The main drag through Chaweng is stacked with so many Thai restaurants, barbecue joints, steakhouses, fast-food outlets, food courts, cafes, pubs and nightclubs that indecisive travellers might implode. Many places offer voluminous menus full of Thai, Western and perhaps Indian or Chinese dishes that are not cheap, with none of it done particularly well. With that said, you will come across some good eats if you look hard enough.
Coffee shops that don’t have the stamp of major international brands are surprisingly hard to come by in Chaweng. Thankfully there’s Bar Baguette, a French-style cafe with indoor and outdoor seating in Central Chaweng. Opening bright and early, it does quality espresso and cappuccino served with a selection of pastries and creative breakfast plates like potato gnocchi with pumpkin and kaffir lime – offerings that are similar to what’s available at sister establishment, Fisherman’s House Cafe, up in Bophut. We enjoyed a croissant with melted Gruyere cheese and ham topped with a fried egg.
Talad Laem Din is a large fresh market displaying fruit and seafood along with noodle soups and finger snacks, like gluay tort (deep-fried bananas). Chances are the ingredients for most of those overpriced curries at the tourist restaurants were bought here for cheap. Starting at around 17:00, a night market sets up beside Laem Din and draws local Thais, resulting in authentic fare like som tam and Southern Thai curries starting at only 40 baht a plate, with tables for eating on site. Continue west up Chaweng Soi 3 after dark and you’ll find many more street carts and open-fronted restaurants where you can often save cash on barbecued seafood, which is readily available but quite expensive at the endless tourist-oriented eateries on the beach road.
A couple of other night markets set up in Chaweng primarily for tourists, including one stretching between the east bank of Chaweng Lake and the beach road in the centre of town, just south of the Central Festival shopping centre. Barbecued chicken skewers, burgers, pizza and hit-or-miss Thai and Indian fare are examples of what’s cooked up by a rectangle of vendors encasing a large spread of tables. The atmosphere is lively and a few makeshift bars sell cocktails and beer – you’ll even find imports like Paulaner and Hoegaarden mixed into the Chang beer towers.
The centrally located Thai Garden Restaurant serves authentic Isaan food for less than 100 baht a plate – it’s the first place where we’ve ever seen som tam pla raa (Lao/Isaan-style shredded green papaya salad with fermented fish sauce) included on an English menu. While the grilled chicken was a bit oily for our taste, the spicy tam mamuang (green mango salad) hit the spot with a big basket of sticky rice on the side. Thai Garden shares a large open-sided dining area with Gringos Cantina, a Tex-Mex spot serving margaritas, tostadas and some Indian-Mexican fusion options, like curried lamb burrito and masala enchiladas, for around 300 baht a plate. Throw in billiards, foosball tables and a mini-golf course out back, and these two combine to form a real crowd pleaser.
Towards the south side of Chaweng’s main drag, a streetside wok whips up pad Thai served at a few plastic tables on the footpath – find it at the corner of the main drag and the side lane which hosts the Ploen Chaweng and Mercure Chaweng Tara hotels. Around the corner, we also had good luck with a well-balanced plate of yum woon sen kung (glass noodle salad with prawn) at Pott Restaurant, which serves a wide range of Thai dishes along with whole barbecued fish for cheaper than most places on the beach road.
At the higher end of the price spectrum, Poppies Restaurant serves refined Thai dishes like gai hor bai toey (chicken cooked in banana leaves) and pla kaphong tort sam rot (whole fried sea bass with three flavours) at a large beachside restaurant. It offers set menus as well, with prices for single dishes ranging from 200 to 800 baht. We missed trying it on our last visit, but it’s been going strong for more than two decades and people rave about it.
After asking around to find a good choice out of Chaweng’s many Indian restaurants, we ended up with a fine lamb vindaloo for around 200 baht at Noori India, an old favourite that also offers a chicken tikka masala set with rice, nan and drink for 300 baht. For Chinese cuisine, you might skip the beach road restaurants in favour of the long-running restaurant at Chinese-run O.P. Bungalows, with beachside seating and Thai and Western fare also available.
The nightlife epicentre in Chaweng – and Ko Samui as a whole – is Soi Green Mango, a narrow lane in the centre of town stacked with large dance clubs in an explosion of neon pink and purple. Clubs like Green Mango and Sweet Soul (two clubs under one roof) churn out buckets of Sangsom Rum with Coke or Red Bull to the revellers, along with the usual beer, cocktails and blasting music. The slightly less sloppy Sound Club features multiple rooms where some of the DJs that rock Ko Pha Ngan’s full moon parties hone their skills. Always keep an eye on your drink and stay in control while in party mode around here.
