Despite several warnings from friends, Bangkok’s hot and steamy air still took me by surprise as soon as I got off the plane on my arrival for the first time in Thailand. But not even the humidity could dampen my excitement about the six-day adventure that lay ahead.
As luck – or rather the help of a skilled tour operator – would have it, my guide, Prasong Sungrung of Diethelm Travel, swiftly passed me ice-cold water and a face towel as I climbed into the airconditioned car awaiting me. Along with being a tour operator, Diethelm Travel is a destination management company that handles all ground arrangements like transfers, restaurant reservations and hotel bookings.
Upon arrival at Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel, my luxurious lodgings for the next two nights, I immediately showered, changed and set off for Chinatown in the Bang Rak district. The world’s largest Chinatown, it’s the perfect combination of delectable, fascinating street food and a welcome break away from touristy hot spots; making it a fun and authentic way to explore and experience Bangkok the way Thais do.
With Prasong in tow, I rose to my inner experimental foodie’s challenge to try durian, a large and spiky tropical fruit with a hard outer shell and pungent, custard-like flesh with large seeds. Once I wrapped my head around the legendary stench, I sunk my teeth into it with much fear perfectly hidden behind the brave face I managed to put on. It’s hard to describe the flavour. While Prasong said it’s more like creamed garlic, to me it tasted almost like cold, caramelised onion soup. Was it love at first bite? No, but it grew on me. What I tried next, however, instantly bowled me over: a slice of coconut sugar-sprinkled toast with iced coffee – heaven!
As I was soon to discover, vegan and plant-based options are aplenty in Thailand, with fresh fruit stands and fresh food markets on almost every corner. Moreover, veganism is not new to Thailand – the concept has been around for centuries and is closely linked to Buddhism, which is the country’s official religion, practised by more than 95% of the population.
Consequently, it’s not difficult to find a vegan or vegetarian restaurant in Bangkok – these eateries are marked with yellow banners and red Thai writing (resembling the number 17 in Western numerals and pronounced jay or jeh), which makes them easy to spot. Otherwise, just follow the monks.
A word to the wise for those seeking veggie or vegan fare at other eateries in Thailand: as most dishes contain some form of animal stock or fish sauce, it’s best to let your waiter know your dietary requirements before you sit down. Having said this, most mainstream restaurants have vegan options on their menus, and many chefs and street vendors will go out of their way to adapt a dish to be vegan, if possible.
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