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I often hear how easy it is to be a vegetarian in Thailand, and while I think it’s easier than other places, you still have to plan where you go and how you order. Many Thai dishes come with just a little bit of meat that can easily be taken out or replaced with tofu, but the majority of Thais aren not vegetarian and there’s certainly more meat dishes than veggie dishes available at your average street stall or restaurant.
That said, Chiang Mai has a ton of restaurants catering toward vegetarians or vegans. They’re more expensive (and more frequented by foreigners) than street stalls, but you also have a better idea, and more control, of what’s going into your food. Most of the restaurants listed below also serve meat, so there’s something to satisfy everyone, but lean heavily toward vegetarian, vegan and even raw eats. Though not a complete list of what’s available, these 15 vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai will still give you plenty of options.
(Note that if you want to eat like a ‘local’, most of these aren’t the places for that and are often filled with tourists and expats rather than Thais. Also keep in mind that businesses in Thailand often change their location or opening times without much warning. Most of the restaurants below have been around for a while, but several have also had previous locations, so it doesn’t mean they won’t change or move again! I’ve linked to Facebook Pages when possible, which are the best places to go for up to date information.)
A longtime popular spot, Bird’s Nest Cafe has it all – fresh food (Thai, fusion and Mediterranean), coffee and pastries, shakes and juices combined with an inviting, chill out atmosphere. Though it’s in the Old City and within walking distance of the main guesthouse/backpacker area, you’ll find more expats and long-term travelers here, especially from the yoga and massage scene.
Not to be confused with Bird’s Nest above, Free Bird Cafe serves organic vegan and vegetarian Thai, Burmese, Shan and western food for a cause. Not only is the food delicious – try the lavender latte! – but all proceeds go toward Thai Freedom House, a language and arts organization supporting Burmese refugees in Thailand. There’s also a small charity shop at the restaurant where you can donate used or unwanted clothes.
Pun Pun Organic Farm is a working farm as well as a seed saving, sustainable living and learning center outside of town in Mae Taeng. The farm also runs two restaurants in town, the first of which is located within a temple complex, Wat Suan Dok, on Suthep Road. The excellent food, Thai and Indian veggie dishes and salads, and relaxing atmosphere make it a unique lunch spot.
On the same road as the Wat Suan Dok location (situated at the base of the mountain across the street from the last entrance to Chiang Mai University) Pun Pun Lang Moh is open later than the first location (so you can go for dinner) and still has similar dishes and prices.
Food-4-Thought serves a range of fresh fusion dishes including several creative wraps (BEST homemade tortillas in Chiang Mai!) and salads made from high quality ingredients. They also offer some raw desserts, kombucha and artisan coffee from the conjoined Bay’s Cafe. The restaurant is in a funny location, just off of the Canal Road close to the intersection with Huay Kaew, and the address won’t help you much – take a look at the map on their Facebook Page to help find them.
A solid standby in the Nimmanhaemin neighborhood, you’ll be able to recognize this Thai shop (in the little street to the side of 7-11, across from The Salad Concept) by their simple sign that says ‘Organic Vegetables Food & Drink’. While not strictly vegetarian, this is one of the local Thai restaurants that doesn’t get confused when you asked to substitute meat for tofu. They seem to make almost any Thai dish you could think of – noodles, soups and stir fries – and the place is popular with Thais as well as foreigners – partly because of the food, partly because the prices are normal Thai prices (around 30-50B per dish) in an area that mainly only has trendy, and expensive, restaurants.
While not my favorite place, The Salad Concept on Nimmanhaemin Road (it’s now also moving into a couple of the shopping malls including Central Festival) is the most obvious place to go for a western style salad. It’s pricey by Thai standards, but the salads are large and fresh, and there are some delicious dressings to choose from – passion fruit is my favorite.
I love the area Cathouse is located in – a little soi off the east side of the moat – because even though it’s so close the center of the tourist area, it feels much more traditional and local. The restaurant serves fusion fare, including salads and quesadillas, and of course, yummy shakes and juices. The fries with different dipping sauces are also good choice – especially as a treat in a place where you don’t eat french fries very often!
I actually haven’t made it to this spot yet but it’s on the top of my list to check out. They serve organic, veggie Thai and fusion fare and do, from what I hear, wonderful shakes and lassis that are similar in price as you would pay at a street stall. (Many of the other veggie restaurants jack up their drink prices a bit…)
Spot a red and yellow “เจ” sign throughout the country and you’ve found a vegan Thai restaurant. “เจ” (pronounced jay) means vegan in Thai, although several people will tell you it means vegetarian, probably because the Thai word for vegetarian, “มังสวิรัติ” (pronounced mung-sa-wi-rut) is much more difficult to pronounce. It’s important to know the difference however, since at non-vegetarian restaurants if you ask for your fried rice “เจ”, without meat, they may say they can’t do it. While you may mean you just want them to cook the dish without putting the usual chicken or pork, when you ask for it “เจ” you’re asking for it to made vegan, meaning no egg or fish sauce – two ingredients found in many Thai dishes. If you ask for it “มังสวิรัติ“, they’ll know they can put the egg or fish sauce.
Local เจ restaurants and street stalls are found scattered around town and often serve pre-cooked dishes cafeteria style, meaning you can choose one or two of the dishes they have that day served over a plate rice.
The following restaurants offer even more vegetarian options, though personally I think the places above are better in either value, variety or taste. The ones listed below, however, are all located near Tha Pae Gate so easily accessible for many travelers staying in the Old City (which is probably a reason why the prices seem slightly higher than other similar restaurants…) and do more western style breakfasts.
Have you gone to any of these vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai? Which ones would you recommend (or stay away from)?