Every single month, hundreds of people flock to Chiang Mai – a beautiful city in northern Thailand, to study Thai massage at the oldest and most traditional school in the north – The Old Medicine School.
The old medicine School is both a school and a hospital specialized in Thai massage (northern style). Most of the western students live and eat in the premises, it’s included in the package and it’s also a way of immersing into the culture and focus on the studies.
Many of these excited Thai massage enthusiasts are vegans or vegetarians who search for a better understanding on how to heal without using chemicals, how to work with the body in order to establish harmony and health.
I was one of those hundreds of students and I remember one of my biggest worries was: “Is there any vegan food at the old medicine hospital /school?? “Will I starve??” Since the school is located away from the tourism buzz and all vegan restaurants and markets are too far away to walk, for us vegan students, this was a serious concern.
The school is used to have vegetarian students around, but Thai people have a hard time understanding veganism and most vegans don’t know they’re not eating vegan at all. In Thailand fish and oyster sauce are everywhere and it’s considered acceptable for vegetarians. Most vegetarians are fine with it, but vegans are usually not.
So yes, the school can cater for vegans, but make sure you make it very clear as soon as you arrive: No meat, No fish, No eggs, No fish or oyster sauce, No egg tofu. You’ll have tea or coffee for breakfast with butter cookies. Most lunches will consist on white rice, green leaf veggies or squash and soy chunks or tofu. Most of the times there’s vegan soup as well. The food is very simple, but delicious. Additionally, you have fresh filtered water all day. Dinner is not included and you’re on your own, but you can use the school’s kitchen. I found a wonderful supermarket near the school, where I could get cooked brown and white rice, tofu, noodle soups, fruits and veggies.
… And during the weekends, why not visit the old town and experience the vegan capital of Thailand?
Chiang Mai is known for the culture, the arts, the food and everything health oriented. Within the moat, which is the tourist center, we can literally find dozens of vegan options. Chiang Mai alone, has 83 different restaurants listed in HappyCow and all of them offer a huge 100% vegan section! You can spend months in Chiang Mai without ever repeating the same dish, from traditional Thai food, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, to western food (Israeli, Mexican, French and Italian)! I had a fantasy to try each and every restaurant I found in HappyCow, but I would have to stay much longer than a month, if you managed, let us know!
There’s an amazing variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in every daily market, coconut water, amazing smoothies, noodles and very cheap tofu.
I fell in love with a little 100% vegan restaurant ran by a very friendly family – May Kaidee (editors note: The Chiang Mai location is currently closed. Find Mai Kaidee in Bangkok with multiple locations)- which was committed to make vegan offerings to the monks at a near by Buddhist temple during special ceremonies. Thai Buddhist monks are omnivores, they will eat whatever is offered by the people, so the restaurant owner, believed she could make a difference by offering cruelty-free food. I thought that was awesome.
Between meals and market adventures, take the time to visit the beautiful Buddhist temples, and maybe even chat with the monks or get a very traditional massage at a temple.
If you’re heading to Thailand, more specifically to Chiang Mai to study massage at the oldest school out there, or just to visit the city, I guarantee you’ll have the time of your life and indulge in absolute food extravaganza!