Our Local Vegan Thai Place in Bangkok

All it took was our first bites at this place to know that we would become regulars. During our 5 days in Bangkok, we became just that. We ate at Baan Aree (also known as Banana Family Park) almost everyday.

Our first Baan Aree deliciousness.

Our first Baan Aree deliciousness.

Open at 7am, it was the perfect affordable Thai breakfast. We would stop in for a bite before heading off for our activities for the day. At 30-50 baht ($1-1.67) per plate (depending on what we got) it was a fantastic deal.

Tofu, veggies, noodles. Who could ask for anything more?

Tofu, veggies, noodles. All vegan! Who could ask for anything more?

Oh yeah, and crispy fried mushrooms! (upper left corner)

Oh yeah, and crispy fried mushrooms! (upper left corner)

If you are patient and come at the end of the day (they are technically open until 7pm, but I wouldn’t get there much after 6 if I were you), you are rewarded with the discounted leftovers of the day. 15 baht per plastic bag of food.

15 baht bags of deliciousness are perfect for long overnight bus trips.

15 baht bags of deliciousness are perfect for long overnight bus trips.

But Molly, you might be thinking, how the heck do we get to this place? Good question. It is inexplicably hard to find. A good place to start would be to review the description on their Happy Cow page. Then follow our step-by-step directions here:

Take the BTS Skytrain (the most pleasant way to get around Bangkok) to the Ari station. Take exit 1. Walk down the west side of Phahon Yothin road.

When you see this sign, turn down the alley that looks like...

When you see this sign, turn down the alley that looks like…

this! Yes it is usually this deserted.

this! Yes it is usually this deserted.

Once you are out of the alley, you will see some shops. Pass them and see on your right this big open space with seating and a glass-walled yoga studio at the back.

Once you are out of the alley, you will see some shops. Pass them and see on your right this big open space with seating and a glass-walled yoga studio at the back.

You are now almost there! Keep going! Walk to the right of the yoga studio, next to the bathrooms. Keep to the right and keep walking and you will finally see:

this glorious home of tasty food and a little health food store.

this glorious home of tasty food and a little health food store.

The health food store is the perfect place to pick up snacks or a cold drink, and the food stalls are all vegetarian. This is your chance, veggie-eaters, to get your fill of vegan versions of Thai street food. I recommend one of everything!

One tip I learned is to keep your eye out for yellow triangle-shaped flags with red writing on them. That means the food at that restaurant is “jay”. The Thai word “jay” (เจ), means a person who eats no meat, no seafood, no animal byproducts, no garlic, and even excludes a few herbs and vegetables that have too pungent of a flavor. (Definition borrowed from this article.) But I promise that does not mean tasteless! Our vegan Thai place was where local office workers came at lunchtime. This was no foreigner hangout. You, too, can find your own veggie Thai place in Thailand!

You can check out all of our Thailand posts here.

Fortunate Travel Timing in Chiang Mai: Loi Krathong and Yi Peng

When you travel, sometimes you get lucky. We didn’t realize how fortunate our timing was when we purchased our plane tickets to Thailand months ago. We finally arrived in Chiang Mai just in time for the traditional Thai celebrations of Loi Krathong and Yi Peng.

Chiang Mai Lanterns for Yi Peng

Chiang Mai Lanterns

Both of these events celebrate the full moon. While they are tied to two different Thai calendars, these celebrations often occur in November and always happen at the same time in Chiang Mai. Loi Krathong is a national celebration while Yi Peng is celebrated in Northern Thailand and especially in Chiang Mai. Wikipedia explains them best! Our arrival in Chiang Mai was a fortunate coincidence.

Chiang Mai Parade Loi Krathong

Parade in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong

At first glance, I would describe Yi Peng as a more interactive “Fourth of July”. Yi Peng is best known for the paper lanterns that are released into the sky. The lanterns are also supplemented by fireworks, firecrackers, and pretty much anything else that explodes or makes noise. Tourists and locals take turns launching thousands of these lanterns. It is considered good luck to launch one and you can write your wishes for the the coming year directly on it. Some people also interpret the lanterns as a way to discard your worries and fears. Either way, it sure looks cool!

