Built around its cruelty-free Buddhist tenets, Thai cuisine is actually quite plant-based in its natural form, with hardly any traces of dairy. As it evolved, ingredients like fish sauce were introduced to many dishes as a substitute for salt, and the greater availability of quality meats and fish encouraged an ubiquitous image of Thai food as a carnivore’s delight. Veganism is on the rebound in the kingdom however. So whether you’re a lifelong herbivore or just after a healthy retreat to the Land of Smiles, here are the best places in Thailand for vegans.
Last year, Thailand received a record-breaking number of tourists, and the increase nationwide in availability of vegan-specific options reflects a concurrently upward worldwide trend toward the diet. This rise came with a new understanding of veganism in Thailand.
For years, vegetarianism was loosely translated to mean “visible pieces of meat or seafood,” but stock, eggs, and fish sauce were fair play. Restaurants today – whether specialty vegan or offering a wider range – understand the demand for “kin jay” or “che” food, the removal or substitution of any animal products from a dish, traditionally associated with the diet of active Buddhist monks. These restaurants are typically marked with a yellow banner and red Thai writing – เจ – that when blown up looks like the number “17.” Specialty restaurants of this variety exist in every city, but plant-based cuisine going mainstream is a relatively new development.
This recognition can mean a whole new travel experience for the vegan tourist who is often limited to piecing together their own meals from grocery stores.
The birthplace of ultra-spicy Isaan cuisine, Chiang Mai has long been a citywide food court for vegans. With so many restaurants that feature exclusively plant-based menus, it’s hard to find one that doesn’t have at least a few solid offerings.
Regularly acclaimed as an unofficial food capital of Thailand, it was a natural development for Chiang Mai to lead the charge in plant-based dining. Issan, or Northern Thai, food also traditionally lacks the fish sauce hidden in typical favourites like Pad Thai because of how the cuisine developed in relative isolation near the Burmese border. Instead, the food focuses on readily available ingredients in the area, like roots, herbs, and plants.
This macrobiotic Japanese restaurant is located in a renovated traditional-style teak house in the Old City. The macrobiotic diet traces its origin to the Asian yin-yang philosophy of incorporating balance in all aspects of life. The diet, which features whole grains, vegetables, and beans as staple ingredients, is reportedly beneficial to easing or even eradicating conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Aside from the recipes themselves, macrobiotic dining celebrates the meal in its entirety – diners are recommended to chew each mouthful at least 50 times and pause to express gratitude before eating. Amrita practices this balanced philosophy within its extensive menu from Japanese soba noodle soup to veganized spaghetti Bolognese. The kitchen is very amenable to individual tastes, so the menu is easily modifiable allowing for all kinds of vegetable or plant-based protein substitutions across its options. All of its food is strictly vegan unless otherwise stated, like several desserts that do contain dairy.
Arguably one of the restaurants responsible for popularizing plant-based eating in Chiang Mai, Blue Diamond has been a stop for herbivore travelers and locals alike for years. Also known locally as “The Breakfast Club” thanks to its incredible early-morning eats and organic coffee sourced from Hill Tribes living just outside city limits, Blue Diamond serves its menu all day and does keep meat in its kitchen – which they’re happen to incorporate into any dish for your carnivore friends. Portions of Thai, Vietnamese, and Western food are huge, and the restaurant also keeps a well-stocked shop of organic goodies, cosmetics, breads, and even vegan ice cream.
This popular café satisfies two goals in one stop: healthy, clean eating, and supporting social welfare. Free Bird supports the Thai Freedom House, a community education centre that supports “displaced persons” like Burmese refugees, indigenous people, and minorities. The program educates, trains, and supports these communities aiming to increase literacy, arts, and economic opportunities within. The mission is clear in the restaurant’s operation – its menu pays tribute to delicious Burmese fare, including its Sham somtam and tealeaf salad. There are Western delights aplenty as well. Check out their range of smoothie bowls or the ultra-popular pancakes and French toast.
