After having spent over a month in the vegan food mecca that is Chiang Mai, Pai felt a little restrictive food-wise. I was however ecstatic to swap the pollution and traffic hubbub for the crisp mountain air after suffering from bad allergies and a sore throat seemingly exacerbated by tuk tuk smog for most of our time in Chiang Mai.
But saying that we love Pai would be a bit of a lie: we do like it a lot, but we only ever wander into town for food. What we love so much about Pai is a little guesthouse-come-expat-community called The Yawning Field where we spend most of our time when we come to Pai. It’s a truly magical place where we stayed a year ago and this year over the Christmas and New Year Holiday. We made a bunch of new friends, did a few pot lucks together, sipped on hot teas on chilly mornings, did yoga every day overlooking the misty fields and listened to the birds and frogs bundled up in a pile of blankets in our little hut. It’s a little piece of bliss where you come to enjoy a slow pace of life and the beautiful views.
For now though, here are our picks for vegan grubs in Pai in order from our most to our least loved. Oddly, one thing Pai does well is sandwiches. We had more here in 10 days than in a whole year of traveling South East Asia.
1. EARTH TONE
This is hands down our favourite place for food, snacks and drinks in Pai. The menu has both vegan and vegetarian breakfast and lunch options, including gluten free vegan waffles, tempeh, salads, sandwiches, pasta, coconut and water kefir, kombucha, hummus, raw vegan desserts, herbal shakes, etc. There’s also a small health shop attached where you can get cosmetics, menstrual cups, seeds, herbs, supplements and what not. The tempeh and the pesto sandwiches are amazeball.
The vegan and vegetarian options on the menu at Witching Will are clearly marked which is such a nice and easy touch that makes a world of difference – the neighbors should pick up from that, just sayin’. We tried the ratatouille pasta, the mushroom and sundried tomato baguette and the sautéed broccoli with tofu and olive oil. The sundried tomato baguette was especially delicious, possibly because I hadn’t had sundried tomatoes in over a year. They also have a vegan pesto and several other vegan western dishes. Great *potion* (herbal tea) menu, nice ambiance, friendly service. Another sandwich down the hatch.
3. CHEW XIN JAY
The only 100% vegan restaurant in Pai. Superior quality Jay buffet with an extensive a la carte menu of Asian and western fares. There is a lot of mock meat as you would expect from any Jay restaurant, but I did enjoy the crispy fried chicken very much. Great condiments, look out as the chili jam is extremely spicy. A great bargain at 45B ($1,50) for a plate of rice and three toppings from the buffet. Come early for maximum freshness
4. THE NIGHT MARKET
Pai walking street is in my view the best market for vegan savory food in South East Asia. We found Burmese tofu salads and noodles (a.k.a. “Not Bean Jelly”), a big organic vegetable-only BBQ, vegan samosas, burritos and spring rolls, jacket potatoes, corn on the cob, fried anything and everything and then some. Watch out, the sticky rice “lollypops” are basted in egg yolk.
5. CHARLIE AND LEK
There aren’t very many vegan and vegetarian options at Charlie and Lek, but it’s worth coming for the papaya phad thai and the banana flower salad alone. I very much doubt the curries are vegan (there’s generally shrimp paste in Thai curry paste), but it’s worth asking. The service is excellent and they speak great English.
6. FAT CAT
Not an awful lot of vegan options here either, but the grilled veggie sandwich (minus the mayo) is great and so are the kombucha and raw vegan desserts. Has a lovely little garden to chill, grab the table with the hammock!
7. MAMA’S PLACE
Mama is awesome and her restaurant is a little bit of an unknown gem. She speaks little English, but her business card says that her food is vegan-friendly, so we went with that. Excellent 35B curries and fruit shake. Mother-like very endearing smothering comes free.
8. NA’S KITCHEN
Friendly but very slow service, excellent spicy glass noodle salad and, most importantly, sticky rice! I don’t understand why not more restaurants serve sticky rice in Thailand. It’s the perfect thing to mop up leftover sauce in the bottom of a plate. There’s nothing especially spectacular about Na’s Kitchen, it is rather touristy and seemingly always full and there are very few vegan options, but it is nonetheless a good option in town.
9. THE GOOD LIFE
They’ve changed the inside configuration of the restaurant since last time we visited and we like it a lot less. In fact, I think the old setup is the reason why we liked this place in the first place: the communal tables and the swings were a great place to nurse a cup of tea for a few hours in the morning. Without that, we felt The Good Life has lost a lot of its appeal to us. Bland and uninspired vegan options of boiled veggies and porridge. The juice menu is however great.
10. OM GARDEN
Cozy peaceful garden with unfortunately few vegan options, but a couple items could probably be made vegans. The two vegan options are coconut porridge for breakfast (which Richard loved but I found it WAY too fatty to stomach in the morning) and a rice salad for lunch that is drenched in an alarming quantity of oil. Beware, I ordered the mezze plate minus the tzatziki, but there was a large blob of yoghurt on my plate (I don’t know if they put it there as a well-meaning substitution or if it’s always there, either way it annoyed me). This restaurant is extremely busy and as such the service can be very slow. Highly overhyped in our view.