Eating like a local:- Visiting Koh Phangan: Home of the Full Moon Party
Regional food specialties
Regional food specialties
This month marks the start of my recent journey through SE Asia. Me and my wife started out in Vietnam before moving onto Thailand but I'm going to start with our trip to the Thai island of Koh Phangan. If the name sounds familiar maybe you've heard about it's infamous Full Moon parties. We weren't there for one but you could still feel that party vibe amongst the visitors and even the locals. This is after all an island and life is more more laxed here than it is in other parts of Thailand. Don't think that all you can find on Koh Phangan is English assholes on ecstasy. On top of the natural beauty you'll find great resorts catering to couples, families etc and some real culture from locals.
Honestly it wasn't necessary for me to visit the islands but she insisted and I really had no choice. But once we were there I was reminded how much I love island life which is pretty much the same across the entire globe. It really just differs when it comes to the music, food, and beer of choice. Other than that I found life on Koh Phangan to be similar to that of Jamaica or Key West. Relaxing as fuck if that's what you wanted with plenty of trouble to get into if that's what you were looking for.
So what about the food? Well considering we were coming to the island from Bangkok and Hanoi and Hoi An before that the food wasn't exactly as exciting as those spots but it didn't have to be. That's bc those places were so good that not many spots can match them. But Koh Phangan can certainly match most any island it's size when it comes to good food. There's everything from street food to high end seafood with Night Markets and little mom and pop shops on just about every block.
Still I did very little research about where to eat on the island as I was too busy with the other spots. I figured I'd let it play out and it did. In some cases I returned to places for things I already had which is something I rarely do elsewhere as I like to try as much as I can. I even took a day off completely and did just about nothing except lounge around our beautiful property. More on that later in the round-up.
Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar
This is the spot that will keep popping up when searching best seafood on the island. It's one of the nicer restaurants on Koh Phangan. Luckily for us it was a short ride from our resort. The island isn't tiny but it only takes maybe 20-25 minutes to get from side to side. Still I would recommend staying on this side where this restaurant and most all the others I visited are located. Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar is a European owned spot that gets lots of tourists but it did get lots of good reviews for not just the food but also the wine selection. It's situated just off the water and the dining room is on the beach. For starters the locally famous calamari with peppers was extra fresh.
Locally Caught Calamari with Peppers at Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar
Onto the entrees which were both well done but you're paying extra for the service etc. I got the house special yellow curry (recipe from the chef's grandma) with prawns and she got a small little locally caught fish fried whole. Mine came with a side of coconut rice and while the prawns were slightly mushy it didn't take anything away from the vibrant sauce. She liked her fish but we both agreed at the end of the trip the others of it's kind we tried were not only better but also cheaper. So this is a nice spot for a date night but dont feel the need to come here unless you need that type of night. Bc service was great and the recommended wine was good while the food was above average.
Dinner at Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar
Sea Side Restaurant
One morning we took a cab over to Malibu Beach and lounged around for a little while. When we got hungry we walked over to this restaurant with favorable reviews. Lots of mentioned for their whole fried fish which we were cool with eating the entire trip. The yellow curry option looked like it would be delicious and it was just that. Not only was the fish great but the sauce tasted great spooned over the rice. These dishes might not have had as much dazzle and flair as some of the stuff in the big cities but it was wonderful in that home cooked sort of way. Places you'd like if in your neighborhood.
Fried Snapper with Yellow Curry
Here's one of those spots I mentioned I ate at twice. I'm not sure if this was a locals type place but it's off the main drag and seems to cater to tourists with a western part of the menu. But they also have an essan section on that menu and another menu with maybe 20 something offerings of som tam salad. It was the salads I really liked. The first timer I told them hot but I think they still made it mild bc it lacked much heat. When I said "like you eat it" the second time they made the popular Thai style papaya salad with real heat. The funk was a tad lacking but the fresh sticky rice was fantastic.
Som Tam with Crispy Pork Belly at Meaw Restaurant
All the main drags of the island will have plenty of dining options. Honestly many of them are similar but each one seemed to specialize in something or offer a dish that other spots didn't have. This spot pic'd above is called Relax Restaurant and it was run by two older woman. They convinced me to take something back to our room one night and I was happy they did. This order of crab fried rice might not look like much but it was really well made and especially great with the homemade hot sauce they supply in a puffed up plastic bag. Big chunks of crab and nice wok hei on the rice for like $3. C'mon.
Crab Fried Rice from Relax Restaurant
Night Market at the Big C on the SW side of the island
Like everywhere else in SE Asia Koh Phangan has night markets. A few actually. One was going on every night except one and it was right outside our hotel in the parking lot of the Big C grocery store chain. I dont know it of has a name but there's also the Thong Sala Night Market which is a few minutes down the same road and in the parking lot of the Makro Food Service store. That one is Saturday night only so I found myself at this little one inside the Big C parking lot a couple times. It's not terribly huge and some of the stuff like pre-grilled skewers I have no interest in but there were at least a handful of vendors worth ordering stuff from. The lady making Som Tam to order by the stores entryway was worth a stop as was the girl making smoothies next to her. Spicy Horseshoe Crab salad was a dish one place was making exclusively and same goes for the lady with the Thai sausage over coal. You'll notice this is where most locals stop for dinner. Thai people love to eat out.
Scenes from The Night Market
Summer Luxury Resort
This would be the place we stayed. I'd happily go back. Everything here was pretty wonderful from the large open air rooms to the design of the place and the people working here. Not to mention the food. It was actually damn good. We ate here a few times which is a few times more than I normally eat at the hotel I'm staying at. The cooks were locals and the ingredients were good. Sure everything was a few dollars more than normal but when you're getting a whole fried fish for $10 instead of $7 it still feels like you're getting a great deal. We both agreed that the hotels whole fried fish in a tangy teriyaki like sauce with lot of garlic was the best of the trip. They also had a really nice calamari prep.
Whole Fried Local Fish and Local Calamari
It was about 1.2 miles from our hotel to the big night market down by the dock. Though it was just a straight shot so I walked there both visits. Thought it would be good to see if there was anything worth eating on the way. There was. This place caught my eye with their menu of chicken options. Pok Pok is a typical family run spot and there sure seemed to be lots of locals enjoying their food. After an order of Hainanese chicken rice I could totally relate to those locals. This is actually a dish that somewhat turns me off as far as looks but the poached chicken results in being extra tender while the stock and some of the fat is used to make an oily, flavorful rice sometimes known as "oily rice". There's different variations of this dish across Asia but Pok Pok called theirs Hainanese chicken rice.
Hainanese Chicken Rice at Pok Pok
Phantip Night Market
This was the one thing that I would say is maybe worth seeking out food-wise. The Phantip Market was quite a surprise. Not only was it an actual night-market but it also has handfuls of permanent food stalls. Thus the the options were endless. Honestly all the stuff I had was good. The smoothie vendor seen in the pics below must've had 100 different flavors and combinations. There was tons of fried chicken which is considered a specialty of the island. The lady cooking chicken and pork in these large coal fueled buckets was very popular and rightfully so. I didn't try one of the fried sandwiches but that's the first time I've seen one of those. All in all this was the nice example of what's so great about Thailand in that there's always good food near no matter where you are.
Sights from Phantip Market