The Lonely Planet describes eating in Vientiane as “dollar for dollar the best in the world”. After more than two months of eating Asian food, we could not wait to explore this city’s highly praised restaurant scene. Of course, there are always places that offer “international cuisine” or what is thought to be such, namely burgers, spaghettis, pizzas or burritos. BUT these dishes are often prepared far from what you would expect: for instance, pizza made of sweet dough, spaghetti cooked into a mash or tacos that were actually crepes! So our hopes were up high to sample REAL international food at reasonable prices here.
At first, we only found ridiculously overpriced “French” restaurants, with prices indeed lower than downtown Paris or London but nevertheless obscene in relation to the cost of living in Laos. Our next hope was the well known PhimPhone market, a mini market full of delicacies like French Camembert, Charcuterie or Foie Gras but also fine chocolates and a very wide range of wine. All this was very, very tempting, but the prices were so frightening that all our dreams of nibbling great cheese and sipping a bottle of red quickly vanished.
We did not give up and one evening tried the Khop Chai Deu Restaurant, right next to Nam Phu, the big fountain in the very center. The place was packed every single evening with members of the vast expatriate community, N.G.O. workers, tourists and a good number of Lao. Rightly, since the food is excellent, the service attentive and prices absolutely reasonable. It is owned by a local whose father fought with the Pathet Lao and spent 10 years in prison for no obvious reason. Quite a success story, especially given that the family also owns Green Discovery, the eco-tour operator with offices in most tourist destinations in Laos!
Nevertheless, the best place to dine out is at one of the many, many restaurants along the Mekong River. This string of eateries starts in front of the Lane Xang Hotel and runs for at least two kilometers upstream. The view over the Mekong is superb and you faintly can hear the music from the restaurants on the Thai side of the river. Surprisingly, only a few tourists make the effort to leave the trodden path around Nam Phu…