Ko Mak has a decent spread of places to eat along with some low-key nightlife, though most places are gear towards Western tourists and you won’t find much Thai-style street food. Simple Thai dishes start at around 60 baht on the low end, with pricier restaurants and many resorts charging 120 baht or more. Many eateries close for low season.
The road running behind central Ao Kao hosts around a dozen freestanding restaurants and cafes that comprise the island’s largest selection of food and drink in one place. In the mornings we kept returning to Ball Cafe for the banana bread, yogurt cake and baguettes served with fresh coffee and smoothies to tables spread around a garden lawn. Owner Ball is a Bangkok native who has spent many years on Mak; he’s a pleasure to chat with and also a reliable source for travel advice and transport bookings.
Another spot we like on this miniature main drag is Food Art Hut, an open-sided cafe where you’ll also find fresh coffee and some Western options like pizza and avocado toast, though we’ve always come for the Thai food. The menu includes photos of each dish along with the Thai names transliterated into Roman script, and it goes well beyond the usual pad Thai and panang. We had a tasty kai khaw haeng, a stir-fried dish with Northern Thai roots that blends chicken with lemongrass, roasted chillies and kaffir lime in a savoury sauce.
A fine choice for dinner is Food Garden, offering an extensive Thai menu with a focus on seafood and meats barbecued right out front by the road. It’s a classic Thai-style place where dishes come out in large portions and tables are spread around a garden draped in fairy lights, making for one of Mak’s more romantic off-the-beach dining options. We didn’t eat here on our most recent visit, but in the past we awarded high marks to a salad of fish, lemongrass and fresh chillies.
For a more modest setting, the long-running Aimmy Restaurant is a centrally located family-run joint where Thai staples like krapao and som tam go for just 60 baht. A similar option is Good Food by Nan; we haven’t tried the food but the fact that it fills up with long stayers and locals is a good sign. Next to that sits Island Gelato—grab a cone and go for a stroll on the sand before ending up at Baan Koh Mak’s cool little beach bar, or the reggae and live music scene at Monkey Island.
Follow the road to eastern Ao Kao to find another cluster of restaurants and bars that are worth a trip. One of the most popular is Koh Mak Pizza for its brick oven churning out crispy pies, while nearby Swiss Sawasdee does Jager schnitzel and curry bratwurst. Nearby Coco Bar serves wines and cocktails crafted from a large liquor selection, and the dimly lit lounge with sofas makes it a good choice for a wind down after dark. For something less trendy, we’ve heard that Cafe Del Mak’s British owners are friendly and the bar is popular with dive instructors.
Follow the road from Ao Kao to Ao Suan Yai and you’ll pass Art House, one of the funkier bars on the island. Head a little further north from there and turn right to find Vista Cafe, which is well worth a stop for the free-trade Northern Thai coffee, brownies and other goodies baked on site. Dig in as you enjoy one of the finest views in the archipelago. While Ao Suan Yai hosts only resort restaurants, Sabay Bar is a good place to kick your feet up near the centre of the bay. There’s also an organic farm stretching behind the beach and some of the veggies are prepared in Thai dishes served at a little cafe.
Heading back east, a turn down to Ao Nid takes you to the German-run Steakhouse and Bakery, a top spot for hardy breakfasts like bauernfruestueck (fried potato baked with onion, egg and ham). Sandwiches are made on house-baked baguettes and accompanied by fresh coffee or German beer. You’ll also find ribeye and several other steaks fetching around 300 baht. The bakery provides birthday cakes on request, and we like the seaside dining room overlooking the bay. Just up the hill from Steakhouse sits Sweet Cake by Moo, another fine option for breakfast, coffee and baked goods.
But the dining highlight of Ao Nid has to be Koh Mak Seafood, another classic Thai-style spot with a large deck set on stilts above the bay in what is arguably the most romantic dining setting on the island. The menu features standard Thai-style seafood and you will find some daring options like gaeng pa, an intensely spiced “jungle curry”; and pad chaa nam pla, raw prawns soaked in fish sauce and served with fresh chillies and garlic. Right next to Koh Mak Seafood sits Smile Koh Mak Cooking School—we’ve heard great things about the classes conducted in a wooden house by the sea.
Though defined more by rubber groves than beach resorts, Ko Mak’s eastern reaches hide a couple of restaurants that are worth going out of your way for. First up is Bamboo Bar and Restaurant, where the American manager relies on his southwestern US roots to prepare quality burritos and tacos with marinated pork and house-made pico de gallo stuffed into corn tortillas. The Thai/Mexican fusion options, including a laab tostada, also sounded intriguing.
Out on Ko Mak’s easternmost beach, Laem Son Restaurant’s shack of a kitchen churns out big pots of tom yum, spicy seafood salads and fresh squid steamed in a bath of lime juice, garlic and chillies. Prices are reasonable and the tables spread out beneath towering son trees make for an unforgettable atmosphere. Even if you’re not hungry, do grab a beer or soda and have a chat with the friendly owners, who hail from Nakhon Ratchasima.
When it comes time for sunset, make your way to the decks filled with floor cushions at Banana Sunset Bar to the south of Ao Nid—stick around after dark and you might find backpackers hanging to live music. From there you could head inland to Koh Mak Sports Bar, offering a billiards table, flatscreen TVs showing soccer and imported beers along with burgers and sandwiches prepared on bread baked at Steakhouse and Bakery.
In addition to the above, most resorts have their own restaurants and while we haven’t tried many of them, we’ve heard good things about the food at Big Easy, Monkey Island and Pano Resort, to name a few.
Art House Bar Between Ao Kao and Ao Suan Yai; T: (089) 965 2872; Mo–Su: 18:00–late.
Ball Cafe Ao Kao (across from Baan Koh Mak); T: (081) 925 6591; Mo–Su: Breakfast and lunch.
Bamboo Bar and Restaurant At Bamboo Hideaway Resort in east Ko Mak; T: (039) 501 085; .
Cafe Del Mak Southern Ao Kao; Mo–Su: 18:00–01:00.
Coco Bar Southern Ao Kao; Mo–Su: 10:00–24:00.
Food Art Hut Central Ao Kao; T: (085) 447 4028; Mo–Su: 08:00–21:00.
Food Garden Central Ao Kao; T: (092) 776 2090; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Koh Mak Pizza Southern Ao Kao; T: (083) 078 5570; Mo–Su: 12:00–21:00.
Koh Mak Seafood Ao Nid; T: (089) 833 4474; Mo–Su: 10:30–21:30.
Laem Son Restaurant Laem Son; Mo–Su: 09:00–18:00.
Smile Koh Mak Cooking School Ao Nid (next to Koh Mak Seafood); T: (081) 901 9972; Morning and afternoon classes start at 1,200 baht per person.
Steakhouse and Bakery Ao Nid; Mo–Su: 08:30–20:30.
Sweet Cake by Moo Ao Nid; T: (089) 491 0224; Mo–Su: 08:00–17:00.
Swiss Sawasdee Southern Ao Kao; T: (086) 026 6202; Mo–Su: 18:00–22:00.
Vista Cafe Thaidaho Vista Resort, between Ao Kao and Ao Suan Yai; Mo–Su: 10:00–16:00.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.