While I’m certain there are a few local dining secrets, stunning Vang Vieng isn't somewhere to go for vegan fine dining. It is, however, a place of stunning beauty that makes food an almost secondary concern (I know).
So instead of telling you about all of the amazing food, how about some pretty pictures and other recommendations?
I arrived in the evening, after day of bus travel from Vientiane that I've mentally blocked for sanity reasons (how about those buses). I was greeted upon arrival by a helpful bloke and his binge-drinking literature (“actually, maybe don't come to this bar – it sounds like it might not be your scene, but have a great time here.”), and a town that looked precisely how it didn't when I passed right through it a decade prior.
Once the region's number one party destination, Vang Vieng isn't the deathtrap for insensitive and irresponsible tourists it was a decade ago (sadly the same calibre of people still make up a large percentage of visitors). Its act has been cleaned up substantially, and while it is still 100% a tourist town (no longer the quiet farmland of old), you might actually get some sleep if you are able to ignore how annoyed you are at everybody there who isn't you (how dare they).
So anyway I made my way across the river to the quieter side of town, where I found myself at the quirky, not entirely welcoming, but absolutely worth investigating Maylyn Guesthouse. Run partly by a sassy Irish guy and his wife, the setting is outlandishly stunning and the views couldn't be put into words if I tried. And they had a kitten.
Since I was starving and knew VV had a vegetarian restaurant somewhere back on the other side of the river, I waded through to avoid a piss cheap bridge toll that may have otherwise caused my middle class backpacker ego to flare. Eventually the wading lead me to a free bridge that crossed some of the river, and I made it across mostly dry.
The only solid vegetarian option in town, Veggie Tables, is a place to eat because you need to eat something. During my trip I consumed two dinners at this cosy spot by the main drag (otherwise my meals consisted of fruit). The restaurant has signs touting veganism everywhere, but there are plenty of dairy laden dishes on the menu (so don't make any assumptions).
The falafel is vegan and it sort of resembles falafel. I don't know why I ordered falafel in Laos, but I hadn't had a meal for 24 hours and was craving home comforts. Know better. Moral of the story is don't have any expectations of Western style food in Southeast Asia. Lesson learned.
I would return on one more occasion, this time sticking to Lao cuisine, and was pleased with their vegan laab (faux meat salad).
The next day I cycled to a lagoon everybody talks about, which was nice, but there are 87 billion other lagoons with fewer people (as in just a water buffalo and me). The blue lagoon, however, is a great place to people watch. There's a small snack bar with smoothies too, and the atmosphere is convivial. Despite it not being my usual scene, I happily spent a few hours in and out of the water (the out comes right after the in because what how does this blistering hot country have arctic waters), relaxing and chatting with my cycling buddy.
With only one full day in Vang Vieng, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon doing what the town is best known for: tubing on the Nam Song River.
The riverside raves for tubers were shut down in 2011 by the Laos government, but I still passed three or four thumping bars during my float down the river. It was a useless disruption to an otherwise peaceful and serene experience, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many tubers passed by every single drinking option.
I didn't expect to love Vang Vieng as much as I did, and in hindsight wish I would have given myself more time to enjoy its scenery. I guess I'll just have to go back.