We have been coming to Bangkok for nearly 20 years. Over that period of time, we heard travellers complain about how hard it is to find vegan food in the city, and we couldn’t really understand why. Sure, the vegan scene in Thailand is not as great (or easy) as in other South East Asian countries like Vietnam, but vegan food has been and is there. You just need to know where to find it, and that’s what we want to help you do with the info in this page.
What you’re going to learn here is applicable to the rest of Thailand, so keep it in mind if Bangkok is the starting point of your trip.
The single most important thing you can do to make your stay in Bangkok easier is learn to recognize the Thai word for “vegan” -ok, for Buddhist vegan, which is not exactly the same as vegan, but we’ll get to that soon. You need to remember this word:
Ok, that’s easy enough, isn’t it? Just two characters. Well, not really. Thai writing uses different fonts, some of which make letters look completely different to the untrained eye. As an example, have a look at these two pictures:
The word "jae" appears in both signs, but unless you can read Thai and have been exposed to different Thai fonts, you may not be able to recognise it. Also, the word jae doesn’t always appear on its own. Some vendors have signs with this on them:
This means “jae food”, but again, you wouldn’t know that unless you can read Thai. So overall, our suggestion is to get familiar with the writing of the word jae in modern, traditional, and stylised fonts. It will make your vegan life in Bangkok so much easier! And just so that you can get started, here’s a gallery of photos with the word jae in all of them.
Across Bangkok (and the rest of Thailand too), you will come across three types of restaurants serving vegan food.
Jae (เจ) or Buddhist vegan restaurants. In most cases, they're very basic eateries and they'll have flags or banners with the “jae” word on them. Not all Buddhists are vegan, and not even Buddhist monks in Thailand are required to be vegan, but within the Theravada tradition of Buddhism (the predominant tradition in Thailand), it’s believed that eating vegan is a form of practising compassion, whether it’s done daily or every now and then.
You should know that jae restaurants avoid cooking with garlic, shallots, and onions, since they believe they bring too much excitement to the senses. Jae restaurants don’t serve dairy, alcohol, tobacco, honey, or meat. What you’re likely to find in them are rice, veggie, and faux meat dishes (usually buffet style), curries, and noodle dishes. Sometimes there are small shops attached to the restaurant where you can buy TVP, vegan sauces, and other essentials that may come in handy if you’re self-catering.
Then we have mangsawirat (มังสวิรัติ) restaurants. The term can be loosely interpreted as vegetarian. Some mangsawirat restaurants will use dairy in some of their dishes; others won’t. Some serve desserts with honey in them, others don’t. Some will avoid dairy but will serve eggs. In any case, there are always vegan options at a mangsawirat restaurant. They are not as popular as jae eateries, but there are a few in Bangkok and other major cities.
And of course, you’ll also find Western-style vegan restaurants that come with Western-style dishes and prices. These are the ones pretty much everyone knows, and while they’re ok if you’re really craving vegan pancakes or pasta, they should not be the only type of place you eat at while in the city. Our recommendation is aim for a mix of jae and Western to get a true grasp of what veganism is in Thailand.
A word about the opening hours of Thai-style jae or mangsawirat restaurants: don’t expect to find them open for dinner. These restaurants open early in the morning (sometimes as early as 6 a.m.) and usually close for the day at around 2 – 3 p.m.
The reason for this, as far we have been able to gather from talking to people, is that they tend to cater to devout Buddhists, who usually go the temple early in the morning and then have something to eat. The jae way of life also requires people to abstain from eating in the afternoon, which is why many close shortly after lunch time. Also, Thai people tend to get their dinner on the way back from work at their neighbourhood’s night market or on the street rather than at a restaurant.
You can use the Nearby feature in Google Maps and type ร้านอาหารเจ (jae restaurant) or อาหารเจ (jae food) to find basic Thai-style eateries serving vegan food. Of course, you should take the results with a pinch of salt. Maybe you get there and the place has closed for the day, or it's closed due to a Thai holiday you weren't aware of, or it's closed just because, or it's not there anymore. So our suggestion is to use this tip to find vegan food in smaller towns, where distances and travel time are not as not as huge as in Bangkok.
Let’s say you can’t find a jae restaurant nearby. Where do you get your vegan nom noms from?
Let’s start with one of the greatest things about Thai food: most of the snacks and desserts are accidentally vegan. Traditionally, dairy and eggs are not used in Thai desserts, which is good news if you have a sweet tooth. Corn fritters, sweet potato balls, pan-fried chive cakes, sweet and savoury turnovers, coconut milk-based desserts are popular treats that are vegan and available on the street and at night markets. Have a look at our Vegan Guide to Thai Food section to find out more.
On the not-so-great side, and outside of desserts and snacks, Thai cuisine makes heavy use of non-vegan ingredients, which is probably why many people thing being vegan in Thailand is so hard. It really isn’t, you just need to be aware of a few things. For first-time visitors, the main thing to keep in mind is that fish and / or oyster sauce and shrimp paste are added to virtually everything. Thai salads (including fruit salads) come with a generous dousing of fish sauce, and when getting street food you wouldn’t necessarily know that unless you can read Thai and can read the label of the bottle they’re using. Again, we suggest you read and bookmark our Vegan Guide to Thai Food page, where you’ll learn which dishes are vegan, which aren’t, and where we give you the Thai script you can show to vendors to make sure they don’t add anything you don’t want in your dishes.
We hope this information is useful to you and helps you enjoy your stay in Bangkok and in the rest of Thailand. For more information on being vegan in Bangkok, check our blog post Things You Need To Know About Being Vegan In Thailand.