Thailand can be both easy or difficult for vegan travelers.
Things like location, local knowledge, and budget play a big role in how well vegans eat in the Land of Smiles.
The Kingdom has some of the world's leading vegan hotspots, but local attitudes, meat-heavy dishes, and some hidden fishy ingredients can make Thailand feel a little hard to navigate at first.
However, once armed with the right knowledge, most vegans learn to love Thailand and embrace it as a veggie-friendly destination.
Vegan Thailand Overview:
Thai word for vegan | Mạngs̄wirạti (Mung-Saw-Wee-Rat)
Best vegan locations | Koh Phangan & Chiang Mai
Av. price of local meal | 60 Baht ($2 USD)
Av. price at western vegan restaurant | 180 Baht ($5.75 USD)
Popular tropical fruit | Mango, papaya, mangosteen, jackfruit, durian
Popular vegan ingredients | Tofu, coconut, eggplant, sweet potato, cashew nuts
Common non-vegan ingredients | Fish sauce, shrimp paste, eggs, meats
Thai attitudes towards veganism
Thai attitudes towards veganism tend to vary between regions. However, it's generally viewed as a foreign stance with very few local vegans.
One exception to this is Buddhist monks, who are often vegan.
In the country's vegan hotspots, locals are very conscious of veganism. For example, when ordering tofu fried rice, you'll often be asked if you want to also leave the egg out.
As you sway further from these vegan destinations, veganism is less understood.
Even in areas of Bangkok, it can be a struggle to order vegan food from street vendors who don't understand the concept beyond vegetarianism.
In fact, the Thai mentality towards animal treatment is low in general.
Animals, including street dogs, aren't given the same respect and treatment as in the West.
There still exists a cultural mindset that animals exist for humans which, unfortunately, is made worse by unconscious western tourism like elephant riding and tiger posing.
Eating vegan in Thailand
Whether you want to eat local or international, Thailand has a great variety of options - all of which can usually be made vegan.
Smartphone apps can be lifesavers in some areas of Thailand. Make sure to check out our recommended vegan travel apps to ensure you're all set.
Thailand is a large country. Food culture and certain dishes vary between north and south.
Northern Thai food is influenced by nearby Burmese dishes. You'll find a lot more sticky rice and spicy curries in the north.
One of my favorite Thai meals is Khao Soi, which is a northern dish that combines crispy and soft noodles in creamy coconut soup. However, in the south, this dish can be extremely difficult to find.
Southern Thai food has more Muslim influence due to its proximity to Malaysia and Indonesia. You'll eat more fresh fruit and vegetables like mangos and eggplant in meals. Seafood is far more popular in the south.
Vegan Thai Food
Unlike in the West, vegans don't need to worry about dairy.
A study found up to 90% of Thai adults were lactose intolerant, which is common with people of Asian and African origins.
This means Thai food almost never contains cow milk and cheese. For the most part, Thai food is cooked with coconut creme and coconut milk, instead.
While not used for cooking, cow milk is still prevalent in Thailand. Oddly, dairy milk bubble tea is very popular with Thais, despite high rates of lactose intolerance.
The most common non-vegan culprits are fish sauce and eggs, which you'll want to request are left out.
Shockingly, sometimes Thai tofu can contain eggs. In my experience this is rare, and it's easy to tell the difference from appearance and taste. Egg tofu is usually round and has a thicker texture, whereas vegan tofu is cut into square cubes and has a soft inner texture.
Common vegan substitutes:
- Meat replacement: Tofu and/or cashew nuts
- Fish sauce: Soy sauce
- Dairy milk: Coconut milk
Local meals easily made vegan:
- Thai green curry
- Tofu fried rice
- Khao soi
- Massaman curry
- Mango sticky rice
Thai restaurants will not always advertise vegetarian alternatives, however, more often than not they will be happy to adjust their menu. You just need to ask.
On a side note, breakfast is notoriously the most difficult Thai meal to make vegan.
International food in Thailand
In Thailand, you're never far from Indian and Middle-eastern restaurants. Which are, of course, two staples for vegan-friendly foods.