Faced with the typical fare like meat satay and wok-fried noodles soaking up the meat flavours of the previous order, vegans have long been wary of arriving to Thai night market. The Night Bazaar is smack in the centre of Chiang Mai’s Old Town. Ground zero for cheap food and souvenir shopping within the city, visitors can find almost anything – quality Thai silk, electronics of varying authenticity and quality, and of course, lots of food. There are tons of stalls with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, including a lot of veganized Chinese and Isaan staples like larb, noodles, and stir-fries.
As the access point for many visitors to the rest of the kingdom, it was only natural for Bangkok to eventually follow the lead of its little sister to the North. The city has long been friendly to vegetarian diets, as Thai food is almost always made to order, and substitutions like tofu or mushrooms for meat were an easy fix. Pesky flavour additions like fish sauce or fermented fish paste limited fare for vegans however. Budding restaurateurs recognized the growing demand, and today all corners of the city have amazing plant-based options.
A relatively new addition to Bangkok’s food game, Broccoli Revolution has created a completely plant-based menu revitalizing popular dishes from around the world. The ingredients are certified organic and locally grown, promising no pesticides or other additives incorporated into popular dishes like the broccoli quinoa charcoal burger, a Lebanese mezze platter, Indian curries, pizza, mac and cheese, and a huge menu of cold-pressed juices and smoothies.
Italian cuisine has been popularized the world over, with individual cultures regularly adopting their own takes on the classic staples. Think: squid and snail-loaded pizzas on a sweet potato crust popular in South Korean, or kissaten in Japan – spaghetti coated in a matcha sauce with accompanying whipped cream and red bean paste. Govinda in Bangkok has salvaged the popular fare for the vegan community and serves a full range of Italian staples in both vegetarian and vegan varieties. Running since 1997, its menu items are packed with flavour and taste remarkably like the real thing, using vegan cheese and soy-based proteins to mimic the iconic tastes of Italian pizzas, pastas, soups, and more.
It is a rare sight to see a vegan chowing down on hot and spicy sour prawn soup or any of Thailand’s most notable Southern dishes; however, there is a restaurant in Bangkok serving up some pretty convincing faux shrimp, chicken, beef and more. May Veggie Home is a vegan restaurant located in the heart of downtown Bangkok that is serving up some Southern Thai favorites. Luckily for those on a meat-free diet, all of the dishes here are meatless and tasty. Some of the most delectable Southern items on their menu include their vegetarian fish topped with sweet and sour sauce, vegetarian shrimp and vegetables in a mouthwatering Panang curry, and the vegetarian shrimp tom yam with coconut meat.
The monthly party capital of the Gulf islands, Koh Phangan, takes on an entirely different ethos when its fluorescent-covered Full Moon Party attendees ferry off the island each month. Loaded with yoga centres, meditation and detox retreats, and conservation activities, the island community has fostered a vegan spirit for years that is molded into its very persona. The Happy Cow, an online review system a-la-TripAdvisor exclusively for vegan and vegetarian restaurants, praised Koh Phangan as “the world’s first vegan tropical island,” back in 2015.
Venture outside of infamous Haad Rin toward Sri Thanu, the region in the Northwest of the island. There you’ll encounter a wealth of plant-based options ranging from vegan-friendly Thai kitchens to regularly busy yet somehow laid-back cafes.
Courtesy of Eat.co | https://www.facebook.com/eat.consciously/
This venue is the brainchild behind the creators of the website with the same name. Celebrating a food-bath ethos through connection, community, and conscious living, its multinational team of developers launched a global menu featuring favorites like the beetroot burger, iskender kebab, thai, Vietnamese pho, and teriyaki strips.
It’s a common myth that all vegan food is healthy – and any desert-lover can promise you this isn’t always true. In the case of Karma Kafe, however, the team has taken plant-based eating to a whole new health-conscious level, restricting animal products, gluten, and refined sugars from its entire menu. Vegan burritos, quesadillas, and tacos satisfy your comfort food needs, while wraps, smoothie bowls, and vegan sushi are available for lighter options. Those with a sweet tooth need not fear – vegan raw chocolate pie, coconut ice cream, and other treats are all available guilt-free, with no added sugars or preservatives.
