Island Hopping ~ Vegan Style

The island of Koh Phangan has always been a well-known destination for people seeking an alternative to the social mainstream. From its sleepy, quiet beginnings, the island has become a Mecca for yoga students, backpackers, healers and teachers of various wellness modalities, forming a strong and inspiring community that unites people from all over the world.

With the plethora of yoga shalas, yoga retreats, yoga trainings, massage teachings, tantra workshops and a focus on self-transformation, it is with no great surprise that the island has recently experienced an influx of healthy eating establishments, catering to vegetarians, vegans and raw food enthusiasts.

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Ko Phangan, similar to locations such as Bali, California, Hawaii, Byron Bay and Costa Rica, has placed itself on the map, proudly displaying its move towards organic food, sustainable living, exotic superfoods, gluten-free options, green smoothies and raw desserts.

Since arriving back on the island 2 months ago, it has been an enjoyable adventure riding a small motorbike around the island and discovering these havens of health and flavour…

The Sanctuary, a health and detox center nestled in the quiet bay of Haad Tien, on the island’s South East coast, has attracted people from all walks of life for almost twenty years. Aside from being well known for its diverse range of cleansing programs and workshops, The Sanctuary also boasts an extensive vegetarian menu with an emphasis on healthy, vibrant cuisine, free from chemicals, additives, MSG and palm oil. Catering to people pre and post fasting as well as the health conscious guests that frequent their shores year after year, The Sanctuary also offer a menu dedicated to raw living food, highlighting the simple yet creative ways to serve this natural cuisine.

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Several of my favorite options on their menu include the Raw Veggie Burger made with seeds, nuts and vegetables, dehydrated at a low temperature and served with salad, homemade pesto, cashew cheese and hummus. The Raw Indian Curry is another favorite. Crunchy vegetables mixed with a spicy coconut, tomato sauce and served with a tangy mango dipping sauce. For many years I have also enjoyed the Raw Nori Rolls, filled with salad, coconut and kaffir lime dip and served with a tahini miso sauce. The Sanctuary also offers an extensive green smoothie menu, raw vegan ice creams, chia seed puddings and a delicious range of raw, vegan and gluten free desserts.

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Thong Sala used to be a sleepy little town that consisted of street food and sarong shops. Fast forward ten years and it is a buzzing hive of activity with cafes, shops, bars, night markets and accommodation. Close to the main pier and always brimming with motorbikes and taxis, Thong Sala isn’t necessarily a favorite destination of mine, alas, it is the place to go for any shopping needs. Luckily, a very cute little café has opened called Soul Food Café. Ran by a lovely couple from Italy, the café offers healthy salads, delicious hummus plates, sandwiches on homemade bread, a great range of longevity tonics, fresh juices and a small range of healthy treats. They also have a small shop area selling books and supplements. Their location means you get a lovely view of the pier and their comfy cushions and low seats means you can easily watch an afternoon go by with a cold coconut and favourite book.

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Sri Thanu on the east coast of the island has become the main Mecca for yoga and health. With several yoga retreats, yoga salas, detox centers and a range of bungalows that can be booked long term, Sri Thanu has a demographic that is equally western as it is Thai. This has resulted in several healthy cafes and health food shops opening in this district to cater to people interested in vegetarian, raw and healthy cuisine. One of my favourites is Karma Café. Open for less that a year and run by a lovely American expat, Karma Café offers incredibly fresh and tasty food that is one step above the other offerings in the area. The Raw Mexican Tacos are a delight, bursting with flavours and textures and the best cashew cheese I think I have ever tried. Their Raw Sushi is also delicious and served beautifully with pickled ginger and a tasty dipping sauce. My favouite offering at Karma though is their Green Spirulina Bliss Ball- a coconutty treat studded with goji berries- its not too sweet and a perfect size so I can always pick one up when I happen to be driving by!

