The locals sprinkle peanuts on even a simple salad in Thailand. But as long as you're sensible, food allergies shouldn't prevent you from visiting this ancient, exciting and friendly land
Restaurants in Thailand are known for sprinkling peanuts on even a salad, so I packed a rucksack full of epi-pens before my nut allergy and I bravely jetted off to the country.
First stop was, of course, Bangkok. With a 7-Eleven on every corner, fully stocked with familiar-crisps and biscuits, it was hard to believe I’d been so worried about sourcing out nut-free food.
Staying on Khao San Road at the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn we were provided with friendly service and a small, simple double room for a moderate 650 baht.
The restaurant offered mainly English dishes which I welcomed for my first few meals until I felt ready to venture out into the many restaurants this capital has to offer. Hippie Hi Bar (46 Khao San Road) comes highly recommended serving authentic Thai food and English-speaking staff. They even serve your rice in the shape of teddy bear!
A two-hour bus ride from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal took me to Kanchanaburi, a wonderful province which remains relatively untouched by the hoards of tourists. It was here that I found my second favourite guesthouse: the Jolly Frog. With a twin fan room for only 250 baht, beautiful hammock-strewn gardens and a river view, I felt at home from day one.
The restaurant had a menu so expansive that there was no need to eat elsewhere for the duration of our four-night stay. And the lady on reception overheard my allergy woes and wrote down a Thai translation of my requests (including the severity of my allergy) in order to pass on to the staff in subsequent restaurants which proved to be an invaluable helping hand.
So far, so good. However, it soon became clear that my initial worries weren’t completely unjustified. Next up was a 17-hour bus journey from Bangkok to Koh Phangan where peanuts were served to passengers through the journey. Not a serious problem as I obviously didn’t take up the offer, although since that was the only snack available I did begin to wish there was more choice.
One stop was scheduled mid-way through the journey when we were visited a night market of stalls and food. I had already been warned against eating from these places as cross-contamination is a serious risk and the sellers often don’t understand how deadly the consequences of an allergy can be. Unfortunately, this left me with no options. Lesson learned? If faced with a long journey, pack some cereal bars or other lightweight snack because you never know what local cuisine you will be presented with.
Once we reached Koh Phangan I was understandably wary after my ravenous bus journey. We headed to a bungalow resort called Coco Gardens (100/7 M.1,T. Koh PhaNgan, Surat Thani, 84280) which had been recommended by a friend and it did not fail to amaze. The beautiful beachfront resort is run by two English guys and a small accommodating team of Thai staff who were made aware of the consequences of food allergies, leaving them able to cook any item on the menu without risk of contamination.
At last, a place where allergy sufferers can enjoy genuine authentic Thai cuisine without a care – a luxury so many other travellers take for granted. If for any reason you felt the need to eat outside of the Coco restaurant (which believe me, is doubtful) all restaurants in Haad Rin (home to the notorious Full Moon Party) are just a short taxi ride away and provide excellent English descriptions of all dishes. Look out especially for a small unnamed bar which plays TV show Friends 24-hours- a-day and serves the best pizzas on the island.
Finally it was time to hit Ko Phi Phi – the only island rumoured to rival the legendary nightlife of Koh Phangan while providing kayaking and snorkelling trips to the breathtaking backdrops of Leonardo DiCaprio’s hit film The Beach. As for the nightlife, most of the popular bars like Apache and Carlito’s line Ton Sai beach and offer loud music with little atmosphere. However, a little further up Carpe Diem offers beachside seats and outdoor candles which combine to create a peaceful ambience you won’t want to miss.
On the food front, my best allergy-free find had to be Matt's Joint in the centre of town. It may not offer much in the way of traditional Thai food but with an all-you-can-eat BBQ offering chicken, burgers, sausages, seafood, potatoes, pasta and salad for only 250 baht for guys and 220 baht for girls. What more could you ask for?
And if the over-indulgence leaves you feeling guilty, head for the hundreds and hundreds of stone steps leading up to Phi Phi viewpoint in time for sunset – when the sun hits the horizon over Phi Phi Don all the walking will be forgotten... until it’s time to head back down!