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Koh Samui's Vegan Flavors

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Koh Samui, the second largest of Thailand's Gulf islands, stands proud with its lush green forested mountains, cascading waterfalls, palm-strewn sandy beach shores, and tranquil coconut groves. Amidst this exotic landscape, ornate temples, innumerable shrines, and screaming tokay geckos, there, in the heart of nature's diversity, perhaps the island's greatest revelation is the unexpected trove of vegan cuisine.





"Ko" is the Thai word for "island."







The stunning Gulf of Thailand on a beach in Koh Samui.
A stunning beach in Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.

The Mountain view from the hill housing Buddha's Footprint.
The Mountain view from the hill housing Buddha's Footprint.

Koh Samui sunbathing.
Post morning run, basking in the rays of a Koh Samui sun.

 

Let's turn our attention to the vegan cuisine.


Nang Sabai Artisan Bakery makes the absolute best vegan burger I've had in all my days. They serve up excellent vegan desserts and merit extra points for the friendly cat on the menu, but not "on" the menu, if you know what I mean.


Nang Sabai has an extensive vegan selection, from burritos, pitas, wraps, cakes, smoothies, shakes, drinks, burgers, salads and breads to satisfy just about any craving.


The food tastes exquisitely fresh, is well-presented in a most aesthetically agreeable way and feels energizing when consumed.




James and I ate our way through at least 90% of Nang Sabai's menu.

I suppose that makes us experts.



 


Aob Aun is a fully-vegan and Buddhist-run restaurant, with a changing menu, and was formerly located alongside the Ring Road. Now, the owner sells food out of her home near the Tonkra Nursery and Kindergarten.


It's worth the peace of mind to know with 100% certainty the food my vegetarian-from-birth husband and myself (a vegan of more than a decade) can eat without fear of fish sauce, oyster sauce or shrimp paste being sneaked into our dishes!


When we were living in one of the nearby Moonhut Bungalows, without a fridge or kitchen of our own, I would make a daily pilgrimage to procure some nourishment from Aob Aun, and was never once disappointed! Because we had no cups, plates, bowls or cutlery, James and I would rinse out some empty plastic packages of snacks we'd eaten from the local 7-Eleven and repurpose them.


For between four to six bags of food of fantastic portions, we never payed more than ฿300 for two people to have enough food for the entirety of a day!



The owner was a really lovely woman. I never quite got her name right in pronunciation or spelling, but it didn't matter. She knew me by my cravings. Sent me photos of the buffet spread each morning like I was some kind of VIP. One day, she disappeared out of view for a moment as I was reaching for the average ฿200 per day I owed for my fix. Outta nowhere, she handed me a cluster of freshly picked bananas, just 'cause she felt like it. It's not every day you meet someone who hands you the good stuff for no reason at all!

Aob Aun's owner.
Aob Aun's owner and her motorbike.

One day, she proposed we try this new vegan restaurant together on its opening day. She invited me to her home, gave me a backyard tour, introduced me to her cats and offered to give me a lift on her motorbike. I hopped on back, holding her shoulders as firmly as I possibly could, and was jettisoned through the chaos of the streets with masterful dexterity.


Two Thai cats of Aob Aun.
The cats. ("Meeo" or "แมว" in Thai).

So, there I was, in the scorching sun, bleeding sweat, riding pillion with this Thai Buddhist food dealer, all vegan and Zen, on her badarse motorbike. She'd been generous enough to haul my impossibly awkward farang self who spoke less Thai than a kindergartner to this new restaurant, so I figured the polite thing to do would be to buy her a few dishes to-go for putting up with my sorry arse death grip for all those kilometers. Introductions were made with the new restaurant owner, a few laughs were exchanged, and I ordered up one of everything the buffet had to offer until my husband's dry bag backpack was filled to the brim. I wished the proprietor much success in our parting and congratulations on her opening day, with a promise to return.


My ride took me back to my hut and dropped me off with the satchel of grub. It was hot and heavy. What really got me was when I glanced back at her bike, and there it was, the origami lotus flower I made for her, sitting pretty in her front basket. She's pointing at it, grinning ear to ear like she's won the lottery. It's the little things, you know? Those moments when a folded piece of paper means more than words ever could. I bowed deeply with my palms pressed together--the Thai wai.


I even learned to ride a motorbike on the island, braving the perilous chaotic streets filled with roaming chickens, stoner tourists, cavalcades of motorcars and kids running amok to visit her a few times a week when we relocated to another side of the sunbaked island.


You do crazy things when there's something or someone worth it.

Samantha on a motorbike.
Me, donning a pink helmet, about to navigate the madness of the streets for a taste of something real.

My Thai Buddhist friend and I would sit at one of her tables set up near the roadside trying to figure each other out through Google Translate. We'd talk about culture, her daily routine, the spirits we believed in, what keeps us tickin', about our love for our husbands and cats. How we're both Scorpios. It's a real miracle how technology can bring two disparate worlds together, isn't it?


In any case, Aob Aun is a truly wonderful place. Service is A++. 10/5 stars.

I promised her I would return, and I shall. One day.

