It was my birthday this month, and instead of going out drinking and partying on the dance floor, I asked a few friends to join me for a civilised meal at my favorite vegan restaurant in Bangkok. I suppose I’m officially grown up!
For a Buddhist country, Thailand can be surprisingly difficult for vegetarians and vegans. Luckily there is a word that encapsulates the vegan diet – jay/jeh – derived from Jainism, but this goes even further than veganism by omitting garlic and onions. Jay restaurants tend to compensate for the lack of flavour by using lots of oil and salty, mock meats. It isn’t necessarily healthy, but it’s nice to eat every once in a while.
Depending on my mood, I’m either a vegetarian or pescatarian. Eating fish while living in Thailand makes things much easier. I don’t worry about the fish or oyster sauce in my food, and I can indulge in my favourite Thai dish, gaeng som, a thick tangy soup that usually comes with either fish or prawns. My partner isn’t vegetarian, but he limits his meat-eating to when he’s eating away from home.
When cooking at home, we mostly go vegan. Meals tend to revolve about beans and fresh vegetables, with some quinoa or brown rice thrown in for bulk. Even our baking and dessert-making tends to revolve around vegan recipes.
When we’re eating out, we tend to go to vegetarian places that are also vegan friendly. Most of the ones in malls are of the jay variety – serving typical Thai dishes cooked without meat, or with mock meat. But there are other vegetarian restaurants catering to the large Thai Indian community, and to the middle class/expat vegan crowd.
My top 10 vegan and vegetarian places in Bangkok
Here are my favourite spots, four of which are in food courts, and six of which are restaurants. Listed by price, low to high.
Terminal 21 has to be my favourite mall – each floor is themed on a different city, so you have a Tokyo floor, and a London floor for example. I end up there quite often for the food court. There are so many options and the meals cost around 30-50 THB. I usually head straight for the the vegetarian stall where I can get brown rice with two servings of veggies or curry for just 33THB. I then go and sit by the window and take in the amazing view.
I hardly go to MBK; I don’t really like the vibe and run-down feel, but I do occasionally go to the food court on the 6th floor. There’s a vegetarian stall there that sells all sorts of noodles, vegetables and curries. You can get seriously full on just 50THB.
This is the food court I frequent the most since it’s in my neighborhood. It’s bright, lively, and the vegetarian stall has noodles, which some other veggie stalls don’t have. Brown rice and two sides costs just 80THB, while a bowl of noodles costs about the same. Emporium on the other side of the street has the same vegetarian stall in their food court, so we go there as well sometimes.
Central World, Siam
I never knew Central World had a food court until about last year. It’s hidden behind the food hall on the 7th floor. There’s a vegetarian stall there that has more options than other food courts, and things are mostly made fresh to order. It’s slightly pricier with dishes costing upwards of 80 THB.
We go to the Chinatown/Pahurat end of town on occasion to stock up on almonds, seeds, and dried fruit. When we’re there, we always stop by Punjab Sweets. In addition to the mouth-watering sweets they serve, they also have Indian street snacks like pani puri and chaat. Their dosas are also very good, and very affordable at less than 200 THB.
This was one of the first restaurants we ate at on our first trip to Bangkok seven years ago. It’s a tiny little place, and feels so cozy (the ‘hometaurant’ description is very apt), and the food and fresh juices are just so good.
This place is conveniently near Benjakitti park, so if I’ve been there for outdoor yoga, or a jog, I tend to stop by for a healthy vegan meal. They have typical Thai dishes, including delicious curries and soups, as well as vegan sushi and burgers. I usually pay around 250 THB.
Saras is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant serving the large Thai-Indian community around Sukhumvit. It has food from all the different regions of India, plus Indian-style Chinese food, which is apparently something quite specific. We tend to share a large thali and a starter. Each day they have about 6 different thalis, and these change according to the day of the week. That means they have 42 thalis to try out!! Saras is a bit more expensive than other Indian restaurants nearby, but the quality is worth it. We usually pay around 350 THB each.
Broc Rev is a bit hit and miss with their vegan food, but I always end up going back for their broccoli quinoa charcoal burger. The place itself is very nice: plants cascading from a high ceiling, and with a lively atmosphere. We typically pay around 350 THB.
