When we tell fellow travellers that we are vegans, their first reaction is generally “wow, that’s cool”, usually followed by “I could never do it”. Sure, traveling on a plant-based diet is sometimes challenging, but it’s easier than people think — especially in places where you can cook for yourself, like in hostels or campsites.
However, in Southeast Asia, you usually won’t have the possibility to cook, and the food is really cheap and delicious anyways. So how do you travel as a vegan in Southeast Asia?
Learn the local vocabulary
When arriving in a new country, we would learn the most important words to describe our diet in the local language. In the most popular tourist destinations, restaurants and food stalls understand English and are familiar with the concept of vegetarianism or veganism. But when visiting more rural areas, this might not be the case, so make sure you know how to say “no meat”, “no egg”, etc. in the local language.
To avoid an unpleasant surprise, we recommend that you explicitly mention “no chicken”, as some places don’t consider chicken to be meat.
Where do vegans eat in Southeast Asia
As mentioned above, we can basically eat in any restaurant and just order a vegan version. This also allows us to save money because the meat-free dishes are usually between 25% and 50% cheaper.
Sometimes, we just wanted to try a fully vegan restaurant so we would use the HappyCow! app and were always surprised by the many options we would find. The biggest downside of choosing plant-based restaurants are the increased prices. Cruelty-free food is quite trendy these days (a great trend to be honest), and restaurants tend to double their prices.
So we generally mixed it up and chose a vegan restaurant one day and relied on street food for the next couple of days. You’ll find vegetarian fried rice or noodles at most stalls and each plate usually costs around 1 USD.
Try the Traditional Dishes
A common misconception about a plant-based diet, is that one misses out on food experiences, but so far, this has never been the case for us. We loved the amazing Khmer Curries in Cambodia, Shan Noodles in Myanmar or Pad Thais in Thailand. We just ordered it without meat and egg and were never disappointed. The only things we missed out on were the fried frogs, crickets or cockroaches. But to be honest our mouths didn’t water up when seeing these options on display.
Don’t forget the fruit
Always incorporate fruits in between all those noodles and rice dishes. Almost every local market offers fresh fruits, we especially enjoyed having fresh pineapples, dragon fruits, longans, etc.
Our favorite restaurants
Due to budget limitations, we couldn’t eat in every vegan restaurant we wanted. However, we still tried a fair number and here are our favorites:
Dee Cafe in Siem Reap had an excellent choice of different Khmer curries. The sensational flavor was complemented by the beautiful presentation of the dishes.
Vegan Heaven in Chiang Mai held true to its name serving exquisite sushi and we had the best Massaman Curry and Pad Thai there.
In Kuching, we were craving Western food and had delicious vegan burgers at The Wrong Place. This restaurant is not 100% plant-based but has a whole page of vegan dishes.
About the Authors:
We are Ale and Chris, a Chilean, Canadian and German couple who quit their jobs to travel the world without leaving our ethics behind. We aim to live a cruelty-free lifestyle and minimize our negative impact on the planet.