Perceptions and Food: Vegetarians in Thailand

Is Thai food as amazing in reality as the Internet leads you to believe?
We had read a lot about all things Thailand before coming here. Not just in travel guides, but in forums and blogs, watched tons of videos on Youtube – things that real people share. We thought we had done enough research to know what to expect – well, at least to some extent. We thought we knew enough about the things that will be different. And some of the things we’d read about happened to be a pretty accurate reflection of reality. The others though turned out to be completely opposite for us…
Food is one example. Everyone boasts about Thai food being amazing, almost the best you can find in the world. The Internet shows streets full of vendors offering delicious meals with plenty of vegetarian options and mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables. We specifically looked into the veggie options, knowing how tricky it can sometimes be for us to find something that we would actually want to eat. We ate at Thai restaurants back in the UK and loved it. We were quite certain we would have plenty of delicious options in Thailand.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We found out that not only it is incredibly difficult to find places that would agree to make a vegetarian version of something for you (let alone have anything like that on the menu!), but even when we do find it, most of the time it doesn’t taste good. The problem for us is that we’re not the type of vegetarians who don’t mind eating rice and some sort of a meat substitute without a single vegetable in sight… We actually like vegetables! And we don’t like them terribly overcooked, drowning in a sauce that’s pretty much tasteless. To our surprise the purely vegetarian Thai dishes (in Thai vegetarian restaurants) taste worse than the meat dishes minus the meat in non-veggie places! Of course, I’m not talking about westernised restaurants in the city centre with western prices where you do have nice veggie options. I’m talking about street restaurants, local markets and food malls in the shopping centres – places where most of the Thai people eat.

At first we couldn’t believe it. We didn’t stop trying to find places that would make vegetarian food. We kept trying new dishes, only to be disappointed 9 times out of 10. But now we accepted the fact that the type of food we like is not common here. It’s not what most people eat. And it’s not likely for us to find a truly satisfying meal anywhere on the street. We changed the way we look at it. Now we have no expectations. We enjoy the things we actually really like here instead of trying to find something new all the time. We love the huge variety of fruit, the fresh coconut water, the fresh herbs that we can buy for our own cooking, and the cheap but great 7/11 coffee! There’s even a couple of dishes and snacks that we love – although they’re rarely available anywhere. So now when we leave home we either pack our own meals or plan to eat biscuits, pastries and fruit all day. And then if by accident we do find something tasty, it makes us really happy. Why? Because we didn’t expect to find anything!
When I think about it, it’s actually good that things turned this way – that there’s nothing for us to eat on the streets. It leaves us with no other choice but to cook at home all the time – which means we’re eating healthier than we would otherwise. And since we both love experimenting with flavours in the kitchen that’s not really a problem! I remember when we just moved to Bangkok and all we had in our room was a table with two chairs and a fridge. No kitchen, but still, we decided we’d start cooking and bought our first kitchen equipment. Who would have thought that a SALAD BOWL and a simple kitchen knife could make us SO happy…?

It’s interesting how this experience made us realise what an important part of our lives good food is. We didn’t think about it that way before. We thought we just like to eat nice food and we’re not really that picky. Well, it turns out that we are. Now I understand where the term “foodie” comes from. Not being able to cook our own food (the way we like it!) for almost 6 months was really frustrating. Having to eat something that’s just “good enough” to satisfy the hunger way too often… not being able to satisfy the part of your soul that’s craving for something that’s actually tasty. Something that gives you pleasure. Something that makes every meal a celebration. Something that makes you smile from ear to ear with the excitement of a 5 year-old with a new toy, before delving into something you know will taste heavenly.
Now we realise that everything we had found out about Thailand before coming here was just other people’s experiences of it. Their perceptions of Thailand. Which turned out to be very different from ours.

We all perceive the world around us differently. Two people can look at the same picture or listen to the same song and one of them will find it inspiring, while the other one might think it’s dull. We don’t see the world as it is, we see it through our own mind’s eye. That’s why someone else’s experience cannot really tell you much about a place, event or a thing. Unless you know that this someone is similar to you. That he or she values and enjoys similar things. That he or she perceives the world in a similar way to you.