This is the place I took my friends for my birthday. It’s located right behind Benjasiri park, so it’s a nice walk to get there, and it’s in a quiet spot with a really chilled vibe. They have dishes all brunchers would recognise: avocado toast, acai bowls, and vegan versions of fry-ups. For lunch and dinner, they have wraps, burgers, and yummy Buddha bowls with spiralised courgette. I usually follow up with a more indulgent vegan dessert or shake. With dessert, we usually pay around 450 THB.
Other notable mentions:
Eat Thai @ Central Embassy vegetarian stall
Gateway Ekkamai food court vegetarian staff
Barefood Bangkok in Ekkamai for amazing vegan cheese
Honey Bear Bistro in Ekkamai – this is not a vegetarian place, but their Buddha bowls are vegan friendly
I hope that Bangkok becomes more vegan and vegetarian friendly; not just by opening more expensive vegan places, but by making healthy, vegetarian food an affordable option for everybody.
If you’ve seen my cost of living breakdown and monthly reports, you’ll know that Bangkok can be a very affordable place to live. Basic expenses – rent, transport, utilities and eating out – are a fraction of what I would pay back home in London.
But beyond these essential monthly costs (and the occasional massage), Thailand often doesn’t offer great value for money. This might be a surprise to those who come to Thailand for cheap shopping and expect bargains. Yes – those fake Adidas shoes may be cheap, but they’re not made to last, which means having to make a repeat purchase. That’s not a bargain at all, and is a huge disservice to the environment.
Over the past seven years living in Thailand, I’ve learned tips and tricks to make the most of my trips back home to the UK to save money on shopping. I suppose this is one way of using geoarbitrage to maximise value and minimise spending.
Using geoarbitrage for better value shopping
What I take on my trips back home to London
Before I make each trip, I usually fill my suitcase with little treats that I know my friends and family would like, and that represent good value and novelty. These include:
Mama noodles – creamy tom yum flavour (the BEST flavour)
Tao Kae Noi seaweed snacks – soooo good
Northern Thai coffee
Thai cooking sauces – these are much more authentic that those in UK supermarkets
Sheet masks – these cost much more in the UK than over here
After I distribute these gifts, I’m usually left with an empty suitcase because I have enough clothes still in the UK to wear when I’m there. I proceed to fill that suitcase with items that I know are much cheaper in the UK, or represent better value for money. Since the UK pound has dropped against the baht in the past two years, my money also goes further!
What I bring back to Bangkok from the UK
Markets in Thailand sell fantastic looking clothes for very little money. I myself was seduced by the cheap and on-trend clothes being sold in the various market stalls (it seems whatever appears on the catwalk is on Bangkok markets the following week).
After a couple of years of buying cheap garments and having them fall apart soon after, I learned to buy for quality and durability instead, which is often found in more recognisable brands. Unfortunately in Bangkok you pay a premium for this due to import taxes. Zara and Mango – which are not exactly known for their great quality either – are almost seen as premium brands in Thailand, and have price tags to match. Thankfully Uniqlo seems to deliver quality on a lower price price point, but I don’t like the fit of all their clothes.
Meanwhile, shops in London seem to be perpetually on sale. No matter the timing of my trip – around Christmas, spring, summer, or autumn, it seems there’s always a sale on. I buy little, I buy smart, and always with something in mind.
Bangkok is not kind to shoes what with the dirt, rain, uneven pavements. I walk a lot, so my shoes get a lot of wear and tear. Again, Bangkok offers great looking shoes for a few quid, but I want to be kind to my feet. It’s important to me to find quality shoes that are breathable, comfortable, and supportive (since I’ve had problems with plantar fasciitis).
I’ve tried buying shoes from Bata, which are everywhere in Bangkok, but they don’t really last long. So when I’m in the UK I go back to what I’m familiar and comfortable with – Clarks, M&S, or Adidas shoes. And since there always seem to be a sale on, I’m much more likely to find comfortable, quality shoes for a much lower price in the UK.
Good underwear is so expensive in Thailand!! As soon as I’m in the UK I head back to M&S to restock. Enough said.
Is it any wonder that as a Brit I fill my suitcase with teabags? I grew up drinking PG Tips, and it’s just one of those creature comforts I love to indulge in. A box of 40 PG Tips teabags in Bangkok costs £4.50. For the same price, I can buy 240 bags in the UK. That’s less that 1p per tea bag, versus 11p in Bangkok! I also stock up on herbal teas like peppermint.
