If you wake up early enough, make your way to Khong Chiam’s morning market next to the bus stop at the corner of Moo 1 and Highway 2173 to see piles of freshly foraged wild mushrooms and greens, hand-pounded chilli pastes and fish from the river, including pla buek, giant Mekong catfish. You can also pick up grilled/sweetened sticky rice in banana leaves and fresh fruit for breakfast. Across the car park, a few small shops brew up fresh coffee.
A good option for lunch is Once Upon a Time (Thai name: Kala Krang Neung), a vintage-style cafe with outdoor seating next to an old wooden house near the post office on Moo 1. Starting daily at 11:00, they prepare an all-you-can-eat buffet for 50 baht per person, with options changing each day. We enjoyed a delicious plate of stir-fried bamboo shoots with pork belly and a bowl of lod chong (gelatinous grass jelly strips in coconut milk) for dessert. On other days you might get the Ubon favourite, Vietnamese-inspired kuay chab yuan pork noodle soup, or khanom jeen (sticky rice noodles) with curries. They also do coffee and smoothies, and at night the indoor hangout space serves a few cocktails and offers a guitar for guests’ enjoyment. It’s a favourite of hip young Thai travellers.
Closer to the bus stop and just south of Ban Mongkhon on Moo 1, Tuk Tik (red sign in Thai only) is a good option for venturing into that fiery Isaan cuisine. The tough-looking woman in charge grills up chicken and fish and pounds som tam with a mortar and pestle. Ask for it with super-pungent pla daek (or pla raa; fermented fish sauce) if you want to try it the Isaan/Lao way. You’ll see big jars of the pla daek sold along Highway 2173 and elsewhere -- look for whole or chopped fishes barely visible amid the murky brown liquid. Makes a great gift.
After dark, around a dozen street vendors congregate next to the morning market pavilion to sell noodle soup, sai grok (Isaan-style fermented sausage) and meats on sticks. Right across the highway, another group sets up tables to sell fresh rambutan, mangosteen and durian along with homemade soups and curries for takeaway.
For an English menu and a more refined dining experience, make your way to Tohsang Resort’s Cafe de Khong. With prices running from 140 to 300 baht for most dishes, the large menu has pictures and English descriptions of the extensive selection of Thai options and some Western standards. We had an excellent deep-fried whole river fish with spicy mango salad at a romantic candlelit table perched near the river. For a riverside meal that doesn’t include a coddling resort staff and ‘80s soft rock, head to one of the few restaurants set up right next to the Mekong, just northwest of Wat Khong Chiam.
While the riverside restaurants are also good places for a few beers after dark, Khong Chiam’s nightlife is centred on a side road that cuts west just before the Moon River bridge to the south of town. Here you’ll find half a dozen bars where you can sit out on open-air decks and listen to live bands, or head inside to entertain the locals by singing some Thai/Isaan karaoke.