Thai street food

Thursday, Friday… Caturday! (and a guest from England)

Auste and I have been very lucky to meet so many great people on our ongoing journey in Thailand. We keep in touch with many of them and everyone seems to have something interesting going on. One of these people informed us that he was coming back for a short visit and asked if we needed anything from the UK. As excited as we were, we asked for a pricy and fragile lens for our camera that we couldn’t get in Thailand. Long story short, and as odd as it sounds, we changed our minds and asked for a pack of sea salt instead.

We finally met our guest and gratefully received our long-awaited salt from Asda. The anticipated conversations turned out to be with a jet-lagged, sleep deprived, and hungover man due to all the free booze on British Airways! All that was fine for us, as these three ingredients make people say funny things. However, as he was coming from England, he was greeted by the tropical heat which prolonged his acclimatisation, big time. In his own words: “I was fine until I stepped out of my room”. I guess we got used to the heat, so for us the time when the sun starts to set is perfect to get out – the air starts to cool down and if you’re anywhere close to some trees, you can even feel a gentle breeze. But those who have just arrived can’t feel much difference.

Park Society at Sofitel So Bangkok

We went up to Park Society rooftop bar at Sofitel So, right next to Lumphini Park. We like that place so much we have been there three times already… It’s the view of the park that makes it so cosy. Wednesday 4th of March was a Buddhist holiday so no alcohol was served, which worked to our favour as we discovered our new favourite drink – virgin Mojito. We’ve been making it at home every other night since.

Park Society at Sofitel So Bangkok

We wished our friend a good sleep and remembered a cat café close to the BTS. It’s called “Caturday”, located just off Ratchathewi BTS – take exit 2, walk past the nerd restaurant and turn left at the “Cocowalk” sign, it should take about 60 seconds. This hip cosy café shares walls with a very active nightlife bar area – in case you get a caffeine hit, or should I say catteine hit, hehe!

Caturday cat cafe BangkokCaturday cat cafe BangkokCaturday cat cafe Bangkok

As we walked in, we had to take off our shoes and wash our hands, and only then proceed to the playground. There were pillows and cushions on the floor, and regular tables too. In between them there were artificial “trees” for the cats to climb and get away from all the restless iPhoners and Samsungers trying to take selfies with them.

Caturday cat cafe BangkokCaturday cat cafe Bangkok

The coffee was good, so were the cakes. We didn’t have any hot food, but people next to us had something with a very appetising aroma, I think it was some pasta. Prices were decent, ranging between 80-120 for drinks and 120+ for desserts.

Caturday cat cafe BangkokCaturday cat cafe BangkokCaturday cat cafe Bangkok

Obviously the cats were cute as they always are. The ambience was very relaxing, with vintage-like decorations and soft music in the background. Vigilant staff were keeping an eye out for any cat trouble, at the same time looking out for any queries from customers, and made you feel like home.

Caturday cat cafe Bangkok

Unlike the Makura cat café at Seacon Square (far out in Bangna), Caturday had more tabby cats. Most of the felines at Makura were flat-muzzle persian-style cats, but very soft and fluffy. We also wanted to give “Cat café by Dome” a go, but there were cameras and film crew inside, and we didn’t feel like shooting for a ‘Whiskas’ commercial. It’s right next to Udom Suk BTS though, exit 4 and take the soi 103 – it’s just under a minute away.

More photos of kittens here.

For more pet-friendly cafés just have a look at this user friendly and up-to-date online magazine about Bangkok.

Caturday cat cafe Bangkok

68 years of Vespa

Never realised I love Vespas so much.  I really want one. We’re gonna get one. One day…:)

68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand

So we found out about this Vespa event, I can’t even remember where from. We marked it in our diaries and then… forgot about it. Until yesterday morning when I looked at my phone and noticed a reminder. We were so lazy to get out of the house as we didn’t even know where exactly we were supposed to go. By the time we finally managed to get into town it was already a bit too late to join the start at Asiatique, so we decided to go straight to Nang Loeng Horse Racecourse where the biggest Vespa caravan in Asia was supposed to arrive around 3:30pm. We were walking around for a while (it’s a massive field!) trying to find the entrance, getting tired from the heat until we almost gave up but then as if out of nowhere we walked into a gap in the wall – which was in fact the entrance!

