Where & What We Ate in Thailand (As Vegans)
Pardon my absence, I was on holiday in Thailand!
The most frequent question that I am asked when I travel is what I eat while I'm away, both because I am a health coach/fitness instructor and also because I personally follow a vegan (whole foods, plant-based) diet. I have only been back for two days, and have already been asked this question at least ten times! So, this post is dedicated to our favorite meals over the past two weeks: where we ate (my boyfriend is also a vegan fitness instructor), what we ate, and our tips as to how to [best!] eat in Thailand!
Also, to be fair, please know that we spent one full day in Bangkok, multiple days in Chiang Mai, one full day in Phuket, and one week in Ko Lanta. Additionally, this post is only about the food that we enjoyed: we did so many amazing things while visiting - I'd be writing for weeks if I mentioned everything else! ;)
- Bangkok: Ethos Vegetarian Restaurant
We started our trip in Bangkok. After traveling for roughly 24 hours (and, unfortunately but not surprisingly, being let down by the airline's "food") we really needed a good meal. Luckily, our hostel was within walking distance of Ethos, so we decided to give it a try.
We were thrilled when we arrived, because Ethos is everything that you imagine a restaurant in Thailand to be: it's located in an alleyway, you remove your shoes upon arrival and are seated on comfortable cushions on the floor, the colors surrounding you are are bold and beautiful, friendly stray cats love to come in to say hello, and every single fruity drink comes with the most stunning flower as a garnish.
The menu was extensive (at least 8 pages long!) and offered everything from authentic Thai food to 10 different kinds of whole-grain vegan pancakes. One of the things that I personally loved about Ethos was that the menu offered Thai pronunciations and nutrition tips on every page:
In the end, we tried a little bit of everything as a table: Pad Thai, Green Curry, Mango & Banana Pancakes, Steamed Vegetables, and a number of sides, smoothies, and drinks. I got a little crazy and ordered a drink that was a combination of a coffee and a pina colada (although I should have known that those flavors totally don't go together. One can only dream!).
Our Suggestion: get the green curry and a fruit smoothie.
Everything that we ate was delicious, but nothing even compared to the curry. It was the best curry that any of us has ever tasted! Our friend John ordered it, and he only got to enjoy 1/5 of it because we all kept going back for more! The fruit smoothies (skip the coffee colada) were some of our favorite of our entire trip, and we went back to get more of them later that evening.
- Chiang Mai: Amrita Garden & Mellow Bar
Imagine if Anthropologie decided to open the most delicious, amazing macrobiotic vegan cafe of your dreams. Well, it exists in Chiang Mai! I am absolutely in love with everything about this restaurant: the food, the ambiance, the vibe, all of it:
Amrita Garden (and their Mellow Bar across the street!) also offers an extensive menu filled with the most incredible food and nutrition tips! I really appreciate Thailand's attention to nutrition, and love how they share this information with their guests. While in Chiang Mai we dined with them twice and tried a little bit of everything, from the first soy lattes of our trip (most coffee shops don't have a non-dairy milk option, unfortunately) to vegan cheese plates, the biggest salad of all time, and to an ume plum rice ball (I had to get it because of the emoji!).
Aside from some of the best food of our entire trip, the vibes at Amrita Garden are almost like a spa treatment: you sit amongst the most beautiful plants, listen to calming music, get your own fan (this was clutch!), and have the choice of sitting on cushions, swings, or at garden tables. Amrita Garden is a family-owned restaurant, and you can really taste the love that they put into all of their food. This is a must-visit if you find yourself in Chiang Mai!
Our Suggestion: We loved everything we tried (seriously), so I really don't think that you can make a bad choice here! If you're a coffee fiend like me, Amrita Garden has an entire coffee menu, and everything that I tried was perfect. The one struggle that I had in Thailand was getting my coffee fix, so take advantage of their offerings! The vegan cheese plate was the best I have ever had, so definitely give that a shot as well!
