White bulb lights are strung between bars built out of the likes of recycled shipping containers. People eat high-end food-truck style meals on wooden tables and pull bottles of Beer Lao from ice buckets. Piles of hay bales mark the entrance behind face-in-the-hole photo spots of a cowboy and cowgirl. There’s a guitar player in the middle singing acoustic versions of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheehan songs and the occasional Lao overlay of a verse is the only thing that reminds you of where you are: the middle of Vientiane, Laos.
Welcome to Cowboy Park!
Vientiane is one of the three major stops in Laos. Luang Prabang feel like a touristy escape after the two-day slow boat from Huay Xai. Vang Vieng, with its tipsy river tubing, is the “hidden” backpacker paradise, and Vientiane is a real city. You’ll find urban cafes, riverfront restaurants, and, of course, Cowboy Park.
Cowboy Park feels so much like it belongs in Austin, TX, and not just because of the cowboy theme. The live music, craft beers and food trucks all make me feel like I’m actually on Rainy Street, instead of in the middle of Southeast Asia.
The weird thing about it though is that it’s not filled with Westerners like you’d expect (it’s nothing like the Night Bazaar food park in Chiang Mai). It’s not yet overrun by backpackers — a cherished moment in SEA — which makes you feel like you’re in on a secret. The menus are nearly all written in Lao and it’s filled with locals, who likely heard about the spot by word-of-mouth.
They must have, because as of publication, there’s very little written about the place. A Google search of “Cowboy Park Vientiane” yields a lonely link to the Cowboy Park Facebook profile (which only has 200 Likes) amongst a sea of search results that assumed you must be looking for Buddha Park, one of the most popular tourist destinations in town.
This patio hotspot is clearly new, judging by how pristine the concrete floor appears. While Cowboy park is new, it isn’t the first of its kind to take to Vientiane. On the same day that we found Cowboy Park, a second food park by the name M Park, opened its proverbial doors for the first time, too.
Vientiane is a town that isn’t short on places to eat and drink outside under strings of white lights. In fact, there is almost an entire mile of open-air bar-restaurants along the Mekong riverwalk in the heart of Vientiane. But what sets Cowboy Park apart is the fact that it’s actually lively. By 8:30 PM, there were no tables to be found.
We passed the other river bars frequently on our walk back to our hotel (at 7, 8 and 9 PM) and kept waiting for this string of seemingly fun spots to get hopping, but they never did. In a city as sleepy as we found Vientiane to be, Cowboy Park was extremely refreshing. So much so that we thought the fact that we couldn’t find anywhere to sit to be a redeeming quality!
I’m almost hesitant to share the secret of Cowboy Park with the backpacker world. We loved how wholesome and organic this place felt, and we loved that we really felt like we had discovered a secret. So if you find yourself in Vientiane, make your way over to Cowboy Park, and just try not to ruin it.