Traveling to Thailand with Food Allergies

Traveling to Thailand with food allergies would have been outside my comfort zone when I was younger. My food allergies, especially the ones to peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish, made this trip not just an adventure but a challenge. Over the years, my travel knowledge and confidence has increased significantly. I am a frequent traveler, used to being in countries where I don’t speak the language, and often solo. Deciding I felt comfortable on this trip was something that happened gradually over the course of years. Each trip I’ve taken, experience I’ve had, and fear I’ve overcome has brought me to taking greater calculated travel risks. I know traveling to Thailand with my food allergies is a risk, yet here I was tackling it one meal at a time.

As someone who doesn’t feel nervous eating out in general, I wasn’t surprised that my nerves didn’t get the better of me while dining out in Thailand.

I was in Bangkok at an international congress for work. The rest of the trip was an unplanned exploration of Thailand and later Vietnam.

I was solo for the majority of my travels in Bangkok and then I made a spontaneous decision to travel with a colleague for the remainder of my trip. I know many friends who I grew up with that would never go out to dinner alone, never mind travel solo. I’ve done it for years though and don’t think twice about it. Now that most of my friends are married with babies or young children, it is challenging to find a compatible travel buddy for most of my trips.

Transportation

I often fly United and I am trying to be a more consistent mile-earning traveler, so I booked with them and ANA for that purpose.

I had a six-hour layover in Chicago, so I visited with a friend for a few hours. Side note: It is easy to get from O’Hare to the city. Buy a Ventra ticket and use the CTA. I met my friend for lunch at Lula Café. They were wonderful with my allergies and we had a great brunch/lunch before a long day of more travel ahead. It’s always important to find a safe warm meal before many hours on a plane, especially to a new country I haven’t navigated yet with food allergies.

As I recently wrote, I have a method to flying that works for me as best it can until we have consistent policies in place that meet the best needs of food-allergic flyers.

There are two airports in Bangkok. More than likely if you are coming from outside Asia, you will be flying into Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The other airport, Don Mueang International Airport, is basically a budget airline airport. Later in my trip, I flew AirAsia to Phuket using this airport.

Side Note: I spent a lot of time in Airport lounges throughout my travels. Having Priority Pass helps travel go much more smoothly.

Accommodations

In Bangkok, I stayed at the same hotel for my entire stay, however for the rest of my travel there was a lot of hotel hopping.

Bangkok:

Marriott Marquis Queen Park– For the conference part of my trip, I stayed at a Marriott hotel. I knew that it would be important with my food allergies to stay at an American hotel because they would speak English. This proved to be true and I had a wonderful experience at this hotel.

Phuket:

I moved around a few times during this trip for a number of reasons. Hotels in general are pretty cheap in this area of the world, so if a hotel was not well maintained or didn’t meet my needs, it was easy enough to switch hotels. The only time I ran into difficulties was trying to stay with Marriott hotels because they were booked up quickly (and my travel was largely unplanned). Since I was there during their New Year, many people were on holidays and it was not an easy time for last minute accommodations. Because of this, I started at Marriott and ended up at a few other random ones along the journey.

  • Marriott Phuket– I was able to safely eat breakfast here without any issues. I kept it simple but they were receptive to my food allergies and had a protocol in place.

The rest of the hotels listed below were fine for sleeping but I did not eat at them.

  • Patong Resort
  • Baipho Apartments
  • Phuket Airport Hotel
  • Pongsakorn Boutique Resort

Dining

I ate at the Marriott Marquis Queen Park Hotel for almost every meal in Bangkok. They were incredible with my food allergies and had a very specific process in place.The chefs came out during each meal and went over safe options with me. It was a wonderful experience and I was blown away by how well my allergies were understood and handled there.

I also packed a lot of food which made it very easy to snack when I wanted to and choose the meals I felt safe eating. Read this post for more details on what I packed.

Since I was staying in hotels because of the conference, I did not have a kitchen and therefore wouldn’t be cooking. I did go check out a few different grocery stores though so that I could report back about what was available.