- Chiang Mai: Lost Lounge Psychedelic Vegetarian Restaurant
The Lost Lounge offered another really memorable dining experience: you remove your shoes and sit on really beautiful cushions, plants surround you, the walls are filled with vibrant artwork, our table was covered in healing crystals and candles, and the vibes were funky and relaxing (somehow at the same time).
The Lost Lounge is a vegetarian restaurant, so unfortunately many of the offerings were not available for us to personally try (sour cream, cheese, dairy, and eggs are in many of the dishes). We really wanted to try the nachos (our friends tried them and raved about them), but instead went with drinks, curry, and a dish called "Satan's Stems," which was supposed to be an incredibly spicy pulled-mushroom dish. All of the dishes had really fun names, and I regret not taking a photo of some of them!
We loved our drinks and enjoyed our food, but were let down by Satan's Stems: they were not spicy at all (after all of the hype we were really surprised!), and everything else on the plate didn't pair with the dish (they actually really clashed, and we didn't love the taste of the produce). We loved the mushrooms themselves (they were slightly breaded and cooked perfectly), and wished that we could have ordered another side of just them!
Our Suggestion: go for cocktails and to chill.
The Lost Lounge makes a great cocktail, all with clever names, so definitely get one if you drink (if you don't, they have a number of really delicious smoothies and juices)! Curry seems to be the way to go at most places in Thailand, and was our favorite dish at this restaurant as well. If you like spicy, ask for "Thai Hot," because they (and many other places) went with what we found out is referred to as "Westerner Hot," which is essentially as mild as it gets. Think zero spice, and it's probably even more mild than that. Oh, and if you go to the bathroom, bring your shoes! The floor is nothing more than a bunch of stones (and was very wet with what I'd like to pretend was water, but we all know otherwise), which is super cute but really challenging to walk on!
- Chiang Mai: Elephant Nature Park (an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center!)
When we first committed to our trip to Thailand, the first thing that we did was book a visit to Elephant Nature Park. Elephants are sadly abused by humans in so many ways (circuses, riding/tourism, illegal logging, street begging), and Elephant Nature Park does so much to help as many rescued elephants as they possibly can. When you book a trip to the park you can choose to simply visit or volunteer, and all of your money (and any additional donations) goes to support the incredible work (and love!) that they tirelessly carry out/give every single day. You can earn more about their efforts and/or visit & donate by clicking here.
Before we headed to the park, we loaded up our backpacks with goodies (aka junk) from 7-11 just in case they didn't offer much in terms of vegan food, but wow were we wrong!
Every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Elephant Nature Park offered an entirely vegetarian (mainly vegan!) buffet filled with authentic Thai foods, fresh fruits, and countless other deliciousness! It was actually the longest buffet that I have ever seen, anywhere: it went on and on and on! Not only that, they offered snacks throughout the day that always included bright purple Butterfly Pea Tea (so good!) and cookies, and they always had fresh water, coffee, and tea available (they even gave us reusable water bottles and cute water bottle carriers to refill with!). They also had a cash bar where you could buy beer, alcoholic drinks, extra snacks, and ice-cream.
The entire time we visited the park, we were never hungry. Not only that, every meal came with animal friends (ENP also rescues dogs, cats, buffalos, and other animals!) coming to the tables to say hello. All of the meals were enjoyed on their deck, which overlooked the park: every time you looked up you would see elephants enjoying their day, dogs playing in the distance, and the most stunning sunrises and sunsets. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Our Suggestion: GO! GO! GO! (and don't worry about brining snacks)! You won't regret it.
- Chiang Mai: 8Adventure's Jungle Trek with a Village Stay
The second thing that we looked into once we committed to a trip to Thailand was trekking. It took us a long time to decide on a company (too many offer elephant riding, and we didn't want to support that), but finally went with 8Adventures.
I've got to admit, as excited as we were to trek through the jungle, our expectations for this were rather low (and we're totally not downers!). We were coming off of the amazing experience at Elephant Nature Park, and didn't think anything could top it. Plus, 8Adventures is relatively new, and we couldn't find too much information on them. Luckily, we went with our gut (which is always the move!).
