Muk will do you right if you’re coming from the sparse and pricey restaurants found on Ko Ngai or Ko Kradan. While just about every resort has its own restaurant, much of the best food can be scored at freestanding eateries run by the islanders.
Located just behind Charlie Resort, Mayow Thai Kitchen was supposedly the first restaurant on the island and it continues to churn out terrific Thai food. The yum muu yang (grilled pork salad) had a precise balance of sour lime juice and fiery chillies tempered by fresh cucumbers and tomatoes—it was the best single dish we had on our most recent visit to Muk. The massaman curry was also fabulous and a full page of fresh fish and crab dishes are hard to resist. Prices are reasonable, and we love the laid-back vibe set to blues, reggae and other music picked out by Mr Mayow himself.
If you don't mind paying a bit more for a table draped in one of Haad Farang's gorgeous sunsets, head to Ko Yao Viewpoint and its wooden deck built over rocks at the beach's far eastern end. They offer sandwiches and fish and chips, but the extensive Thai menu is the way to go. The tom yum soup with fish and som tam Thai were both spicy and flavourful—even if the MSG left our mouths tingling afterwards. Cocktails and beer are also available, making this a go-to sundowner option.
Moving inland, Hilltop Restaurant is another long-running spot that will make it spicy if you ask. Their motto is "Cheap cheap but different," which only makes sense after you encounter the owner’s hearty laugh and eccentric personality. She's an excellent chef, too, crafting some unusual dishes like steamed duck with soy sauce along with dozens of Thai standards served in big portions. Though not as spicy as we hoped for, the nam tok muu (“waterfall pork” salad) had excellent flavour. The owner enjoys showing customers around the menu and asking questions to help narrow down the choices. It’s a laid back spot with a big fridge full of beer; settle in for a long wait when it’s busy.
On the beach, Charlie Resort does a popular (and expensive) barbecue while serving reasonable Western fare and watered-down Thai at a huge restaurant. The fairy lights strung above tables on the sand are enchanting, but staffers can be slow and unresponsive and it’s easy for them to forget about you among the sea of tables. Charlie also sells decent rolls, pizza and cakes from the on-site bakery, while neighbouring Sawaddee does a cheaper barbecue in high season.
Ao Kham and the village
Wander around the village just inland from the pier to find Ko Muk’s strongest selection of freestanding restaurants. A standout is Ma Kin Ni (“Come Eat Here”), which opens from morning to night and does some Western bites along with flavourful Thai dishes. The pad see ew was tasty and filling for 70 baht, but the savoury tort man pla (fried fish cakes) and slow-cooked massaman with chicken on the bone left us planning our next visit. Fresh coffee and beer are also available. We didn’t get around to trying nearby De Local, but its streetside barbecue draws a crowd every night.
A bit further south from the pier fronting the sand and longtail boats of Ao Wua Nawn, Sugar’s is another good option offering fresh coffee, smoothies and Thai food. The soft-spoken owners serve pla neung manao (whole steamed fish with lime-and-garlic sauce) for just 120 baht—less than half of what you'll pay at Sivalai. You'll also find a good range of Thai dishes for under 80 baht, and ginger or chilli-garlic stir-fries served on sizzling steel platters for 120 baht. If you’re here in the morning, stroll a few doors up the lane to find authentic khao tom mut (rice flour with banana and other fillings steamed in coconut husks) along with Thai-style doughnuts at a little teashop.
A stone's throw from Sugar's is De Tara, a small resort that also boasts Muk's most stylish restaurant. They do solid cocktails (though their claim of "best margarita in the world" is a bit much) along with tasty Thai dishes, including some Southern specialties like gai tom kumin (cumin-flavoured chicken soup) and pad pong karee, seafood stir-fried with egg and Indian curry powder. Also worth a mention is Good Luck Restaurant, dishing out big plates of Thai food at a cosy eatery west of the pier on the way to Ao Kuan. The owners have great attitudes and the pad prik Thai talay (stir-fry with seafood in black-pepper sauce) really hit the spot for around 100 baht.
Though certainly not a party destination, Ko Muk does have its share of funky bars that are like magnets for solo travellers.
Located on the dirt lane running inland from Haad Farang, Ting Tong is easily the best bar on the island. Manager Su and her perpetually bare-chested younger cousin Bun are natives of the Trang mainland who both speak exceptional English and might just be the finest bartending duo this side of Phuket. They whip up great mojitos and margaritas while chatting up the crowd alongside a few French and German dudes who also pop behind the bar. While some of the long-staying Western barflies can be a bit loud and proud after a lot of beers, Su and Bun always seem to keep things positive and they really make the place special. They claim to stay open “until the last person leaves.”
If you prefer a mellow reggae vibe to go with sunset views, make your way to Mong Bar at the eastern corner of Haad Farang. Owner Mong serves cocktails and beer to travellers settling into cushioned seating in the tiny bar, or on bamboo loungers spread over the sand. Mong and his father Mayow (of Mayow Thai Kitchen) are close friends with legendary Thai reggae singer, Job 2 Do, who also hails from Trang—if you’ve hung around virtually any beach bar in Thailand there’s a good chance you’ve heard his “Doo Doo Doo” song. He swings by Ko Muk a few times per season and performs at Mong Bar.
The Ao Kham side of the island is quieter but you will find a few little watering holes. On the village strip near the pier, The Ku has a sports theme going with soccer on a few flat screens above the bar. Just past Team Restaurant on the side lane connecting the village strip to the cross-island road, Xoy Xoy looked to be the go-to spot for a reggae-inspired scene.
There’s also Go Go (not an actual go-go bar), a driftwood-and-bamboo shack next to Coco Lodge that would be our choice for a few drinks after dark on the Ao Kham side of the island. It’s slightly removed from the rest of the village, which is predominantly Muslim—it struck us as a little tasteless to pound beers on the village strip while you can hear the imam’s chanting in the mosque at prayer time. We suggest heading over to the Haad Farang side to let it all hang out.