Grocery Stores:

  • Emporium’s Gourmet Market– When I first walked in I was confused as to where there could be a grocery store since it is a massive shopping mall. However, keep going up to one of the top floors and you will find it there.
  • Villa Market– This grocery store was right down the street from the hotel I stayed at in Bangkok and had a huge selection of American, Australian, and British brands. I was very impressed with the choices.

To see more of my shopping excursion, go here.

Phuket

Besides dining at the hotel, I only ate out once for dinner. I chose Italian to keep it easy and was able to successfully eat a simple dish of pasta.

  • Trattoria E Pizzeria Italia Capri Da Rico– The owner spoke English and understood my allergies enough that I felt okay dining there.

To See & Do

Since I travel often for work, I try to take time off on either end to explore. I arrived at 4:30 a.m. to Bangkok and knew I had an entire day to stay awake ahead of me. I have rules for myself when I travel. One of them is to get straight onto the new time zone. I don’t take naps but I allow myself to go to sleep on the earlier side of the evening. I also try to dine at the normal cultural times wherever I am.

After finishing up some work, I decided one afternoon to go check out the temples along the river. There are a few essential tips all travelers should know.

Tips:

  • Wear a shirt that has sleeves and pants or a long skirt. Even though I had on pants and brought a shawl for my shoulders, they still wouldn’t let me into The Grand Palace without a shirt the covered my shoulders. In humid, 100 degree heat, I was walking around in a tank top. I ended up being forced to buy a $10 t-shirt. Although the little embroidered elephants on my new cheap shirt are cute, I could have passed on buying it.
  • The Grand Palace closes on the early side around 3 p.m. Make sure to go there first so you make sure to see it!

I took the Skytrain to the Chao Phraya River where I saw Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace then walked over to Wat Pho. The skytrain is an elevated train above the city and is air conditioned and efficient. It is also fairly easy to follow the stops and get to most tourist destinations by.

I took the Chao Phraya Express Boat which is the main ferry service along the river. Usually these boats are orange and they are the cheapest option. There are tourist specific boats that are more expensive and stop at the major tourist ports. I found this was easy enough to take. Beware that this boat doesn’t stop at all the tourist ports and make sure to find out where to pick up the next boat. I found English to be challenging by the river and on the ferry system, so know this ahead and make sure your phone is charged for maps.

Since I was there for work, my exploring time was much more limited than traveling on my own. Bangkok has an extraordinary amount to explore and I am definitely anxious to get back there to see more!

Next Time in Bangkok:

  • Wat Arun
  • Jim Thompson House
  • Chatuchak Weekend Market
  • Floating Market (I heard from travel friends I met that it is essential to check the timing before making this trek

 

New Year’s in Thailand

Thailand’s traditional new year is April 13-15 and it is quite a celebration. Songkran celebrations include a massive water fight. Everyone has water guns! Streams of water are spraying in all directions. See this video to better understand this fun chaos! If you get easily claustrophobic be aware that it is hard to avoid people and everyone is drenched in water. It is unavoidable! I am not a huge fan of crowds however I would not have missed this experience and lasted about 20 minutes in the chaos before getting back on the Skytrain. It was a memorable moment from my trip and I’m glad I embraced the holiday spirit!

Island Hopping

I flew into Phuket, spent a day there at the hotel private beach. It was a gorgeous spot. The water was clear, cool, and refreshing. Since the heat was incessant, a break from the humidity replenished my energy.

The next day, my colleague chartered a boat to take us around the islands. It was an incredible day on the water! If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting some of the islands. I packed my safe food for this excursion which worked out well.

Massages

I had numerous massages while in Thailand. I felt totally spoiled by them! Something that was challenging with allergies was communicating that I needed to check ingredients. I brought my phone each time and used google translate to help explain. Everyone was very nice (although sometimes a bit confused).

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Traveling to Southeast Asia with food allergies is absolutely possible. It took some planning but I was able to eat successfully and I felt safe the entire trip. There are so many places I want to still visit in Asia. Have you been? Share your experiences in the comments about where I should go next!

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