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My other recommendation in Sri Thanu is Orion Healing. Orion Healing has been around for quite some time now and also offers a range of detox and cleansing programs and yoga trainings or retreats. Set on a tiny private beach, Orion Healing is always bursting with yogis and health fanatics which can be slightly intimidating for some! To be perfectly honest, if their food wasn’t so delicious I probably wouldn’t venture there- mainly because of the rude staff and the fact that many of the menu items are often not available! Alas, the food I have enjoyed there has been very good- simple but flavoursome and generous in servings too. Their range of salads are wonderful, made even better by their signature salad dressing- a mango and kaffir lime combination- that is one of the yummiest creations I have tried! Their raw food options are a little outdated and you can tell they are made by people who are not passionate about raw living food- meaning it tastes a little dull, over-salted, over dehydrated and lacking the vibrant flair I have come to expect of raw cuisine. They do offer locally made tempeh, lots of superfoods, homemade bread and many healthy tonics. Skip the poorly made raw desserts though and opt for a fresh coconut!

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Venturing over to Ko Phangan’s sister island Ko Samui, there are even more choices for raw and vegan food! With yoga and detox retreats popping up around the large island, several new cafes and shops have quickly followed suit. My favourite by far though has been around for several decades and is a much loved destination of mine every time I visit the island. Spa Samui is well known for its signature cleaning programs, detox packages, yoga, massage and wonderful vegetarian restaurant. Every time I visit I get the Vietnamese Spring Rolls! Bursting with crunchy vegetables and an incredible peanut dipping sauce, each bite is heavenly! I have had much of their extensive menu over the years and have always been delighted with the fast and friendly service, the decent prices, the freshness of ingredients and their growing raw menu. Their raw sushi is possibly the best I have tried and their salads are tasty and come with a selection of extras and dips which I enjoy to mix and match with! Their raw desserts are very good, especially their simple chocolate energy balls which I cant go past getting each visit! Spa Samui is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves healthy veggie food!

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Tucked away in plain sight on one of the busy main roads on Ko Samui is a long standing favourite with expats, the Art Café. Here, everything is made with love and crafted by hand from their homemade bread to their tempeh to their salads and their nourishing curries. They offer organic coffee, fresh juices, rustic veggie burgers and a new list of raw mains including raw falafels and raw cakes. This little haven is a space I could spend hours (or have spent hours!). The staff are sweet and full of smiles and there is just something about the food that feels good in your tummy- these people really understand and respect what they are sharing and for me, this is so important and adds a really special element to the experience. Their scrambled tofu is a must-try and their hummus is worth popping over on the ferry for!

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The Fisherman’s village of Bo Phut has a very special place in my heart and was a town I lived in for several months quite some time ago. It has managed to retain its rustic charm and despite the large population of expats which now offer cuisine from all over the world, it still feels unique and a little sleepy, unlike much of the island which is now very hectic and over populated. One new addition to the village is Fisherman’s House– a divine little café bursting with orchids and kittens and smelling of freshly roasted coffee and freshly baked bread. What drew me into the delightful space first was the word ‘avocado’ on their menu! And tucked inside a freshly basked sourdough baguette with micro sprouts and balsamic glaze, I was a happy customer! Their breakfast menu upon return the next day was a delight- chia seeds, homemade granola, fresh fruits, huge coconuts and all served with a delicate perfection and care that I have never experienced before. Little flowers in vases, bamboo spoons, carved fruits and little cloth napkins make every meal look like a masterpiece. Their smiling staff and sweet felines makes this one café I plan to spend many lazy hours!

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There are a couple of places still on my hit-list to try on Ko Samui that have popped up over the last year or so. So stay tuned for Part B of my vegan journey! All in all though, I have been so pleasantly impressed with the range of vegan and raw options on the islands as well as the general ease of finding dairy alternatives and the willingness of restaurants to cater to dietary needs. Traveling vegan isn’t always a walk in the park, but it seems to be getting easier and easier and no longer am I forced to stick to the monotony of fruit salads and fried vegetable rice!

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