Eating in Banlung is better than you might expect, though many choose to go no further than their guesthouse for a meal. In dry season, most meals come with a complimentary serving of red dust.
Two places take joint first prize in Banlung for us: Cafe Alee and Sal’s Restaurant. The first is in the middle of the main tourist area, just up the road from Tree Top. Here, in an open-sided restaurant with views westwards that catch the sunset, you can tuck in to a large selection of extremely well-made Khmer and Western dishes, from a light-hearted menu that merits a read just for the jokes. We would like to say first off that we cannot recommend the spicy olives enough. Do not allow yourself to leave without trying them. Most of the staples are there, but also some unusual specials, like moussaka. Our salads were generous and delicious, and the service was wonderful. The dogs may bark to greet your arrival, but they’re just making sure you don’t forget they’re there.
Way over on the other side of town, Sal’s may be a bit of a journey, but she’ll make it worth your while. Visiting in low season, we only got to try the burger, which was delicious. The restaurant is in a traditional Khmer home behind Sal’s own place in a long garden with views westwards — another good spot for sunset. At busier times of year, the menu includes some hearty dishes of noodles, fried rice, stir fries, burgers, pasta and possibly Banlung’s only Mexican offering. Prices range from $2.50 for a plate of veggie noodles to $7.50 for a double beef burger with French fries. Sal herself is a real pleasure to meet, and the food is just the very yummy icing on the cake.
On the other hand, if dining out in style is your thing, then you can’t afford to miss Terres Rouges, with an open-sided restaurant looking on to their beautiful gardens, and a wide menu of French, Italian and Khmer specials. It’s pricier than other places in town, but it’s infinitely lovelier too.
Vegetarians will be happy to find Bamboo Restaurant on Street 62 — opposite and a few doors along from long-running Everest. This simple but sweet set-up offers an extensive range of Khmer and Western dishes including soups, noodles, burgers, pasta and more, that are prepared either with vegetables, tofu or vegetarian “meat”. Our Thai soup was packed to the brim with hearty veg, and very nicely spiced. Recommended.
Also just up the hill from Tree Top, Green Carrot is a popular spot with a huge menu of Khmer and Western favourites, which looked beautifully done. We had one of those fits when you want everything that everyone else has ordered as soon as you see it coming out of the kitchen. On the other hand, our Greek salad and garlic bread were generous and extremely well-done so we could hardly complain. The staff here were great too.
Given the name, we didn’t have any great expectations of Buffalo Cowboy, one of those frequent, delightful moments when we find we’re once again oh so very wrong in our assumptions. This was a great little spot, popular with travellers and a young, local crowd, with a twinkling outdoor bar done out in wood and bamboo, and whatever else seems to have come to hand. It’s simple but effective, and they have live music. A full menu of Khmer dishes looked very tempting too. Recommended.
If your standards are a little more refined, then the Sky Bar at Yeaklaom Hotel is the spot for you. A sophisticated set up with an extensive cocktail list, a full bar menu and fabulous, panoramic views across the city and hills beyond.
Cafe Alee: Street 78a (just up the road from Tree Top), Banlung; T: (089) 473 767.
Sal’s Restaurant: Street 502 (past the airstrip, turn left, then right), Banlung.
Terres Rouges: Lakeside, Banlung; T: (012) 770 650; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bamboo Restaurant: Street 62, Banlung; T: (015) 406 290.
Sky Bar, Yaeklaom Hotel: Street 29, Banlung; T: (011) 974 975 ; (016) 974 975.