A culinary journey through Asia: The ultimate vegan travel itinerary for 2017

Read Time:   |  19th January 2017

Are you ready to pack your bags and go on an adventure of a lifetime? Join Adriana Pope from Nomad Vegan as she takes us through a culinary journey through some of Asia’s hottest vegan eateries…

Southeast Asia is one of the most vegan-friendly destinations in the whole world. I’ve created the ultimate vegan travel itinerary that is guaranteed to inspire wanderlust.

From ancient temples and lush green rice paddies to exotic fruits and tantalising dishes, Asia is a wonderland of mystical experiences, sights, sounds, and flavours.

Luckily for you, eating vegan in Southeast Asia is not as difficult as it may seem. Due to the predomination of Buddhist culture, vegetarianism is widely practiced amongst many Asian countries.

The abundance of tofu, fresh vegetables, and the use of rice noodles makes finding vegan option incredibly easy.

In this article, I’ll cover the top vegan travel destinations in Asia and highlight the key factors that makes these cities stand out. I’ll also include a bucket list of the top-ranking vegan restaurants that serve up the most delicious food for each city.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Out of all the cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai is inarguably the most vegan-friendly city, hands down. With a plethora of vegan, organic and even raw restaurants to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.

Located in Northern Thailand and in close proximity to the Burmese, Chinese, and Laos borders, Chiang Mai’s unique culinary specialities are infused with the influence of the surrounding cultures.

Credit: Anchan Organic

Albeit small in size, Chiang Mai contains more than 200 mesmerising temples and is surrounded by an impressive ancient city wall. This mellow city boasts dozens of outdoor markets, hoards of healthy street food stalls, and a growing number of trendy coffee shops.

One quick stroll through the lantern-lit streets of this charming town and you’ll quickly realise why Chiang Mai is the ultimate vegan vacation spot just waiting to be explored by peace-seeking travellers.

Where to eat:
  • Food4Thought Restaurant – (www.facebook.com/Food4ThoughtCM) This upscale patio cafe serves up the most incredible vegan wraps and salads in a comfortable garden setting. Big proponents of the “ugly food movement”, Food4Thought is spearheading the movement by using local organic produce that have superficial blemishes and transforming them into gorgeous dishes. Make sure to try out their Burmese green tea leaf salad wrap with fried tofu as well as their gluten-free vegan brownies.
  • Anchan Organic – (www.facebook.com/AnchanVegetarianRestaurant) Revered for having the tastiest vegan curries in all of Chiang Mai, this family-run organic restaurant serves up mouth-watering dishes utilising only vegetables. From hand-picked mushroom salads to vegan smoothies made with exotic fruits, Anchan’s vegan options will delight even the most skeptical carnivore. Try out their pumpkin or massaman curries for an authentic North Thailand experience.
  • Pun Pun Organic – (www.punpunthailand.org) Situated on the grounds of a 400 year old temple and surrounded by ancient golden stupas, Pun Pun Organic Restaurant is one of the most unique restaurants you will ever visit. This all vegetarian restaurant specialises in creating authentic, Northeastern Thai cuisine minus the meat. They offer plenty of vegan options which include Penang curry, pad see ew, green papaya salad, and their famous Thai-herb veggie sausages. No matter what you order, you’ll probably want to lick your plate clean – it’s that good!

Credit: Food 4 Thought Restaurant

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Vietnam. The word itself invokes imagery of palm-leaf conical hats, monks in orange frocks collecting alms, and a river of motorbikes streaming through narrow streets with horns blaring.

Ho Chi Minh city may no longer be the capital of Vietnam, but this splendid city certainly never lost it’s charm!

From it’s jaw-dropping French colonial architecture to its surprisingly complex cuisine, Ho Chi Minh city offers a little bit of everything for both the history seeker and vegan foodie enthusiast.

Recently recognised by PETA as one of Asia’s top ten most vegan-friendly cities, Ho Chi Minh city is fast becoming one of the most beloved travel destinations for 2017.

Ho Chi Minh City, which is still referred to by the locals as Saigon, offers vegans respite. With a large population practicing Buddhism, Saigon is filled with an extensive amount of vegan-friendly restaurants.

From hand-made spring rolls filled with fresh Vietnamese herbs and tofu to colossal steaming hot pots filled with an unprecedented amount of mushrooms and local greens, the cities exciting culinary flavours are a force to be reckoned with.

Where to eat:
  • Saigon Vegan – (www.facebook.com/saigonveganres) A favourite amongst locals, Saigon Vegan excels at creating authentic Vietnamese dishes that are 100% cruelty-free. From yellow curries made with coconut milk and taro (an exotic purple yam) to delicious stir-fries with mock meats – Saigon Vegan is an institution of affordable plant-based cuisine.
  • Bong Sung Vegetarian Food & Coffee – (www.bongsungrestaurant.com)  Bong Sung is famous for their outstanding vegan hot pots which are comprised of fragrant broths, and are served alongside heaps of vegetables and vermicelli noodles. The menu offers a wide range of South Vietnamese regional specialties as well as freshly made fruit smoothies. They even serve their own home-made almond milk as well as gorgeously presented blooming teas served over an open fire.