Molly and I wanted to give this a try. We found a temple near the center of the city where lantern after lantern were launched to illuminate the sky. We entered to watch for ourselves.

Chiang Mai Lanterns from Temple

Time lapse picture of lanterns launching from a temple in Chiang Mai

In the temple yard we found orange-robed monks helping locals and tourists alike to launch their own lantern. With the help of a monk we managed to launch our own lantern without issue. We watched it sail over the temple to join the migration of light.

Like Yi Peng, Loi Krathong also deploys fire in a celebratory fashion. In this case it takes place on the water. A ‘krathong’ is a small floating disk that is usually made from a piece of banana stalk. It is decorated with flowers, a candle and some incense and floated down rivers and canals.

Krathongs for sale at the market

Krathongs for sale at the market

Like the lanterns, you are supposed to make a wish before you release your krathong. We stood on a bridge over the river and watched the flickering candles drift with the currents. Launching lanterns and floating flower-encrusted boats created a colorful nighttime atmosphere in Chiang Mai. As long as you avoid the fireworks and firecrackers exploding all around you, you will be just fine!

Chiang Mai Loi Krathong Parade Pic

Loi Krathong parade proceeds down the street

The festival didn’t end there. Massive parades, performances and fireworks compliment the main activities. In the end, it was impossible to see everything that was happening in Chiang Mai while we were there. Events happened simultaneously all over the city for the celebrations. The quiet city was transformed into a festival without sleep during our whole time there. Even when we got on the night bus back to Bangkok, we could see the lanterns floating in the distance.

Lanterns in the sky Chiang Mai Yi Peng

Lanterns in the sky over Chiang Mai

When it comes to traveling, you can spend hours and days planning the “perfect” vacation destinations. You may even show up on your perfectly planned time only to be disappointed. Doing your homework is important but don’t let planning stop you from actually diving in. Sometimes the best activities show themselves when you aren’t looking for them and when you least expect it.

I wont forget Chiang Mai and the thousands of lanterns of Yi Peng anytime soon. “Long life and happiness.” What’s on your lantern?

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A Vegan’s Perspective of Elephant Nature Park

Molly and Dan with Medo.

Molly and Dan with Medo.

Elephant riding, tours, training, and feeding are big business in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you are ever in Chiang Mai and consider “doing something with elephants”, please only consider Elephant Nature Park and do your research.

Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for retired and rescued preforming and working elephants. I learned a lot in my time there and thought I would share it with you guys so when you are in Chiang Mai you can make an educated decision on spending time with elephants in Thailand.

Elephant Nature Park doesn’t just care for their 36 elephants, they also have over 130 dogs that they care for that live on the santuary’s land.

This well-behaved guy really just wanted some people food! He is sitting on a stool!

This well-behaved guy really just wanted some people food! He is sitting on a stool!

There is also a herd of water buffalo that heard how nice it is there and took up residence.

The giant herd of water buffalo that live at Elephant Nature Park

The giant herd of water buffalo that live at Elephant Nature Park

Dan and I originally tried to volunteer for a week at the park but they were all booked up through mid-December. If you can, I highly recommend volunteering for an extended period of time. We were just day helpers and I personally felt that we were mostly visitors (and in the way of the people actually helping) and not so much helpers.

Dan cleaning Medo in the river.

Dan cleaning Medo in the river.

But to get to the important information: Asian elephants are smaller and tamer than their African cousins. In fact, if “broken”, Asian elephants can be trained to do all sorts of things for human entertainment. There are 3,000-4,000 “working” elephants in Thailand. What happens to those elephants when they can no longer work or carry tourists or paint pictures with their trunks?