To our excitement there was a cosy coffee shop inside (with much needed air-con) and perfect view of the whole car park with cute little Vespas starting to show up one by one. It was like being in a cat cafe, except that all the kittens were outside. We were already happy:) And then the caravan came – lead by the 3 police motorbikes, tons of Vespas started piling in. All sorts of colours and models, loads of really old ones (those are the prettiest!), some carefully polished and shiny, others covered in rust… All sooo beautiful!

68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand

We were sitting there, admiring the kittens flowing in. We just couldn’t stop smiling and taking pictures!:) But then the caravan finished. Well, at least we thought so. Then, after a while a second wave of Vespas came in! And then the third, and the fourth… there was no end! Although we didn’t actually realise just HOW MANY Vespas there were at the event until we bought the tickets and walked in. I have never seen so many Vespas in my life. I didn’t think it was possible to have that many of them in one place!

68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand

Initially we thought we’re just gonna take some pictures and head home. But then we started walking between the Vespas, reached the vintage stands and the food fair where we had some amazing pizza… Good music, good food, loads of beautiful stylish people and Vespas everywhere you look – it was too good to leave!

68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand

By the time we got our second slice of pizza (we couldn’t help it) it was already dark and the bands started playing on stage. Interestingly enough at that point it didn’t feel like Thailand at all. It felt as if we were at a summer concert in Vilnius, back home. Even the people around us looked like lithuanians in Vilnius (I know it sounds strange, but that’s what it felt like!). Of course we couldn’t understand any of the words of the songs or the jokes that the singers were making, but the pure joy we were surrounded by didn’t need to be translated. Everyone was dancing, singing along and laughing. And we were a part of the fiesta.

More photos here.

68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand68 years of Vespa festival Bangkok, Thailand

Pattaya, Koh Larn, and the Russians

Last weekend we had our most disorganised trip ever. Last minute we decided we wanted to go away for the weekend, somewhere by the sea. It had to be somewhere close as we were only going for a couple of days, so we thought Pattaya will do. We’d read it’s one of the worst places in Thailand to go to, full of Russian tourists, crowded beach etc. But we thought, so what? It has a sea. It can’t be that bad.

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On Friday we had a staff party (leaving do) at Loft in Love, lots of fun, and came back late. We had forgotten how tiring a party can be! The following day we felt so tired that we slept in, took forever to get ready, finally left for Victory Monument to try and find a van going to Pattaya, eventually did find it and got on. We didn’t have any maps or any idea where the van would drop us off in Pattaya (not like us at all!).

2 days earlier: late Thursday night, we were both sleepy, trying to book a place to stay on Agoda. We found this cheap apartment, but for some reason the map on Agoda refused to work, so we googled the place instead – it was right near the main beach! So of course we booked it.

And now it was Saturday evening, we had just got off the van in Pattaya. After looking around for street signs we realised it had dropped us off right in the city centre. Perfect! We thought we could just walk to our apartment. Until we looked at the map. This time Agoda’s map was working. And guess if our apartment was in the same place where google showed it to be…? It was right in the middle of nowhere. Far faaaar away from the centre. Far away from anything, really. We stopped a few taxi cars just to realise the ‘meter-taxis’ don’t even have meters in Pattaya! Of course they were all quoting extortionate rates. Even the price for a motorcycle taxi was just as ridiculous (150 each). Then we tried to ring the number on our booking to check if there would be anybody there to give us the keys – as it’s not a hotel with a reception. We tried ringing a few times – no answer. We decided we’d be better off losing the money we paid for the 2 nights and instead just finding a place that is REALLY in the city centre. So we ended up walking around Pattaya on a Saturday night, looking for a place to stay. Just like the travellers to Pattaya should be.

After walking into a few hotels and hostels we realised we’ll have to pay at least double of what we expected to spend (based on the price of our middle-of-nowhere apartment, ha ha) in order to get a place to sleep with no cockroaches. So we ended up paying loads, but found a really nice hotel to stay in. I guess I will never understand why people say it’s cheaper to find a place on the spot instead of booking online – for us it’s always been the opposite. Whenever we checked the walk-in prices, the same place and same room was cheaper online. And even in this case, even though we walked in and the staff showed us the room, we then made the booking online as it turned out to be cheaper. Maybe if you’re staying in dorms you might find places that are not online with lower prices, but for us – we always book a private room for the two of us, even in hostels, so the deals are always better online. And we like to be organised. I guess this experience just proved it to us that we need to organise our travels in order to make the most of the time that we have.

