Photo: Beautiful setting at Mooban Talay.

Eat and meet

Covering everything from Italian antipasto to streetside Thai barbecue, Ko Samet has a solid dining scene when taken as a whole. With so many Thai visitors, the quality of the Thai food is generally much better than on many other Thai islands. Samet also boasts some serious nightlife on the northern beaches, but keep in mind that the bars, as of March 2016, were being forced to shut down by 23:00.

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Below we’ve pointed out some of the highlights in those parts of the island that have more than one or two food and drink options. Smaller beaches offering little more than resort restaurants are mentioned at the bottom, under “Elsewhere”. Be prepared to move around if you want to experience the best of Samet’s culinary scene.

Finger-licking good classic Samet beach vendor food.

Finger-licking good classic Samet beach vendor food.

Ao Noi Na
Just west of Nadan Pier, Kjeat’s Kitchen at Sunrise Villas does a great job with hearty 140-baht English breakfasts served with high-end sausages and fresh coffee. You’ll also find an interesting mix of Thai, British and Italian fare served until 20:00 on a terrace with tables set up within a few steps of the rocky coast. A convenient spot for catching the sunset, Kjeat’s had a buy-one-get-one-free deal on cocktails from 17:00 to 19:00 when we stopped by.

Kjeats Kitchen by the sea.

Kjeats Kitchen by the sea.

Open from 07:30 to 21:30 a bit further west up the Ao Noi Na road, German-owned Ban Pra Kai Kaew offers a selection of German beers and European wines along with hearty stodge like bratwurst or salami served with rye bread, and potato soup, steaks, schnitzel, pork chops, burgers and Thai dishes, with prices ranging from 100 to 300 baht. The seaside beer garden is a fine spot to relax with a frosty mug under a beach umbrella.

Nearby Bar & Bed has a lively terrace with tables overlooking the sea. The chefs prepare duck confit, pasta with spicy basil-tomato sauce, jumbo prawns wrapped in bacon and some enticing desserts. It’s not cheap — expect to pay more than 300 baht for mains — but worth it. Let loose after dark as DJs spin house and hip hop beside a billiards table, swimming pool and dance floor that comes complete with light shows and steam machines.

Otherwise you’ll find restaurants at all of Ao Noi Na’s resorts along with several hole-in-the-wall shops selling cheap grilled chicken, som tam, noodle soup and coffee along the coastal road.

Samet Village
Samet’s largest and least expensive selection of food belongs to the main drag through Samet Village.


The bright lights of Samet Village.

Clustered along the centre of the strip, several nameless barbecue shacks do a roaring trade after dark by grilling whole fishes, squid, prawns and a wide array of meats along the footpaths. Most of these are run by people from Northeast Thailand or Isaan — the aproned aunties will happily pound up authentic Lao/Isaan-style som tam, tam tuea (long bean salad) or nam tok (pork neck salad), among others, using an old-fashioned mortar and pestle. The picture menus also display standard Thai dishes like green curry and pad Thai, but it would be unwise to pass on a whole grilled salted fish (pla plao) served with spicy and sour seafood sauce. Don’t forget to round out your meal with a cold beer and hunk of sticky rice. While barbecue is available on beaches throughout the island, you can save considerable cash by enjoying it here.

Barbecued fish and Isaan food in Samet Village.

Barbecued fish and Isaan food in Samet Village.

Dressed up in fairy lights, tasteful art, sofas and streetside tables, Red Ginger has something of a speakeasy atmosphere in the heart of the village. Chatty Canadian owner/chef/bartender Roger shakes quality cocktails and roasts generous portions of spare ribs and pork medallions served with house-made barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes and an excellent broccoli salad. You’ll also find a few Thai dishes to go with gazpacho and lamb curry. Mains run from 150 to over 400 baht — reasonable for dishes that would hold their own in Toronto’s fine-dining scene. When the main drag is sufficiently busy, Roger busts out a grill to offer some of Samet’s best burgers. Red Ginger is open for dinner only.

Heading further west towards Haad Sai Kaew, Perfect Dough does tasty, if messy, pizzas along with baguettes, burgers, house-made lasagne and good-size breakfasts. The personable Thai staff will bring your check in a pink heart-shaped box that says “I love you” — they do indeed appreciate their customers. The neighbouring Raan Nom Pang Bakery (sign in Thai) is the only bakery on the strip, selling fresh-baked blueberry donuts and bread out of a glass display case along the main drag.

Closer to Haad Sai Kaew, a small night market materialises after dark to offer Thai-style icy desserts along with staple street dishes like khao ka muu (stewed pork shanks with rice), corn on the cob and fried chicken with sticky rice. While these are a few of Samet Village’s highlights, you’ll find many other small restaurants serving simple Thai rice dishes, Western breakfasts, sandwiches and fresh coffee at some of the cheapest prices on the island.

If the big, thumping bars on the nearby beaches aren’t your idea of a good time, pop into one of the watering holes that dot the village’s main drag. Roger’s Bar and Island Bar are like a pair of twins, each with deals on beer and cocktails set to classic rock played loud enough to be heard down the street. These draw a mix of foreign travellers and expat punters taking breaks from Pattaya — expect a hint of seediness to go with the lively conversations. For a younger backpacker vibe, Olly’s Bar is a better choice.

Haad Sai Kaew
On Haad Sai Kaew and other beaches, the best way to grab a good feed without leaving your lounger is to flag down one of the roving beach vendors who carry around fresh fruit and all the makings for som tam, grilled chicken and mango sticky rice — order all of the above for a great two-person lunch for less than 200 baht. When the sun goes down, at least half a dozen beach carts emerge to fry up sweet and flaky roti from unleavened dough.

