As per the trend, most family run guesthouses sport an attached riverview terrace that offers happy hour, baguette sandwiches, pancakes and a generic Asian and Western menu they’ve copy-pasted from their neighbours.
Gecko Bar goes against the grain of the same-same. For one, it is not on the river but set on the other side of the main street. It’s a casually elegant, comfortable place to relax with some good tunes, either under the roof or al fresco in the garden. Enjoy an herbal tea or cocktail. We’re happy to report that the bar is stocked with the basic liquors and the friendly, helpful owner knows how to mix, muddle or shake up the classics (mojito for 30,000 kip). Food is homestyle Lao, like spicy papaya salad, Luang Prabang salad, laap and barbecued local sausage for 25,000 to 30,000 kip. We slurped up a delicious khao soi noodle soup, a speciality of northern Laos made from a bolognese of minced pork, tomato and fermented bean paste. Lounge in the hammock and ask the owner for local travel advice.
Deen’s Indian is another surprise—but perhaps not if you’ve already been around northern Laos. Travel the region and you’ll soon discover that every town has one Indian restaurant and Muang Ngoi is no exception. Deen’s attracts backpackers with its affordable thali sets that include dhal, curry, naan and dessert, vegetarian for 25,000 kip and 30,000 kip for non-veg. The flavours are bland and the food is somewhat forgettable. If you had to pick just one Indian dinner in Laos, we’d save it for Sabaidee Odisha in Vieng Xai or Deen’s in Nong Kiaow. But if an Indian curry, biriyani or vegetarian dish is always top of mind, don’t hesitate, it will satisfy.
Buffet breakfasts have become a thing in Muang Ngoi and before the boat departs, there’s a fair number of travellers filling up at these restaurants. Phetdavan is a Swedish and Lao venture offering both a breakfast and dinner buffet. The 35,000 kip breakfast deal is a smorgasbord of carbohydrates many ways—waffles, pancakes, crepes, fritters, fried rice, muffins, even dessert brownies—and eggs many ways, including shakshuka. All can be washed down with tasteless drip coffee. Others buffets have less variety and are cheaper. In general with these breakfast buffets, don’t expect much love to be put into the food. It is good value fodder by volume and vegetarian friendly.
River side decks—there’s a number of them, pleasant, sleepy places to settle into for downtime, a cool drink or food from a menu of generic Asian and Western dishes. The pace is languid in Muang Ngoi and that is also true of the service; expect for food to come out slowly. In terms of view, it’s unbeatable at Ning Ning. The giant terrace juts out over the water offering a great vantage of the river, mountains and traffic puttering by. Find it to the upriver from the boat landing.
Last but not least, sitting in the shadow of Phaboom cliff at the end of the main street, Bee Tree Food and Bar is a casual beer garden and restaurant known for building a bonfire on chilly nights. Naturally, it’s a good place to gather round, warm up and chat with other travellers.
Bee Tree Food and Bar South end of town, Muang Ngoi.; .
Deen’s Indian Towards the northern end of town, Muang Ngoi; .
Gecko Bar Non-river side of the road, Muang Ngoi; .
Ning Ning North end of town, Muang Ngoi; .
Phetdavan Restaurant At the corner of the intersection between the main road and lane leading up from the boat landing, Muang Ngoi.; .
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.