Once again, we made the silly decision to load up our backpacks with junk from 7-11 and with four vegetarian hamburgers that we found at a stand in Chiang Mai that prepares vegetarian food for monks (these were actually really good, more on them later!). We hopped on a bus to 8Adventures, and as soon as we arrived we were greeted with this:
Huge plates of steamed vegetables, fresh salads (with a vegan dressing that they prepared specially for us!), a giant mound of rice, and lots of pineapple and cold water sat before us, and we couldn't have been happier! We almost didn't finish (rice is so filling!), but our guides told us that we needed the energy for the trek and made us finish our meals (haha!). Once we fueled up, we set off for one of the most epic parts of our entire trip to Thailand: a trek through bamboo forests, lush jungle, coffee plantations, waterfalls, and questionable bridges to the village all the way at the top of the farthest mountaintop, Huay Kukap.
I can't recommend 8Adventures and this jungle trek/village stay enough! This exceeded our wildest expectations (and then some!). The guides we had were extremely knowledgable, all about having a good time, taught us so many things, and were the most incredible hosts I have ever had the pleasure of staying with. When we arrived to Huay Kukap, we were welcomed with two cold Changs, candied tamarind, and a stunning sunset as a reward for our 4-hour hike to the top:
We sat on a log with the locals and some cute dogs, watched the sunset, and headed to our home for the evening. This is where we had the most delicious, most romantic (and completely vegan just for us!) meal of our entire lives, prepare by our guide Thom's wife, Pu:
This meal was unlike anything either of us have ever experienced. Aside from being made with so much love, it was served to us on a deck overlooking the entire valley with a sky full of stars above us (you miss out on this in the city!). In the distance, you could see the lights of Chiang Mai, but up where we were dining was incredibly peaceful, the perfect temperature, and the night was ours. We feasted (I've never been given so much food!) on the best tofu I have ever tasted, stir fry, vegetables, rice, dipping sauces (that weren't "Westerner Hot," and wow were they spicy!), fresh fruit, and lots of cold water. Believe it or not, more food came out after this picture was taken!
After we ate, Thom, Pu, and some locals (and some dogs!) came to join us on the deck. We learned that Pu is also a vegetarian, and had been very excited to create a meal for us! We chatted the night away before heading to our home for the evening. Before we knew it, daylight (and another perfect meal) was upon us:
For breakfast, Pu prepared curries, rice soup, fresh fruit, sticky rice with mango, and various cookies. She also brought out coffee and orange juice for us. It was another love-filled, perfect meal, and exactly the fuel that we needed to tackle the 4.5 trek back down the mountain!
After our trek, we arrived back at 8Adventures to another lunch! This one was similar to the first meal (salad and fruit), but instead of rice and vegetables we enjoyed a vegetable and tofu curry dish. Needless to say, it was beyond delicious.
Our Suggestion: GO (hungry)! I cannot recommend 8Adventures enough.
(Oh, and Pu literally laughed, about five different times, at the snacks and the vegetarian burgers that we had brought along! She was hilarious!)
- Random Finds & Some Tips from Chiang Mai
- Row 1 Photos: We stayed at a few different hostels/hotels so as to try different things, but we really enjoyed the breakfast buffet at De Lanna Hotel. It was filled with fresh fruits, steamed vegetables, muesli, fresh fruit juices (I loved the pineapple!), and espresso. They also made really delicious cocktails at the poolside bar!
- Row 2 Photos: The Fern Forest Cafe is absolutely stunning. We didn't have time to eat there unfortunately, but we did stop in for super delicious fresh fruit smoothies and espresso.
- Row 3 Photos: Sense Massage & Spa! We're not fancy people, but you can't visit Thailand without treating yourself to a massage (or four). We were lucky enough to stumble upon Sense, and we ended up visiting twice while we stayed in Chiang Mai. They treat you to tea and snacks before and after your treatments, which always begin with a foot scrubbing and foot massage (which is heavenly when you've been walking around barefoot for a week!). Sense is a must-visit if you're looking for a Thai massage!
