Plant-Based Eating in Thailand

Sharon Palmer

Looking for a cultural paradise that is just packed with vibrant, plant-based eating experiences? Then, welcome to Thailand! Whether you’re visiting an authentic Thai family restaurant, sampling street food, riding through a floating market, shopping at a farmers market, or taking a cooking class, there is a wide world of incredible vegan food awaiting you. The traditional plant-based foods are rich, flavorful, colorful, and aromatic. I had the grand opportunity to visit Thailand to observe the sights, sounds, and tastes, and can’t wait to share my favorite plant-based recommendations with you today.

Breakfast at the Westin, Bangkok, Thailand

My first stop was in Bangkok, where we stayed at the Westin. What an experience Thai breakfasts are! It’s all about veggies! I had a variety of Asian veggies, some noodles, vegetable sushi, and the wonderful breakfast porridge Congee—this one (on bottom right) was flavored with beets!

Thai Fruits, the Westin, Bangkok, Thailand

From the first day, I feel in love with Thai fruits, including (clockwise) local bananas, pears, longan (like a lychee), apples, and tangerines.

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand

Our first morning, we set out to see all of the most important temples and palaces of Bangkok via a boat ride along the river. It’s a nice way to see the city and get some fresh air (it’s pretty hot and muggy in Bangkok!). Here is our first glimpse of the amazing Wat Arun, the iconic 17th century temple along the river that is lit up at night.

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand

This temple is covered with pottery, making it absolutely gorgeous!

Reclining Buddha, at Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand

To spy the awesome and enormous golden reclining Buddha was an impressive sight. It is 15 meters high and 43 meters long, and covered with gold leaf. This is located near the Grand Palace, Wat Pho.

Monks in Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

I never tired of seeing the orange robe-clad monks at the temples. From the first day we arrived in Thailand, the feeling of spirituality was tangible. It is one of the most impressive aspects of the country. The people in Thailand are truly connected in their traditions and beliefs of the better good, and are kind because of it.

Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

We also visited the gorgeous golden temples in the Grand Palace. These are a must see while visiting Bangkok.

Tuk-tuk ride, Bangkok

While in Thailand, you must take a ride on at least one tuk-tuk, the 3-wheeled vehicles that jet around the city.

Open-Air Dining, Bangkok, Thailand

We just asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us to a good vegetarian (which is basically vegan) restaurant in the city, and he took us to this lovely spot along the river, where we quenched our thirst with local beer and spring rolls!

Spring Rolls, Bangkok, Thailand

These are ubiquitous on menus in Bangkok, and are a great plant-based option when dining out!

Tofu Stir-Fry, Bangkok, Thailand

We also enjoyed a vegan tofu stir-fry, another reliable thing you can get on pretty much any menu in Thailand.

Chinatown, Street Vendors, Bangkok, Thailand

A must see is the street food and vendors in Chinatown. I love that they sell real, whole fruit!

Durian, Bangkok, Thailand

Durian, the famously acrid-smelling fruit, is available all over Thailand, so give it a try when you get a chance. I rather enjoyed it.

Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

I loved this day in Chinatown, with all of the bustle, sights, and smells of the city. This is where you can do some street food, and bring back some exotic fruit and veggies to your room.

Pomelos, Bangkok, Thailand

Another amazing local fruit is the gigantic grapefruit variety pomelo, which is featured in so many dishes.

Bananas, Bangkok, Thailand

I never get enough of those finger bananas—they are so sweet and creamy!

Coconut Sugar, Bangkok, Thailand

I use a lot of coconut sugar in my cooking at home, as I feel it’s a slightly less processed sugar. And this is the land of coconut sugar—it comes from here, and you can find it everywhere!

Namsaah Bottling Trust, Bangkok, Thailand

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the cool, trendy Namsaah Bottling Trust, which is housed in an old house painted bright pink. There were lots of great things for my to try on the menu, including this tofu curry pot with vegetables. So savory and good! While it’s not pictured here, my other dish was a banana flower salad! It includes the raw, immature banana flour in a similar style as green papaya salad.

Markets, Bangkok, Thailand

The produce in these markets is just spectacular!

Maeklong Railway Market, Bangkok, Thailand

The next day we ventured out to the famous Maeklong Railway Market, where the farmers and vendors display their produce right on the train tracks. When the trains come by, they have to move out of the way!

Mangosteen, Maeklong Railway Market Bangkok, Thailand

Those dark purple fruits are the legendary mangosteens, which are packed with antioxidants and local to Thailand!

Green Herbs and Spices, Bangkok, Thailand

This is one of my favorite photos from Thailand, and it shows how abundant the trademark spices and herbs are in this paradise. Green leafy vegetables, green onions, basil, coriander, gingseng, and ginger are classic ingredients in so many traditional dishes. In fact, most of the herbs and spices in Thai cuisine are fresh, not dried.

Maeklong Railway Market, Bangkok, Thailand

This picture also shows the classic vegetables in most Thai cuisine, including cucumbers, tomatoes, small white eggplants, long beans, ginger, carrots, cabbage, peppers, bitter melon, and greens.

Peppers, Maeklong Railway Market, Bangkok, Thailand

These little birds eye peppers are absolutely essential to Thai cuisine. Locals measure their spice level based on how many of these babies goes into each dish.

