Be sure to enjoy plenty of cheap, authentic food back in Trang because you won’t find it on Ko Ngai, where a bottle of water can cost more than a meal on the mainland. Expect to pay a minimum of 100 baht for simple dishes like fried rice, with curries and stir-fries running between 120 and 200 baht, and seafood, along with Western dishes, reaching up to 300 baht or more.
Remember: if you spend a small fortune on a terrible meal, remain calm and refrain from making a fool of your self. Breathe deeply, go for a walk and grab a Snickers bar from the minimart at Koh Hai Fantasy. You’ll live to eat another day.
To ensure that the above scenario doesn’t have to unfold, pull up a chair at one of the tables scattered haphazardly over the sand at Sea Taste, one of very few freestanding restaurants on Ngai. The gaeng khiao wan (green curry) and yum talay (seafood salad) were both very tasty and served in big portions, even if we had to wait a while for the staff to deliver them. The connected Sea Bar is also one of the island’s better places to grab a Chang or mai tai, and there are even a few tents out the back if you feel like settling in here.
Another standout for Thai food is Coco Cottage, offering a thoughtful menu featuring Thai names transliterated into Roman script. Options that you won’t find elsewhere include hor mok talay (steamed seafood curry cakes) and stir-fried kale with oysters. The Thai-Western “burger” made with gai yang (grilled chicken) also piqued our curiosity. Efficient staffers serve cocktails, wines and excellent coffee to wooden tables set up beneath a massive thatched pavilion that’s probably the most atmospheric place to eat on Ngai.
Diners flock to Koh Hai Seafood’s candlelit tables every night when the barbecue gets rolling. Those looking for cheaper choices can grab a quick Thai dish like krapao or fried rice for 80 baht, some of the more reasonable prices on the island. The bowl of tom yum that we tried could have had more heat and flavour, but the prawns and squid were very fresh. We also took an interest in the “yum playboy,” a spicy salad of chicken and shredded green mango.
The twin restaurants at Thapwarin and Mayalay resorts are fine choices for Western dishes like pizza and beef tenderloin along with Thai curries and other dishes that are well balanced despite being toned down for Western tastes. They also offer seafood barbecue complimented by all kinds of iced coffee, teas, mixed juices and cocktails. A midday spicy ginger soda is a good choice, or perhaps the house mixture of rums and juices called "Bumbastic!" for after hours.
Ko Ngai is not a party island, but the beach bars at Koh Hai Camping and Sea Taste can both be fun places to chat up other travellers. For a mellow mood with impromptu jam sessions and a barbecue, head up to Light My Fire Society.