Our first few days in Bangkok, which we were until the morning I wrote this entry, were a blur of Khao San Road constants: finding our way, avoiding unnecessary tuk tuks, overcoming jetlag, devouring bowls of curry, sipping cold beer and searching for the famed Mr. Yim’s stand. First, we investigated where it was last seen (which according to Happy Cow, is this past April), on Soi Rambrutti, to no avail. The next day, we scouted up and down both Rambruttis, again with no luck (so, we stopped for our first pedicures). We continued to search up and down, inquiring online and in person, but he seems to have disappeared. If you know if he’s relocated elsewhere, please share. While this is my second trip to Thailand, I haven’t even been (…yet?) but with the tales of his vegetarian street food in the Khao San area that I’ve read so far, I know I’m not the only dismayed, fish sauce-avoiding wanderer.
This is certainly a small bump of many to come, when directions simply no longer or just don’t make sense, that gladly had us eating three meals in less than three days, it seems, at May Kaidee’s sole Khao San location right now on Tanao. It was for these very offerings and the backpacker-overload shock factor of the neighborhood that we decided to stay nearby after spending our first evening, arriving after midnight, at an airport area hotel. The first night on Khao San was spent at Rikka Inn and then Dang Derm (easily the grander and favorite of two). Both offered central access and rooftop pools to escape the maniacal happenings and heat below.
I had attended May’s class on New Year’s Eve in 2011 (which if you attended one of my classes at VVC2013, you may remember me mentioning the decision to not blog much at all about that month-long trip), and her methods and ingredients became the foundations of my own vegan Thai creations at home since then (where one of her curry paste packets still lives in my freezer somewhere). Keep it fresh, keep it hot, keep it quick. The Tom Kah, in particular, is one the simplest yet flavorful soups J. Legume and I make at home with simple broths or all the farmers market veggies we have around.
Our simpler May Kaidee-inspired Tom Kha after farmers market vists
Naturally, after finding our bearings and turning down roughly 87 offers for overpriced rides from enthusiastic taxis and tuk tuk drivers, we made our way to May Kaidee’s for lunch on our very first afternoon in the city. I inhaled a bowl of rich, red curry and swooned with every spoonful while J. Legume smiled into every bite of her own Tom Kha, with even bigger smiles on both of our faces at May herself walked into the room. The springrolls were also delicious: crunchy, savory bites served with a mango chili dipping sauce. The next visit, I found myself with the first Pad Thai of the trip (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to order it on the street just yet — let me wait til our time in Chiang Mai and the Vegetarian Festival, the intent of our timing here), covered with a sinfully sweet, and slightly unexpected peanut sauce that for Northwest folks, I can only grasp at straws to compare as if Araya’s met Vege Thai’s, and then, well, was perfected in both flavor and consistency.
Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce, May Kaidee
On our third visit, after another one our investigations for Mr. Yim’s and an attempt at a restaurant with ‘vegetarian’ signage that provided dismal, I opted for a fabulously herbed Green Curry with cuts of tiny Thai eggplants, baked tofu and potatoes
Each dish not only filled my stomach, but refreshed my culinary inspiration. I’ll could go on, and on — and next time we’re in town (which will happen two more times this hiatus, and as tempting as another stay at Dang Derm is, I’m sure we’ll stay elsewhere to experience some more of Bangkok), we’re quite likely to take a cooking class together.
As I can imagine all past students would say, I highly recommend the cooking school experience!
In any case, we’re now in Chiang Rai awaiting pick up to an out-of-town guesthouse where we can enjoy life in quiet without internet for a few days until the next stop. For the record, we did manage to enjoy a peaceful and fresh dinner at popular Ethos (which I mention because anytime I utter ‘May Kaidee!’ someone else tells me to check out Ethos while I’m there), as well.