Credit: Bong Sung Vegetarian Food & Coffee

Ubud, Bali Indonesia

The faint sound of bells chiming, the smell of incense drifting in the air, monkeys swinging from branches, and the display of brightly coloured flowers laying in banana leaf offerings – this is the wonderful and mystical world of Ubud, Bali. Ubud’s unabashed Balinese culture is gripping, enchanting, and downright hypnotising. Paradise on earth would be the most concise way to describe this miniature village that has grown to be one of the most vegan-friendly cities on earth.

From inexpensive eco-friendly huts to five star resorts offering yoga retreats, Ubud has it all. Discover raw vegan bakeries offering the most beautiful desserts you’ve ever laid eyes on to vegan-friendly restaurants overlooking the jade-coloured rice paddies.

It is easy to find vegan options in Ubud. Whether you’re looking for a great spot to be a digital nomad or you want to hunker down and practice yoga, Ubud’s relaxed vibes and lush nature make it a must-see destination in Southeast Asia.

Where to eat:
  • Alchemy – (alchemybali.com) If you’re into raw food, Alchemy Restaurant in Ubud is the place to be. They offer a raw vegan salad bar filled with unique toppings such as raw vegan pad thai and walnut taco meat. They also have a raw dessert case filled with vegan cheesecakes and chocolates that will make you go weak in the knees. Make sure to try out their raw vegan pizza which is topped off with olives and sun-dried tomatoes!
  • Sopa Warung – (www.warungsopa.com) This restaurant is famous for their delicious vegan Nasi Campur. Nasi campur is a traditional Balinese platter of food that is comprised of a scoop of rice accompanied by a multitude of different small dishes. Choose your dishes from a display case of prepared vegan food which includes samosas, Balinese coconut curry, and green bean salad.
  • 9 Warung – (www.facebook.com/9warung) For those travellers looking for an authentic experience, 9 Warung is your go-to-spot for cheap vegan fare that cost under $2. This hippie den restaurant is frequented by both budget expats and hungry travellers looking for a healthy meal. Their all vegetarian Balinese buffet is available all day and offers a multitude of vegan options. These dishes include glazed tempeh, roasted pumpkin, tofu stir-fries, and the most amazing vegan chocolate cakes.

Credit: Alchemy

Penang, Malaysia

Straddling the Strait of Malacca, the picturesque island of Penang is the economic jewel of Malaysia. The centuries old Chinese-style storefronts littered with colourful lanterns swaying in the soft breeze, and quaint coffeeshops are enough to make you contemplate settling down forever in this charming little town. Tropical fruit farms, organic farmers markets, and a burgeoning number of vegan-friendly restaurants make Penang a suitable choice for traveling vegans.

Founded in 1786, the fetching downtown area of George Town is a melting pot of three diverse cultures which are Malay, Chinese, and Indian whom all live in a unique harmony. It fact, it’s not uncommon to see a Buddhist pagoda, a Muslim mosque, and a Hindu temple all situated on the same street. However, religious tolerance is not their only glowing quality.

Credit: Wholey Wonder

 

The distinct cuisine of Penang is a fusion of these varied cultures which results in dishes that are extraordinary delightful and truly unique to the island.  Plant-based restaurants are also extremely easy to find because both Hindu and Buddhist practices encourage a meat-free diet.

Where to eat:
  • Cloud Dreaming Vegan Cake House – (www.facebook.com/clouddreamingvegancake) This all vegan bakery offers gorgeous, freshly-baked cakes that are 100% plant-based and made with with love. The owner Jing is passionate about creating amazing looking desserts that are free from additives and she uses only the best ingredients. Besides their ravishing vegan cheesecakes and adorable green tea chocolate cake, they also have an adjoining cafe that cooks up tasty black charcoal bun vegan burgers.
  • Sushi Kitchen Cafe – (www.facebook.com/sushikitchen) This all vegan organic restaurant serves up beautifully hand-rolled sushi. Rest assured that no fish or ocean friends were harmed in the making of these gorgeous sushi rolls. Their all vegan Japanese menu features fried rice, creative udon noodle soups, and herbal drinks.

Credit: Sushi Kitchen Cafe

Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei has officially become the number 1 most vegan-friendly cities in Asia. Trendy coffee shops, 24 hour bookstores, beautifully absurd fashion, seriously good vegan bakeries, and retro neighbourhoods are just a few examples of how cool Taipei really is. Get ready to go to a music festival, explore modern art museums and stuff your belly with tasty street food.  If you’re into bustling cities and amazing vegan food, Taipei is the right place for you!

With the up-tick in vegan-friendly restaurants, Taipei has permanently placed itself on the map as being a vegan paradise. You can even find artisanal vegan cheese by the plant-based company Moon Cheese. If that’s not enough, they even have their own vegan supermarket called iVegan Supermarket where you can find anything your little heart desires! If you’re craving authentic vegan Chinese food or you’re just a plain noodle fanatic, then Taipei is certainly calling your name.