That’s where Elephant Nature Park comes in. They provide a home, family, and food for “retired” elephants for the rest of their natural lives. There is no other elephant sanctuary in Thailand and there are an awful lot of working elephants. For the elephants at Elephant Nature Park, being rescued by Lek (the founder of the sanctuary) is the best possible thing that could ever happen to them. It should be noted that an elephant is worth a lot in Thailand. Obviously, elephants that cannot work are worth less, but this isn’t like a chicken that fell of the transport truck in the USA (worth nothing to the “farmer”). These horrible people who abuse the elephants still want compensation; and Lek does often pay for the elephants she rescues.

Lek and her children. The love there is palpable.

Lek and her children. The love there is palpable.

One of the things I did not know before spending time at Elephant Nature Park is that Asian elephants, after being trained, become like domestic animals. They cannot be sent back in to the wild as they no longer know how to care for themselves. This is really why Elephant Nature Park is so important! There is no where else for these beautiful creatures to go after they are no longer “useful”.

And since they are domesticated, but still huge (unlike your dog, for example) getting them to do the things you want involves bribery. Instead of punishing the elephants with bullhooks to get them to do what they want, Lek’s trainers uses bribes of the food variety. Each elephant has a trainer (mahout in Hindi) with him or her all day, and if an elephant needs to go from one end of the park to the other, for example, the mahout first tries voice commands and then if that doesn’t work: fruit.

Hungry elephants waiting for their morning fruit. Impatiently...

Hungry elephants waiting for their morning fruit. Impatiently…

Ultimately, the work that Elephant Nature Park does is vitally important as there is no where else for these elephants to go where they will be safe from harm and cared for for the rest of their 70-80 year lives.

Baby trying to steal fruit out of mom's mouth. Silly baby, you don't even have teeth yet!

Baby trying to steal fruit out of mom’s mouth. Silly baby, you don’t even have teeth yet!

My biggest problem with the sanctuary, as an ethical vegan, was that the elephants were “putting on a show” for us visitors. We fed the elephants fruits and veggies twice while we were there (in the wild their natural diet would generally consist of grasses and leaves) and got to crowed around them and take pictures with them at another point. They weren’t just left alone to be elephants. In some small way they are still working for their dinner. But things like riding the elephants is strictly forbidden at Elephant Nature Park.

And I obviously have a problem with paying for the elephants as well, as it encourages the people who use these elephants to continue, knowing that they get a reward even after their elephant can no longer work. But I don’t know how else Lek would be able to convince the “owners” to give up their old, blind, injured elephants.

A majestic elephant at Elephant Nature Park

A majestic elephant at Elephant Nature Park

Of course, it is obvious why they allow the volunteers to interact with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park. The tourists want to spend time with the elephants, not just watch them from afar, and it costs Lek $250,000 a year to run Elephant Nature Park. The money from visitors is desperately needed. So I was a bit conflicted. I know these elephants are used to spending time with humans, and they certainly were not showing any physical signs of stress, but it still felt off to me as an animal activist.

Panorama of Elephant Nature Park

Panorama of Elephant Nature Park

All of the behaviors I saw from the elephants, and their interactions with their trainers and visitors indicated to me that they are happy and well cared for. So, I am certainly not saying “don’t visit Elephant Nature Park”, I am just trying to examine all of the sides of the issue. In case you can’t tell from the pictures, we had a fantastic time with the elephants despite some hesitation. You should come to your own conclusions, but Elephant Nature Park is certainly the best option for these domesticated elephants that I know of.

Ultimately, I agree with this sign that I saw at Elephant Nature Park:

Amen.

Amen.

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Stop what you are doing and get to Thailand right now. This is what I wanted to tell the world immediately after experiencing the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Bangkok has only a few ‘must see’ tourist attractions and the Grand Palace is at the top of the list. In our few days here, we found a city with a lot of character and culture. When you aren’t busy exploring the dynamic city, the Grand Palace will give you a great overview about how this city came to be (particularly if you get an awesome guide).

