Ubon native Nathida Palasak is a designer at fashion label Shaka (3/F Siam Center. www.shakastyles.com). Last year she rebranded her favorite local soymilk into the contemporarystyled Charcoal Soymilk (FB.com/charcoalsoymilk). The popular drink can now be found at Emquartier and Siam Paragon, but also still holds a place in Ubon locals’ hearts.
It’s really happening in my eyes. We can’t beat Chiang Mai quite yet, but there is definitely a cafe culture here now. It’s the businesses that are really offering something different which I believe will live longest.
I don’t really see much difference between people here and in Bangkok. They both love to go to new places and share them on social media. Here, the slower pace of life is much nicer than Bangkok.
13. DOSE ESPRESSO
Borrowing its name from the popular Sydney coffee shop, this cafe specializes in quality coffee which the owner, Naowarat Kuwajanakul, sources with the help of Dose Espresso in Sydney (where she used to work as a barista). Naowarat also plans to open a second branch at the end of the month, focusing on clean, organic food as well as coffee.
106/40 Soi Ratchapatsadu (Thanarak Market), 092-991-9225. goo.gl/Isnoxr
14. UNDER THE TREE
Expect this whimsical country cottage-style cafe to be packed almost every day thanks to its signature “pizookie” (B85), a pizza-size cookie served with ice cream. They also come up with unorthodox drinks like espresso soda (B75).
15. BAAN RARE
Designed by its architect owner (see BK Asks, right), this minimal guesthouse is chockfull of Isaan touches, from pakaoma (local gingham) pillows to kratib (sticky rice bamboo containers). The same owner also runs a bike tour operator called Otto, which offers bike trip to Laos starting from B12,000 per person. Room rates start from B500-B,1000 with breakfast.
16. SAMUAY & SONS
The brothers behind this tailors’ home turned restaurant, Weerawat and Worrawut Triyasenwat, both have experience from top kitchens in San Franciso, including Commonwealth (which just lost its Michelin star this year) and Thai restaurant Osha (which also now has a Bangkok branch). Their menu is a mix of ancient and new recipes from Isaan and elsewhere in Thailand, like saeng wa (non-spicy yam) and baby bamboo in fermented fish soup topped with fried giant cat fish.
133/25 Ponepisai Rd., 086-309-6685, 083-056-0380. Open daily 11am-9:30pm. goo.gl/7u1j8N
17. WOLF’S DEN
Twins Pitawat and Nichaporn Urwongkul teamed with chef friend Menat Sikala, who previously worked at JW Marriott Phuket. They offer homemade Italian dishes, from fresh pasta to desserts. Try their Australian ribeye with port wine gravy (B450). The venue looks stunning, too; Pitawat used his architect background to revamp two old shop-houses in a very chic industrial style.
18. MAIBAN VILLAGE
Here you’ll find two shops worth checking out: furniture store Maibaan (FB.com/maibaan
) and Japanese knickknack shop Soontaree (084-478-0919, FB.com/soontareebrand
), both of which sell stylish souvenirs and keepsakes.
333/20 Ring Rd. Open daily 9am-8pm
Rirk Chaowanakawee, 51, owner of Rare Guesthouse
Bangkok-born Rirk, an architectturned-marketing consultant for hotels opened his small 12-room guesthouse in 2013.
Why invest in Udon?
Udon Thani is a hub for international travelers on their way to Nong Khai and Laos. But the Isaan region also has its own rich culture. It’s like a spicy dish that you never get bored of. The people, too, are so friendly and open to newcomers.
Do you see a lot of growth potential for the region?
There is st i ll vast room for investment, which can’t be said for other parts of Thailand in the North and South, which are so packed and expensive. Route R9, connecting Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, has huge potential to grow. We just need to be careful to retain Isaan unique character.
NAKHON RATCHASIMA (KORAT)
This cafe and co-working space sits in an old wooden house. As well as serving Thai coffee and fusion spaghetti dishes like nam prik ong and kua klong (B135), it’s also a dealer of TokyoBike brand bicycles, and hosts a craft market once a month.
20. POLAR POLAR
A bit out from the city center, Polar Polar is a good spot to stop by for sweets and coffee (made using beans from Bangkok’s Roast). They also regularly host a street art market selling toys, home and phone accessories, and clothes from local designers.
21. YELLOW PUMPKIN
Newly built but with a nostalgic vibe, this cafe in the busy city center hosts regular talks and group bike rides, and also serves as a pop-up gallery. Their signature ingredient is pumpkin, which they bake into cheesecake and muffins.
This local chain of coffee roasters has four branches serving both local and international beans. Prices range from B55-B115 per cup. Their third branch (near Wat Bu) also has a grill station called Scale Burger, serving New York-style burgers at B160 for pork and B180 for Angus beef.
23. BAAN ISSARA
Baan Issara offers three types of accommodation: a hotel, a resort and a townhouse-style villa for families. Room rates start at B550 for superior rooms, B1,000 for suites and B1,500 for two bedrooms.
24. 8 BISTRO
Run by the owners of a successful Korat pub and restaurant called Hansa, this bistro focuses on European food and imported beers.
9/8 Trok Saowtong, Mukkamontri Rd., 044-248-888. Open 10:30am-midnight. www.fb.com/8bistro
25. C’EST SI BON
Operated by an alumni of Dusit Thani’s Le Cordon Bleu cookery school, this little French-influenced kitchen serves classics like eggs Benedict and duck confit alongside burgers and luxurious desserts. Don’t leave without trying the double chocolate croissant.
26. ART AND FRIENDS MARKET
Gathering on the first week of every month, this art and crafts market hops around town visiting Korat’s various cafes. The same group also runs “art farm,” where you’ll find businesses like Baan Baan Décor (084-410-4040, goo.gl/teXisr
), the beloved eco shop selling wooden home accessories, ceramics and tie-die along with homemade pizza. Follow their event at goo.gl/PF52xp
Marut Chumkhuntod, 37, Class Cafe owner
Marut packed in his job in digital marketing at a telecommunication company to open a cafe in his hometown, Korat.
Was there anything like Class Cafe in Korat a few years ago?
If you go back three years, there was no cafe that people could actually connect with. There were expensive Starbucks hidden in malls that didn’t open till at least 10am. I wanted to create a sense of coffee culture; somewhere that opens at 7am and serves quality coffee. The young entrepreneurs really love it. We’re always busy in the morning.
What differences do you see in Isaan’s youth culture compared to Bangkok?
Big brands often fail here because they bring in things that people don’t want. In Bangkok, the pace is much faster, service needs to be sharp. Here, it takes most people 10 minutes to get from their home to the office so they have more free time. There are a lot of opportunities waiting for those who see them.