Located in the heart of town, Dhaya Cafe serves fresh coffee and Thai iced tea to chunky wooden tables equipped with bottle-cap checkers. A neighbour whips up a tasty version of tam sam-o (Northern Thai-style pomelo salad) that can be delivered to Dhaya.
At the corner of Soi 7 and Sukkumwattana Road, a popular khao man gai (chicken rice) shop stays open from morning to late afternoon, when a homemade Thai sweets cart pops up next door. Or you could opt for pad Thai and pad si-ew from the small noodle shop at the corner of Prawatpriwan and Soi 11, which opens for the evening crowd.
Nearby Ruing Arun Muu Kata serves all-you-can-eat muu kata for 160 baht per person. The young staff will set up a charcoal-fired grill at the centre of your table, filling the riveted edge with a broth. Grab your choice of different types of pork, chicken, tofu, egg, noodles and veggies from the buffet and grill or boil them yourself using chopsticks. Then grab a cold beer and go back for more. The little open-fronted joint also has a do-it-yourself som tam station and the staffers are happy to show you how this essential green papaya salad is made.
The best meal that we had in Umphang came at Krua Ban Hao’s open-side pavilion dining area set across the river from Garden Huts. The stir-fried morning glory and nam prik om (Northern Thai tomato and pork relish) were both excellent, but the star was gaeng kua, a local specialty combining deep-fried threads of lemongrass with pork belly, kaffir lime and a potent nam prik galiang chilli paste lurking at the bottom. The extensive English/Thai menu also includes whole fried fishes, rad na (rice noodles in a thick gravy) and muu jum (hot pot).
Roughly across the street from Krua Ban Hao, another place that was recommended was Krua Klang Doi, though it was closed when we tried to pop in on a Monday evening. If you’re around this area during the daytime, look for a makeshift stall set up just east of the entrance to Garden Huts and don’t miss the grilled bananas stuffed with sweetened coconut meat if they’re available. A couple of shops also sell a variety of fresh fruit in this vicinity.
Umphang is not the place for Western food but you will find pizza, burgers and ham-and-cheese roti at Roi Wela, a tiny shop found next to the gas station towards the north end of town. The friendly staff also sizzles up Thai rice dishes like krapao muu (holy basil, garlic, chillies and pork).
A good plan for a cold beer after dark is Lotto Lodge, an open-fronted pub located across the street from Garden Huts and named after the lottery tickets sold up front. You’ll find a billiards table and TV showing soccer matches along with plenty of places to sit. The neighbouring Hug Umphang seems to attract the cool kids with its cocktails and live music. You’ll also find billiards at Beer Umphang, located next to Phu Doi Campsite and Resort on the north side of town. A sign on the door clearly states: “Drink only no food”.
Dhaya Cafe: Corner of Prawatpriwan Rd and Prawatpriwan Soi 7. Open morning to late afternoon; T: (093) 532 6262.
Krua Ban Hao (sign in Thai only): Just west of Garden Huts on Highway 1090; look for a small lane that runs north next to an ice-blue house just west of the river on the way out of town to the west -- you’ve gone too far if you hit Umphang Hill Resort. Open 09:00-21:00; T: (080) 039 4631.
Roi Wela (no English sign): Next to the gas station at the far northern end of Sukkumwattana Rd. Open 08:00-22:00; T: (080) 115 5678.
Ruing Arun Muu Kata (no English sign; look for the blue walls): Across from the district office on the road that cuts west from the southern end of Prawatpriwan Rd. Open 16:30-22:00.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.