You’ll have to pass a bunch of sleazy “hostess bars” on the way to another popular club, Reggae Pub, featuring live music and DJs (not only reggae) and an open-air dance floor beside Chaweng Lake and a 10-minute walk from Chaweng centre. It opened in 1988 as nothing but a shack, eventually morphing into a sizable two-floor nightclub with billiards tables and multiple bars. It’s so well known that the street it’s located on was named after it.
For a fun night by the sea, head down to the beachside pool at Ark Bar for their major parties, with free barbecues on Wednesdays. It gets cranking at 14:00 and keeps rolling until around 02:00. Non-guests can pay a 300 baht fee to use the pool and a lounger, or you could simply wander in late and join the dancers flailing in their skimpy suits to the beats of resident trance and electronica DJs backed by lightshows like you might see at a rave – and some intense fire-spinning performers on the beach. Ark Bar also features a large restaurant and multiple bars with TVs and billiards.
In the centre of Chaweng along the beach road, large sports bars like The Islander and Bondi boast billiards tables, big-screen TVs showing soccer or rugby, and plenty of places to sit with a cold beer while chatting up the expats, including quite a few Australians. In Chaweng’s southern reaches, smaller pubs like Liquid Lounge and Chill Chaweng offer more relaxing settings; both double as hostels and you’ll usually find some travellers to chat with. You could also hit a ladyboy cabaret at Moulin Rouge, Starz or Paris Follies – stroll by on the street before the shows to meet some of the leggy performers.
Chaweng Noi doesn’t have much of a scene thanks to the massive resorts that dominate the beach, but you will find one little beach shack holdout called Sunshine Beach Bar towards the south end. Located next to the bigger and far trendier The Beach Club, Sunshine churns out good, simple Thai dishes in an open kitchen, serving them to bamboo tables set under individual thatch roofs. It’s also a good option for a smoothie, cocktail or beer overlooking a beautiful stretch of sand.
If you want to have a bite to eat while looking down over Chaweng from afar, The Jungle Club boasts some of the island’s most breathtaking views from a large restaurant and bar serving quality Thai food, including a barbecue for dinner. Most dishes go for 100 to 300 baht, which also bags you a dip in the hillside pool. It’s ideal for an hour of grazing, but don’t drink too much if you’re driving, or plan ahead and call for a pick-up, as it’s a steep ride back down the mountain. We’ve also heard good things about 9 Gems, a more upscale option with views from rooftop daybeds and a selection of wines and champagnes.
9 Gems: 141 Moo 6 (west of Chaweng Lake); open Tue-Thu 16:00-24:00 and Fri-Sun 16:00-02:00; T: (077) 256 125 ; http://www.9gemssamui.com
Ark Bar: 159/89 Moo 2 (off the beach road, centre of Chaweng); open daily from morning to 02:00; T: (077) 961 333
Bar Baguette: The Wharf Plaza (off the beach road, centre of Chaweng); open 07:00-22:00; T: (094) 804 1221
Green Mango & Sweet Soul: Soi Green Mango; open 21:00 until late; http://www.thegreenmangoclub.com/
Laem Din Market: Chaweng Soi 3 (just southwest of Soi Reggae and a five-minute walk from the beach road); day market open 04:00-17:00, night market open 17:00-02:00.
Noori India: Two locations: one in South Chaweng just north of Chaweng Cove Beach Resort, the other in Central Chaweng across from Chaweng Buri Resort; open 11:30-23:30; T: (077) 300 757 ; (086) 740 7873
O.P. Chinese Restaurant: At O.P. Bungalows, North Chaweng; open for lunch and dinner; T: (077) 300 554
Poppies Restaurant: At Poppies Samui Resort, South Chaweng; open 11:30-22:30; T: (077) 422 419
Pott Restaurant: At Pott Guesthouse, South Chaweng; open 08:00-21:00; T: (084) 184 3084
Reggae Pub: North end of Soi Reggae; open late afternoon until late; T: (077) 422 331
Sunshine Beach Bar: South Chaweng Noi (look for a big black-and-white sign that says, “To The Beach”); open for lunch and dinner.
Thai Garden and Gringos Cantina: Central Chaweng (on a lane running parallel to Soi Green Mango with The Islander at the corner); open 11:00-22:00; T: (081) 892 1416
The Jungle Club: Chaweng Noi (look for the sign on the ring road); open for lunch and dinner; T: (081) 894 2327 ; (081) 891 8263
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.
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