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This touristy port town is stacked with places to eat. A fun night market and several stilted seafood restaurants are among the highlights.
Restaurants with dining terraces set on stilts over the sea are lined one after the next just north of the ferry pier, and this is where you'll find some of the cheapest meals on the island. Several long-running spots focus on classic Thai-style seafood barbecue for a fraction of what you'll pay on one of the beaches, but you'll also find hole-in-the-wall noodle and som tam shops where you can have a good feed for around 60 baht per person.
The locals who fill up Laanta Seafood every night are a testament to its freshness and overall quality. In addition to whole grilled fishes, tiger prawns, squid and more, they do a wide range of spicy salads, soups, curries and stir-fries in massive portions that are priced to sell. The service is notably fast and polite. We didn't get a chance to try neighbouring Saladan Seafood, but we did notice their staff fetching live fishes from a cage that hangs submersed in the sea beneath the dining terrace -- it doesn't get any fresher than that.
If you're seeking the same sea views with a more eclectic menu and refined atmosphere, The Kinnaree serves fresh sushi to go with a mix of Thai and Western dishes, including some tasty construct-it-yourself tacos with fresh guacamole. One of the owners runs Lanta Thai Cookery School down in Haad Phra Ae while another worked in a Bangkok Japanese restaurant for 12 years. It's not cheap, but the extra cash gets you stylish wooden tables, high-quality glassware and artistically presented food.
For a livelier atmosphere, head up to Swedish Restaurant, which is the last eatery as you walk northwest away from the pier. They whip up homemade Swedish meatballs and massaman curry along with pizza, spaghetti, burgers, funky music and a full bar; just don't expect a quick meal.
Daytime diners should check out The Catfish, a funky little spot that fills in with backpackers staying in the nearby guesthouses. Along with the widest selection of used books in Saladan, they serve well-done breakfast sandwiches, falafals with hummus, fresh fruit smoothies and fresh coffee in an intimate setting over the water. Neighbouring Sincere Guesthouse also serves good coffee, Thai food and sandwiches on a more spacious seaside terrace.
After dark, the centre of Saladan (just inland from the ferry pier) transforms into a bustling bazaar with no shortage of souvenir shops and touts trying to push tailored suits on passing travellers. As if that's not enough of a reason to come, the night market is (seriously) worth checking out for a taste of grilled meats on sticks, fried chicken, kebabs, fried roti and mango with sticky rice. While the offerings are mainly geared to tourists rather than locals (so nothing too spicy or exotic), many of the selections are quite tasty and reasonably priced.
The night market is surrounded on all sides by restaurants that focus on Western food, with Nong Cat being one of the best. Set at the end of a narrow alleyway as you enter Saladan from Khlong Dao (just look for the big red, blue and yellow sign with a mischievous-looking cat), the German-owned restaurant serves hearty dishes like New Zealand filet mignon, grilled barricuda with mashed potatoes and cream sauce, and grilled duck breast with mango sauce on a quiet and dimly lit garden patio. Also offering a full Thai menu, this is a good choice for a romantic dinner and prices are fair for what you get.