Bang Bao, once a sleepy little fishing village, is now the center of all the Koh Chang snorkeling, Koh Chang diving and fishing activities. Mornings and evenings when the many boats leave or come back, has its own mini rush hour.
Tourists in every shape, size and get-up for a day on and under the waves, meander single file up and down the pier, stopping here and there to browse souvenirs or just chat, without a care in the world, bar their Thai shepherd trying to ensure they get to the correct boat or back to the correct taxi.
Come along mid morning and the pier is calm, no crowds, just locals playing pool or going quietly about their business, shop owners laid back and not to desperate for your custom – the perfect time in fact to dive into one of Bang Bao’s other main attractions, a seafood restaurant and spend a long and lazy afternoon by the water.
As to which one to choose, well, perhaps the first, Ruan Thai, not instantly the most attractive or appealing, is actually the best option, with cooking consistent across the board and flavours not tempered too much to western palates – in other words, they keep it spicy if it is meant to be spicy. The menus are long and detailed, with dishes given at different prices, depending on the size of the serving and it can be a bit daunting, but a good bet is a whole fish and some side dishes, a large pot of rice and you are good to go.
The Seafood Meal
On our latest visit, we tried the whole fish, white snapper in a chilli sauce (pla krapong raad prik). The fish is hard fried in a hot oil, so it acquires a delicious crispy skin, which you crack through to get at the flesh, firm and a brilliant white if cooked properly, as ours was. The sauce, thick, syrupy and not too hot is made from palm sugar, fish sauce, a bit of tamarind juice, garlic and chillies, and simply dribbled all over – a great choice for a group of you to share.
Disappointingly, there was no shellfish, so we plumped for the soft shelled crab fried in black pepper (puu nim phat prik thai dam) and as is the intention with soft shells, there was not a thing left on the plate. A soup, which comes in a tureen with a small charcoal burner underneath, and little plastic bowls for you to refill, was of course, Tom Yam Seafood, the hot and sour classic, with lemongrass and galangal, the perfect foil to the sweeter flavours of the fish.
Finally, a dish of squid with lesser ginger (pla meuk phat cha) was too tempting to pass up. There are three types of ginger used in Thai cooking from the obvious one we know in the west, to the now not so unfamiliar, galangal, used in soups and pounded in pastes and finally, krachai or lesser ginger (finger roots). Krachai has a piquant taste with a distinctive aroma and as well as stir fried in dishes like ours (phat cha), it is added to soups, curries and is integral to the sauce namya, served with the fresh white rice noodle nests, (khanom jeen).
Anyway, the squid was a tasty addition to our meal, again well balanced with the krachai not overwhelming the other flavours as can sometimes be the case. Everything was served with rice, which we ordered in a a pot (maw) rather than in individual plates, a good tip if there are few of you.
Three hours later, the world put to rights, the bill came to 2,500bt for 6 of us, not bad at all for seafood on the bay, with a few beers and some western dishes thrown in for the kids. Service was just fine, friendly even and with a nice stroll along the new gleaming white pier to the lighthouse at the top, lunch at Ruan Thai proved a great way to wile away a Koh Chang afternoon. We’ll be back.
Menu Tips and Terms
pla krapong raad prik, pla meaning fish, krapong snapper, raad fried and prik chilli
puu nim phat prik thai dam, puu, crab, nim, soft, phat, fried, prik thai dam, black pepper
tom yam, tom meaning soup, yam, this variety
pla meuk phat cha, pla meuk meaning squid, phat, fried, cha, this variety