Coconut, Maeklong Railway Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Coconuts are ubiquitous in Thai cuisine, including coconut milk and other coconut products.

Maeklong Railway Market, Bangkok, Thailand

There are also so many different types of legumes in Thai food—look at this spectacular twisted ones.

Maeklong Railway Market Bangkok, Thailand

Love these local foods!

Rose Apples, Maeklong Railway Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Oh how I love rose apples—a local variety that is pretty as can be, and crisp, light green in the center.

Streetfood, Bangkok, Thailand

This is a traditional simple dish of rice with coconut milk and herbs, cooked in a hot griddle—yum!

Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand

It was a treat to go on a floating market ride near Bangkok, where we purchased food from vendors on boats.

Coconut Ice Cream, Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand

On our floating market trip, we shared this beautiful coconut ice cream, topped with jellied fruits and served in a coconut shell.

Eating Out, Thailand

Thailand’s small restaurants outside of the big cities are charming, such as this classic spot with little pagoda like huts for diners.

Sea Salt, Thailand

On our way back into the city we saw the salt beds where they make sea salt—these line the road.

Fast Food, Thailand

Unfortunately, fast food has a presence in the cities of Thailand, as was evidenced at the airport on our way to Chiang Mai.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It was such an experience spending the day at this amazing elephant sanctuary, where they protect local elephants that have been abused in labor camps, circuses, and even begging on the streets. I was able to spend hours with the elephants, feeding them, touching them, and observing their natural behaviors in this beautiful sanctuary.

Vegetarian Lunch, Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the best meals in Thailand was at the vegetarian (naturally!) lunch at the Elephant Nature Park, which was a veritable smorgasbord of classic plant-based local dishes. Sorry my plate was piled a bit too high!

Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We couldn’t believe our luck, because the founder of this entire nonprofit was visiting this day. And we talked to her for a moment and thanked her for her wonderful work.

Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We stayed at one of the most amazing hotels we’ve ever stayed in—the Dhara Dhevi, which is like a sanctuary-temple resort. This gorgeous building is where we ate breakfast each day. See what I mean!

Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our bungalow had an outdoor area facing a real, live rice paddy!

Green Mango Salad, Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The salads based on immature fruit in Thailand are something else. This one had peanuts and spices.

Spices, Chiang Mai, Thailand

This is an expression of some of the spices of the country.

Rice, Chiang Mai Market, Thailand

We learned about all of the types of rice—sticky, jasmine, brown, red, white—and their significance to Thai cooking at the farmers market.

Chiang Mai Market, Thailand

Look at this lovely market!

Kim, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the highlights of my entire trip was taking this daylong class at this cooking school, which is on an organic farm. We started at the Chiang Mai farmers market to learn about the ingredients, then we went to the farm to pick more local produce and learn about how important they are to Thai cuisine. Then we got to cooking and eating!

Butterfly Pea Flower, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Those are the incredible purple flowers of the butterfly pea flower, which turns foods a brilliant purple-blue!

Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Here I am about to learn the secrets of classic Thai cooking! You can make every recipe completely vegan if you want.

Tom Yum Soup, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

All of the ingredients that go into my vegan tom yum soup!

Tom Yum Soup, Thai Farm Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The finished product!

Vegetarian and Vegan Eats, Goodsouls Kitchen, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, with its hippie, spiritual, animal-loving vibe, is home to so many vegan restaurants, such as this hotspot.

Reform Kafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We ate at this plant-based restaurant, which was in a jungle like setting, and filled with delicious foods.

Spring Rolls, Reform Kafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Aren’t these pretty?

Vegan Pumpkin Soup, Reform Kafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hearty and spicy!

Welcome to Anantara Layan, Phuket, Thailand

Yes, that’s a butterfly pea flower beverage served to me at sunset on my first night in Phuket!

Anantara Layan, Phuket, Thailand

The food at this hotel was stellar, we rarely ventured away as the plant-based offerings were amazing. We basically made our way through all of the classic dishes, plant-based style, such as this beautiful pomelo cashew salad.

Anantara Layan, Phuket, Thailand

This was an iced dessert with mangos and butterfly pea flowers.

Breakfast, Anantara Layan, Phuket, Thailand

You know I’m crazy about veggies for breakfast, so these green noodles with tofu, veggies, and spices was my go to.

Anantara Layan, Phuket, Thailand

This dish was a vegan coconut vegetable curry with crispy noodles.

Miang Kahm, Anantara Layan, Phuket, Thailand

We had this appetizer dish every night—I loved it. It starts with betel leaves (on right), and then you fill it with toppings taco style: coconut, peanuts, chilis, onions, lime, ginger, garlic. Yum!

I could have written a virtual book about Thailand eating, but, alas, this is a blog. I hope that you find time to go to this graceful land filled with kind, gracious people, beautiful animals, and delicious plant-based foods.

Mngkhlwāth (which means blessings),

Sharon

For more plant-based eating guides around the world, check out:

Plant-Powered Eating in Vienna, Austria
Plant-Powered Eating in Toronto
Plant-Powered Eating in South Tyrol
Plant-Powered Eating in Lisbon
Plant-Powered Guide to Morocco

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