Chocolate and biscuits
Everyone needs some chocolate or biscuits to go with their tea, right? Give me Cadbury’s over fancy Belgium chocolate any day. They do have Cadbury’s here, but it doesn’t quite taste the same, and they sell tiny bars for 50p. Whereas I can go around Sainsbury’s and pick up four bars for £1.
If I’ve bought any clothes in London, they’ll be stinky on their arrival in Bangkok because of all the cheese I’ve packed alongside. I looooove cheese, especially mature cheddar, stilton, camembert, and halloumi, all of which practically sell for peanuts in comparison to the mini fortune they cost Bangkok.
I had no idea how much cheaper chia seeds could be in the UK until a friend asked me to bring some back from London. You can buy 2kg of chia seeds from Amazon for £8.99. The equivalent in Bangkok would cost £45!! I also used to buy things like sunflower seeds and flaxseed from the UK. But I’ve since found some amazing vendors in Chinatown that are the equivalent of Holland and Barrett and have good prices.
Makeup and Toiletries
I’m not big on makeup, but occasionally I’ll need to replace my Mac concealer, which I’ll do at the airport duty free. I do invest in skincare however, and for some reason basic face creams in Bangkok cost much more. So if I see a good deal on products I use from Soap & Glory, or Botanics, I’ll pick them up. I also bring all of my contact lens solution from the UK. I have gas permeable contact lenses, and finding the solution and cleaner for them in Bangkok is too much of a challenge.
I realise that even after so many years abroad, I still crave the familiarity of recognisable foods and brands! It’s no wonder I miss home.
As I’m making the big move back to the UK this year, I won’t be needing these shopping hacks anymore. Instead I’ll be thinking of what I should be bringing back to the UK from Asia. I expect sheet masks and seaweed will be filling in the crevices of my suitcase.
Over to you – have you put shopping geoarbitrage to use? Have you found unexpectedly good deals or false bargains when shopping abroad?
If you’ve read my goals for this year, you’ll know that I’m aiming for an ambitious savings rate of 60% this year. While my past two savings reports (here and here) show I’m clearly going to fail on this, I do think I’ll be able to meet a 50% savings rate quite comfortably this year.
Although people might assume it’s easy to save money in a low-cost of living city like Bangkok, it’s taken me a while to cultivate habits and find little hacks that allow me to save this much. When I moved here from my previous job in the north of Thailand a few years ago, my income doubled, but my spending multiplied by 5!
I went straight into renting a condo for two people even though my partner hadn’t yet moved down to Bangkok. I got an expensive box of organic veggies delivered to my door each week, and tried every brunch place in the neighbourhood. I fell DEEP into the lifestyle inflation trap. But over time, I’ve managed to optimise my spending so I can save for financial independence without feeling any sense of deprivation at all.
How I save half of my income each month
As I wrote in an earlier post about the cost of living in Bangkok, I don’t believe that people should budget the bare minimum in Bangkok. But I do think there are ways of getting more bang for your buck when living here. Here’s how I keep my expenditure low in the main categories, while still maintaining a great quality of life:
I’m still in the same condo as when I moved to Bangkok, but now I share the rent with my partner, which leaves me much more room for saving and other expenses. My housing now only comes to 15% of my income instead of 30%. But if I was smarter when I first moved to Bangkok, I could have just rented a studio for half the price, and then moved into the one-bed once my partner moved here full-time.
INSIDER TIP: If you happen to be looking for a cheaper apartment in Bangkok, look for units in older buildings as you tend to get more space for your money. Also make sure you have a good look around – Bangkok is a renters’ market – there’s lots of choice, and you can try to negotiate the rent with the landlord.
I keep my travel in Bangkok low by mostly keeping to mass public transport. I use the BTS and MRT to get around, and I tend to avoid taxis and motorcycles unless I’m going to a place that doesn’t have a station nearby.
INSIDER TIP: Using the Grab app can be really helpful at times. If you’re running late and you do need a motorcycle taxi, using GrabBike is cheaper than hailing one on the street. Also, if you’re having trouble finding a taxi driver to take you somewhere using the meter, get a GrabTaxi instead – it’s slightly more expensive than using a regular metered taxi, but they won’t rip you off. If you fancy trying it out, use my referral code to get 150 THB off your first ride.
