You might, however, do better to skip both of these and go to Riverside Bar and Restaurant, located along the Lam Takong River down a side street near the centre of town and Rimtarninn Hotel. Here you can relax with a few drinks and snacks on the spacious deck while enjoying live music on most nights.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Pak Chong? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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