There is good stuff available if you know where to look, including authentic Muslim-Thai fare around the mosque, fresh seafood in Haad Noppharat Thara and a strong selection of international eats. Ao Nang’s nightlife draws quite a few travellers—some even dress up to hit the town. Whether you’re after tom yum, pizza or martinis, expect to pay a premium.
After arriving in Ao Nang we always head straight up the main drag towards the towering local mosque, Masjid Ao Nang, to score fiery curries and soups at one of the khao gaeng (curry and rice) shops run by Muslim-Thais. On our last visit we hit a place called Raan Andaman Ao Nang Halal Food, fronted by orange plastic chairs and tables on the footpath. From trays in the glass display case we chose gaeng tai pla, an intense curry made with pickled fish entrails, along with a dark-red Southern Thai version of tom yum with fish. Both were delicious. The two dishes plus a mound of rice and a soda cost just over 100 baht, including a complimentary plate of cucumber with a kapi (shrimp paste) dipping sauce. We ate there at 11:00 and were full until 22:00.
Also on the main drag near the mosque sits the open kitchen and dining counter at Boat Noodle Ao Nang. The namesake dish, called kuay thiao ruea in Thai, features tender beef with rice noodles and morning glory stalks in a dark brown broth flavoured by the juice that drips from the roasting meat. The cooks also do quality pad Thai with prawn along with hoy tort (pan-fried oyster omelette). You do have to pay Ao Nang prices—80 baht for a larger-than-average bowl of boat noodles—but the flavours are worth it in our experience.
If looking for a bunch of street-food options in one place, hit the hawker centre that branches off the main drag, signposted as Jame Food Centre. Here you’ll find vendors in a roofed corridor slinging mango with sticky rice, grilled meat skewers and fresh-fruit smoothies to go with typical Thai street dishes like khao man gai (chicken rice) and khao mok gai (biryani rice with chicken leg). Prices are reasonable and you can order from as many stalls as you like; they’ll deliver to the shared tables at the centre.
Over in Haad Noppharat Thara, head to the western end of the beach road to find a well-known picnicking area where locals place their orders at one of the many roadside stalls before enjoying a leisurely munch in the shade of casuarina trees. Options include deep-fried young saltwater crab—the shells are edible and filled with calcium—along with grilled chicken, fish and squid. A plate of som tam is key with these meals, followed by coconut ice cream to cool down.
Since our last visit, local officials made an attempt to cure the area’s lack of a night market by opening a small one at the end of Ao Nang Soi 8, which cuts north off the beach road in a central spot between Ao Nang and Haad Noppharat Thara. Dubbed Ao Nang night market, it’s mainly for tourists but still not a bad place to grab grilled seafood, kebabs, pad Thai, pork skewers, cold beer and fresh juices. On site seating is available and there’s often live music, though the woman performing when we visited had a terrible voice.
It can be a struggle to find quality Thai fare on both the main drag and beach road in Ao Nang. We’ve had decent luck at Family Restaurant, which is easy to miss thanks to its side-street location on Ao Nang Soi 6. The gaeng karee with seafood had good balance and was prepared to our requested level of spiciness, and dishes like kua kling (spicy southern Thai-style minced meat) and kung ob wun sen (glass noodles and prawns baked in a pot with galangal and peppercorn) aren’t readily available at other Thai eateries in Ao Nang. There’s also a full seafood menu, and straying off the main drag rewards you with cheaper prices than at similar spots elsewhere.
The “seafood street” (Soi Sunset) at the western end of Ao Nang beach gets a lot of attention, but we think it’s a glorified alley hosting overpriced restaurants that aren’t as good as those found a little further west in Haad Noppharat Thara. This beach has long been popular with locals and Thai travellers, resulting in a well-entrenched selection of eateries dishing out flavourful Thai meals.
Near the top of the list is Krua Thara, a locally famous eatery fronted by tanks of still-swimming seafood. This no-frills spot dishes out plates of fresh, raw oysters and steamed cockles to munch on before you dig into a whole snapper, grilled scallops, saltwater crab or squid sizzled with garlic and pepper, to name a few. This is also a good place to try pak lieang, a leafy green with earthy tones that you’ll rarely find served in other regions of Thailand. Order it simple—stir-fried with egg and glass noodles—to catch the subtle flavour.
