Last April a paper presentation at a conference brought me to Northern Thailand for about 10 days. I spent most of my time in Chiang Mai, but also visited Pai in the North and finished the trip by spending a few days in Bangkok. Obviously, the food was amazing! The sightseeing I did was intercepted by trips to restaurants, markets and so on – and as a veggie I have eaten very well. So I will share some of my favourite Northern Thailands Eats with you, peppered with some sights and activities. By the end of the post you might think I am an overeater, but as I was only in Thailand for a short time, I HAD TO eat all of the food. For research purposes only, of course. Also, I did walk around a lot, so many of those calories were instantly burned off.
1. May Kaidee Cooking School, Chiang Mai
One stormy afternoon I invested into a Thai vegan cooking class at May Kaidee‘s restaurant and cooking school in Chiang Mai. While there are many schools offering cooking courses in throughout Thailand, I decided on this one because it is a vegetarian and vegan school and restaurant only, and that is an idea I like to support. Also, the reviews online were really good, and I can confirm! The restaurant and school in Chiang Mai is run by a lovely Thai couple who let me into the secrets of Thai vegan cooking (It’s all about the flavour balance of sweet, sour and spicy). I was their only student that afternoon, so I got extra attention and had a great time with them. A heads up, don’t eat anything, and I mean ANYTHING, before you come to the class. We made so much food I rolled out and still had food to take back to the hostel to share with fellow travellers.
We kicked off the class by making two curry pastes, a green and a red one, by hand (think massive mortar and pestle). We used both to make a veg curry with tofu each. This was followed by a delicious Tom Yum and Tom Kha soup (Kha is creamier as made with more coconut milk). We then dished up a classic, Pad Thai (minus the egg), which is noodles with bean sprouts, shredded carrot, spring onion and tofu, topped with a peanut sauce. I had never particularly like Pad Thai, but I am a convert now. Freshly prepared and not drowned in grease it is super tasty and was one of my favourites of the class. Onwards with a creamy and peanutty Massaman curry, a dish that was brought to Thailand many centuries ago by Arabs and Persians, and has since become very Thai and very popular. I had never eaten Massaman curry beforehand, and so not only cooked but also enjoyed eating it for the first time. To move away from the curries a little, we prepared some pumpkin hummus and a refreshing green papaya salad that we munched up. To finish off the 3 hours or so of constant cooking and eating, we indulged into the traditional mango sticky rice. I rolled out of the place (remember, I told you not to eat anything beforehand). They also equipped me with a recipe booklet so I can recreate these delicacies at home. A fantastic activity I cannot recommend enough! I also ate at her restaurant in Bangkok (just off Khao San road) and it was equally tasty.
2. Earth Tone, Pai
Yes, yes, yes, not your typical Thai place, but this health food store and cafe dished up one of the tastiest meals I had in Thailand. I had just cycled all morning the loop to Pai canyon, along the World War Two bridge, and passed the elephant camps around Pai, and then stopped for lunch at Earth Tone to make up the calories I had just sweated out. It has an amazing and fresh selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes that are displayed on a massive chalk board over the counter. I opted for a tempeh sandwich that converted me to tempeh-ism (I wasn’t a massive fan beforehand). The tempeh was crispy, the accompanying sauce delicious, and the portion sizable. I washed it all down with a homemade flavoured kombucha. But hey, remember I just burned through what felt like 2,000 calories?! Enter the dessert! I went for a massive, gluten-free buckwheat waffle topped with chocolate, peanut butter and banana ice cream. Three (!!!) scoops of them. Needless to say I easily rolled downhill on my bike back into the main part of Pai.
3. Street Food
Kind of a no-brainer in Thailand, even though you have to be careful with the omnipresent fish sauce. I had street food mostly at the night markets in Chiang Mai and in Pai. During my stay in Pai I went to a lovely Chinese lady two or three times who made her own tofu and fried it up with a delicious rice noodle salad or in a spicy noodle soup. She also frequently laughed at me when I couldn’t take the heat of her chili sauce, or when I watched in awe when Chinese tourists piled said chili sauce in heaps on top of their dishes and ate it without breaking into sweat. Good times. You’ll also find mango sticky rice throughout, and fresh fruit juices. If you are lucky you might find some salted plantain chips like I did at a roadside stall. I love them ever since becoming slightly addicted to them in Colombia. All in all, the street food makes for cheap and cheerful eats.
