Eat and meet
Huay XaiIf you're only in Huay Xai for a night or two, the eating scene in town is quite acceptable. Stay any longer and you'll be struggling for variety as many of the tourist restaurants serve similar meals.
Riverside Houayxay Hotel &Restaurant has an enormous concrete terrace on the Mekong and it’s our top pick for catching a glowing sunset and a river breeze. The menu has an endless list of stir-fries, Lao soups and curries starting at 45,000 kip – a bit pricier than your usual backpacker joint but the portions are large, the food comes fast and the al fresco setting means you’ll be very tempted to transition from sunset beers to a full meal. Look for the hotel sign and follow the slope down to the river.
Across the corner from Sabaydee Guesthouse, Mingmeaung Restaurant doesn’t look like much in the daytime but come nightfall, the barbecue in front sizzles, attracting locals and tourists alike. Go Lao style and get sticky rice with some delicious grilled Lao sausage packed with herbs and chillies. Add a stir-fry – a huge portion for only 30,000 kip.
A steaming bowl of noodle soup could be a very good introduction to Laos. A number of noodle joints are open for breakfast or an early lunch. Try northern Laos style khao soi, completely different from the Thai version, pho or khao piak, made with a chewy fresh rice noodle. Our favourite joint is a few blocks from Oudomphone Guesthouse 2 (in the upriver direction), near Phongsavanh Bank. Look for the Pepsi branded tablecloths and tables laden with condiments.
In addition to spending time pondering why Bar How? has a question mark, you’ll also spend time reviewing the restaurant’s long menu which has the usual backpacker fare of every stir-fry imaginable and Western fodder like burger and chips for only 30,000 kip. It’s a cheap, cheerful place on the main street and lively at night.
We are extremely hesitant to mention Daauw Home Restaurant. In theory it has all the makings for a cool backpacker hang out. There’s an artistic, social vibe, a campfire, an eclectic playlist of chilled out tunes and a tiny but enticing menu with three mains: barbecue fish, barbecue chicken or woodfire oven pizza. Hurray, right? It also tries to sell itself as a confusing, eyebrow raising mix of training restaurant, handicraft initiative, not-for-profit and social welfare. Perhaps they were having a particularly bad night when we went but it took two and a half hours for our dish to arrive. The salad was soggy, the sticky rice was dried out and the barbecue chicken was completely raw inside. Other diners were also hopping mad about cold undercooked food while some had to beg the overwhelmed waitress for cutlery or to get the beer they ordered long ago. To make matters worse, the European owner sat in the corner completely checked out and oblivious to the chaos around her. Oddly, she refused to serve anyone.
On quieter nights feedback has been that service is still slow but the pizza is good. The location, perched on the hillside with a view, is superb. So we suggest going there just for drinks and if you really want the pizza, just don’t show up already starving. For barbecue, head to Mingmeaung or any of the local beer/barbecue joints; it’ll be far cheaper and tastier. The easiest way to find Daauw Home Restaurant is to head halfway up the steps to the wat, turn left and walk down the lane.
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