A seafood-heavy choice for a bit less cash is Potjawan on the beach road. The gaeng som pla (sour orange curry with fish) and kung chae nam pla (raw prawn soaked in fish sauce) were tasty, though we didn’t get around to trying the Isaan offerings. Not far from Potjawan, Blue Bayou served us several Thai meals that were reasonably priced and delicious, especially the tom yum with fish. It’s also a good option for breakfast, Thai or Western, explaining why one expat who has lived in the area for years likes to start his days there.
For a Thai meal in a more upscale setting, A-One Restaurant, which is right next to Blue Bayou, offers a candlelit ambiance, full cocktail bar and well-balanced Thai dishes starting at around 150 baht. It reminded us of great Thai restaurants found in cities like Sydney and New York. For 220 baht we thoroughly enjoyed a large portion of fresh prawns, mussels, fish and squid stir-fried with bell pepper and other veggies in a delicious garlic-and-pepper sauce. Though we didn’t try it, an expat told us that Bussaba Restaurant on Khlong Haeng Road is also a stellar Thai restaurant, with a similarly romantic atmosphere.
We also didn’t make it to the pair of restaurants—Lae Lay Grill and The Hilltop—set atop the hill accessible just off Khlong Haeng Road, but they could be worth a look for sundowners and a pricey sea-view meal.
The amount of restaurants serving international cuisines in Ao Nang is roughly equal to those focusing on Thai, making this a good place to satisfy that bread craving.
A winner in the cafe category is Cafe 8.98, serving fresh coffee, craft beer, creative cocktails and quality bites on Ao Nang’s main drag. Breakfasts include a terrific Spanish omelette, a full English fry up and healthy choices like the “green bowl,” featuring half an avocado with two poached eggs, quinoa, steamed bok choy and salsa verde. For lunch you could opt for artichoke-and-ricotta ravioli or parma-ham with buffalo-mozzarella sandwich. The same group runs nearby Jenna’s, which also does a wide yet smart mix of Western food in a more refined ambiance with live acoustic music at dinnertime.
The Ao Nang area hosts quite a few Italian expats and some of them have opened restaurants—do seek them out rather than settling for third-rate pizza at the multi-purpose eateries. Our favourite of those we’ve tried is Azzurra, sporting wall murals of Tuscan scenes to go with sea views from across the beach road. Open since 1998, it offers a solid wine selection and a good range of antipasti and homemade pasta—the taglietelle with seafood was fantastic. It’s not cheap but well worth the splurge. Though we’ve not tried it, Umberto’s is another Italian spot that was recommended to us.
If you’re in the mood for a steak, Diver’s Inn on the main drag in Ao Nang is a long-running spot that’s popular with expats thanks to its imported New Zealand ribeye and filet mignon, perhaps finished off with a house-made slice of German chocolate cake. With chunky wooden tables covered in dark plaid tablecloths, the atmosphere is classically Euro and prices for the seriously hearty stodge are not cheap, but you won’t leave hungry. We’ve also heard good things about the steak at Carnivore over on Khlong Haeng Road.
No destination in Thailand has a higher density of Indian-run restaurants than Ao Nang, and two spots that we can verify will hit the spot are Tandoori Nights and Maharaja. Both of these and nearly all of the many restaurants with similar looks also serve Thai and Western dishes.
The Last Fisherman Bar is one of a few places that fill up for sunset off the beachfront pedestrian walkway towards the southeast end of Ao Nang beach—there’s also a mixed Thai/Western menu but most come for the ambiance. For sunset we also like the far eastern corner of Haad Noppharat Thara, where La Luna boasts a large seafront deck, billiards table and thumping sound system. If that’s a bit much for you, grab a seat at one of the wooden benches provided by a little shack serving coffee, cold beer and fresh coconuts nearby.