The next day we realised why people say that Pattaya is full of Russians. Russian signs, Russian restaurants, Russian tour guides, Thai waitresses speaking to the little kids… in Russian! Even the product range at Tops was adapted to suit the Russian taste. And… cucumbers with sour cream at our hotel’s ‘American breakfast’ buffet. SOUR CREAM in Thailand. Not to mention the fact that everyone approached us in Russian. At least that’s what it looked like at first. Then we realised there are plenty of Russians working there and they were the ones addressing us in Russian. Most of the Thais were speaking to us in English, but when they asked where we’re from they were still expecting to hear ‘Russia’. What a strange world.

What we didn’t expect though was to find just as many Indian restaurants and Indian tourists! Funnily enough, even the Indian restaurants had Russian snacks and meals on the menu… Just to be clear: we don’t have anything against Russians, it’s just that we don’t like when mass tourism changes the place so much that it becomes as foreign as the tourists themselves.

Pattaya beach, ThailandPattaya beach, Thailand

Anyway, the next morning we took a stroll along the beach to the main pier where we got on a ferry to Koh Larn island. What a difference: narrow streets with only a few motorbikes passing by, peaceful, quiet and pretty much empty. Tawaen beach might be different, but we didn’t go there on purpose – we got off at Na Ban pier and walked along the tiny streets seeing where they would take us. We found a tiny rocky beach where we spent a few hours just chilling, reading and having a small picnic. I have to say, Pattaya does look beautiful… when you look at it from a good distance! Then we found a really cosy café where we had a few iced drinks before heading back to the ferry. It’s just a shame we didn’t have more time to explore this lovely island.

Koh Larn, ThailandKoh Larn, ThailandKoh Larn, Thailand

Back at Pattaya we went to the Horizon skybar on the 34th floor of Hilton. That is definitely a perfect place to watch the sunset – you have the whole coastline and Koh Larn island in front of you with the sun slowly disappearing behind the island’s silhouette. Simply beautiful.

Horizon at Hilton Pattaya, ThailandHorizon at Hilton Pattaya, ThailandHorizon at Hilton Pattaya, Thailand

And of course with so many Indian restaurants we just had to have an Indian meal. So we found a restaurant and couldn’t stop ourselves from ordering too much – we love Indian food. And everything we ordered tasted amazing. Everything. We could barely move after such a feast, but it was worth it.

So up until this point our opinion of Pattaya was not that bad. But if you want to scare yourself to death, go to Pattaya’s walking street in the evening. It looked bad enough when we passed it in the morning on our way to the ferry – the smell, the dirt and rubbish with all the adverts of thousands of bars all offering ‘pretty sexy girls’. Well, if that looked bad it’s a thousand times worse at night as it’s full of ‘pretty sexy girls’ offering themselves – when in fact most of them are not even girls! The funniest thing is that at the gate to this sex tourism walking street there’s a police van with about 5 officers sat at the table. I wonder what they’re controlling…?

Walking street Pattaya, ThailandWalking street Pattaya, Thailand

Next morning, it was pretty cloudy and after breakfast it started pouring down – a proper tropical rainstorm. Luckily it stopped just before we had to check out. The flooded streets looked funny – especially the ‘pretty girls’ on the motorbikes trying to keep their high heels above the water:) we had another Indian meal before leaving and got a van home. Never sit at the back of the van. NEVER. The driver was going like crazy – we were flying past every single van, bus and car on the highway – all the time jumping up and down, as the road was that bumpy. We were so glad when we ‘landed’ in Bangkok 1,5h later and the driver had to slow down because of the traffic.

Pattaya flood, Thailand

So actually you can have a nice weekend away in Pattaya. You can easily escape to the quiet Koh Larn (the ferry costs only 30 baht one way!), and even Pattaya’s beach itself is not as bad as we thought it would be – yes, it’s full of deck chairs but you can still find some space to just lay down on the sand and watch the colourful boats floating in the water. There’s plenty of good Indian restaurants and there’s a perfect skybar for the sunset. And it’s only 2 hours away from Bangkok – great for a weekend getaway. Just avoid the walking street and you’ll be fine.