Eat and meet
Muang NgoiFor such a small town Muang Ngoi has a good mix of places to eat, though not a lot of variety. Some local-style restaurants seem to share the exact same menu, but what they can actually cook often depends on seasonal availability. Falang fare like baguettes, Oreo cookies, and bottled drinks have to be brought in by boat, so expect prices to be higher here than in towns with road access.
Located next to Banana Guesthouse, Restaurant Nangphonekeo has an extensive menu covering everything from peanut butter baguettes to fried bamboo shoots. The food is a cut above the competition, but its location far from the pier seems to be hurting them and it was often empty when we passed by.
Of the local-style restaurants with identical menus, Keomany serves the usual fried noodles and rice plus Lao specialties like larb and buffalo steak. There's a good selection for vegetarians like pumpkin curry, but misspellings on the menu and limited English can make ordering a bit of a challenge.
Many of the guesthouses also have a restaurant, but Saylom and Lattanavongsong's open-air terraces near the boat landing are deservingly the most popular. With a double-tiered deck and comfy cushion seating on rattan mats, Saylom Restaurant is the kind of place where you see strangers swapping travel tales over a Beerlao or strumming a guitar. The food — Western breakfasts, Lao curries, veggie stir-fries — is average, but it's got the best views and atmosphere in town. Lattanavasong is a bit more sophisticated with sturdy wooden tables on a deck overlooking the river. There were no surprises on the menu, but the drinks were cold, the curries were flavourful, and portions were huge — the springrolls can easily be shared by 2 or 3. Overhead fans keep the restaurant breezy during the dry season and staff also sell snacks and drinks for takeaway.
For the best deal in town, head to Phedavanh guesthouse around 18:00 for a vegetarian buffet of mixed curries, veggies and rice. It takes place every day during the high season and costs a mere 10,000 kip. Cold drinks, skewers of grilled chicken and baguette sandwiches are also available.
Opposite Phetdavanh and nameless as far as we saw is Muang Ngoi's most popular spot for breakfast. 35,000 kip gets you a meal big enough to fill you for most of the day — bread, omelet, muesli, yogurt, fruit, and coffee or tea. For lunch and dinner they offer the usual menu of noodles and stir-fries, though food here has more kick that what you'd get at a guesthouse. They also do baguette sandwiches and other easy takeaway to fuel long boat rides.
Pizza has finally arrived in Muang Ngoi at the newly opened Sky Bar. Pies are baked in a wood oven and come out crisp and chewy, offering some much-needed variety amid the same-same local dining scene. Sky Bar only opens after 18:00 when electricity allows for music, fairy lights, and chilled Beerlao. The location is a tucked away in a garden toward Aloune Mai guesthouse, so bring a flashlight and some mosquito spray.
For another top spot for a drink after dark, follow the tiki torches from the main road down to the Bamboo Bar. This thatch-roofed round building looks like a Thai beach transplant and does great barbecues including meat and fries for 30,000 kip. Once the generator switches on so does the stereo and there's plenty of Beerlao or cocktails to go around. The restaurant is open all day and does the usual breakfast menu of pancakes or toast plus some simple Lao dishes. Bamboo Bar is only open during the dry season.
Restaurant Nangphonekeo: T: (030) 514 1564. Open daily, 07:00-21:00
Keomany Restaurant: T: (030) 514 1568. Open daily, 07:00-20:00
Sky Bar: Open daily, 18:00-late
Saylom Restaurant: Open daily, 07:00-22:00
Lattanavongsa Restaurant: T: (030) 514 0770. Open daily, 7:00-22:00
Nameless breakfast restaurant: Opposite Phetdavang. Open daily 06:00-20:00, no phone
Veg buffet: 18:00-21:00 or until they run out, baguettes all day; contact Phetdavanh for details
Bamboo Bar: 8:00-late, dry season only
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