Vegan Thailand

vegan thailand

Trav­elling as a ve­g­an can be tricky at times, es­pe­cial­ly when deal­ing with lan­guage bar­ri­ers, cul­tu­r­al dif­fer­ences and un­known food in­gre­di­ents. To make things that lit­tle bit easi­er for glo­be­trott­ing ve­g­ans we are pleased to pre­sent a se­ries of trav­el guides cov­er­ing the ba­sics of gett­ing good food around the world, start­ing with this look at the land of smiles and ele­phants, Thai­land.

Ve­g­an Thai­land- How to say that you’re ve­g­an.
The Thai word for veganLuck­i­ly the Thai have a word for ve­g­an, more or less. “Jay” means strict veg­e­tarian, no meat, dairy or egg (though you may in­ad­ver­tent­ly de­ny your­self onion, gar­lic or beer when an­nounc­ing this). The word is writ­ten:

To say I eat ve­g­an food use the phrase ‘chan gin jay’ if you’re a fe­male or ‘pom gin jay’ if you’re a male. There is al­so a word for veg­e­tarian “mang sa wee rat” which can be use­ful in some ar­eas of the north where the term jay may not be recog­nised, which you can sup­ple­ment with ‘chan/pom mai gin kai/aa-haan tee tam jaak nom’ which means ‘I don’t eat eg­gs/dairy prod­ucts’. There is a use­ful pro­nun­ci­a­tion guide with au­dio here.

Places to eat
This guide will fo­cus on three of the most visit­ed ar­eas in Thai­land – Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. We’ll look at some of the best veg­e­tarian res­tau­rants as well as things to do and traps to avoid, es­pe­cial­ly with re­gards to ac­tiv­i­ties that may in­volve the ex­ploi­ta­tion of an­i­mals.

The king­dom’s cap­i­tal has much to of­fer for the hun­gry ve­g­an, with many veg­gie res­tau­rants lo­cat­ed around the Khao San road area. One of the first places to head in Bangkok is Ethos (be­hind the Burg­er King at the Ta­nao Road end).

You can lounge in Ethos for hours on the com­fy floor cushions, sip­ping cof­fee and en­joy­ing the free wi fi. There is a wide se­lec­tion of dish­es from both east and west, rang­ing from ve­g­an lasagne and ‘meat’ ball spaghet­ti to Pad Thai and Tom Yum soup, for dessert the ve­g­an op­tion is cho­co­late cake with co­conut cream.

Ethos is an essential stop for vegans in Thailand

Ethos. Yum.

A few doors down on each side are a cou­ple of Mai Kaidee res­tau­rants, which are great for grab­bing a quick take away af­ter a meal at Ethos (where the at­mo­sphere is a lit­tle nicer). Some de­li­cious meals in­clude the pump­kin hom­mus, the pa­paya sal­ad, and deep fried sea­weed with chil­li man­go sauce. Mai Kaidee al­so of­fers dai­ly veg­e­tarian and ve­g­an cook­ing class­es.

We had heard great things about An­o­tai, but had al­so been warned that it would be hard to find. An­o­tai is lo­cat­ed at 976/17 Soi Ra­ma 9 Hos­pi­tal in the Huay Kwang dis­trict, about twen­ty min­utes or so by taxi from cen­tral Bangkok (in good traff­ic. In bad traff­ic bring a book!). The Hap­py Cow web­site has de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on how to get there.


The nori to­fu and tem­peh tem­pu­ra at An­o­tai

The staff don’t speak much En­glish but menus are bilin­gual and with a bit of pom mai this and pom mai that we were able to work out what was ve­g­an eas­i­ly enough. We or­dered sev­er­al exquisite­ly pre­sent­ed en­trees, tem­peh tem­pu­ra with sweet and sour dip, nori wrapped to­fu with was­abi dip and the Spi­cy to­fu and ci­lan­tro dip. The menu al­so has an ex­ten­sive Italian sec­tion, fea­tur­ing dish­es like spaghet­ti with as­para­gus and mus­tard white wine sauce. The food was exquisite and defi­nite­ly worth the trip. If you want to tell the chef how much you loved the food, the phrase is ‘a roi’.

