By Day 4, I was set in Bangkok, knowing what to expect (of the day) and what to suspect (of the food).
A day well begun…
We had stocked up, so in the morning, woke up to hot black coffee made by self using the room’s electric kettle. After that had made its way through my system and into my head, helped myself to the other soymilk brand I had brought, Tofusan. It proved to a bit raw for my taste, both the plain and the one with the tofu sheet (it felt like eating and drinking at the same time), so expunged the taste with the mango-sized rose apples. Then, to F2’s (friend two, vegetarian) room for the staple of theplas with chutney, then back to my room to shower and get ready, and then while friends were still getting ready, dashed to Villa Market for more of the manic and manna-ic Vegemil almond & walnut soymilk. Smacking my lips for the treat that awaited at night, I was ready for the day – a trip to the Chatuchak market, famous as the world’s largest weekend market.
We took the metro, friends bought some snacks (non-vegan; chocolates, I think), offered me, then immediately realized I “can’t have it” (I corrected them with “I don’t have it”, but I don’t think that registered with them), then at the last station bought some more snacks (a cake slice, if I remember correctly), with the same responses and reactions from both sides, and then made our way to the market.
Seafood on the rocks, erm, woks
By now, I knew what to expect in any touristy area of Bangkok: a microcosm of the world walking up and down and a macrocosm of the sea world being cooked in woks up and down. So, walked up and down myself unfazed. As the friends shopped for their families back home (they were to shop more later, at Tesco, so I was happy buying only small curios to gift back home), they started feeling the heat. An hour or so down, they paused for coconut ice cream, made fresh before the eyes. And we went through the motions again: “Here”, “Oh, ya, you can’t have this”, “That’s ok” (me), “You want something else?” By now, I had also become used to not eating for prolonged periods in Bangkok; but that was fine, for like a camel, I had tanked up with two versions of breakfast in the morning (my room and friend’s room). (Survival tip: When vegan and travelling internationally, eat like a king when you can, which is typically at breakfast, which you can control as it’s inside.)
The friends continued shopping, and my interest started waning a bit, or rather, it was caught by something else. A stall exhorting tourists not to buy ivory products in Thailand. I went over, looked at the posters and materials on display, took one each along with a badge I planned to give my nephew, and then tried to speak with the group (a fair mix of guys and girls) manning the counter. But due to the language problem (or should I say ‘ploblem’; mean!), it got lost in translation, or rather, didn’t even get picked up. So, I had to be content with just stuffing the communication in my backpack.
When I came back to the hotel and read it carefully, I was encouraged to read the Thai government’s efforts to reduce the illegal ivory trade. But on reading between the lines, I felt discouraged thinking that they seem to be okay with the “legal ivory trade”. Something told me they sell off ivory from “domesticated” elephants (after killing them of course, once they are past their “expiry date”), and the whole industry of domesticating elephants for entertainment and work / transportation – along with that of tigers, at the in/famous Tiger Temple on the way from Bangkok to Pattaya – is, as any vegan would tell you, cruel in its own way. But again, I was in their country…
Shopping done, and tired to their teeth, the friends decided to move to their next shopping destination, the equally large but ACed Tesco. We hailed a cab, they dozed off in it (I kept my eyes peeled not just because I was in front, but because everything was so new to me; they in contrast were virtual veterans in Thailand by now), and sometime later reached our destination.
Testing times at Tesco
By now, we were famished – I was too; I could only be the Ship of the Vegan Desert for so long – and looked for a place to eat. But what I had faced at Central World the previous evening – food, food everywhere, but not an ounce vegetarian / vegan – all of us faced together. After two rounds and a lot of piercing looking, I spotted a kiosk that offered two variants of vegetarian bun with stuffing, one mushroom, the other plain. F2 was designated the test subject. (F1, non-vegetarian, plays it safe all the time. F2 doesn’t mind accidentally munching non-veg. F3, me, is already battling too much on the food front.) He popped it in, and kept swinging with every chew: “Phew, it’s veg”, “Ew, it’s not”… Neither F1 nor me was going to risk it, and so we decided to head to… McDonald’s. What did I say the first day itself that out of India, you need to survive on fries / potato when veg / vegan?
The grass ain’t greener on the foreign side
It’s only in India, I guess, you look at food through two eyes, or rather, two symbols, a circle within a thin-outlined box, in either of two colours: green (for veg) and red (for non-veg). Outside India, I realised, even in McDonald’s (where in India there are separate cooking sections and separate indicators for the meats and the non-meats), everything is one big menu. I think outside India, if you ask for veg, they will show you the door… to the grazing field. So, fries and orange juice it was. (They seemed to have this option, which they don’t in India, plus I was fed up of Coke.) While refueling, all we could say was, “At night, we really need to eat.” Or better put, at night we need to really eat.
We returned to the hotel, plonked all the bags, rested our aching bodies, decided we needed a good foot massage, and after some rest, headed for just that.
Relaxed body, aching mind
We decided to indulge ourselves and went for a two-hour session instead of one hour as we had originally planned. We leaned back on the easy chairs at Prauw Massage, and gave in. It was only the second time ever I had received a foot massage by a woman (back home, I get a nice head massage by the guy at the saloon once a month when I go for a haircut, and have always felt guys do it better – you need someone tougher to do it on a tougher body and skin, no sexism intended), so I was a bit queasy. But a bigger point of discomfort was the thought: ‘Does the cream have any animal ingredients?’ At the end, due to the language differences and not wishing to irk my friends more than I had seemingly done so throughout the trip with my, or rather, their “Oh, you can’t have this…”, I decided to drop my vegan guard for those two hours. Maybe that’s why the massage wasn’t so restful for me.
By now, our appetites were really worked up, but we had planned it judiciously: Aryaa’s, the veg restaurant from Day 1, was on the floor above. By now, we were familiar faces there (the friends have come there on earlier trips too), and our menu was familiar too. Still, we attempted a couple of new items (one of them “Hyderabad Veg Masala”, which I didn’t seem too hot about), and this time, of course, no rumaali roti for me.
“No thanks” – The sequel
When the food came, and F2 started swirling the Hyderabad Veg Masala to dissipate the trapped heat, I noticed chunks of white in it. Ouch, paneer. ‘What will you do now’, F2’s eyes looked askance. F1, as if, responded with, “It’s okay, let the paneer be and have the gravy…” Ah, that old chestnut. I reminded him, “When I gave up eating non-veg, you would tell me the same thing, and I still wouldn’t…” None of us wanted to have a repeat of the Day 2 friction, so we kept silent, and F2 had most of the experimental dish he had ordered.
A really good night…
We were really bushed, came back, barely exchanged GNs, and crashed. Or at least, they did. I had my multiple packs of Vegemil almond & walnut soymilk to make love to.
This is the penultimate part of a five-part series on how to be vegan in Bangkok, or at least try. Parts one, two, three are linked below. And watch out for the final part tomorrow, which combines Days 5 and 6…
Day 1: All’s Well
Day 2: All’s Not Well
Day 3: Getting One Back