Where to eat and drink: Si Saket

Si Saket: Where to eat and drink

You don’t need to stray far from the train station to find a breathtaking array of foods in Si Saket.

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Centred around a bunch of shared tables where you can sit down to sample a huge array of food, Si Saket boasts one of the finest night markets we’ve come across in Isaan. Two rows of stalls stretch for several hundred metres to the south of the train tracks and just west of the station. A whole row of vendors fronting the dining area dish out over a dozen varieties of insects, like deep-fried crickets, giant water bugs and larva that tastes remarkably similar to crispy French fries. Welcome to Si Saket.

In the night market you’ll find everything from sushi to sausage and Western-style cake, but the highlights are Lao/Isaan and Khmer-inspired foods. We had good luck from a woman serving fiery Isaan salads, including nam tok muu, a blend of grilled pork neck, toasted rice, roasted chillies, fresh garlic and mint. Her laap muu (spicy minced pork salad) also looked enticing, and you’ll find no shortage of vendors who pound up even spicier som tam with unripe green papaya, fresh chillies, fresh garlic and pla daek (or pla raa), the stinky yet strangely enjoyable fermented fish sauce that’s beloved throughout Isaan and Laos. Khmer-inspired curries and soups are displayed in huge round pots and can be eaten with rice at one of the on-site tables. With a few makeshift bars serving cold beer and even a few cocktails, the atmosphere here is livelier than your average night market.

Also don’t miss a stroll through the fresh market, which stretches straight east of the night market under a large open-sided pavilion. Here you can see (and smell) that pla daek in big buckets of gooey brown liquid with bits of fish decipherable here and there. Freshwater fish, local mushrooms, chillies, rustic leafy vegetables and stacks of fresh fruit are among the other foodstuffs for sale here. If in town between May and July, don’t miss the unmistakably custardy taste and subtly rotten smell of Si Saket’s own durian.

Located just west of the train station on Ratchakan Rotfai Soi 3, the Cuckoo’s Nest Pub and Grub (T: 086 032 5887; open 10:00-22:00 closed Mon) is like a beacon of happiness for homesick travellers, serving American-style comfort food that really hits the spot in a part of Thailand where good Western dishes can be hard to come by. Go for the eggs Benedict or French toast in the morning, grab an excellent burger, kebab or barbecued pork sandwich for lunch, or come for dinner to indulge on New England clam chowder, chile con carne, lasagna or bratwurst and mashed. They also serve quality fresh coffee, cocktails and beer, with most food items running 80 to 250 baht -- and worth it. The little open-fronted eatery is also a great place to chat up the few local expats who call Si Saket home, or to use the free WiFi to catch up with your own pals back home.

Si Saket also has the usual hole-in-the-wall food shops serving noodle soup, sala bao (steamed Chinese buns), khao man gai (chicken rice) and Isaan food. A small shopping centre in the heart of town on Khu Khan Rd, a 10-minute walk south of the train station, has a few chain restaurants. Next to that is Racotta Cafe and Bakery, a modern-style air-con spot serving espresso, cake and WiFi.

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