So I’m going to Thailand for study abroad from January to May! In terms of diet, my top priority will be to stay vegan. Second priority is to eat as much raw food as possible.
I’ll be in Bangkok and probably taking a lot of trips to different parts of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.
Anyone ever been to any of these places? I’m assuming the fruit is abundant and cheap, am I right?
And I’m assuming staying vegan is as simple as learning how to say No Meat and No Fish Sauce? I can’t imagine much dairy being used in traditional Thai food.
sign me up!!!!
I’ve been to all of those countries, plus China and Vietnam. I wasn’t vegan at the time. There are Buddhist vegetarian restaurants that will cook totally vegetarian, but everything will be cooked. Nearly all non-veg restaurants, which is most of the restaurants in these countries, will use fish sauce liberally, so you’ll have to pick up a little of each language if you think you are going to be able to convince places not to cook with their staple condiment, which may prove quite presumptuous on your part. Be prepared for the fact that you won’t always be able to make them understand your desires. It’s pretty ubiquitous and some people might even be offended occasionally at your request. Many places will understand that you don’t want meat, but you’ll still probably be getting the same non-veg base. Their concept of vegetables only may differ from yours. Will you be eating rice and noodles? I would suggest that you either relax your standards a bit, or stick to self-catering. The fruit and vegetables are sensational and dirt cheap. You’ll do just fine self-catering, but if I may offer my opinion, you’d really do yourself a disservice to avoid restaurants in these three countries. Each country’s cuisine is so distinct and incredible. You’ll never get both raw AND vegan options in restaurants. To spend a few months in these countries and not experience the vast array of traditional dishes would be a terrible shame. One interesting idea is to eat in Buddhist monasteries. Some may welcome outsiders at lunchtime. Meals are free, but you’ll be expected to donate what you think is appropriate. Be generous. The food will be completely vegetarian. Dairy isn’t common anyway, so the food should be vegan. I don’t recall if they eat eggs or not.
This is a chance of a lifetime. Don’t miss out by insisting on staying true to your rigid Western concepts of health. These cuisines are, by and large, quite healthy. So many fruits and vegetables are used in such wonderful, albeit largely cooked, combinations, that it would be wise to just enjoy whatever largely meat-free bounties come your way.
I am going to India for 6 weeks, starting January 1. I hope to stay largely vegetarian, but I am aware that the Indian concept of vegetarian usually includes dairy and eggs. I’m going to try to avoid them, but not worry in the slightest if they appear. I’m not going to worry about the fact that many dishes use ghee or that virtually everything will be well cooked. I definitely won’t be raw during that time, but I will eat as healthily as my environment allows, while not missing out on any great culinary traditions.
There are lots of salads that are raw in Thailand, my favorite was the papaya salad. Sometimes they put shrimp in it, so make sure you ask first (and the peanuts might be roasted). I also ate seaweed salad, yumm and other kinds of veg salads. Apart from the salads everything is cooked except fruits that they often serve as dessert. If you go to Chiang Mai or Koh Phangan, there is a Sanctuary Cafe and the Sanctuary restaurant both offer raw food that’s just out of this world. www.thesanctuary-kpg.com
good luck and enjoy Thailand, it’s a fantastic place.
you may also want to learn how to say “no MSG” as it is used widely in these countries. you’re lucky that there will be tons of fresh fruit/veg, but be careful about the lettuces/greens due to contamination with dirty water. I got sick in VN from eating lettuces that were washed in dirty water. have fun! sounds like a wonderful adventure
Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I was in a boat on the Mekong river. I saw women making noodle soup, coffee and sandwiches in other boats. We headed over to the one making soup because my BF wanted a Pho (beef noodle soup). We watched as the woman took some beautiful mung bean sprouts, put them in a strainer and dipped the strainer into the Mekong. This is a filthy river. Garbage is thrown into it, people bathe in it and use it as a toilet. Boats go up and down it. Yet, I saw perfectly healthy-looking people brushing their teeth in it and rinsing their mouths with river water. Needless to say, we passed on the Pho that day. However, had we not been able to witness the sprout washing technique, he’d have probably eaten it and very likely been just fine afterward. Remember this: any time you feel kind of sick but it only lasts for a day or less, it was probably from something you ate, rather than a 24-hour virus. They don’t really exist anyway. You can get just as sick at home as in a foreign country.
