The dusty village of Vang Vieng sprang up around an old airstrip hidden away in the mountains of central Laos. Famed for its river tubing and unregulated hedonism, Vang Vieng has become a destination of its own rather than just a break from the winding buses between Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
Although not as well known as the cuisine in neighboring Thailand, Laotian food in Vang Vieng is sure to please after a long day of playing in the river.
Food in Vang Vieng
Laap, sometimes known as "larb" or "laab", is the national dish of Laos. This simple and popular meal is prepared with roughly chopped meat and blended with toasted rice called khao kua. Fish sauce and lime add a strong, citrus flavor and additional nutrition.
Laap can be made of chicken, beef, duck, or pork and is served with sticky rice.
Traditionally laap is served at room temperature and eaten with the hands, but most restaurants catering to tourists will provide utensils and bring it to you warm.
Some restaurants now offer laap tofu for vegetarians, but may still use fish sauce or beef drippings for flavoring.
For a local twist, try lu, which consists of raw beef that is flavored with blood and bile! Lao Pho is the Laotian version of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho. Flavored with garlic, cilantro, lime, and basil, this light broth with noodles is a great healthy option.
Ping gai is marinated chicken grilled slowly until it becomes dry and stringy.
The river isn't just for tubing; fresh fish are caught daily and grilled to create ping pa which is often served with fiery chaew (hot sauce). Most Laotian dishes are served with bitter greens or vegetables and sticky rice.
- Read about Laotian food recipes (offsite)
Western Food in Vang Vieng
Anywhere that you find budget travelers in abundance, you will also find all the usual Western favorites. It is common to see bewildering menus in excess of 20 pages offering American, Italian, and even Mexican food. Don't expect that hamburger or pizza to taste the same as it does at home! Western food is often an expensive letdown.
- Read about other ways to save money while budget traveling.
Dining Out in Vang Vieng
Choosing a restaurant with a steady volume of customers will help ensure that your ingredients are fresh and safe. Most of the central restaurants in Vang Vieng screen movies or show a non-stop stream of Family Guy and Friends. The menus are so similar in these places that travelers choose where to eat based on what is showing at the time!
Most restaurants in Vang Vieng are open until 11:00 p.m., although you will find some street carts that cater to the bar-hoppers open later. Entrees in budget eateries usually range from $1.00 to $4.00 and tipping is not expected.
Popular Restaurants in Vang Vieng
- Champ Lao: a guesthouse offering tasty and very affordable local food such as laap.
- Erawan: a relaxing favorite on Main Street serving good food; prices are slightly higher because of the popularity.
- The Rising Sun: an Irish-owned pub offering quality western food such as fish and chips.
- Bamboo Bar: set on the river, this restaurant has the best vegetarian buffet in town.
Street Food in Vang Vieng
The most cost-effective and adventurous way to sample local food culture is to nibble from the street stalls. Many people are timid about eating from the carts, but food cooked right in front of you is actually safer than food brought from behind a curtain in a restaurant.
You will find cheap street food at the north end of town near the Kang Temple on Main Street. Alternatively, you can bike a few miles more to the north and eat in the massive new market.
The market closes at 5:00 p.m. every day.
A "Special" Warning
Drugs are widespread in Vang Vieng and even offered on the menus in some restaurants. Any dish or drink that boasts "magic" or "special" will contain either marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms.