After a month in Thailand and a few computer problems to sort out, I am finally home and able to post again. Not that I was desperate to get home. In fact, I'm downright miserable to be back! Other than seeing my lovely doggies and puddy cat again, of course.
My Thailand adventure was a vegan ball. I ate so well, better than when dining around in the UK for sure, and in Chiang Mai the choice was especially excellent. This city caters for vegans SO well it would have been rude not to make the most of it. And in my six nights in Chiang Mai, I had in no way exhausted the vegan possibilities that lay before me.
I had started my trip in Bangkok, and the first place I ate was the well-known May Kaidee's (Samsen Rd branch). Eating massaman curry ('muslim curry', which is potato based) with organic brown rice, for 100 baht, meant I was a very happy bunny. They also did a very interesting twist on a traditional Thai dish that is normally made with meat, using vegan sausage - 'vegetables sausage chilli paste' as it was on the menu! This was uncannily meat-like, but very tasty.
But the hands-down favourite for me here was the mango sticky rice, which was made with black rice and came with chopped banana, drenched in coconut milk. Ohhhhhhhhhh!!!! It was utterly delicious. And though no other mango sticky rice that I ate from there onwards came up to this standard, I was happy to have found a scrumptious dish that would act as both a breakfast and a dessert for me! (Since mango sticky rice is fairly easy to find on the street stalls, it's certainly a good 'go to' tummy filler).
Chiang Mai - an abundance of glorious vegan food
It is really rather hard to describe how in my element I was in this laid-back city full of vegan choice.There are 100% 'pure vegetarian' restaurants (that is, vegan), as well as vegetarian places that are very vegan-friendly. The term vegetarian and vegan is often interchangeble in Asia, so vegetarian can mean vegan, but it's always worth checking.
I had fresh spring rolls and chill dip at Taste From Heaven, where profits go to help save and rescue elephants at Elephant Nature Park, Pad Thai cooked vegan (made without egg and fish sauce, and with tofu instead) and Som tam Laos (a spicier version of green papaya salad) at Pun Pun, and yummy pumpkin maki rolls at AUM.
Then there was the raw eggplant lasagne at Giva, the tiny raw and organic vegan eaterie near the Night Bazaar, which was divine. I also remember having a rather delicious Panang Curry at Anchan, in the trendy and artsy Nimman area of Chiang Mai.
And for street food, there was a vendor down by the Chiang Mai gate, where I got sweet and sour vegetables with pineapple on fried rice noodles, for about 35 baht (70p!). None of the food here could really be described as healthy, given the amount of frying and oil, but it was cheap and definitely cheerful.
Many other omni eateries had plentiful vegan-choices, too. For example, Blue Diamond in the north eastern corner of the Old Town was a popular 'hang out' for health-conscious people, and while it did serve meat, there was a lot of raw and vegan choice. They had a health-orientated shop that sold nuts, vegan cookies and bars, and other handy snack foods for vegans too.
When I had come back from my week volunteering at Elephant Nature Park, where all the food was vegetarian, with much of it actually being vegan, I had eaten so much of every kind of Thai food, all piled on my plate at lunch and dinner, that I was craving something Western. I managed to find veggie burger and chips at an omni place called Peppermint in Chiang Mai!
And there were other places that sold different, more Western style veggie food. But Giva, the raw place that I mentioned above, is also a great antidote if you're craving just pure fresh food without it being fried, and something that is different than Thai curry, Pad Thai or spring rolls. The raw avocado soup I tried there was super satisfying. I sadly didn't manage to get to the Chiang Mai Vegetarian Centre (where sometimes, the food is even free!), but next time, next time...
Beyond Chiang Mai...
It goes without saying that in Thailand's capital Bangkok, where I started my trip and also had other overnight stays, it was easy to find vegan food. It was a little more spread out than Chiang Mai, although a few places were centred around the Banglampoo and Khaosan Road area.
As well as restaurants (May Kaidee's, as mentioned, Ethos, and Thamna are all worth checking out), you may find street cafes and vendors serving tofu and vegetable dishes. Just be sure to say "no fish sauce", as oyster sauce is used in almost everything here. And my Thai friend told me that in Chinese culture, of which there is a heavy influence in Thailand, oyster sauce is seen as a vegetarian product. So you will actually see it on vegetarian menus in some places (though not in 100% vegetarian establishments).