Once twilight has past, much of the action moves up the main drag to the vicinity of RCA, a side street that hosts a cluster of neon-pink “hostess bars.” Though we steer clear of that mildly seedy scene, Get Rads is a funky bar at the front corner of the strip that can be fun for a cocktail or two.
The most raucous nightlife in Ao Nang comes in a three-floor complex known as Centrepoint, located just off the beach road. Chang Bar is one of the largest, loudest and most popular spots found here, hosting live bands and DJs until late, but you’ll find several others clustered close together around a statue of a drunken guy falling down. Centrepoint’s third floor hosts the Blue Dragon ladyboy cabaret, which is fun and not sleazy—don’t be afraid to bring the kids. Before the shows, the performers hang out along the beach road dressed in their elaborate gowns, trying to woo passersby in for a performance.
Those who prefer a reggae scene should head to Haad Noppharat Thara, where Hippies Bar and Green Bar both host live bands in open-fronted halls dressed in yellow, green and red. For something even mellower, Lazy Bar on Noppharat Thara Soi 13 is a friendly spot where you can chill out on floor cushions and jam on the guitars and hand drums.
If you want to try out a little of all of the above while mingling in a group of mostly gap-year and twenty-something travellers, check out the weekly pub crawls organised by Slumber Party Hostel.
A-One Restaurant 79/1 Noppharat Thara Rd; T: (082) 419 6989; Mo–Su: 09:00-23:00.
Ao Nang Night Market End of Ao Nang Soi 8 (between Ao Nang and Haad Noppharat Thara); Mo–Su: 17:00–22:00.
Azzurra 142/1-2 Ao Nang Rd (towards west end of beach road facing Ao Nang beach); T: (075) 637 848; Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Blue Dragon Cabaret Third floor, Centrepoint (just off the beach road in Ao Nang); T: (081) 535 266; http://www.bluedragoncabaret.com/ .
Boat Noodle Ao Nang Ao Nang Rd (on main drag just east of Ao Nang Soi 13); T: (086) 271 9528; Mo–Su: 10:00–21:00.
Bussaba Thai Restaurant 249 Khlong Haeng Rd; T: (075) 661 409; Mo–Su: 12:00–22:30.
Cafe 8.98 143/7-8 Ao Nang Rd (on main drag); T: (075) 656 980; Mo–Su: 07:00–23:00.
Carnivore Steak and Grill 127 Khlong Haeng Rd; T: (075) 661 061; Mo–Su: 12:30–22:00.
Chang Bar First floor, Centrepoint (just off the beach road in Ao Nang); Mo–Su: 18:00–03:00.
Diver’s Inn 27/9 Ao Nang Rd (on main drag); T: (075) 637 297; Mo–Su: 08:00–23:00.
Family Restaurant Ao Nang Soi 6; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Get Rads 459/2 Ao Nang Rd (main drag next to RCA); Mo–Su: 16:00–03:00.
Green Bar Noppharat Thara Rd (just east of Potjawan); Mo–Su: 16:00–24:00.
Hippies Bar Noppharat Thara Rd (just east of Green Bar); Mo–Su: 10:00–24:00.
Jame Food Centre Ao Nang Rd (on main drag across from Haleeva Sunshine Hotel); .
Krua Thara Faces car park near the pier and national park headquarters at west end of Haad Noppharat Thara; T: (075) 661 166; Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Maharaja Restaurant Ao Nang Rd (on main drag); T: (075) 695 625; Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Potjawan Seafood Noppharat Thara Rd (just east of Noppharat Thara Soi 13); Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Raan Andaman Ao Nang Halal Food Ao Nang Rd (on main drag across from the mosque and next to Mr Kord Motorbike Rental); .
Tandoori Nights Restaurant Ao Nang Rd (on main drag); T: (087) 464 3364; Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
The Last Fisherman Bar On the walkway near southeast end of Ao Nang beach; T: (081) 458 0170; Mo–Su: 12:00–24:00.
The Lazy Bar Noppharat Thara Soi 13 (just east of Sabai Resort and Cashew Nut Bungalows); T: (093) 193 1280; Mo–Su: 08:00–02:00.
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.