“Wow, it must be hard!” is the most typical answer I get when I tell people I have been traveling through South East Asia as a vegan for a year and a half. The short answer is: yes. Like everything worth doing well, being responsible and mindful of the way I travel with regards to my diet, the environment and animal welfare requires more care, preparation and time. But I would find it extremely hard to be careless about those things – so the long answer is: no, not at all. Traveling as a vegan is rewarding and full of surprises. Here are my top five tips for mindful vegan travel in South East Asia.
1. Learn the lingo
Learn how to say no egg, milk, butter, fish sauce and shrimp paste in the local language, or have it written down somewhere. The vegan passport is a handy pocket book that has all the legwork already done for you, with translations of what we do and don’t eat in 85 languages. More often than not in South East Asia, food won’t be vegan because of fish sauce, so don’t assume that no egg or dairy means vegan. I stash a small bottle of soy sauce in my handbag whenever I hit the street food stalls to provide the vendors with a substitute they might not have on hand.
2. Be mindful of animal attractions
A little research on the Internet will have you discovering rather quickly that getting photographed next to tigers or riding elephants are rather questionable practices in regards to the treatment and welfare of these beautiful wild creatures. Instead, there are many wildlife sanctuaries and animal shelters where you can volunteer your time to help rehabilitate and improve the lives of mistreated and abused animals. A much better option for your soul.
3. Hit the market
Another thing I put in my bag is a small chopping board, knife, spoon and bowl. Visiting local markets is a great opportunity to buy directly from the farmers and eat extremely fresh fruits and vegetables. An open mind will take you a long way. Ever hear of stink beans and morning glory? What about durian and jackfruit? Just make sure you carry a reusable bag because vendors are very fond of plastic bags in this part of the world!
4. Sky lanterns are beautiful, but…
Setting a lantern up to the sky and making a wish to have another magical holiday like this one seems like such a beautiful tradition. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, and those lanterns are sometimes responsible for setting fire to bamboo huts and hay barns and have been known to be eaten by livestock who then end up with the wire frame perforating their stomach lining. Festivals such as Loi Krathong are a beautiful display of those lanterns, but my advice would be to stand back, take amazing photographs and be the observer.
5. Join the community
There is a growing online community of vegan travellers that can offer great support and advice on either destinations or any vegan-related travel questions you might have. The #vegantravel hashtag connects vegan travellers on Twitter and Instagram and a group of us have been meeting every Monday at 6AM and 6PM UTC for a Twitter chat where we discuss various questions and concerns pertaining to vegan travel. Join us!