Th­ese are just a few of the many res­tau­rants serv­ing good ve­g­an food in the Thai cap­i­tal. Hap­py Cow con­tains an ex­ten­sive list of many more veg­e­tarian op­tions in and around Bangkok.

Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai in the north is re­al­ly the mec­ca of all things ve­g­an in Thai­land. You can walk al­most any­where you want to go and the few places you can’t are a short tuk tuk ride away. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cals there are over 100 veg­e­tarian res­tau­rants in Chiang Mai.

Our first stop was Taste from Heav­en, a spa­cious air con­di­tioned veg­e­tarian res­tau­rant where a por­tion of the pro­f­its go to sup­port Ele­phant Na­ture Park, a sanc­tuary for res­cued ele­phants (more on this be­low). Some high­lights were the Tom Yum served in co­conut, the Pump­kin cur­ry and the Crispy Morn­ing Glo­ry, there are al­so a num­ber of west­ern dish­es on the menu like the to­fu burg­er and fries, and sev­er­al spaghet­ti vari­a­tions.

Taste from Heaven Vegan Chiang Mai cooking class

The post cook­ing class feast

Taste from Heav­en of­fer dai­ly cook­ing class­es in small groups of around four peo­ple, where you can choose any dish­es from the menu (even the non ve­g­an dish­es can be ve­g­anised). We signed up and de­spite be­ing the world’s worst cooks, spent sev­er­al hours un­der the tute­lage of pa­tient head chef Nan grind­ing our own cur­ry pastes, learn­ing about lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, dis­cov­er­ing how to open a co­conut with a machete, and plat­ing a table full of de­li­cious meals. At the end of it we were able to feast on our cre­a­tions and bag the rest for take­away.

Khun Churn, lo­cat­ed at Nim­man­hemin Soi 17, is the on­ly res­tau­rant men­tioned here that in­volves any trav­el, though it’s on­ly a ten minute tuk tuk trip. Set in a tran­quil out­doors court­yard, for around two or three Aus­tralian dol­lars you can reload your plate as many times as you like from the huge lunch buf­fet of fresh cur­ries, noo­dles, soups, sal­ads, desserts and drinks. If none of this sat­is­fies, you can al­so or­der from the menu which fea­tures North­ern Thai dish­es like the Khao Soi. The staff there didn’t speak much En­glish so it may take a bit of ef­fort to work out what’s ve­g­an and what’s not, but it’s defi­nite­ly worth the ef­fort (there is al­so a Khun Churn in Bangkok, which if it’s any­where as good as the Chiang Mai res­tau­rant, is well worth a vis­it).

Khun Churn vegetarian Chian Mai

The bot­tom­less plate at Khun Churn

Like many of the veg­e­tarian res­tau­rants in Chiang Mai, we stum­bled up­on Jui­cy4U at 5 Ratcha­man­ka Road by ac­ci­dent while walk­ing around town. The colour­ful cafe spe­cialis­es in smoothies and de­sign your own sand­wich­es (just tick off the in­gre­di­ents you want on a sheet of pa­per). Jui­cy4U al­so do a ‘full mon­ty’ break­fast with veg­gie sausage, to­ma­to, baked beans, mush­rooms and toast.

Free Bird Cafe is a non pro­f­it cafe that rais­es funds for Hill­tribe (many of the in­dige­nous Hill Tribes are not giv­en the same rights as the Thai peo­ple) and refugee fam­i­lies. We had tas­ty eg­g­plant and hom­mus sand­wich­es un­der um­brel­las in the out­door cob­bled path gar­den cafe. Ap­par­ent­ly they are now selling peace cheese, a ve­g­an pis­ta­chio based cheese. There is al­so a Chiang Mai Mai Kaidees which serves up the same de­li­cious fares as the Bangkok coun­ter­parts.