The Indian food in Thailand is generally affordable and tastes as close as you can get to authentic Indian without crossing the Bay of Bengal.
In fact, Chana Masala in Koh Phangan serves some of the most delicious vegan Indian food I've ever had.
Unfortunately, Mexican food is generally missing the mark in Thailand.
International foods ranked for vegans
Indian | 9/10
Some of the best Indian food outside of South Asia.
Arabic | 8/10
Thailand serves up some delicious vegan Arabic food. While quality can vary, most middle-eastern dishes will be winners.
Italian | 6/10
Pizza is a hit or miss in Thailand, especially when ordering vegan pizza. In vegan hotspots like Koh Phangan, you can find amazing vegan pizza. But generally, Thai pizza doesn't hit the mark.
Mexican | 1/10
It's extremely difficult to find good, authentic Mexican food in Thailand.
Street food survival tips
Street food is a way of life in Thailand. There's nothing quite like walking through the smokey side-streets of Bangkok to the smell of food cooking on open grills and the ramble of locals chatting on plastic child-size seating.
There's something special about shifting through bustling night markets, grabbing cheap finger food as you go. And there's no reason why vegans need to miss out.
Eating Thai Street food as a vegan
Thai street food is usually a section of the street which has been taken over by small local vendors selling a specific food or meal.
Sometimes you'll find larger restaurants on the street, but for the most part, each stall will specialize in cooking one type of meal.
Common vegan street food
These foods are either vegan or can be made vegan by request.
- Fried rice
- Pad See Ew
- Mushroom Tom Kha
- Mango sticky rice
- Tofu sticks
Pros of street food for vegans
- You're not limited to one menu
- You can see food being cooked
- Food is extremely cheap
Cons of street food for vegans
- Generally, street food will need to be altered to make it vegan
- Local street food vendors don't always understand English
Thai coconut pancakes are vegan.
Vegan eats at Thai night markets
Every Thai night market is different, but I haven't been to one I can't eat until my heart's content.
Some of the popular vegan options found at night markets are:
- Spring rolls
- Sweet potato balls
- Coconut pancakes
- Sushi rolls
- Mango sticky rice
- Tofu & veggie sticks
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
Thailand's vegan hotspots
Thailand has some of the world's leading vegan hotspots spread out across the country.
These vegan hotspots are popular for long-term expats, yoga retreats and digital nomads.
Located in the serene Gulf of Thailand, Koh Phangan is a small island a 30-minute ferry ride from Koh Samui.
While the island is known for hosting infamous full moon parties, there's another side to Koh Phangan that is less known - it's a vegan paradise.
A spiritual community of expats and digital nomads has formed in the north of the island creating an abundance of yoga centers, meditation retreats, and best of all, the greatest vegan food in Thailand.
Find our Koh Phangan digital nomad guide here.
Top vegan eats in Koh Phangan
The incredible vegan options are endless in Koh Phangan. I wrote a full vegan guide to Koh Phangan here.
You can view rooms in Koh Phangan here.
Nestled in the northern mountains, Chiang Mai feels a world away from the sun-soaked southern islands. But what it lacks in beaches, it makes up for culture, luscious landscapes and a delicious vegan food scene.
In the last decade, Chiang Mai boomed into the digital nomad hub of the world. Remote workers flooded to the northern city, which brought a rise of stylish coworking spaces, modern cafes, and world-class plant-based restaurants.
Top vegan eats in Chiang Mai
You can find rooms in Chiang Mai here.
Chiang Mai's northern neighbor, Pai is a small town with a big hippy feel.
Unlike Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai, Pai tends to attract more short-term visitors and backpackers.
The laidback town has lots to offer and some tasty vegan eats too.
Top vegan eats in Pai
You can find rooms in Pai here.
Veganism in Bangkok
Bangkok is a bustling cosmopolitan city with an endless array of things to keep you busy.
As the main gateway in and out of Thailand, it's likely you'll spend some time in this vibrant city.
But Bangkok tends to divide vegan travelers, including me. Despite visiting Bangkok multiple times, I'm still torn as to whether or not I consider it a good vegan destination.
While there are delicious vegan restaurants, they are few and far between and more expensive than in other regions of Thailand.