Credit: Fresh Bakery and Cafe Taipei

Where to eat:
  • Ooh Cha Cha – (www.oohchacha.com) This cruelty-free cafe is actually the first all vegan health bar in Taipei. Ooh Cha Cha is one of the most highly visited and talked about vegan restaurants in all of Taiwan. With alluring menu items such as their kelp noodle salad, vegan bacon cheeseburger, or their blue gogi smoothie – it’s no wonder why this place deserves a spot at the top of our list.
  • Fresh Bakery and Cafe Taipei – (www.facebook.com/FreshBakeryCafeTaipei) Oh my, an all vegan bakery in Taipei… it’s almost too good to be true! This cruelty-free bakery makes all their vegan desserts without any eggs or milk. Their flawless looking cakes, pies and yam mooncakes are as adorable as they are tasty! Sporting a minimalist-style décor and boosting an ever growing menu, this bakery is a must-visit spot for vegans with a sweet tooth!
  • Vege Creek – (www.facebook.com/vegecreek) The concept of this restaurant is simple, yet genius. Hand-pick the vegetables you want to eat and the kitchen will create a custom dish from the ingredients you’ve selected. The atmosphere also follows a minimalist mentality in which everyone sits around a long table. Get to know your local Taiwanese veggies and meet a couple friends along the way!

Credit: Ooh Cha Cha

Singapore, Singapore

Unsurprisingly, Singapore (a.k.a. “The Lion City”) has been rated as the second most vegan-friendly city in all of Asia for 2017. Considering the ever growing presence of vegan restaurants popping up every day, it’s no wonder why this metropolitan city is one of the most loved cities in the world by plant-based foodies. What’s Singapore like, you ask. Singapore strikes a balance between cloud-towering modern architecture, awe-inspiring nature, and stunningly beautiful ancient pagodas.

Singaporean cuisine is prized as one of the best foodie destinations! It’s essentially a mash-up between Malay, Chinese, and Indian flavors. Besides delectable authentic Singaporean dishes, the Lion City also offers international cuisine in the form of vegan burger shops, farm-to-table kitchens, and dairy-free bakeries which are paving the way to make Singapore the vegan capital of the world.

Credit: Afterglow by Anglow

 

In Singapore, you can find everything you’re looking for as a vegan! Treat yourself to a vegan pedicure at the Paint Shoppe Nail Spa, shop for eco-conscious threads at The Little Green Dot Marketplace, pick up some organic groceries at the Real Food Grocer, eat a drool-worthy burger at VeganBurg, grab a vegan donut at the Well Dressed Salad Bar and take an ice cream to-go at Brownie Ice Cream. Basically, Singapore is vegan heaven on earth.

Where to eat:
  • Afterglow by Anglow – (afterglow.sg) This farm-to-table whole foods restaurant specialises in creating magnificent raw food dishes that will have you salivating in no time! Note worthy items include their raw vegan cheese platter, raw macadamia nut lasagne, and a very special pink soy latte  made with cold-pressed beetroot juice. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Afterglow also has a nifty  eco-friendly deli section where you can pick up some artisanal goods on your way out.
  • VeganBurg – (veganburg.com) At VeganBurg, you’ll find luscious vegan burgers that look and taste just like the real thing! This restaurant will spoil you with its incredible 100% plant-based fast food menu. Lose yourself in the awesomeness of a fat and juicy vegan bacon cheeseburger. Make sure to add sweet potato fries to your order and round out delicious meal with a vegan Belgium chocolate brownie to top it all off!
  • Delcie’s Desserts and Cakes – (delcies.com) If you’re looking for something sweet, make a bee-line to Delcie’s natural vegan bakery. Not only are all their desserts organic, but they also use low glycemic index natural sweeteners and offer gluten-free options. Feast on a slice of Vegan Oreo cheesecake and experience the joys of being vegan in Singapore!

Credit: VeganBurg

Conclusion

Traveling as a vegan doesn’t have to be difficult. The challenges that may arise actually provide opportunities for you to explore the city with a little more depth. If you need help finding vegan  restaurants, you can use a site such as Vegnomad which is the first worldwide vegan restaurant guide. You can also join vegan Facebook groups to see if there are any vegan potlucks happening or if anyone would like to meet up and show you around their city. Happy travels!

VegNomad is a worldwide directory of all vegan and vegan friendly restaurants. Their goal is to help people find vegan options nearby wherever they are in the world. They currently have over 30,000 listings and they are growing everyday.

About the author:

Adriana Pope is a co-founder of the world’s first vegan restaurant guide Nomad Vegan, which contains over thirty thousand vegan friendly listings. She has been traveling throughout Asia with her husband Nathan for almost two years in the search of the best vegan food. You can follow their travels on YouTube and see their latest photos on Instagram.

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