No re­view of ve­g­an food in Chiang Mai would be com­plete with­out men­tion­ing the Chiang Mai veg­e­tarian so­ci­e­ty. Lo­cat­ed just out­side the ci­ty walls at 42 Mahi­dol Road, the non pro­f­it din­ing hall pro­vides sim­ple fare like cur­ries and fried to­fu along with greens and rice or noo­dles. We were told the food would be ridicu­lous­ly cheap, even by Chiang Mai stan­dards, but we couldn’t tell for sure since both times we were there it was some­body’s birth­day and all the food was free, all they asked was that you do your dish­es on the way out.

Ele­phant Na­ture Park
If you’re in Chiang Mai a vis­it to Ele­phant Na­ture Park, an hours drive out of town, is es­sen­tial. Nes­tled in a lush green val­ley, Ele­phant Na­ture Park is a sanc­tuary for res­cued ele­phants from all over Thai­land. You can vis­it for a day or overnight, or vol­un­teer for a week or more. We stayed for a week and wished it was longer.

Elephant Nature Park

Lit­tle Pha Mai hugs one of the vol­un­teers

Many vis­i­tors to Thai­land go on ele­phant treks, un­aware of the great cru­el­ty in­volved be­hind the scenes. Ele­phants in the Thai trekk­ing in­dus­try are typ­i­cal­ly ‘bro­ken’ us­ing the prac­tice of phaa jaan, which in­volves chain­ing the young ele­phant so that they are un­able to move, and then lit­er­al­ly beat­ing and jab­bing them with nail end­ed spears over a pe­ri­od of days un­til their spir­it is com­plete­ly bro­ken. You can view video of this heart­break­ing prac­tice here. Any tourist who goes for an ‘ele­phant ride’ is un­know­ing­ly sup­port­ing the cont­in­u­a­tion of this an­i­mal abuse.

The res­cued ele­phants at the sanc­tuary have sur­vived work­ing in the trekk­ing in­dus­try, street beg­ging and il­le­gal log­ging. They have sur­vived hav­ing feet blown off by land­mines and eyes gouged out by an­gry ‘own­ers’ be­cause they were not work­ing hard enough. Now thanks to the Ele­phant Na­ture Park they are about to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Run­n­ing free at Ele­phant Na­ture Park

Vol­un­teer­ing at the sanc­tuary in­volves ac­tiv­i­ties as varied as bathing and feed­ing the ele­phants, har­vest­ing truck­loads of corn with machetes, and ba­si­cal­ly help­ing out with what­ev­er needs do­ing. Even if you don’t like ele­phants (joke! Who doesn’t like ele­phants?) it’s worth go­ing for the food alone. Each day a huge de­li­cious spread of North­ern Thai food and an as­sort­ment of hot chips, vege sausages, springs rolls and so forth is laid out. Un­for­tu­nate­ly there is some meat served but 90% of the food is ve­g­an, and all the non-ve­g­an foods were al­ways point­ed out to us by the kitchen.

Com­pared to Chiang Mai, Phuket is a big is­land, rel­a­tive­ly ex­pen­sive to get around, and doesn’t of­fer that much for the ve­g­an. The one mas­sive ex­cep­tion is the an­nu­al Veg­e­tarian Fes­ti­val, which is the largest veg­e­tarian fes­ti­val in the world. For nine days each year it is cele­brat­ed around Thai­land, but in par­tic­u­lar on Phuket Is­land.

The fes­ti­val is rather bizarre, with the most notable fea­ture be­ing dai­ly pa­rades of devo­tees self mu­ti­lat­ing in in­ven­tive­ly grue­some ways to ‘in­voke the gods’, in­clud­ing hot coal walk­ing, tongue chop­ping and ex­treme face skew­er­ing. What any of this has to do with veg­e­tarian­ism we nev­er did work out, but it was fas­ci­nat­ing to watch nonethe­less.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Dur­ing the fes­ti­val street ven­dors serve up all ve­g­an food. You can walk down the street and safe­ly eat any­thing with­out con­cern. Al­though deep fried to­fu, deep fried mock meat or any­thing else it is pos­si­ble to deep fry, was the over­rid­ing theme – quick­ly turn­ing us in­to hu­man grease traps. The cer­e­monies cen­tre around Phuket Town but the whole is­land is in on the fes­tiv­i­ties, even the 7-Elevens were cov­ered in ‘jay’ signs, with jay food clear­ly la­belled.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

