Despite the plan for the majority of this part of the trip being There is No Plan Nick and I spent a fairly decent amount of time researching our first stop. As well as wanting to strike the right balance between having some infrastructure (a hospital!) and not being overdeveloped (full of teenage backpackers!) we wanted pretty beaches and some shops where we'd be fairly certain we could stock up on snacks. Thanks 7/11! Koh Yao Noi really seemed like it would hit that sweet spot and we haven't been disappointed. Just in case you haven't heard of it (I had a lot of blank looks when I was telling people where we were headed first) Koh Yao Noi (or Ko Yao Noi as Lonely Planet would have it) is a small island off of the Andaman Coast closet to Phuket and not too far from Ao Nang and Krabi. We arrived by boat from Phuket's Bang Rong Pier which you can get to by taking a taxi ride (around 600THB / £12 / $18) from Phuket airport. The boat thankfully only costs 200THB / £4 / $6.
The island's population is mostly muslim meaning that a lot of the stores don't sell alcohol and there's no real nightlife to speak of - perfect for us! It also means that you need to dress conservatively away from the beaches which is something some of our fellow travellers seem to be having issues with - seeing people wandering around the town centre topless or in short shorts and bikini tops when the majority of the locals are covered from head to toe or at least shoulder to ankle is pretty icky to say the least. We've heard from locals and people living here a long time that the island's much busier than it used to be and you can see that it's rapidly changing just because of the amount of construction happening on the west coast but it does't seem busy at all. We've spent most of our time on deserted beaches and the roads were even quiet enough for Nick to brave learning to ride a scooter (I don't have a driving licence) and for me to give in and just hop on the back despite my fears / abject terror after seeing him try to stop once already...let's just say we got off to a wobbly start & now I only think we're going to crash into the bushes once a day!
Despite there being no Happy Cow listings for Ko Yao Noi (don't worry, I'm on it!) vegan restaurant eats have been relatively easy to come by although we have become obsessed with the vegan Jay labelled frozen ready meals from 7/11 to the extent that we've actually eaten them all. Not all as in we've tried them all, all as in there are none left on the island. Oops.
We're especially loving the Vegetarian Fried Rice but the mock meat and tofu filled vegetarian Chinese Five Spice Stewed with Rice is also a fun meal. There are a couple of others, including Red Curry and Stir Fried Basil with Vegetarian Protein, but being allergic to chilli means I have to pass on them. They're pretty simple meals but at around 38THB / 80p / $1.20 each they're budget friendly as well as tasty and filling.
Rice Paddy was one of the first restaurants we tried as it had both good reviews and was listed as having veggie options on Trip Advisor. The German owner totally understood both veganism and my allergies and was able to recommend dishes from their vegetarian menu. The veg menu includes both oyster and fish sauce as they're considered veggie here but there's a note at the top of the menu reminding you to specify if you want to avoid fish, oyster or eggs.
We picked the Pad Pak Ruam, vegetable stir fry, which we had stir fried in soy sauce. We also ordered a Sweet & Sour Seafood dish minus the peppers and a couple of sides of rice.
On one visit I also tried the vegetarian lamb which is made from mushrooms rather than wheat gluten. It was peppery and delicious but no good for Nick who may be the world's biggest mushroom hater - this works out well for me though!
The Pad Pak Ruam was our favourite dish overall and I especially loved the freshness of the snap peas and the inclusion of so many kinds of mushroom. The Sweet & Sour Seafood was fun, and I loved the prawns themselves, but I don't think I'll ever be a huge fan of warm cucumber.
A classic vegan treat in Thailand is mango sticky rice that, as far as my research tells me, needs no modifications. I wasn't in love with this version as I found the addition of coconut cream a little cloying but Nick loved it.
If you're on Koh Yao I would definitely recommend Rice Paddy especially as it actually overlooks a rice paddy. We saw water buffalo there one afternoon and on another there were loads of fun birds doing their thang.
We ended up at Italian run spot La Luna for dinner one night mainly because it was the only place with obviously veganisable food within walking distance of where we were staying. It's only around 15 minutes away which at night, as there are no pavements or lights, is about as far as I'd like to venture on foot. The pizza wasn't exceptional, the crust was a little on the thin side and they could have ladled on a little more tomato, but I was pleased that they were pretty generous with the veggie toppings.
One thing we did get excited about was the dessert menu, we assumed we wouldn't be ordering anything but a whole page of it was devoted to homemade, fruit based, vegan ice cream! Now I know that I've ranted about frozen banana not being ice cream in the past, and I do still stand by that, but this raw banana based sorbet / gelato hybrid was totally refreshing and actually quite delicious as well as being unexpected. We tried banana strawberry and banana raspberry and the raspberry was my favourite. No pictures because it was really dark by then and slightly melty fruit doesn't look good after dusk!
Pyramid Bar was another easy but western leaning place to get a vegan meal. Pizza without cheese again as their pasta is made with egg, I preferred the pizza from La Luna because they had more plentiful toppings but we loved the side of chips we ordered (they reminded me of the ones from Voner in Berlin!) and were excited that they were happy to whip us up some garlic bread with olive oil rather than the usual butter.
It was SUPER garlicky, we rode home on the scooter we hired and with the visor of my helmet down I felt like I was in a delicious garlic bubble!
Chaba Cafe and Gallery is a veg friendly spot that we ended up visiting a couple of times after I was originally lured in by the "Vegetarian Food" sign outside!
When we went for lunch earlier I had a big mixed salad with a slice of bread on the side (they make their own) and some fried potatoes with tomatoes and onion. Nick had fried potatoes too as well as some toast with peanut butter.
The salad was epic, I'm not usually a huge salad person but this was so fresh and delicious and totally different to anything else we'd eaten since we arrived. It came with lettuce, shredded red cabbage, grated carrot, cucumber and two types of tomato and I added olives and went with the olive oil mustard balsamic dressing which was perfect. Sadly I think the potatoes were cooked in paprika or maybe even a really mild chilli oil which I can't eat so as soon as I realised I handed them over to Nick. Sadness. They were delicious! I had a little nibble of Nick's PB Toast to make up for it which was really great. I totally miss toast already and I think we'll probably head there for breakfast tomorrow before we leave the island.
Chaba also sell raw energy + protein bars which are actually made on the island and you can grab them to go from the fridge in the little shop onsite.
Unsurprisingly I much preferred the date, cacao, almond and cinnamon to the broccoli, quinoa and chia seed one - I frankly don't know what I was thinking when I picked it! Too healthy for me I think. Speaking of healthy I've been eating SO MUCH fruit since we got here. I'm in love with mangoes. They taste a million times better here than they do in the UK (duh!) and there's a fruit stall opposite 7/11 where we've been stocking up on bananas, oranges and the aforementioned mangoes daily. I'm yet to be convinced about starfruit though and I feel pretty meh about dragon fruit - it's so pretty but there's something about it that I'm not quite feeling yet.
I'll be back soon with a review of our guesthouse, Hill House, and the vegan food they've been making us as well as some fun pictures from our kayaking excursion.