I aim to document portions of this adventure to share our experiences and seriously, just encourage other vegans to explore SE Asia, and beyond, without wondering if it’s hard to find vegan food. As Happy Cow will tell you, the options are certainly (& often) mind-blowing and super flavorful, showing you what Thai food is really about, and you’ll often stumble upon it while walking around cities. And as you can likely surmise, research (look for ‘Jay’ or ‘jai’ restaurants, in particular) + with new restaurants and stands opening all the time, the choices are grand. Just take a Lara Bar or two for when you’re in the middle of nowhere, just in case, and get ready to enjoy vibrant fruits in both flavor and color. I’m here to excite and challenge my palate by trying all the vegan Thai delights I can get my hands on, and our long-awaited, super-consciously budgeted, six-week adventure has just begun.
Come back this way soon for another update with our adventures in travel blogging, and feel free to follow along on Instagram @jdfunks and @donna__noble for ongoing updates and our so-called ‘hiatus hiatus’ as we make our way around the north of Thailand then down to Cambodia.
The following selection of photos from our first few days is presented without any photo editing or enhancement, because with the welcome, infrequent internet access, we simply haven’t the time.
(Mostly vegan) ‘Asian Vegetarian’ meal on Delta on flight #1 from Portland > Tokyo
Moderately flavored and mostly edible.
Layover at Narita
I’ll spare the agony of the meal on our second flight for now (…maybe I’ll do a Delta vegan meal expose when this is all said and done), because I’m pretty sure it contributed to my first experience with air sickness.
The view from our room at Mariya Boutique Residence by the airport.
Whenever I’m feeling a touch flashapackery vs. backpacker-who-walks-into-a-guesthouse, I book on Agoda. We got this 4 star room with an airport pickup for roughly $30.
Upon unpacking, this was found hidden top pocket of my backpacker: 2011′s wrinkled Bangkok map
Early morning scores from 7-11, which also offered multiple shelves of pretty intriguing frozen vegetarian meals
Don’t worry, Lay’s Nori Chips came the next day.
Sharing breakfast ramen
Heading to BTS to Phaya Thai
Inside our Junior Double at Rikka Inn
First fruit shake of the trip: Papaya Dragonfruit, May Kaidee
The aforementioned and exalted Red Curry, May Kaidee.
Yours truly, bun-style
Lunch spread, May Kaidee
“The first spoonful was just…otherworldly..out-of-body experience, it was that good” – J. Legume
Red curry. Forever on my mind.
Located right behind the Burger King, after a quick walk down an alley (not as sketchy as it sounds)
Drinks upstairs at Apache Bar: Leo & Mojito. Such cool atmosphere.
The inaugural 20 baht, refreshing coconut, hacked by a street vendor
Down Khao San Road, which feels quite like this
Let me repeat this tip: if you want to experience a little less of the same over-the-top neighborhood, stay off on Soi Rambrutti or one of the alleys down it. There are countless established guesthouses and construction on new ones popping up, in addition to shopping, street foot, restaurants, travel booking options and massage parlours. Khao San may not be traditional Thailand by any means, but it’s a nook of aggressive yet fantastical tourism that’s developed in a country devoted to the industry.
Plus, May Kaidee and being able to say you’ve conquered a bucket of cocktail (which we haven’t…yet).
Our second night’s dinner was at the natural vegetarian & vegan-focused, Ethos Restaurant
Ethos’ menu offers an extensive, international range of wholesome dishes made with many organic ingredients. Most of the menu is printed in green, signifying vegan, and it also includes house kombucha varieties. J. Legume ordered the hibiscus flavor.
The dishes were both slightly higher priced (relatively speaking!!) than May’s, due to the restaurant’s esteemed practices, yet incredibly more generous that we had seen before. We easily could have shared one. J. Legume and I opted for Thai dishes, of course, but had we been traveling longer, the house-baked falafel and Lebanese spread were softly calling my name.
The first Holy Basil Stir-fry for myself, and another round of Tom Kha for J. Legume
There wasn’t much heat to my dish, which was described as ‘hot’, but it was incredibly fresh and healthy….likewise for the soup.
Wake of day and the very start of vendors setting up on Khao San Road
To be continued at some point with the rest of our Bangkok stay, saving money on immunizations at the Red Cross, and then we’re off to Chiang Rai for a quiet stay and jungle treks in the Northern Mountains…