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With one of Samet's most creative restaurants that doubles as one of its liveliest bars, Ao Noi Na has reinvented itself as a prime dining and drinking destination. On the other side of the spectrum, some of Samet's cheapest local eats can be scored from the hole-in-the-wall spots along the main road.
Arguably Ko Samet's star dining and partying destination, Bar &Bed boasts multiple layers of deck with well spaced out tables overlooking the sea. The chefs churn out an artistically presented range of dishes that include duck confit, pasta with spicy basil-tomato sauce, jumbo prawns and bacon, and some to-die-for desserts. It's not cheap -- expect to pay over 300 baht for mains -- but worth it. After indulging in cuisine that would fit seamlessly into Bangkok's trendy Thong Lor district, let loose at one of Samet's freshest nightclubs. DJs spin house and hip hop in front of a swimming pool and dance floor complete with light shows and steam machines. Though also not cheap, cocktails appear to be impeccably made by a stylish crew of bartenders.
The restaurants at nearby Samed Club, Samet Cliff and Mooban Talay all offer quieter settings to enjoy a romantic seaside meal, while Baan Pra Kai Kaew does an extensive German menu along with a beer garden. Though we didn't try out the breakfasts, we assume they're hearty given the owner's grizzly bear-like build. If you want to go local, a handful of roadside shacks offer noodle soup, som tam and grilled chicken, and because these don't normally cater to tourists, prices are generally lower than in the nearby Samet village.
A decent range of food and drink can be found along the main drag from the pier to Haad Sai Kaew. While a simple papaya salad or noodle soup will still cost double what it does in Ban Phe, prices are significantly lower than on the beaches.
Though Nadan village lacks any really outstanding Western breakfasts, a few options are available. Sidewalk Cafe does a decent American breakfast with fresh coffee and juice for 120 baht, and it's an inviting spot to kick back and check your email at any time of day. Closer to the beach, Fahsai Restaurant is one of the village's better all-purpose restaurants. They do a reasonable American breakfast plate along with simple sandwiches with chips, cheap and yummy Thai noodle soup and an extensive Thai menu with unexpected choices like mackerel fried rice and Isaan sausage with ginger, chillies and peanuts. Most of Fahsai's dishes cost between 80 and 120 baht, and they serve quality smoothies, coffee and cocktails.
The cheapest meals come from street vendors who sling noodle soup, pad Thai, grilled pork skewers and fried chicken with sticky rice. You'll also find several fresh fruit stands; don't miss the durian if you arrive in season as some of the world's best comes from Rayong province.
A few nameless hole-in-the-wall joints also do authentic Isaan food. We enjoyed a great, inexpensive spread of som tam, grilled chicken and nam tok muu (spicy pork neck salad) at Raan Jeb Tuk. There's no English sign, but you can't miss the impressive spread of grilled meats and fish in the open-air shack that practically spills onto the main drag. Closer to the pier, Chilli Restaurant at the same-named hotel does a full-scale Isaan-style seafood barbecue in a more refined setting.
While good Thai food is available on all corners of the island, Western and other international fare is surprisingly lacking. Luckily, the village has one standout in this department: Red Ginger. This cosy spot plays chilled out jazz music to go with dim lights and candles that cast shadows on deep maroon walls. The staff are exceedingly friendly and attentive, the atmosphere is nonpretentious and the food satisfies the soul. Generous portions of spare ribs and pork medallions are slow-roasted in house and served with house-made barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and an excellent broccoli salad. They also have a few Thai dishes to go with gazpacho and a tempting lamb curry with apple and mushroom. Mains run from 150 to 280 baht, but you won't leave hungry. Effusively friendly owner Roger also does a few cocktails.
Though most seem to opt for the big beach bars that are an easy walk away, the village has a handful of funky little watering holes that are good places to meet long-stayers and permanent expats. Roger's Bar and Island Bar are like a pair of twins, each with good deals on beer and cocktails and a laid back atmosphere. Next to Island Bar is the Old Amsterdam, a long-running Dutch-owned mainstay with a selection of European beers.