Fun and Fish at Nong Khai’s Tha Sadet Market
Nong Khai’s Tha Sadet market sits on the western banks of the Mekong River and many years ago on my first visit there I got the feeling that a good rumble of thunder might send it sliding into the river itself. A newly built promenade has ended any thoughts about that happening, and the view from the promenade pans out to the banks of neighbouring Laos…. and it’s a view with a bit of phew to it too, with a distinctive seaside feel about it.
A regular flow of tourists and expats arrive daily in Nong Khai to cross the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge into Laos and its capital Vientiane. The city, like most Thai tourist hotspots, has a noticeable amount of western bars, cafés and hotels. Nong Khai has a large sum of quaint bed and breakfast style guesthouses as well. The city is geared for tourists and expats, and despite its nightlife being more salty than saucy, Nong Khai’s tag as the Gateway to Laos and Vientiane guarantees its popularity long-term. And Tha Sadet market will always reap huge benefits from that.
Nong Khai’s Tha Sadet Indo-China market is about half a kilometre long with its majority sheltered under an arched roof. Everyday a regular army of Thai locals, expats and tourists dilly and dally along its alley which stocks more bric-à-brac than Amazon.com.
On weekends Tha Sadet’s popularity grows, the crowds get thicker, and the afternoon heat trapped inside the market can get a bit unbearable. If you’re claustrophobic and sweat a lot, avoid the market during Thai holidays because the crowds are shoulder-to-shoulder and slow-moving. Agoraphobics (a fear of crowds) will melt in the hot bosom of their worst nightmare.
The market’s goods are mainly from the north and north-east of Thailand, China and Laos. Tha Sadet market sells just about everything and anything. How do you categorize everything?….. electrical goods, clothes, kitchenware, handbags, shoes, games, DVD’s, souvenirs, chocolate, bread and spices. Tha Sadet market is Amazon.com, on the Mekong. It also has a few nice restaurants too.
Any restaurant on the Mekong River has to have a fish-flavour to it and Tha Sadet’s won’t disappoint you there. They won’t scoop any Triple A Five Diamond Restaurant Awards for decor, but their food, and especially the fish, is awesome.
The fish in this photograph is grilled Bla-nin stuffed with lemon grass. It’s a fresh water fish and the skin is crispy and extra salty with an oily underside. The meat is white, not too dry and melts in your mouth. A large bla-nin like the one above costs 180 baht (US$6/£3.70) and is served with everything needed to make a favourite Thai snack called miang kham.
Miang Kham is a traditional Isaan snack and its leaf base is made from either betel leaves, lettuce or Chinese broccoli. To make a miang kham you take a leaf and add a combo of bla-nin (in this instance), shallots, garlic, tomato, lime, roasted peanuts and grated coconut. The wrap is then topped with a sweet, sour or fish sauce, folded into a parcel and popped into your mouth whole. Believe me they are delicious.
Here’s a typical miang kham set order with spring rolls and Thai style pork crackling as extra.
A Thai restaurant meal in Isaan wouldn’t be one without som tam on the table. At Tha Sadet’s restaurants a plate of som tam is about 30 baht (US$1/£0.60).
Nong Khai’s Tha Sadet market is a great place to visit and a sit down meal at one of its restaurants overlooking the Mekong River is the perfect way to relax after a shopping spree.
Nong Khai is a 50 minute highway ride from Udon Thani city and Tha Sadet market is open seven days a week from 07:00-18:30. The riverside market is accessible from Pai Sanee (Post Office) Road.