4. Mango Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant (and art gallery), Bangkok
Even though the art gallery part might be a little overstated, this lovely place off Khao San road serves up some absolutely tasty vegan grub. As I wanted to try as many different dishes as possible, I went for two starters and a dessert. Encouraged by my positive experience with tempeh in Pai, I went for crispy tempeh with chili sauce, some fresh summer rolls, and finished off with a molten lava cake (oh yeah). The meal was accompanied by a super tasty lychee and blueberry drink. You should not be in a hurry when you eat there as service was a little relaxed, but I didn’t mind at all.
5. Ethos, Bangkok
If you look up vegetarian or vegan places to eat at in Bangkok you will 100% come across this place, also just off Khao San road. It has a super relaxed vibe with floor seating that looks out on the quiet street (there are regular chairs and tables as well though). I went for two starters and a dessert again, because MORE FOOD! I had the crispy fried tofu with chili sauce and a massive Tom Yum soup (was bigger than I expected, I have to admit). As a sweety afterwards the pancake with chocolate sauce almost made me explode, but I nevertheless finished it off. If I should ever record a mukbang, Ethos would be a great choice (If you don’t know what mukbang is, go on YouTube and watch.). On top of the amount, the food was also super delicious and the staff very friendly.
6. Amrita Garden, Chiang Mai
This was one of the times I did not overeat! And also the first time I had a macrobiotic meal (one of the pillars of this diet is to not overeat). The restaurant is set beautifully, with a lovely garden to enjoy the food. I went for one of the lunch menus and got a hot miso soup, some cold noodles in broth, an assortment of warm vegetables, and a papaya leave tea. Even though cold noodle soup sounds strange, I really enjoyed it, especially considering the tropical climate. It made for a quite refreshing change and gave me enough energy to walk to different temples for the rest of the day.
7. Beetroot Stories, Chiang Mai
This lovely little cafe run by a super friendly Thai lady is located in a courtyard in the Old Town. As I never had a massaman curry before travelling to Thailand, I had it here again after making it at the cooking class, and it was creamy and tasty, and very delicious (even though it doesn’t look very exciting). They serve it with brown rice which makes it extra healthy, and their fruit shakes were fresh and tasty.
8. Art in Chai Cafe, Pai
This little hippy heaven in Pai serves up some tasty burgers and makes some wicked cakes that you can enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere. There is also a little library inside the cafe, and they have a water bottle fill-up station to avoid producing more plastic waste. If you are artistically inclined, they also run open-mic and poetry slam nights. I had one of the lentil burgers at the cafe, and then took some cake as take away to enjoy by the river.
9. Rustic & Blue, Chiang Mai
Located in the hip Nimman Soi, outside of the Old Town in Chiang Mai, Rustic & Blue is a place that is as hipster as it can get. I ate a quinoa salad with sourdough bread, and drank an iced matcha latte that was served in a mason jar. Stereotypical much?! Also, the place is very instagram-worthy. While full of Western food, hipster travellers and digital nomads from the Northern hemisphere, the food was tasty and a nice change to Thai cuisine, and the service was super friendly.
10. Lanna Thai Dinner & Show at Khum Khantoke, Chiang Mai
While this kind of dinner & show is usually not a place independent travellers would venture into, the conference dinner of my work thing was held there, and I was positively surprised by the veggie food they put on the table for us. They seated all of us vegetarians and me vegan at one table and then just brought out massive plates of food, all of which ended up being vegan anyway. There was a great assortment of mock meats, mock sausages and fried tofu, accompanied by loads of veggies and rice. The entertainment consisted of traditional dances, and all in all it wasn’t a bad experience as the food was good, and with that in mind I could endure the staged authenticity of this place for a couple of hours (there was also wine and good company).
Bonus: Clay Studio Coffee In the Garden, Chiang Mai
While I technically did not eat there, I had to mention this wonderful and magical place. I only went for tea, but they also have veggie options on the menu if you want to go for lunch there. The main draw is their setting, in a spacious garden, surrounded by statues, benches, springs, and old, crumbling walls. The atmosphere was super special towards sunset, and I would recommend going there during golden hour.