As far as I know, Koh Tao is not known for its food. In fact, its food scene is — in general — as unremarkable as its diving is incredible. I’d guess this is the case on most of the Thai islands that cater to tourists. Restaurants are overpriced and underwhelming and serve more Western (and Westernized) dishes than true Thai food.
If you wander just a bit, however, you’ll find that there’s more to it than just beach bars and coffee shops. I found several places that I’d recommend visitors to Koh Tao check out.
The first is Tik, a tiny family-run Thai spot up the road opposite the 7-Eleven on the main street in Sairee Beach. The two 7-Elevens are good central markers to start directions from, and it’s wise to stay close to this particular location or the one right around the corner closer to the shore — I can guarantee you’ll visit one or both at least five times a day.
So, Tik. There are a couple of similar places also on this road. They’re nothing fancy — kitchens are outdoors — but the food is cheap and delicious and a nice (and quieter) respite from the pubs and all-you-can-eat pizza places most visitors frequent. In my four days on Koh Tao, I dined at Tik three times.
My first meal was massaman curry, a Southern Thai dish that incorporates potatoes and roasted nuts. I’d had it at one of the beachfront restaurants the day before, and Tik’s version had so much flavor that it tasted like a different dish. My second meal — after our tough hike across the island — was fried cashews with chicken. Served over rice, it was a lot like sweet and sour chicken and, again, had so much flavor. On my last night, I went back for the massaman curry. I can also highly recommend their fruit shakes and the tom yum soup.
The food stands on Koh Tao come out when the divers return in the afternoon and then again late at night when all the drunk kids stumble out of the bars. Definitely go visit the pancake man in front of the beach 7-Eleven. There are lots of pancake stands, but this guy is special.
It’s a total production, and he does everything with such flair and precision that it’s worth hanging out and just watching for a bit. I had a pancake every night I spent on the island. Banana Nutella is a good go-to, but I also went off-menu and ordered mango-coconut-Nutella and it rocked my world.
And last but not least, the coconut ice cream man. I actually stumbled upon his stand when I was walking to Tik’s for lunch and decided to have dessert first. Like a lot of the stalls, he moves around throughout the day to catch different diving boats, so I can’t tell you where to find him. But his stand has a green sign with white letters that says “ice cream coco nut.” You’ll get a small bowl of sticky rice, sweet corn, and three scoops of coconut ice cream topped with peanuts. So, so awesome.
That sums up my experience with good, cheap eats on Koh Tao. There are other stalls and stands that pop up in various places throughout the day (I’ve been told the kebabs outside the beach 7-Eleven are great), and there seem to be a number of unnamed spots along the main road between Mae and Sairee beaches that serve genuine Thai food. And if you need something familiar (pizza, Mexican, sandwiches, burgers, whatever), you’ll find it. I’ll admit that my lunch every day was a grilled vegetable sandwich and a tropical fruit smoothie, which was perfect to balance out all the fried noodles I’d been eating.
And, of course, if you just want to drink on the beach, there’s always this.