I have bad news. There will be no post about food on the Krabi beaches because it was so terrible that I didn’t even take pictures of most of what I ate. And I feel compelled to tell the world about it.
The journey into food hell started the moment the long tail boat from Ao Nang rounded a giant limestone formation and the beautiful beaches of Railay West came into view. My fellow travelers were in awe. Look! We’re in paradise! They shouted.
And I looked.
Place setting at Krua Phranang, home of the good (but expensive) food at Rayavadee Hotel
Observing the beauty of the Railay’s natural landscape makes a bucket list item for a certain type of beachy, travel-minded folk. Lush greenery surrounds monumental rocks that drop straight into the moody blue sea, with a few stretches of white and sandy beaches breaking up the line. From the water, only a few hotels jut into view behind a pristine beach. Because my stomach’s wants trump my soulful visual observation of the splendor and diversity of earth’s landscape, I immediately noted the isolation of our choice beachfront, the presence of only western-style resorts, and thought dark thoughts about what that would mean for food, because I like to experience earth’s bounty through my stomach, not my eyes.
It’s kind of a problem that I have, this ability to overlook paradise and find myself disappointed because my chances of eating a delicious green curry in the evening look grim. However, I don’t trust hotel food, especially hotels that attract holiday-makers from places where Thai food is exotic, and perhaps scary. The demand is stronger for dumbed down Thai classics and for western food, that the cooks may or may not know how to prepare safely. To their credit, these hotels provide most vacationers with what they want.
Crazy eyes at Rayavadee’s Grotto with my medicinal-tasting Sawasdee Krab cocktail
But it’s not what I want. I am a p̶r̶e̶t̶e̶n̶t̶i̶o̶u̶s̶ ̶T̶h̶a̶i̶ ̶f̶o̶o̶d̶ ̶s̶n̶o̶b̶ special butterfly who has lived next door to a fabulous hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant for six months. I pride myself on finding the best $1 bowl of noodles the way that other people pride themselves on accomplishing real things, like running marathons and losing 5 pounds and snorkeling around Koh Phi Phi (which I didn’t do) and slaying dragons or whatever it is that real people do these days.
As we climbed out of the long tail boats and into knee-deep water with our heavy suitcases balancing on shaky arms, I knew I had a mission: to save my group from five days of culinary disappointment in paradise. I dropped my bags in our bungalow and set off on a brisk walk in hopes of finding that elusive restaurant that might not cater to the island’s whole, but where my limited Thai might land us some cheap, on-the-bone eats.
Pot of coffee? 80 baht. Attendant milk in a baby bottle? WTF?
You guys. I failed. Totally failed. The best I could do was scope out some cheaper meals over on the Railay East, the tidal flats area of the peninsula whose worse views mean cheaper accommodation and food, and where climbers and backpackers run wild. Here, several restaurants served up western-friendly Thai dishes like som tam (ส้มตำ), pad see eew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว), and pad thai (ผัดไทย) that could be kicked into Thai-friendly territory with the simple addition of some extra heat. Prices were more than in mainland Thailand, around 80 to 120 baht instead of 30 to 40, but similar to what we found in Koh Chang. A mark-up for eating in paradise and in relative isolation is understandable. However, all the other food, the curries, fish, fried rice, virtually everything else, slid into the lame-o category with the gusto of Railay West’s resorts.
Paying for the views, not the food on Railay West
So what is bad Thai food?
Let’s examine the pattern of these blunders with green curry, one of my favorite Thai dishes.
Ideally, green curry paste consists of mild green chiles, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, shrimp paste, shallots, coriander root, turmeric root, and kaffir limes leaves all pounded together until smooth. You dump, say, a tablespoon per person of this mix into some coconut cream and sauté it until the fat separates and it smells awesome. Then you throw in the coconut milk and some protein, probably pork, and let it boil for a while. After that, you add green, golfball-sized eggplants, your (delicious) pea eggplants (down with the nay-sayers), and maybe some sliced long beans to simmer for a few minutes. You toss in some kaffir lime, some fish sauce, some palm sugar, some basil, maybe some sliced red chiles if you’re feeling spicy, and serve it with some rice. A serving of green curry with rice runs me 30 baht at the restaurant next door. I’ve paid 100 at the restaurant across the street, but that place serves the curry in a huge clay pot over a flame and has free wi-fi, so I forgive them.