This street went on for about a kilome­ter and was full of street stalls serv­ing com­plete­ly ve­g­an food

Out­side of the fes­ti­val, there are a hand­ful of veg­e­tarian res­tau­rants on Phuket. Those we visit­ed were large­ly un­me­m­orable din­ing hall style Chi­nese mock meat cafes. Pa­tong is the most renowned beach area in Phuket, but you should pack a lunch as there are no veg­e­tarian res­tau­rants. And if see­ing sex tourists, lizards on leash­es and stall af­ter stall of fake Guc­ci bags (at least they’re prob­a­b­ly non leather) is not your thing, there are many other beach­es to vis­it.

Sev­er­al times we were ap­proached by peo­ple with gib­bons of­fer­ing to take our pho­to in exchange for mon­ey. This is al­ways a bad idea. Gib­bons are tak­en from the wild and ex­ploit­ed as tourist at­trac­tions, in or­der to get the ba­by gib­bon the poach­ers have to kill the par­ents (and of­ten the ba­bies are killed as they fall from the canopy). It is il­le­gal to have a gib­bon in cap­tiv­i­ty so if you see this hap­pen­ing please let the po­lice know.

There you have it, a be­gin­n­ers guide to Ve­g­an Thai­land. If you come across any out of date in­for­ma­tion, know of a great place we’ve missed, or have any use­ful tips, let us know in the com­ments. Sawatdee!

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  • The food, a vegan festival, the elephants; it all sounds amazing! a holiday destination i never really considered – it’s on the list now! Thanks for the info.

  • I have just come back from Bangkok this week, wish I had seen your tips earlier, would have been great to know how to tell them i am vegan, oh well i’ll know for next time!

  • Really useful guide, both for eating and the information on the elephant trekking, so sad to think of an elephant with a broken spirit :(

  • This was a really good guide, and I can really recommend Taste of Heaven, I ate there nearly every day for the two weeks I was i Chiang Mai. But I would also like to point out that in Thailand it it very easy to be a vegetarian, as most places offer many of their courses with tofu in stead of meat.

  • I stopped in Bangkok recently and found to my shear delight that there was a Loving Hut over the road from my hotel. Even more randomly the owners daugthers had grown up in Melbourne! Needless to say i ate every meal there (as the hotel had lots of meaty meals at stupid prices). It was my little sanctuary! :)

  • Thanks for this post!

    Here’s an article I wrote about veg Chiang Mai that I’d like to share:

    Chiang Mai, Thailand:
    J is for Vegetarian

  • Hello! Thanks so much for sharing such useful vegan tips. My husband and I will be traveling to Thailand next month and I’m a bit worried about which elephant related activities we should support. Are all “Trekking Tours” so horrible for Elephants? I’ve done some research and heard muddled facts concerning the treatment of elephants, and I’m really unclear. Some tours sound like they really benefit the treatment of Elephants, especially the ones where you are taught how to feed, care and respect these animals, is this a farse? Can I assume that any Elephant not living in the wild/sanctuary is abused? We obviously don’t have wild elephants in America, and it’s difficult to get a clear answer on generally how they are treated and how they fit into Thai Culture. I was under the assumption that most Thais love and respect these animals. Any insight would be much appreciated. :)

  • Hi Elaina, all elephants used for trekking in Thailand will have gone through the brutal breaking in process. The only genuine elephant sanctuaries we know of where you can be sure that there is no animal abuse going on are and

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  • [...] look after me. If I’d done much reading beforehand, I might have read that Chiang Mai is a centre of vegan things and thought to be the most vegetarian-friendly city in Thailand. Instead, I explored and came to [...]