Southeast Asia travel suggestions
April 21, 2012 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Southeast Asia travel advice desired. Where should two vegetarians who speak English go for a 5 day vacation in mid December?

My boyfriend and I (I'm a woman) have to be in Seoul, Korea December 20 through 23, but figured we'd take the chance to see another country from December ~13-20. The boyfriend has been to Thailand, and right now Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and Indonesia top the list. We are Americans leaving from Los Angeles, have limited funds, and enjoy food, historic stuff, art, museums, (you know, nerdy stuff) when traveling. Ifound some questions from 2010, but none addressed vegetarian food! Any suggestions on where to go?
posted by holyrood to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There are plenty of vegetarian options in Thailand, Japan and Indonesia. Practically every restaurant would have some decent things on the menu. I haven't been to Vietnam, but I suspect that vegetarians shouldn't have much of a problem anywhere in South and South East Asia.
posted by vidur at 2:01 PM on April 21, 2012

In most of SE Asia there will be that options that don't include meat, but it can be very hard to avoid fish sauce, and probably a few other animal derived products I can't think of.
posted by MillMan at 2:14 PM on April 21, 2012

Vietnam is a very good place to be a vegetarian. MillMan is right that in restaurants that aren't explicity vegetarian, the food could have small amounts of things like fish sauce. You can just accept that, or you can seek out vegetarian restaurants. The large numbers of Buddhists in Vietnam mean that there are many vegetarians and many more people who eat vegetarian a few days out of the month, so there are vegetarian restaurants. Buddhist temples are good places for vegetarians to eat, too.

Basically, if you eat at a restaurant in Vietnam that caters to tourists, the vegetarian food will probably be actually vegetarian, and they'll speak English there and it'll all be easy. Or you can be adventurous, and go to a vegetarian restaurant for the locals. They might or might not speak English there, but if you learned a few words you could at least identify the noodle dishes, the soups, etc., and then just point at the menu and get something good and vegetarian. I promise that your adventurousness will be rewarded!

(Going to restaurants that are neither aimed at tourists nor vegetarians can be iffy, though. One time at such a restaurant, I ordered what I thought was vegetarian food but it was fried rice with smoked ham. The section was labelled "chảy," which I thought meant vegetarian but actually means smoked; the word for vegetarian is "chay.")

Vietnam is also awesomely cheap. As little as $5-$15 a day for lodging and food, if you're okay with a very basic hotel (no air conditioning) and local restaurants/street food. If you want to get fancier with AC and tourist-oriented restaurants, say $30-$60 a day for lodging and food. (Whether you need AC will depend on what part of Vietnam you're interested in going to.)

I've heard great things about Thailand for vegetarians, too, but I've never been there.
posted by mandanza at 2:52 PM on April 21, 2012

I'd suggest Hong Kong. I was there in 2006 at the end of a wide-ranging trip through southern China, and am eager to return someday. Advantages to Hong Kong are that nearly everyone you run into will speak enough English (courtesy of colonial history) that language barrier should be a non-issue. Also, public transit there was pretty easy to use- we'd just take the subway to wherever and catch ferries/buses/etc. I don't recall ever needing to take a cab. As mandanza mentioned, Buddhist temples are a good option for vegetarians- there's a huge Buddha statue on Lantau Island that's worth a visit, and I recall the monastery there served food. Finally, I had a great time wandering the streets at night, visiting the various street markets and haggling for souvenirs, and trying curious-looking bits of food from street vendors.
posted by EKStickland at 10:24 PM on April 21, 2012

Malaysia! It has a significant Indian population, which in turn has a high number of vegetarians(and also many vegetarian Buddhists). Many places are used to catering to vegetarians. English is taught in school as the secondary language, so everyone speaks it and you'll be able to easily communicate and people will happily recommend vegetarian dishes. Also, Malay food is similar to Indonesian food, but you also get the diversity of a lot of Chinese, Indian and "other" foods(like Nyonya food, which emerged from Muslim Chinese culture).

(I'm Malaysian, albeit not entirely vegetarian...)

The downside of Malaysia is that I don't find the capital city, Kuala Lumpur particularly interesting(it's cool in the big city kind of way but my fiance was a little surprised at how fairly western and modern it was), and you'll have to travel a bit to go places. My favorite place is Malacca, my hometown, especially Jonker Street.
posted by sawdustbear at 5:27 PM on April 23, 2012

Anywhere you go in Japan will be great if it is your first time. Japan is not for vegetarians. If you are strict vegetarians I would make some careful planning, have some things translated and be fully aware that vegetarianism as it is understood in other countries is not understood in Japan.
posted by Infernarl at 6:41 AM on May 2, 2012

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