Here is what green curry should look like, according to Wikipedia:
I’ve personally never seen curry served with roti, but hey, it looks good so I won’t hate. This is not what was served when I ordered it on Railay. Instead, the liquid was thin and white, with a barely perceptible green tint that imbued a subtle diseased look to the broth. I couldn’t taste the heady blend of flavors balanced to perfection I craved beyond the cups of coconut milk in my bowl. There may have been an eggplant or two hiding in the murky puddle, but the veggie mix was more aligned with the carrot, broccoli, baby corn combo more easily identified as vaguely “asian” by someone who hasn’t designed his or her life to live among the street curries for months on end.
I’m guessing the cooks take a batch of tom kha gai soup base, add a curry paste at a homeopathic level, throw in some protein and freezer veggies and delight most restaurant goers for the tidy sum of 250 baht. This highly adulterated version of a Thai classic is meant to appease an unadventurous or ignorant palate that visitors on Railay are assumed to have. Who knows? Maybe this is the palate of most eaters on the beach, blissfully ignorant in their limited knowledge of the delicate balance of strong flavors that makes Thai food so extraordinary. Perhaps the climbers and partiers along the peninsula think approximately $8.30 for a meal is a steal, where I think it’s extortion. Perhaps I am just so insufferable and pretentious that I can write over a thousand words on what I hated about the food in, excuse my language, fucking paradise.
All I know is that the workers at these hotels and restaurants sure as hell weren’t eating the crappy food served to guests, and that I couldn’t figure out a way to eat what they were eating, and it really annoyed me.
Best meal: English breakfast for lunch, around 200 baht
To sum up, my Krabi beach recommendations for the pretentious food snob are this:
1. Stay on the south end of Railay East. Not only will you waste less money on terrible Thai food, you’re actually closer to Phra Nang beach, which is the BEST beach on the peninsula. If you can make do with the less-than-spectacular views at low tide, Railay East is an easy choice.
2. Splurge on one meal at the super fancy Rayavadee Hotel restaurant. I would recommend ordering the whole sea bass, the seafood salad whose menu description (and taste) is reminiscent of ceviche, and perhaps the laab (ลาบ) prepared with scallops instead of pork, which no one at our table ordered, but looked really interesting. I did not try any curries, but this would be the place to order one if Railay is your only stop in Thailand. Be warned: everything here is exceedingly rich and very expensive by Thai and some western standards. I ordered a soft shell crab with an herby sauce and what I got was battered and fried crab in a sauce so rich I second-guessed if true Thai ingredients were used.
3. If your hotel comes with breakfast, eat lots of it. I would generally advise folks to venture out for breakfast, especially in Thailand, but Railay is an exception. Stay in and get your money’s worth. If your timing is right, you might be able to avoid having to source a lunch that is as disappointing as it is expensive by eating tons of food that’s similarly disappointing, but already purchased.
4. Eat western food. Eventually you’ll tire of venturing to Railay East for your second daily helping of pad si eew. Or it might rain. If you’re eating on Railay West, seriously consider doing the terrible thing and order those pancakes/fries/garlic toast/spaghetti. The best meals I had were at this over-priced restaurant at the very start of the Walking Street and they took the form of an English baked bean breakfast and spaghetti with olive oil and cherry tomatoes. While still expensive, the western meals were somehow less bastardized than their Thai counterparts. Don’t ask me how, I’m amazed, too.
5. Make a meal out of made-to-order roti. Pick up a few savory roti and a few sweet and make your way to the beach with a fantastically terrible, yet oddly enticing Spy Red Wine Cooler you picked up at the cheaper Railay East store, and have a delicious meal for about 150 baht.
- Green Curry: I am just not that into you, from Alexa Stuart
- Easy Green Curry Recipe
- Hilarious TripAdvisor Restaurant Listing for Railay
From Splendor in the Lemongrass:
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