Photo: The Golden Triangle from above.

Eat and meet

The most prominent eatery in Sob Ruak is the Near River, located next to the 7-eleven and on the comer of the main road and entrance to the carpark. It’s a pleasant spot to sit, with wooden finishings and tables inside or outside looking over the river and riverside shrine, though their menu is somewhat on the pricey side. A fried rice or pad Thai will set you back 70 baht and chicken and cashews 120 baht. They have plenty of farang options on their menu too, such as burgers and sandwiches, as well as smoothies, Doi Chang coffee, ice creams and even a cocktail menu, with the latter being good value at 99 baht each. Near River also has a souvenir shop inside the restaurant selling Golden Triangle memorabilia and hilltribe gear and a tour desk too. The desk offers day tours of the surrounds, boat trips and even trekking. The boat ticket office is a mere 50 metres away and we’re not sure why anyone would book a trekking trip (presumably up Ruam Mit), but a day tour could be useful if you don’t have your own wheels. Prices vary considerably depending on route and numbers.

Down in the Mekong side carpark we counted 15 waterfront restaurants in a row. They are all identical: wooden decks with roofs atop the bank, overlooking the river. All have similar menus and prices. On offer is usually barbecued meats – chicken, pork and salted fish – while menus (we’re sure they all have English versions) propose standard Thai and north Thai fare so you can eat a tom yam and stir fried chicken with cashews or sticky rice and som tam to accompany a barbecue. These are primarily aimed at tourists but since there’s so much competition prices are not too bad. (You might want to check how fresh the grill contents look – especially in mid-week.) In the row of buildings across the carpark, heading down towards the public toilets, is a very good little noodle and khao soi shop. It caters mainly to locals and serves up fine noodle soups for 30 to 40 baht. This has been consistently our choice in town, saving the riverside barbie and cold beer for Chiang Saen in the evening.

Back on the main street, 100 metres or so south, is another surprising find: the Mekong Pizza Restaurant, which advertises ‘The Best Pizza on the Mekong’. We’re not sure about the entire length of the river but they were definitely very good and on this stretch -- between Sob Ruak and Chiang Khong -- fair enough. It’s run by a Thai-American couple, so these are Western-style, thin-crust pizzas using gluten-free flour no less. A small one goes for 179 baht, large 309 baht (and large are very large). They also have salads and burgers and will deliver pizzas. A very good and friendly spot.

If you’re on your way up to the Hall of Opium you’ll pass another, smaller string of wooden-decked riverside restaurants though this time looking over the Ruak rather than the Mekong. The menu and prices are similar though this location is a lot quieter and dare we say, cleaner looking. In a more classic restaurant style is the smart looking, but not expensive Sriwan, also with a terrace looking out over Burma. They are clearly aiming at punters from the nearby Anantara and Imperial Resort opposite, and even have a full cocktail menu. Individual Thai dishes are good quality and good value and they also have a range of set dinner menus. These are priced at between 600 and 750 baht for two to four people and include four dishes, with a whole fish included in the pricier options.

Another upmarket option that looked good is Serene’s in-house restaurant. Local and Western dishes are on offer and their riverside terrace is a great spot to sit. The food is well prepared and presented but a bit pricey.

Sriwan and Serene both have coffee shops while another good standalone spot, Ma Lang Dao, is found just on the main road at the foot of the hill. They have good fresh coffee and an ice-cream menu that looks tempting,especially if you’ve just trekked up and down the hill.

Sob Ruak has no bars but you can try a cheap cocktail at Near River, a more expensive one at the refined Sriwan, a sundowner on the swish Serene terrace or a glass of wine or two with "The Best Pizza on the Mekong".

Ma Lang Dao: Main road opposite 7-eleven; T: (093) 297 9627; open daily 08:00-18:00.
Mekong Pizza: Main road; T: (083) 915 4850; http://www.mekong; open daily 10:00-20:30
Near River: Corner of main road and riverside carpark; open daily 08:00-20:00.
Serene Restaurant: Serene Hotel; T: (053) 784 500, (086) 429 2433; open daily 06:00-22:00.
Sriwan Restaurant: Route 1290, halfway between town and the Hall of Opium; open daily 07:00-21:00.

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