Most accommodation have a restaurant on the river, all serving similar menus of bland food such as fried noodles, fried rice and fried omelettes and attempts at western fare. You’ll have to wake up the proprietor to order and it’ll arrive an hour later—worth the wait if it was good but chances are it will be flavourless, too salty, undercooked or overcooked and actually, not what you ordered at all. There’s a better chance at better food at some of the standalone eateries and quite frankly, at a guesthouse or restaurant where an expat owner is involved, but there is no guarantee. Putting love into the cooking is not a priority on the island.
In stark contrast, there are some outstanding food options in Don Khon and we strongly recommend venturing over there for at least one meal, especially if you want to try authentic Lao dishes. Otherwise, save expectations for real Lao food elsewhere in the country.
Street View cafe, 450 m down from the boat landing on the east side, is run by an Aussie expat and serves Western food to Western standards. Ask for a hamburger here and what you get is a hamburger with a real patty and cheese. Coffee comes from a proper machine. It has a casual, roomy river deck with tunes and a terrific vantage over the water. Salads are 25,000 kip, burgers and pastas are 50,000 kip and a Lao-Thai curry is 45,000 kip. The barbecue is fired up most evenings. While a pricey place compared to the budget shacks along the river, it’s a safer bet.
Mama Piang’s infectious laugh adds some spice to the otherwise standard Don Dhet menu of Western and Asian dishes such as fried rice and stir-fry 18,000-35,000 kip. Our yellow curry was just ok, somehow managing to be bland and salty at the same time. The surprisingly funky playlist in the evening, cold beer and smiles made up for it.
We heard good things about Crazy Gecko and we love its river deck for being cosy, comfortable and tidy. The menu of Asian and European dishes seemed enticing since the owner is European but we definitely caught it at the wrong time as the owner was away. There’s an espresso machine and our 15,000 kip coffee came to us as a cup of warm water with coffee grounds floating around in it; we decided not to order food. Give this place a try, just check if the proprietor is there before doing so.
It’s a no brainer, head to a restaurant on Don Dhet’s west side or to Don Khon’s tourist strip which also faces west for a sundowner.
The bars that line the strip to the boat landing come to life at night and it’s where to go for a crowd. Chalkboard signs entice backpackers in with promises of AFL, shisha and tacos. Some will have a barbecue going in front while inside are cushions galore, foosball, darts and a pool table. A word to the uninitiated: “happy” and “space” in the menu has a special meaning. Ask before you order.
Finally, we also heard good things about Mama Leuah which unfortunately was closed for maintenance while we were there. If their bungalows and restaurant deck are any indication, care is put into the meals as well. Find it two kilometres south of the boat landing on the east side.
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.