- Row 4 Photos: (1) Fresh fruit smoothies are everywhere, but this combination of kiwi and mint (okay, and some gin) was incredible. The man who made it had a little shop filled with young coconuts, fresh fruit, and the occasional kitten. (2) A big tip for veg(etari)ans traveling in Thailand is to follow the monks! Even if a restaurant doesn't specialize (or even offer) vegan food, every stand/cafe/restaurant is used to cooking for monks and is happy to accommodate you! We followed a group of monks and found a vegetarian stand with delicious (albeit heavy!) authentic Thai breakfast foods (and those vegetarian hamburgers that I mentioned earlier). They even had local Kombucha in a variety of flavors (oolong was great!). (3) Many coffee shops had vegan cookies and pastries available (even though they don't have dairy-free milk)! How cute are these?!
- Row 5 Photos: 7-11 carries about 20 different kinds of soy milk. If you ask for soy milk at any coffee shop, they'll direct you to 7-11 (and ask you to come back and happily make you a latte). The thing is, not all of them are vegan. In fact, the majority of them contain milk powder (like that chocolate Lactasoy which I bought on another vegan blogger's recommendation! Luckily I didn't drink it, but I had been really excited for some chocolate milk!). Some labels include English, but the majority do not. I found that the milk in the first photo, the combination of soy and almond milk, tasted the best, didn't curdle in coffee, and was 100% vegan.
- Phuket: Atsumi Raw Cafe
Getting to Atsumi was an adventure, to say the least. We were staying at the Eco Hostel Phuket (highly recommend!), which was a :30 minute drive from the restaurant. In the states, we're used to driving :30+ minutes to get food (sometimes even longer). In Phuket however, everyone (and I mean everyone) laughed at us for choosing to commute that far to a restaurant! No joke, I believe we had a total of nine different people laugh at us (people were actually calling others over, showing them the address, and laughing together!) before we finally got a cab to Atsumi! It was hilarious, but it did end up taking us a lot longer than :30 to finally arrive. By the time we did, we couldn't have been hungrier!
Our next "setback" was that everything that we had wanted to order was unavailable. It took us 4-5 tries to finally order something that they were able to make from the menu (and while we were ordering, we were destroyed by mosquitos). But, once we finally found menu items that were available, our waiter brought us bug spray (!), and we settled in for an incredibly filling meal.
We went with fresh fruit smoothies, papaya soup, beet ravioli, a chocolate & coffee tart, a chocolate walnut brownie with avocado ice-cream (when it first came out it was missing the ice-cream that we had been most excited for, but we asked about it and they brought it out), and iced soy lattes. Everything was delicious, even the beets (I personally don't love red beets, so hats off to them)!
Our suggestion: Go for coffee and dessert.
Don't have your heart set on a particular dish, and be ready to try something new based on what they do have available (I truly loved their raw beet ravioli, which I never would have ordered if they had anything else available, ha!). The papaya soup is really refreshing, and their desserts are some of the best either of us have ever had. Mark doesn't like chocolate (??), but he couldn't get enough of the chocolate tart. Oh, and wear bug spray!
- Ko Lanta: KUNDA Vegetarian/Vegan Cafe
If you've ever imagined the most stereotypical vegan restaurant (in a good way), KUNDA is it! The ambiance of this restaurant is nothing short of magical: it's like a mash-up of a lush garden, a funky yoga studio, a really tuned-in Mom's knick-knack cabinet, and the coolest shop you've ever been in that sells things like healing crystals and incense. Any picture that you find online doesn't do it justice; it's stunning.
KUNDA's menu was very.. not Thai. They offered pasta, chocolate shakes, veggie patties, and their Karma Special, which is simply described as "you get what you deserve."
While on Ko Lanta, we only visited KUNDA once. We tried to visit again on a Wednesday, but they were closed (their hours read otherwise, so we were pretty bummed!). We got their chocolate shakes (what we came back for on Wednesday), an iced soy latte for me, vegetable pasta, and their Karma Special (how could we resist?!).