Bangkok Grand Palace Picture

Bangkok Grand Palace Complex

The Grand Palace is actually a walled complex of buildings in the middle of Bangkok. It can be a little overwhelming when you see the size of it. When we came through the tourist entrance, we were greeted by several prospective tour guides offering their services. We spoke to one guide who seemed particularly knowledgeable and decided to take a chance and hire him for a tour. It was an excellent decision which I highly recommend. There are so many details that the free English tour will simply skip over, and a paid guide is still very affordable.

Outside of the Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand

Outside of the Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand

Inside are excellent examples of Thai, Indian and Cambodian architecture constructed by several of Thailand’s kings. Everywhere you look there is something incredible. There is even a building that has an exterior constructed of broken Chinese tea cups. That’s about as ‘green’ as it gets (reuse!). The real gem among these buildings is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew).

Temple of the Emerald Buddah Bangkok Thailand

Temple of the Emerald Buddah Bangkok Thailand

While the Buddha housed inside is not actually emerald, (it is made of Nephrite – a kind of jade) it is a spectacular sight. The Buddha is surrounded by an ornate collection of golden art and artifacts. There are even three different golden outfits that the Emerald Buddha wears depending on the season! You can’t take pictures inside the temple, but your camera will still get a workout throughout your walk. I particularly enjoyed the architecture of the building below.

Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand

Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand

The Grand Palace is a massive building located near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. You won’t have trouble finding it! The architecture and manicured gardens look like they have been copied from a beautifully written fantasy novel. Our tour guide pointed out that the lower levels are painted white so that the building seems to be floating on top of a cloud in the sky. Sadly, you cannot enter the actual palace. You can, however, take your picture with one of several unmoving guards if you missed that opportunity in London.

Tickets for the Grand Palace are 500 Baht each – which is just under 16 USD. We paid 600 Baht for our guide – about 19 USD. The Grand Palace is one of the more expensive sights to see in Bangkok. This is probably due to the fact that the Grand Palace used to be the king’s home and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is still the king’s personal temple. With your ticket, you can see the three major sights in the Grand Palace complex. These are the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace and the Royal Regalia Collection. As an added bonus, your Grand Palace ticket includes admission to the Vimanmek Mansion and the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Both of these sights are at a separate venue near the King’s residence and you can use your admission up to a week after your visit.

Vimanmek is the world’s largest Teak Palace (or so they claim) and the Throne Hall is a beautiful building which currently houses some impressive works completed by the Sirikit Institute in honor of the king and queen. Getting there is difficult and involves going though a concrete barrier/razor-wire checkpoint. It was a little bizarre yet interesting once you finally get there. If you are in Bangkok for less than five days I would recommend skipping these last two sights. If you do go to Vimanmek Mansion, don’t forget to wear pants! You will not be allowed in with shorts and will have to purchase an eye-scorching neon green skirt.

If you finish the Grand Palace earlier in the day, be sure to check out the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho).

Temple of the Reclining Buddah Bangkok Thailand

Temple of the Reclining Buddah Bangkok Thailand

Wat Pho is located next to the Grand Palace. It is about 10 minutes walking from the main entrance. What you will find there is an enormous Buddha at approximately 43 meters in length. A Buddha stretching from the 50 yard line to the goal line? Sign me up! The entrance fee is well worth it at only 100 Baht (just over 3 USD).

Bangkok Grand Palace at Sunset Thailand

Bangkok Grand Palace at Sunset Thailand

Bangkok is a sprawling city and there are so many things you could spend your time doing. It is a combination of history and the needs of a modern society. We found that Bangkok is much more than just traffic jams and marketplaces. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho are really essential from a historical perspective and you can see these major sites in just one day. We have just begun exploring Thailand, and for me, the Grand Palace has set the bar pretty high.

If you plan to do any traveling in Europe, be sure to check out the new page with Molly’s Long-Term Travel Tips!