I’m a vegetarian, so I tend to cook a lot at home. This means lots of beans and vegetables, which keeps our grocery shop quite low. When I first moved here, I was really missing Western food, so I bought lots of imported food, including crazy expensive cheese. Now I’m a bit more selective about what I buy. Also I usually just wait until either me or my partner go on a trip back home, and we literally stuff our suitcases with cheese, tea, and chocolate.
Whenever we’re feeling organized/motivated, we go to the local market to pick up eggs and vegetables. Not only does this mean supporting and interacting with local market vendors, and it also costs about 1/3 of the price compared to the supermarkets!
INSIDER TIP: If you are really desperate for a bite of cheese, the food hall at Emquartier usually has a few samples out 🙂 If you want some decent bread, lots of bakeries and supermarkets halve the price of baked goods after a certain time. We usually find half-price baguettes at Emporium after 6:30pm, and at Childlom Central Food Hall after 8pm.
The peculiar thing about Thailand and much of South-East Asia is that a lot of the time, it’s cheaper to eat out than it is to cook. Most of my lunches are eaten at the canteen at work, which cost about 35 THB each ($1!).
We also eat out at more expensive places at least twice a week, paying on average 300THB each per person (yup that’s almost 10 work lunches). But because our other meals cost so little, our food cost still stays low. Plus over time, we’ve found places that we love, and that we think deliver value for money.
INSIDER TIP: Check out Eatigo, which is an app where you can get up to 50% off your bill at loads of restaurants. We use it quite a lot, especially for hotel buffet deals.
I don’t drink as much I used to. This has less to do with saving money than the fact that I wake up with a raging hangover that stays with me for a whole week. Three drinks is my limit, which means I don’t end up blowing up my budget each weekend.
INSIDER TIP: Make friends with someone who works for an Embassy and can invite you to their events, or go to exhibition openings. There is seriously a lot of free good wine being served at these things. If you’re a lady, there are a bunch of ladies nights with free booze happening throughout the week. If my friends and I could still handle drinking on a weekday, we’d be definitely be regulars.
Our entertainment usually means going to the cinema, and we go to independent cinemas where tickets are actually cheaper. As I’m into politics and current affairs, I tend to go to a lot of the free events at the Foreign Correspondents Club, SEA-Junction, and the Asia Centre. We also check out free art exhibitions.
INSIDER TIP: Check out Meetup – there are an incredible number of active groups out there that range from fitness, to language exchanges, and blockchain discussions. I’ve used it mostly to join walking tours around the city, and to meet with fellow environmentalists.
We only use the AC for a bit in the evenings, and sleep with a fan. This keeps our bill super low. Water is crazy cheap.
INSIDER TIP: Before renting a place, make sure you’re paying government rates, not an inflated rate you pay to the building owner.
There are so many free fitness options in Bangkok. You can run in the parks, use outdoor exercise equipment, or join in the free aerobics or tai chi classes. There are also public swimming pools and public indoor gyms you can use for a pittance a year. I used to go to Muay Thai classes, which cost 6,000 THB for 15 sessions and thought it was well worth the money. But right now I’m just alternating running outside with YouTube videos at home. We have a gym and pool in our condo, but for some reason I hardly use them.
INSIDER TIP: Ok this tip is courtesy of someone else. Have a look at this fellow blogger’s post for the full range of fitness options in Bangkok.
Health and beauty
Tourists in Thailand love to take advantage of the cheap massages, beauty treatments and spa packages here. But being here full-time, these sorts of treats end up costing a lot of money. I used to get a massage twice a week, but realized that I was feeling even achier than before from being stretched and prodded so much! So while I still love massages, I’ve scaled them back to maybe once a month if that. Regular hair cuts, mani-pedis, and spa treatments are all a bit meh to me. I get super bored and frustrated just sitting there, so I don’t bother with them very often. They’re also not as cheap as you’d imagine – a mani-pedi usually costs between 800-1,000 THB – so basically a month worth of lunches!
INSIDER TIP: One thing I do enjoy is a trip to the Japanese onsen. For example, you can go to Yunomori onsen and pay just 450 THB and hang out all day reading, napping, or even working on your laptop between trips to the baths.
That’s a wrap
So that sums up my champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget strategy (ok maybe more like a nice chilled glass of rosé – I’m not exactly going around dressed in Gucci).
Any questions or comments? Any Bangkokians have any further insider tips to share? Sound off in the comments below!