The best veggie burger meals I had tasted in Thailand were once I got to my accommodation at Haad Yao in Koh Phangan, which was Ling Sabai Bungalows. The mushroom burgers here were just the rice-free, noodle-free fix I needed! And at around 100 baht (£2) for a meal, with fries and salad, it wasn't bad at all.
But another delightful surprise was when I was staying in the Ban Tai area of Koh Phangan, and discovered I was five minutes walk away from the only fully vegetarian place on the island, Pooh's Kitchen! The food here was was plentiful, scrummy, and mega cheap at 50 baht a meal (about £1). I also had a very in-depth conversation with Pooh for some time, and loved that she was aiming towards veganism and committed to changing attitudes to animals.
I was a little more stuck for eating on Koh Tao, though I did find amazing veggie pizza (I asked for it to come without the mozzarella) at the Sairee Sairee Italian restaurant - although this was one of the more expensive meals I had here. It was worth it for a treat and a change though. I also discovered - too late - that Koh Tao does in fact have a vegan eaterie called Avalon Vegan Kitchen. Though I think you need transport to reach it.
Getting to Kanchanaburi and discovering On's Thai Isaan Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant was one of the best things that happened to me in Thailand though. Again, I had no idea about this place until I saw it, so was overjoyed! As well as the fresh, Isaan-influenced food that On cooks, with meals at only 40 baht each (can you believe that?), it is also a fabulous meeting place of other like-minded souls. Almost everyone I hung out with in Kanchanaburi I met here, and I ate virtually every meal here too.
I think my two favourite dishes were On's Massaman Curry and her Panang Curry. Panang Curry, with a Malaysian influence, is a little sweeter, and still creamy with coconut milk, like most Thai curries. Though On also made a mean pumpkin hoummus, which is perfect if you're after something a little different.You can do a very casual and informal Thai cooking class with On too, for 600 baht, making three dishes from the menu that you can eat on the day.
The only thing I'm really sad about is that I left Thailand literally two days before this year's Vegetarian Festival began :( It mostly happens in Phuket, but other places around Thailand also celebrate it. Next year, I'm hoping to be there for it.
7 Top Tips for Vegan Travellers in Thailand
1. When you order food, tell the staff that you want your food to be made "jay". Thai people know that 'jay' means vegetarian. However, to be on the safe side for no animal products, tell them also you don't want egg (kai), milk (nom), fish sauce (nam pla), and oyster sauce (sauce hoi nang rom).
2. It was super-easy to get soya milk in the ubiquitous Seven Eleven stores when I was in Thailand. Little cartons of drinking soy milk in the fridges. I used to buy the mini-cartons, then take them around with me for tea or coffee in places that didn't have soy milk (I found a lot of places that did actually serve it). I also bought one-serving sized boxes of cereal in the Seven Elevens, then had it with soya milk and chopped banana for breakfast.
3. Mango sticky rice is easy to come by as a dessert and is wonderful for breakfast too. You can buy from street vendors and in cafes and restaurants. It's usually just mango, sugar, rice and coconut milk. It's very filling as well, so if you get stuck - opt for this!
4. Rice or glass noodles are plentiful in Thailand, but so are egg noodles. With noodle dishes, be sure to check which noodles you are getting. A lot of places will happily switch the noodles so you don't get egg ones. Fresh spring rolls are often vegan too - but check.
5. On street stalls and the more hole-in-the-wall type of eateries, look out for the yellow flags and the yellow bunting that identify the place as being vegetarian. You will find some of these little places to be better quality than others! I found one place in Lamphun that when I looked at the food, I couldn't bear to try it. However, most were great, and incredibly cheap (around 15-30 baht per dish).
6. Even if you can't find a vegan/vegetarian-only restaurant, it's usually pretty easy to find 'accidentally vegan' choices on most menus. For example, green papaya salad is found everywhere, and easily vegan when made with soy sauce instead. Oyster and fish sauce is often put in everything, at least in non-vegan/veggie eateries. So do ask for it to not be added. Take care with vegetarian menus in non-vegetarian establishments also - a lot of people believe oyster sauce is a vegetarian product due to the Chinese belief, which I talked about in my post. You're generally safe in 100% vegan / vegetarian places.
7. I did not struggle very much at all in Thailand as a vegan, though it depends on where you go, I suppose. Some of the more touristy places are harder because they may cater a little for Western vegetarians, with cheese and egg-heavy dishes, but vegans are not really thought about. You can shop for fruits and veggies on the markets, and street vendors often sell food like fried banana. Also, you could usually find a place willing to serve something like a tofu salad. Tofu is more standard in restaurants in Thailand than in the West.