On top of that, Bangkok's iconic street food appears more difficult to 'veganize' with vendors limited on simple vegan ingredients like tofu.
You can read my review of Bangkok's leading vegan restaurants Vistro & Broccoli Revolution here.
Thailand has lots of vegan snack options available between food stands, 7Elevens and supermarkets.
For the most part, the supermarket snacks are similar to those in the West like fruits, nuts, chips, Oreos.
7Eleven's generally vary products from each store to store but vegan options are limited.
I'm still waiting for the day I see a vegan cheese toasty in 7Eleven. This article has a list of vegan options found in 7Eleven.
You can also check out our list of the best vegan travel snacks.
Cooking in Thailand
Cooking in Thailand is generally more expensive than eating out, so I generally avoid cooking. However, I was locked down in Thailand during the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant lots of home cooking from my Koh Phangan bungalow during months of quarantine.
If you're staying in Thailand long-term, you'll likely have your own kitchen and be able to cook yourself.
In all my time staying in Thailand, I'm yet to have a kitchen with an oven, so baking food is off the menu.
It's most common for Thai kitchens to have open-flame stoves, so frying and boiling foods is the way to go.
Vegan food in supermarkets
Thailand has a good range of supermarkets where you can get a lot of things available in western countries.
Thailand's best supermarkets are:
- Big C
- Tesco Lotus
Thai supermarkets are good for vegan options like plant-based milk, vegan cheeses, oats, and so much more. I personally prefer Makro for vegan food, but Big C and Tesco also have good options.
Don't purchase fruit and veggies at these supermarkets - you'll find far better deals at local markets.
Vegan cooking classes
It's no surprise cooking classes are popular in Thailand.
Vegan cooking classes are springing up everywhere in Thailand, specifically in Chiang Mai. Here are some popular vegan cooking classes:
- May Kaidee's Cooking School - Chiang Mai & Bangkok
- Baan Farm Cooking School - Chiang Mai
- Koh Phangan Vegan Cooking School - Koh Phangan
If taking a cooking class with a non-vegan cooking school, make sure they are able to provide vegan cooking options.
While Thailand's vegan food options have come leaps and bounds, the poor treatment of animals for profit has a long way to go.
This is exacerbated by common unethical tourism practices like elephant riding, tiger posing and zoo tourism.
Elephant tourism in Thailand
Elephant riding is an extremely cruel industry.
Elephants rarely breed in captivity, thus elephants used for tourism purposes are generally pulled from the wild away from their herd in violent and disturbing manners.
Naturally, Elephants are opposed to humans climbing on their backs. So, in order for humans to ride them, the elephants are beaten over and over again until humans have "broken their spirit". This process hauntingly called the "crush".
You've probably heard the saying "elephants never forget". Their long memories mean they live forever in fear of their captors and humans.
There is no retirement for elephants either. They are worked continuously until their death.
The solution is simple. If tourists stop riding elephants, the violent cycle will end.
Ethical elephant tourism
While Thailand's elephant tourism mostly cruel, there are ways you can experience elephants in an ethical and more rewarding way.
After all, looking into an elephant's eyes up close is a far more intimate experience than riding on its back.
There are a number of ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand with an emphasis on conservation and rehabilitation of rescued elephants.
Tours are available where guests can help clean and feed the animals. The sanctuaries often need volunteers too, where you can get a more personal experience with the gentle giants.
No matter where you go in Thailand there are animals in need.
Animal sanctuaries are packed with injured street dogs, cats, and other animals needing support. The sanctuaries are mostly non-profit and rely on the good nature of humans who care.
Volunteer work will be some of the most rewarding experiences of your Thailand trip.
Find a list of animal sanctuaries here.
Thailand's Vegan festival
The Thai Vegetarian Festival or Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a vegan (not vegetarian despite its name) festival held for nine days on the eve of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
While the festival is filled with flavorful vegan food, the carnival-style event features extremely shocking sights of people piercing their cheeks with swords.
The festival originated in China, but is widely celebrated by Thais all round the country. The biggest celebrations are held in Phuket.
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I recommend World Nomads as my favorite travel insurance provider.