Our Suggestion: go for the chocolate shakes, if you're in need of some good, energizing vibes, or if you're really hungry!
The chocolate shakes were heavenly (even Mark liked his, which is impressive for his non-chocolate-loving tastebuds!). I drank mine in about three minutes! The portion sizes are huge on top of the fact that everything that they serve is very nutrient-dense, so definitely split a dish with a friend. We ate about half of the pasta and maybe 1/3 of the Karma Special, and I felt like I was going to explode for a good two hours afterward! We would have loved to know what the Karma Special was (our best guess is homemade breads, hummus, salad... and we have no idea what the other thing was, even though it was good!), but we never had the opportunity to ask.
- Ko Lanta: Happy Veggie
Do you know that feeling of euphoria when you discover your favorite restaurant? Enter: Happy Veggie:
Once we found Happy Veggie, we didn't eat anywhere else (I mean it, we went for breakfast and dinner every single day). Happy Veggie has it all: the sweetest, most attentive owner, Thitima, the best food, the BEST coffee, three super cute cats, a fun atmosphere, and great vibes.
I'm pretty sure we tried 90% of the menu..
.. and everything was amazing.
The coffees were the best I have ever had in my life, and here's the kicker: they're not even on the menu! Next door to Happy Veggie is a super cute coffee shop, Kaya, which we had been excited to try after dinner on the first night. Unfortunately, we hung out way too long (the vibes were so just too good!) and Kaya closed before we were able to pop over. We asked Thitima if she served coffee, and she offered to make us some, even though it's not on her menu. We asked if she'd include soymilk (I guess most people don't do that here, because she giggled a little bit when I asked), and she happily obliged. When she returned with our coffees, she gave us a little demonstration as to how she made them, asked us to smell them (so good!), and waited to make sure that we enjoyed them. Oh, we enjoyed them. We came back twice a day every day after to get them again!
I could write for days about our trips to Happy Veggie, so instead, here are a few highlights:
- On the second night, we experienced an island downpour while enjoying our dinner in our Thai gazebo! It was so much fun!
- Thitima has three sweet cats who warmed up to us quickly: two of them joined us for dinner on separate occasions!
- On our last day, Thitima was out on a produce run when we arrived for breakfast. Her staff is very sweet but do not speak English, so they actually called her on a phone and had us order with her! We had offered to wait until she returned, but they preferred that we ordered so they could start prepping our meal! How nice is that?!
Our Suggestion: Go, go, go! Order anything on the menu (and a coffee with soymilk!), and you will be happy!
My personal favorites were the yellow curry, the pumpkin hummus sandwich, the fresh fruit salad, the spring rolls, every single fresh fruit smoothie that we tried (every day is different!), and the coffees!
- Other Great Finds/Tips for Ko Lanta
Ko Lanta was nothing short of a dream-come-true:
- The Fin's Stoned Bar was our go-to evening spot, all the way at the end of the beach. We walked there every night, it took about 20 minutes, during or right after the sunset. The owners, bartenders, and regulars were some the nicest people that we met on our trip! Every night they couldn't have been more excited to see us, they watched football (soccer) with us, played pool with us, chilled with us, taught us about Thai boxing, and made the best drinks (definitely get a Fin's Stoned Cocktail!) and vegetable spring rolls!
- Sundowner's! Very rarely will I suggest cocktails (I didn't drink for three months prior to this trip, more on that in a future post!), but the locals make some of the best drinks that we have ever tasted (and the sunsets here are like nothing you have ever experienced before!). Every place that we went surpassed our expectations.
- Get the Vegetable Spring Rolls, the Fresh Fruit Platters, the Warm Bananas in Coconut Milk, and the Curry.. everywhere. As long as you ensure that they sub fish sauce with soy sauce (or simply omit it), everyone makes an incredible curry!
- Drink from a Coconut. You know you want to!
- Drink plenty of water!
- PICK UP YOUR TRASH. Better yet, take trash bags with you when you go to the beach, fill them up, and leave the beaches cleaner than you found them!