Haad Sai Kaew beach vendor.

Haad Sai Kaew beach vendor.

Centrally located where the road meets the centre of the beach, Buddie’s serves big portions of tasty Thai dishes along with decent burgers, pasta and fresh coffee. Their full-on English breakfasts will cost you 300 baht but could be just the hangover cure you need. Behind Buddie’s in the shaded strip that portals visitors from the beach to Samet Village, Jump Coffee is Samet’s best stab at an urban Thai-style coffee shop. Along with the fresh coffee they offer free WiFi, ice cream, cake and croissants in a stylish air-con atmosphere.

A bunch of large-scale restaurants invade the sand after dark with low-lying cushions and tables set up by candlelight. It starts with barbecue, which generally entails a choice of prawns, squid, red snapper, sea bass, steak or chicken to go with potato, corn, rice, bread and more. Menus and prices are similar from one restaurant to the next, but Ploy Talay is probably the most popular.


Mermaid of Sunrise bar.

Offering fire-dancing shows at 21:30 and 22:30 and live music in between, Ploy is also one of the most popular nightlife options on the beach. Just south of Ploy is the quirkily named Mermaid of Sunrise Bar with its beachside dance floor thumping to mainstream hits, techno and light shows.

At the other end of the beach, Grand View Resort’s Finale Bar is an urban-themed club with slick lighting and bass-heavy music pumped over one of the beach’s best sound systems. If you lean towards more rag-tag (and cheaper) beach bars, Laem Yai Hut’s Rehab Bar is worthy of a cold beer or cocktail set to the sounds of Bob Marley and Jack Johnson.

Ao Hin Khok and Ao Phai
With wood tables set on the sand under a massive tree lit up with lanterns, Jep’s spacious beachside terrace on Ao Hin Khok is one of the most alluring spots to eat on Ko Samet. The menu has Thai and Western standards but also a few Indian, Mexican and Japanese dishes. This is one of the only places where you’ll find cakes and other baked goods of reasonable quality to go with fresh coffee and a full bar. At night, Jep’s barbecue excels, with a range of Indian and Korean dishes in addition to the standard beef, chicken and seafood kebabs. Service is usually slow and sometimes haphazard, so expect a leisurely meal.

Naga Bar.

Naga Bar.

On the opposite side of Ao Hin Khok, the more dishevelled Naga Bar is like Jep’s unruly younger sibling. Set on a hill overlooking the sand, Naga has a backpacker party vibe after dark with a long list of cocktails. During happy hours from 03:00 to 09:30, most single cocktails go for 80 baht and specialty buckets like “Orgasm” run 300 baht, while Thai whiskey with Coke runs just 100 baht per bucket. At any time of day, the billiards table, picnic tables, floor cushions and hammocks make it a good place to meet other travellers.

Covered by an enormous concrete awning on Ao Phai, Silversand is a happening nightlife spot, especially on weekends. Get here early for lots of great drink specials, including buckets but also more refined mojitos and martinis. Expect a DJ, hip bartenders and backpackers mixing it up with Thai college kids. You’ll find a dance floor, tables and mats on the beach, and a stand that serves burgers, grilled meatballs and noodles after 21:00. If Silver Sand’s scene is a bit much for you, walk a few steps north up the beach to find a string of independent beach bar shacks that can be a lot fun.

Ao Wong Duean
The long-running Baywatch Bar is a relaxing European-style beach cafe that’s great for a quick meal or long, lazy lounge. Barstools and beanbag chairs surround the bar, which was playing classic Django Reinhardt jazz when we passed through. Along with beer and cocktails, Baywatch serves a few Dutch and German dishes to go with sandwiches made with baguettes and some of the best pizza on Samet, or so we’ve heard.

Ao Wong Duean barbecue.

Ao Wong Duean barbecue.

By late afternoon you’ll start to see the barbecue displays appearing in front of every resort, allowing you to see what looks freshest before deciding. We found that Vong Deuan Resort does a solid job with grilled Thai-style pearl snapper and Western-style barbecued chicken with baked potato and corn, among many other options. Food prices are high on Ao Wong Duean and the other southern bays — you can save cash by grabbing a simple Thai rice plate at a stall that sets up behind the bay along the main road. Plenty of grilled chicken and fresh fruit vendors also roam the beach during the day.

While Ao Wong Duean doesn’t party like the northern beaches, you will find several small beach bars operating in the northern corner of the bay. For a round of billiards along with a pizza, give Tom Pizza a try. We’ve yet to try the food at Blue Sky, but its non-pretentious bar on a terrace placed over the northern end of the beach has a setting that won’t fail to please.

With few exceptions, food and drink on the smaller bays is limited to the resort restaurants.

Ao Phrao’s three large-scale resorts all offer stylish terraces where you can enjoy a drink set to the sunset, but prepare to pay a premium. Our first choice would be Lima Coco, the least pretentious of the three. If you’re looking for an upscale fine-dining experience, Le Vimarn’s Breeze Restaurant does sophisticated Thai and Italian, including wood-fired pizza and a decent wine list. The chocolate souffle served warm with vanilla ice cream is as good as it sounds.

 A cheery Ao Cho vendor.

A cheery Ao Cho vendor.

Over the years we’ve also had decent Thai food at Tubtim Resort on Ao Tubtim; Ao Nuan Bungalows on Ao Nuan; Ban Khiang Talay on Ao Sang Thian; and Apache Bungalows on Ao Lung Dum.

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Aquamarine sea meets secluded coves and busy beaches on Ko Samet, one of Thailand’s most popular islands and a handy getaway from Bangkok. The island offers no fewer than 16 beaches with a variety of different scenes, often with white sand so fine that it’s like stepping on silk-feather pillows.

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