Thanks to the thriving worldwide vegan movement, there are now restaurants and cafés throughout Asia, such as the Nourish Cafe in Yangon, which serve an exciting diversity of vegan cuisine, as well as numerous vegan-friendly hotels and activities. We’ve put together a quick guide to vegan travel in Asia to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
With an increasing number of international visitors, Taiwan is really having its moment. Tipped as one of the top destinations for vegan travel in 2017, the capital, Taipei, boasts an ever-increasing number of vegan eateries at the cutting edge of food and lifestyle culture, serving a wide range of innovative dishes. With restaurants offering everything from virtuous raw salads to decadent burgers, and independent vegan bakeries and ‘cheese’ shops to explore, Taipei is developing a reputation as Asia’s vegan paradise!
As suggested above, one of the best ways to quickly access up-to-date information on where to eat vegan is to get online. Blogs, social media and websites such as the Vegan Society and Happy Cow all have general advice on vegan travel, as well as reviews of vegan restaurants and cafes throughout Asia. If you’ve been a little reticent to join the #hashtag revolution, now is the time. Searching sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram with tags such as #veganasia, or more specific ones like #vegansingapore, can herald a wealth of information on what’s hot and what’s not in your chosen destination.
Many of Asia’s major religions and spiritual practices hold kindness to animals as a core belief, and followers often observe a vegan diet. Along with Buddhism, this is also prominent in other Dharmic faiths such as Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Opportunities to visit temples and spiritual communities come up regularly while travelling around Asia, which gives you the chance to learn more about these faiths, and how vegan values are upheld. Stay overnight in a Buddhist temple in South Korea and share their modest monastic Balwoogongyang meals, or head for a wellness retreat in Indonesia where spiritual ideals influence diet and lifestyle.
As Thailand is traditionally Buddhist, many people observe a vegetarian diet on every full moon, but the whole country celebrates with annual vegetarian festivals during September and October. Though not translated to ‘vegan’, vegetarianism in Thailand goes far beyond the Western understanding of the term; the festivals are held in accordance with the Buddhist precept of not harming living things, and the festive food doesn’t include milk or eggs. Phuket’s festivals are legendary, and Chiang Mai has a thriving vegan scene all year round, so both destinations have an extra sparkle during this season.
For travellers with any sort of dietary requirements or allergies, learning a few key phrases in the local language can help you navigate through a very specific vocabulary subset. A few useful phrases such as ‘I can’t eat animal products’ and ‘Does this dish contain milk/eggs/gelatin etc’ can help make restaurant trips stress-free, and finding out the translations for specific non-vegan ingredients will help you decode packaging when self-catering. Apps such as the Vegan Passport from the Vegan Society are fantastic, but it could be useful to carry the hard copy version with you too for times when you can’t access the internet.
Of course, there are other aspects to veganism than just food. If you have concerns surrounding the use of animal products in furnishings, toiletries, clothing etc., contact your travel operator who will be able to chat things through and find hotels that fit your needs. You can even look into self-catering and homestay options, which leaves you free to source your own vegan-friendly products and ingredients. Many trips to Asia include experiences with wildlife, which are often invaluable in helping conservation efforts, but talking with your travel operator in advance can help answer any questions and reassure you about the welfare of the animals involved.
If you’re craving some serious rest and relaxation, there are plenty of destinations which offer a slice of seaside paradise for vegan sun-worshippers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to its enduring popularity with those seeking alternative lifestyles, Bali has a plethora of established vegan cafes, with the largest concentrations centred around Ubud and the Kuta beaches. You can get everything from vegan tapas, buddha bowls and raw food platters to vegan pizza, tacos and burgers, and Bali’s whole hospitality sector is used to tailoring their services to meet different requirements, so any adjustments you need are likely to be met with a smile and smooth service.
Even in the most vegan-friendly destinations, there may be times when you can’t find appropriate food at short notice. Take a supply of portable vegan treats, such as seed bars and ginger chews, to nibble on whenever you need a boost. Street food is often cooked to order, so it could be handy to carry a supply of soy sauce or tamari to use in place of the much-included fish sauce when ordering from street vendors, though you will still have to be careful of cross contamination. Pack a small chopping board, penknife and bowl to take out with you when you visit food markets which you can use to make on-the-spot salads or sweet platters from the fresh fruit and veg available.
Vegan travel in Asia is becoming ever-easier, with vegan-friendly gems to be discovered in a growing list of destinations, so talk things through with our Destination Specialists who can advise you on where to head next. The world is your oyster mushroom!