Even though we loved the food at our little beach bungalow resort, we also wanted to try, and eat, as much Thai food as humanly possible given that we were in Thailand. We consulted several online restaurant review sites, but at the time, there were very few restaurants listed, reviewed, and that appealed to us. I don’t know what it is about some travel review sites, but we often find that the “top rated” restaurants are Western/Italian/Steakhouses, even in a country like Thailand.
Instead, we turned to our Lonely Planet guidebook, which I checked out from the library, and was, therefore, more than likely somewhat outdated. Or I should say even more outdated than usual for an LP guide. There weren’t many restaurants listed under Khao Lak, but one stood out to us. Mama’s Greeting, also known simply as Mama’s Restaurant, was described by the LP guide as an “authentic,” “hole-in-the-wall,” “beachfront,” “local gem” that we’d be “foolish to miss.”
I might be paraphrasing a little bit, but that was the gist of the review. Everything about the description appealed to us, so we jumped into our car and, using terrible directions, made our way to Mama’s Restaurant…
In Search of the Elusive Mama’s Restaurant
About 30 minutes later, the road leading to the restaurant (according to the directions) ended. We knew that Mama’s Restaurant was on the beach, but we didn’t see a beach. In fact, the only thing we saw was the massive JW Marriott resort. After creeping around in the dark trying to find a beach access, Sly asked the JW Marriott guard if he could point us in the direction of Mama’s Restaurant. The guard stared at us, confused, and shook his head.
We retraced our path, thinking we may have missed something, and drove down all the quiet, narrow, side streets to see if they led to the beach. They did not. An hour later, we returned to the JW Marriott guard house and asked again. This time, the guard pointed towards the resort. We were extremely confused. Was the guard just trying to get rid of us?
With no other options, we drove down the long shrub-lined road, lit with Buddha’s heads, until we reached the resort.
Why we Don’t do Resorts
At that point, we deduced that maybe the best way to reach Mama’s Restaurant was to access the beach via the Marriott and then walk the rest of the way. It seemed an odd way to reach a so-called “local gem,” but maybe we were missing something.
Walking through the massive resort felt a bit like walking through a Vegas theme park version of Thailand. A fake “night market” selling souvenirs for 5x the price of what you could find in town, struck us as particularly odd. I know that we aren’t exactly resort people, but why would someone come all the way to Thailand only to shop at a hotel resort “night market”? In the movies, this is known as foreshadowing. We watched hotel guests buying items at the “night market” with a passing curiosity before we continued along the man-made “tropical river” that flowed through the resort.
It took us maybe 15-20 minutes to get to the beach and when we arrived it was completely dead. No signs of life, no Mama’s Restaurant.
A Fake Thai Village
After over an hour searching for Mama’s Restaurant, we stood on the dark and windy beach, deflated (and starving). Unwilling to give up, we continued walking along the beach in the direction of the supposed restaurant. It was only then that we noticed a small, dusty path, leading through a hole in a chain link fence. There looked to be lights on the other side of the fence, so we followed the trail.
Once on the other side of the fence, the trail opened up and revealed a fake “Thai Village” that consisted of overpriced tourist restaurants and a souvenir shop or two. It dawned on us that this was where people from the JW Marriott went to eat when they wanted non-resort food. Like the courtyard “night market” this row of thatched roof restaurants felt totally fake as if it only existed (and I’m almost positive it did) to give the people at the resorts an “authentic” Thai experience. Frankly, the fake “night market” combined with the fake “Thai village” all felt a bit on the creepy side.
Dinner at Last
Since we had already spent so much time and effort trying to find Mama’s Restaurant that we decided to just grab a bite at one of these restaurants and call it a night. As we reached the end of the
Thai theme park food court restaurant row, we saw it! Mama’s Greeting Bar & Restaurant! Hallelujah!
Before we sat down, we peered around the restaurant to see if there was a small road that we may have missed. There was not. The only way to get to this restaurant was by going through the resort. In fact, the only way to even know that Mama’s Restaurant existed was if you stayed at the resort and/or were stupid enough to read the LP Thailand guide. And this is why I don’t trust guide books. Lonely Planet writer, we are on to you. You totally stayed at the JW Marriott and tried to pass it off that you were a budget traveler eating at a local hole in the wall.
I guess the big question always is, was it all worth it?
No, it was not. The food didn’t suck, but it wasn’t memorable either. You can find much better, much more “authentic” Thai food back in the US.
On our trek back to our car from the restaurant, we spotted a cute little kitten with a bent tail chasing crabs on the beach. Naturally, I couldn’t resist. Squeeeeezzzeeeeee.
I guess alls well that ends well. Cuddling this little kitty was definitely the highlight of our evening and more than made up for a disappointing dinner.
COST: $5-7 per plate
DESCRIPTION: Run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant with a beachfront location next to the JW Marriott Resort and Spa. The menu features pretty much the same stuff as the other restaurants nearby and rarely deviates from standard Thai fare like Pad Thai. One of our litmus tests for choosing restaurants when we travel is if local people also eat there. Tourists are fine, but if locals are lining up to eat at a restaurant, then it’s a safe bet that the place is the real deal. This was definitely no “local gem”. On the plus side, service was friendly, the restaurant had mosquito coils on each table, and the bathroom was clean.
VERDICT: If you’re not staying at the Marriott, there’s absolutely no reason to eat here. There’s way better food in town and/or at real night markets.
NOTE: According to several reviews I read recently, it seems as if this restaurant may be closed indefinitely. I guess the guests at the JW Marriott will be disappointed.