Eating in paradise should be beautiful, delicious and not break the bank. Choices abound from cheap eats to higher end fare on Laos’ 4000 Islands. Influences from French, Italian and British cuisine mix with local dishes on menus in Si Phan Don. Check out these top spots.
KEA'S BACKPACKERS PARADISE RESTAURANT & BAR
Kea’s Backpackers Paradise Restaurant & Bar is run by Kea, who studied English in Vientiane, and his family. Kea prides himself on top of the line service and preparing fabulous food. The fish and chips are the best in the country. Fresh, flaky and served with a beer and tartar sauce, you will not be disappointed. Other gems on the menu include the fried chicken, cocktails and vegetable curry. With only five tables and a menu that’s made to order, expect longer than average wait times. Get here early for dinner or consider beating the crowds by going for brunch.
THE VIEW AT KHON PHAPHENG WATERFALL
The View earns its name and then some. The two-story restaurant is situated inside Khon Phapheng Waterfall Park and its balcony looks out over an incredible view of the largest waterfall by volume in southeast Asia. The focused menu features fish salad, steamed or fried fish, and fish soup all made with the catch of the day straight out of the Mekong River. The restaurant has conference rooms and plenty of seating upstairs and down so you won’t struggle to find a table. The breathtaking location is by far the highlight of this establishment so be prepared to pay slightly more for local food than other restaurants in less spectacular locations.
Establishments on Don Det refer to themselves as being on the sunrise or sunset side of the island. I’m sure you can guess which side Sunset Bar lies on. Lie in a hammock for happy hour or come in for a burger or Lao salad and a beer and relax as the sky turns pink and orange when the sun sinks below the Mekong River. Happy hour is from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. for drink specials. If you’re looking for a place to stay, there are bungalows on the property. However, being on the sunset side also means being blasted by afternoon sun, which can make the fan-cooled rooms hot.
BAMBOO CAFE & KOREAN RESTAURANT
With an influx of Korean tourists in recent years, Laos has also seen an increase in options for great Korean food. Bamboo Cafe & Korean Restaurant is the best place in Si Phan Don for bugogi and pajeon. Not a fan of bi bim bab? Not a problem. A shame, because its delicious here, but there’s also burgers, pizza, milkshakes and arguably the best coffee on the island. The owner, David is Korean and very friendly and attentive. Try some kimchi and relax with the great music and good vibes.
1 MORE BAR AND RESTAURANT
Pumpkin is a key ingredient on 4000 Islands and 1 More Bar and Restaurant sure knows how to use it to make one mean pumpkin burger. This should put 1 More Bar and Restaurant firmly at the top of your list if you’re vegetarian. The place has a great sunset view and they brew their own ginger ale and ginger beer, which is great on its own or in a cocktail. If you’re a Canadian missing home or just looking for some delicious fries and cheese slathered in gravy, the poutine here is on point. 1 More Bar organizes sunset booze cruises if you’re interested in taking happy hour out on the water.
CLOUD 9 RESTAURANT AND BAR
Cloud 9 is a mediterranean and Middle Eastern grill right in the heart of Don Det. Run by Youssef and Helen you’ll find delicious cakes and Turkish coffee for breakfast, shawarma and salad for lunch, and a chicken tajine or pasta for dinner among plenty of other menu choices. Sit on a bench or mat on the ground at one of the low tables in the restaurant. At night listen to music and sip a cocktail under a string of lights.
Mama Leuah was started in 2001 by Lao national Pheng and her German husband Lutz. The restaurant is on the same property as some of the nicest (though still basic) bungalows on the island. The menu features Lao coffee from the Bolevan plateau, cocktails and shakes, beer and wine. Breakfast is served all day and a combination of western and Asian dishes are served. Try the schnitzel or cordon bleu with bruschetta or garlic bread. Alternately opt for the laap, one of half a dozen curry options or fried rice. Mama Leuah also offers bicycle rental and organizes sightseeing trips to catch the waterfalls and dolphins.
Oi started his restaurant and guest house in 2006, four years before Don Det was wired with electricity. His father and sisters help run the restaurant and adjoining bungalows. The menu includes fruit shakes, various fried noodle dishes, curry, tom yum, chicken and pumpkin burgers and pancakes. With a day’s advance notice, Oi will can make a Lao barbecue fish feast for a group featuring Mekong River fish. Hang out after dinner for drinks like Beer Lao and Lao Mojitos around the bonfire.