 

Grow Vegan is a fully vegan restaurant, located along the Ring Road, with a tantalizing vegan buffet on Sundays and a daily changing menu. The buffet price per person is ฿199 (Roughly $5.57 or €5.22). My Thai Buddhist friend and I graced this fine establishment with our presence upon the splendid occasion of its inaugural grand opening day.


As you can clearly see from the above grid photo collage, I made good on my promise to return--many, many times!

It is worth noting that some days, the restaurant may appear closed; however, don't hesitate to try the bell on the left. The owner, Chutima has a couple of adorable troublemaking cats who sometimes try to escape when the door is open. There is method to the madness.


On occasion, I would get crafty in my downtime, and gift her and the owner of Aob Aun small handfolded origami bouquets I was teaching myself to make out of palm fronds as an expression of gratitude for their contribution to reducing world suck through cruelty-free cooking.


 


P & T Hostel serves up some famous vegan pad Thai for a mere ฿60! This hostel and restaurant are located on the northern coast and have a separate vegan and vegetarian menu. Their chefs can make just about any of the dishes on the regular menu vegan by replacing meat with tofu and removing egg or fish sauce upon request!






Some of the best vegan pad Thai I've tasted since moving to Thailand. Well-plated, flavorful, colorful, vibrant, fresh and spicy--just the way I like it! My husband derived great amusement from the Thai servers converging around our table, their eyes fixed on the blonde farang girl devouring ten or more spoonfuls of fiery crushed red hot chili peppers. Yet, true validation came from the Thais and their appreciation and awe of my tolerance.


Spicy chili peppers.
Half of my typical serving size of red hot chili peppers.

Scroll through some of P & T Hostel's menu pages above if you're so inclined..


James and I both ate very well here for under ฿200!



 

A view of Tamacht restaurant on Koh Samui from the parking lot.
A view of Tamachat from the parking lot.

Tamachat Vegan Food is simple vegan Buddhist restaurant near the Golden Buddha, with lovely waterfront dining tucked away in the back of the establishment.


The prices were a bit higher than what I might have expected for cuisine marked with what looks like the number "17," but is actually the Thai phrase – "Gin Jay," translating to a strict vegetarian who does not eat meat, dairy or egg.





Tamachat's menu.
Tamachat's menu.

Dining by the gulf waters at Tamachat.


Tamachat has a very close proximity to the Golden Buddha on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand.
Tamachat has a very close proximity to the Golden Buddha on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand.

 


Two Sister is located near Mae Nam Bay Resort. While not a fully vegan restaurant, they offer a separate vegan menu with an assortment of options, including sandwiches, burgers, and vegan sweets available in the fridge near the counter.


Two Sister also partners with hangoversamui.com, a food delivery service which delivers throughout the island. One of the most vexing predicaments one encounters whilst navigating the thoroughfares of Koh Samui is the bustling streets teeming with pedestrians, street dogs, lizards, random chickens, cats and motorized contrivances of all persuasions, as chaotic as a tempestuous sea. When you have your heart set on a specific restaurant it can seem as though the fates can conspire most cruelly! Either an elusive parking space remains an enigma or the torturous prospect of a two-hour sojourn unfurls before you. In the rain.


A small street in Koh Samui, Thailand.
One of the small streets in Koh Samui.

The two sisters are quite kind and very sweet. Once, I was several baht short of a meal's total, and was rummaging around in my coin purse, scouring for a couple errant coins. One of the sisters smiled that gorgeous Thai smile, waved her hand and told me not to worry and bid me a pleasant meal.



 

Tembo is also not an exclusively vegan restaurant, but a beach club, resort and restaurant all rolled into one, with a full-service bar and a menu with many clearly marked vegan and vegetarian options, including a baked ratatouille, English set breakfast, chia pudding, miso mushroom scallops, tom kha, vegetable spring rolls, watermelon & avocado carpaccio, vegan burger, mixed vegetable flatbread, patatas bravas, vegetable tempura, fries, a veggie grazing board and tofu poke bowl.


Tofu poke bowl from Tembo in Koh Samui.
Tofu poke bowl from Tembo in Koh Samui.

Veggie grazing board from Tembo.
Veggie grazing board.

I cannot say as I've tasted a finer tofu poke bowl in my life. Each ingredient was seasoned, marinated, sliced and pureed to perfection. Even the quinoa, which at some places can be quite bland was stellar with a harmonious and balanced; yet, distinctive and fresh, memorable flavor.



The servers were kind and welcoming, attentive, but not overly so, and the beach view out on to the Gulf of Thailand beneath a full moon was fantastical, while the dim lights set a romantic tone.

 





Angela's at Moonhut has some clearly marked vegan options available on their menu--usually a salad and sandwich, some soup, rice, vegetable dishes and French fries. It's not much, but if you're in the area, staying at the Moonhut Bungalows or strolling the beach and happen by. it is an option







The vegan sandwich and some veganized curries from Angela's.


 

Noi Friendly is also not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, but was close to one of our dwellings. They serve mango sticky rice with coconut milk, stir fries with tofu and curries which can be made without egg and fish sauces.