While most vegan restaurants in the country aim to modify Thai dishes and recreate Western staples, this cosy hangout stands out from the pack by specializing in one of the world’s most traditionally vegan-friendly cuisines. Featuring a wide range of Israeli and other Middle Eastern dishes featuring ingredients like couscous, hummus, and falafel, Green Gallery’s menu is 100 percent vegan with several raw options as well. Favorites include a veganized version of the breakfast staple shakshuka, hearty Moroccan soup, and sweet potato latkes.
As Koh Phangan’s little sister to the North, Koh Tao’s large expat community has kept a high-quality foodie scene thriving for years. The diving mecca’s international draw encouraged the growth of a restaurant market catering to nearly every taste imaginable – there’s even a specialty poutine joint for homesick Canadians. For every new cuisine-based shop, there seems to be another to counterbalance with vegan options.
This colourful veggie shack in the heart of the island is the stuff of vegan dreams. Its trademark salad, soba noodle, and rice bowls pack flavourful punches, and are surprisingly nourishing as well. Or cater to your comfort food side through their pan-fried quesadilla and daily freshly baked vegan cookies the size of your hand.
Breakfast food reaches a whole new echelon at this beachside café. Entirely built of wood and bamboo, Coconut Monkey oozes with cosiness and character, with cushions and benches strewn about alongside its open-air beachfront. Then there’s the menu. While also catering to meat eaters, Coconut Monkey aims to provide the best quality in all its food by sourcing exclusively organic ingredients and making as much in-house as possible, like their many flavours of home-brewed kombucha. Try the full vegan breakfast or pesto tofu scramble, one of their overnight oats choices, or the sesame mushroom jerky Buddha bowl if you’re feeling a bit lighter. Can’t pull yourself from the ocean view? Grab some of the amazeballs and other vegan goodies stashed in their cooler to complement the panorama.
Appropriately tucked away in the southern tip of the island, Big Bite’s name refers not to its portion sizes but also its huge menu. Offering an assortment of Thai favourites-gone-vegan, there’s also tons of plant-based wraps, burgers, paninis, burritos, and more. Creative coffees, juices, smoothies, and kombucha flavours complete the quaint café’s solid distinction.
This sleepy region of Thailand is famous among niche travel groups like rock climbers and hikers for its expansive limestone ridges carved out of the skyline, towering out of placid blue waters. Its attraction of an active, outdoorsy community has launched a successful selection of healthy eateries suitable for any diet.
Venture into Krabi Town to check out this near legendary local staple. Serving up authentic Thai cantine-style, there are plenty of flavourful dishes catered to both vegan and vegetarian diets all at extremely low prices. Guests receive a plate of brown rice upon arrival, and can then choose as many curry and vegetable add-ons as you’d like, with options like soy-based fish, beef, pork, and chicken.
A small town near the Burmese border, Pai is a unique and vibrant getaway perched 510 meters above sea level, sloping up just a few hour’s North of Chiang Mai. Its relative remoteness and historical waves of migration have created a dynamic community that has developed in its own way, and at its own pace – many visitors report that they don’t even feel like they’re in Thailand anymore.
Known for its incredible nature and a general tranquil vibe, it’s no wonder that Pai is also a foodie heaven, with an emphasis on healthy living and channeling ancient philosophies of food. Workshops offering instruction on making kombucha, kefir, raw recipes, and macrobiotic cooking are all commonplace across the community flyer bulletin boards. Its wide range of restaurants catering to all diets enclose one of the country’s most eclectic night markets, ensuring no one will go unsatisfied in this happy mountain town.
Courtesy of Earth Tone Vegetarian Café and Health Shop | https://www.facebook.com/earthtoneinpai/
This cute little café has been a staple on the vegan circuit for years. Just a short meander out of town, Earth Tone serves up a nearly full vegan menu – with a few vegetarian options – in its open-air space nestled within the Pai mountain-scape. Try out their variety of salads, bowls, and sandwiches before capping off with its top-rated cashew ice cream. They also brew their own kombucha and jamu – a traditional Balinese herb infusion intended to preventatively mitigate health issues.
Satisfy your craving for veganized Thai dishes without breaking your budget at this local joint. Offering a selection of soy-based meats, this longtime local establishment seamlessly replicates authentic Thai and Shan dishes through its nourishing menu reflective of its diverse community. There’s a vegan buffet available or patrons can order a-la-carte.