5 Tips For Backpacking South East Asia on a Vegan Diet

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

gardens by the bay - singapore

*taps* is this thing on?! It's been a little while since I last posted on the blog (a slight exaggeration, my last post on here was in October! So Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Pancake day I guess!) I've taken a little longer off from blogging than I'd originally intended to, but I promise I have good reason for not cracking the laptop open and popping in to say hi. For the last four months I've been living out of my bag and backpacking around South East Asia with my boyfriend, James. We've travelled our way across Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and have finally landed back in not-so-sunny England, already wondering where the next adventure will take us. Backpacking South East Asia has been an amazing experience, and I'll be posting a series of the amazing plant based food we tried in each country, but to kick things off, I wanted to share my initial tips for backpacking South East Asia on a vegan diet.

The first thing to share is that it IS possible. I definitely had my doubts at first and in all honesty, some countries are easier than others. It also really depends on your budget and how far you're willing to go to find good food. However, luckily for all of us, the South East Asian countries I've listed above all have diets where fresh veg plays a huge part, making finding good vegan options a whole lot easier. You may find you have to wait a little longer, or a little negotiation is needed before you can fill your belly with a tasty vegan meal, but the people in South East Asia are very accommodating and you'll get there eventually - just like we did! So here are my tips for backpacking South East Asia on a vegan diet.

1. Download the Happy Cow app

I hesitated at putting an app at the top of the list but SERIOUSLY, the Happy Cow app is a godsend when you're travelling or just on holiday in general. If you've not heard of the app before, it shows you vegan (and vegetarian) food options in your radius, as suggested by other users of the app. It shows you how far away the restaurant/street food option is, their opening hours, photos of the food and reviews. It's really handy for arriving in a new place and immediately knowing where you'll be able to eat. The best thing about Happy Cow for me was that it worked in every country we visited in South East Asia, even the most remote islands. That feeling of arriving in a new place and having no idea where you'll be able to find something you can eat? Gone!

2. Figure out if street food or restaurant food is better for you

Depending on which country in South East Asia you're in, you'll need to test the waters to see whether your best choice for vegan options will be street food or restaurant food. Some of the countries we visited have amazing street food which is really accessible to tourists, for example, Thailand and Vietnam. Of these countries, some have great vegan options (You're never far from a street Pad Thai in Thailand!) and others cater more to meat eaters (Vietnam's street food is not particularly vegan friendly in the tourist spots). In other countries, such as Indonesia, we found more luck in restaurants. There are pros and cons to both - restaurants often guarantee you at least one vegan option or dish which can be made vegan, but street food is much more budget friendly if you're longterm travelling. My best advice is to know that there WILL be an option for you, but you may need to do a little more research than the average traveller to ensure you know where to look for the best food options in each country you visit.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for changes to your meal

This one leads on nicely from point 2. Both restaurants and street food vendors in South East Asia often make your food fresh for you, as they believe that vegetables should be bought and cooked in the same day for better taste. This is perfect for vegan eaters, because it means that a lot of places will be very accommodating to you if you ask for tweaks to a vegetarian dish to make it vegan. For example, as I mentioned before, Pad Thai is a very popular dish in Thailand and can be found at virtually any street food market. Simply asking for the vegetarian version of this dish without egg will result in a very cheap and easy vegan dinner for you. Don't be scared about the language barrier, most restaurant owners and street food vendors in touristy areas are very accommodating, and you probably won't be the first person to have asked for this change from them! When we were travelling, we even saw people who had written down the translation of 'no egg' or 'no dairy' on their phones to show the vendors and help to bridge the language gap further.

4. Go on a walking food tour

One of the best ways to get a taste of local food in South East Asia is to go on a walking food tour in whichever country or city you're visiting. Most of the big cities we visited offered these style tours, such as Hanoi in Vietnam and Chiang Mai in Thailand. Many walking food tours are catered for meat eaters, however we saw and heard from lots of other travellers of amazing vegan and vegetarian walking tours within some of the cities. A quick look online will help you to source the best one in the place you're visiting and many of them come very highly recommended. You'll have a guide for a morning or afternoon to show you around and take you to the best food spots for vegans which may not be on the usual tourist trail. You'll be able to try new food, interact with locals and have a fun afternoon of filling your belly!

5. Carry your own snacks for long journeys

My final recommendation of this post and one to save your belly from rumbling all day is for those of you who plan to take long haul journeys in South East Asia. If you're backpacking and travelling between cities in each country, you may find yourself sitting on local buses or mini vans for long periods of time. Our longest was around 10 hours - that's a lot of time to go with minimal food options! These buses do make pitstops along the way, but they're few and far between and as you can imagine, it's pretty hit and miss whether you'll be able to get vegan options at them. Our saving grace during these journeys was to pack our own snacks - usually fruit from street food vendors or nuts from 7 Eleven.

This post only touches the surface when it comes to managing veganism whilst backpacking South East Asia, but I promise, it's easier than you think! Make sure to check back regularly if you are planning a trip, as I have a series of posts coming up all about the vegan delights of the countries we visited. 

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