By the piers, plenty of options
Ko Tao’s main ferry hub boasts the island’s second largest selection of food and drink, after Sairee. Thai food that hasn’t been watered down for Western tastes is hard to come by, but you’ll find no shortage of international food along with a fistful of pubs.
A good place to start your day is Cappuccino, a French-run bakery and cafe serving excellent 150-baht breakfasts with fresh coffee and high-end sausage along with croissants and other baked goods displayed up front. It’s a good lunch option too, with grilled eggplant paninis, falafels and a range of healthy pasta salads. Zest is another fine choice for coffee and breakfast, located just up the street from Cappuccino.
For cheap food, the beachfront lane running between the Lomprayah and Songserm piers fills up with vendors in the evenings. Pad Thai, som tam, grilled chicken skewers, fried chicken sandwiches and fruit shakes are examples of the munchies sold for 50 to 120 baht and scarfed down while walking or on the beach.
For a more refined – and much pricier – dinner with sea views, grab a table at Whitening and let a kaffir and cucumber refresher cocktail wet your appetite for whole baked snapper, prime Australian tenderloin or grilled duck curry, a few of the selections found on the Thai-Western fusion menu that was recommended to us. Prices start at 180 baht and reach above 400 baht for steaks and seafood. For a vegan meal, Le Quirt over on the main drag also looked promising.
We tried several Thai restaurants in Mae Haad and had some boring meals, but we did score an authentic dinner of som tam and nam tok muu (pork neck salad with toasted rice and herbs) at a roadside shack called Sawasdee Thai Food. It doesn’t look like much but an English menu is available and the cook believed us when we said we could handle it spicy. A few tables are set in an indoor area and out on the street side, with prices starting at just 50 baht.
One spot that successfully blurs the line between Thai and Western food is Bam Bam, a nondescript eatery with bamboo tables that fill up with local dive instructors in need of a good feed. They come for huge portions of Thai curries, noodle dishes and steamed whole fishes which are tasty, even if done a bit differently for Westerners. The owner, a boisterous woman who loves to laugh, has a creative flair when it comes to Western food. She must have considered dishes like deep-fried chicken and fries (which are hand-cut here, by the way) to be too bland, so she threw slices of lemongrass and ginger into the breading. The results are delicious and unlike anything we’ve tried before. Portions are huge and reasonably priced, with simple Thai dishes fetching 100 baht and Western options going for around 200 baht.
If you’re in the mood for Italian, Famoso Pizza is a solid option for pasta and pizza starting at just 130 baht and served piping hot alongside a handful of wine options. The nearby Taco Shack is great for lunch, wrapping up huge California-style burritos with vegetables or roasted pork and pineapple, served with a spread of house-made salsas. The bar and billiards table at Taco also gets rocking after dark.
For a night out, a good place to start is Bro and Sis along the beachfront lane, which has sea-view tables, several billiards tables and a bartender shaking up caipirinhas among a good mix of cocktails. From here you might walk north and take a left, heading inland on the road that runs uphill from Songserm Pier (also home to Bam Bam). Several small pubs line this street, including Baby Rasta, which includes a VW bus bar and dreadlocked bartenders as part of Mae Haad’s essential reggae pub. Expats are drawn to nearby Tanison’s Place for its relaxed vibe and billiards table. If you don’t want to miss a soccer match, head over to the main drag and grab a seat at the British-style Reef Bar.
Bam Bam: On the road running inland from Songserm Pier; open for lunch and dinner
Cappuccino: Main drag through Mae Haad; open 08:00-17:00
Famoso Pizza: On the road that running inland from Seatran Pier; open for lunch and dinner; T: (077) 456 820
Sawasdee Thai Food: Corner of the main drag and the main inland road, next to the gas station; open 17:00-22:00
Taco Shack: On the road running inland from Seatran Pier; open 11:00 until late
Whitening: open for dinner only; T: (077) 456 199
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.