Kennyt, you definitely won’t be able to be as stringent about hygiene while away. You might get a little sick from it, but you might now. I didn’t get sick at all in those countries from the food. I only felt sick from the malaria meds I was taking. I didn’t mention MSG in my previous post because I think you’ll have an even tougher time with that. Even if you find a vegetarian restaurant that uses soy sauce instead of fish sauce and vegetarian oyster sauce insead of the real thing, both condiments will probably have MSG in them. It can’t be removed. You’ll only be able to prevent additional MSG being used.
Another tip: if you indulge in freshly squeezed juices, be sure to ask for them without water and without sugar. Repeat this a few times, or they will add a few spoons of white sugar to your already sweet juice. Don’t use Western terms like unsweetened, or you can expect some sugar to creep into your juice when you’re not looking. They like it this way. They probably think we’re nuts for preferring it au naturel. Try all the fruits, even if you’ve never heard of them. I paid $1 in Hong Kong for a dragon fruit, then saw one here in Canada for $7. I paid $1.25 for a mangosteen here, but could have had one for pennies there. Let someone lure you to their fruit stall with a slice of something you’ve never seen before. You might discover your new favourite fruit is jakfruit, pomelo or durian.
thank you so much sweetpea!
like i said in the original post…i’m defffiniiteellly not going to try and stay raw there. my main priority, diet-wise, is to stay vegan. i want try as hard as possible to enjoy the genuine cuisine while staying vegan, but i know it will be difficult and sometimes i’ll just have to go with the flow. i know there will be a language barrier so i’m just going to tell them my dietary concerns and just be happy that they even tried to cater to me. i’m not the kind of person that will take my food back and demand they change it or anything…im not a rude guy and appreciate what i have.
i’m not gonna worry about sugar and msg…..just meat and eggs.
i am so excited about all the fruit i’ll get to try! i’ve never tried any ‘exotic’ fruit. never had durian, rambutan, jakfruit…can’t wait!
i’m most excited about the weather…can’t stand winter in america…very excited about the humidity and heat! also i’ve never been out of america so it’ll be nice to try something new for awhile :)
My BF and I flew to Thailand in January, 2007. We only spent a few days there, because our focus was Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I enjoyed it and would like to return for a more indepth visit one day, perhaps along with Malaysia. We travel for 6 weeks every year, but we’ve taken to doing it in Jan-Feb to avoid the sucky Canadian winters. It’s a pleasure being in Southeast Asia in the winter. Temperatures varied, but were mostly quite nice.
I strongly suggest that you go to Laos. Cross the Mekong from the border near Chiang Rai. You can buy a visa on the Lao side. Then, take the 2-day slow (and I mean dead slow) boat ride down to Luang Prabang. Laos is much less touristy and more laid back than the other countries mentioned, because the country only opened up to tourism in the last 10+ years. Language will be the biggest problem there, but the people are so genuinely lovely that it won’t really matter. Trying to bargain there is hilarious. They don’t get it at all. The figure that they’re not out to fleece you and their price is fair, so take it or leave it. I’d go back there and spend months travelling along the rivers and visiting towns and villages that don’t see a lot of tourists in a heartbeat.
Cambodia was fascinating, but very sad, due to the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. You’ll see so many homeless and disfigured people. It’s so tragic, but you must go there to learn about it and meet the people. It’s very important to them that their story be heard.
Vietnam rocked. It’s really touristy and salespeople are a bit jaded, but I met locals there that are my Facebook friends to this day. I know you didn’t mention Vietnam, but if you can go, you should.
If you want to talk more about travels and wild food adventures, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m so glad to hear that you won’t try to stay raw there. I think you’ll do fine as a vegan, but don’t lose it if some fish sauce lands in your bowl. It’s so tasty anyway. You will be so richly rewarded by your experiences in Southeast Asia. I guarantee it, but try to get away from the biggest cities too, to really experience life in Thailand and the other countries.