Can you follow a Paleo diet in Thailand? It was a major question in my mind leading up to our wedding and honeymoon. For the three months leading up to our wedding, I had been working with Adam on a protocol for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). SIBO seemed to be the last lingering symptom from his years of struggling with Crohn’s Disease and we had been working with diet and supplements to fully heal his system. The diet was extremely strict and there was no way we could pull it off in Thailand, but I was hopeful that he was recovered enough that he wouldn’t suffer for it and that we could be as careful as possible.
The flight over went well, despite the fact that we had a quick succession of a 1 hour flight, 12 hour flight, and 6 hour flight. I had found ahead of time that you could request gluten free meals for U.S. based flights. They included some weird biscuits made from alternative grains, but for the most part we could eat the meals. The flight from Tokyo to Bangkok we weren’t as lucky and the flight attendants seemed to have been told to push the fish selection, but we managed with omelettes and chicken.
I also packed a ton of snacks. We had planned on bringing back some souvenirs so I reasoned we could pack some snacks for the trip and, as the snacks emptied, we’d have space to bring back purchases. I made my paleonola, some cheese crisps, and an experimental pumpkin bread. I bought a large pack of Krave jerky (and I wish I’d gotten two!) and dark chocolate bars and we stuffed everything into our packs. It was fortunate I’d brought such large batches because the airplane food was far from filling with all the food we had to give back uneaten. Even with the “gluten free” request, much of the meal we weren’t very interested in. There was lots of plain rice, ice cream, something that was either jelly or jello, sugar-sweetened and barley-ripe fruit, peas (which Adam hates), etc.
24 hours after we left, we stumbled into Bangkok sleep deprived, hungry, and a little queasy. Luckily Bangkok seems to have worked out their taxi system so you are less likely to get scammed. We received a ticket from the taxi desk, located our taxi, and were transported for 500 baht. Discover currently has no foreign transaction fees and the Bank of Bangkok ATM accepts their cards so we withdrew cash while at the airport.
Arriving at the Chatrium Riverside, I had absolutely zero interest in exploring that night so we settled down to some curry in the hotel’s restaurant. I ordered green and Adam ordered red. It came out quickly and was quite good, if twice the price of curry anywhere else in Thailand.
Curry quickly became a staple. If you order curry you are often asked if you would like rice with it so you have the option of turning it down. Plus, with the coconut milk and a choice of meats it is very filling. Our favorite curries came from Queen of Curry, a quick boat ride from our hotel.
The only downside to the curry is the copious amounts of vegetable oil that everything is cooked in. But I can guarantee anything you eat in Thailand will have vegetable oil in it. Before leaving, I had done a lot of reading on the food and many people claimed palm oil was widely used. That may have once been the case, but now vegetable oil, particularly soy, is used everywhere.
Rice is also everywhere. I had expected this and, though we don’t normally eat rice. I had resigned myself to it while we were there and concentrated on avoiding wheat. Pretty much what you have to do unless you want to wall yourself into a coconut grove and refuse to eat anywhere. Additionally, it is actually considered rude if you don’t finish all the food you are served. The few times I was so stuffed I couldn’t eat another bite without throwing up, the person providing the food looked quite crestfallen.
There are various cards that you can download and print explaining a wheat allergy, but unless you want to eat in restaurants catering to Westerners the entire time then I wouldn’t bother. If you hand the card to a street vendor or authentic Thai restaurant you are just going to confuse them more than anything. “Gluten free” is slowly becoming a thing there but it’s few and far between.
A number of activities I arranged were receptive to a request for a gluten free diet. I specifically arranged for a Chiang Mai cooking class with Mama Noi’s because I read in the reviews that they were sensitive to dietary restrictions. And indeed, the cooking class could handle requests for gluten-free, though I didn’t test my luck with requesting grain-free and no veggie oils. They offered us guidance on which dishes to make and they substituted mushroom powder for oyster sauce and soy sauce. Similarly tours booked through Blue Elephant in Chiang Mai, Discovery Dive in Koh Samui, and a night tour of Bangkok were able to accommodate. The guide for Blue Elephant took us to a local open air market and walked us through the stalls, locating things made without wheat.
Mainly I avoided wheat and soy sauce and oyster sauce which contain wheat. Most people there will understand if you ask them if a dish has soy sauce. Requesting that they leave it out is complicated, there are so many interesting dishes there, just order something else and know that there is a decent chance you’ll get some gluten at some point. A strict paleo diet is nigh impossible and if you have a severe allergy to wheat, I highly recommend paying the extra amount to arrange for a guide through a travel agency unless you speak Thai.
If you can handle a little non-paleo food, I definitely recommend living it up and not worrying so much for a couple weeks. You might end up with a little discomfort, I certainly did, but we managed it with some activated charcoal and apple cider vinegar.
Trying all of the unusual combinations and vegetables was definitely a highlight of the trip. We particularly enjoyed BBQ pork on a stick, southern style sausage which had fried glass noodles in it, coconut and rice flour pancakes, pork belly, and fresh coconuts. And of course lots of curry!