A Night to Remember in Bo.lan Bangkok
Bangkok has so much to offer in terms of vegan cuisine that it's no wonder it's been consistently named as one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world by several travel websites. It wasn't hard at all to find delicious, authentic Thai dishes, mainly because Thai cuisine in general is very vegan-friendly to begin with. With some dishes that are meat-centric, most establishments are more than willing to accommodate our needs and substitute the animal-derived ingredients out with some good 'ol tofu. With mindful planning, you don't have to worry about that, just because of the variety and the number of vegetarian/all-vegan restaurants all over the city.
One of the places that we made sure to visit is Bo.lan in Soi Sukhumvit 53. It was situated in the more affluent district of Bangkok, where high-end designer names can be seen practically on every corner. The restaurant, however, is tucked at the end of an alley, almost hidden from the hustle and bustle of the main street, which did not bode well for our taxi driver.
The restaurant was on the other side of Bangkok (the eastern side) from where we were staying, about 30-40 minutes. Contrary to what other travel websites tell you, in our experience, local taxi drivers hardly speak a word of English and don't really read maps. This is important to know because the minute we showed him Google Maps (to point to where the restaurant is), that's when we started getting worried. He stopped for a minute to ask someone for directions (they don't have GPS either, and we suspect their knowledge of directions is all based from memory) and for a second there, we thought we were back on track. I was following along with Google Maps as he was driving and I started to notice that we were veering off our path so I tried our best to let him know (with Google Translate, a sham, in my opinion) that we were not going the right way.
Long story short, due to a lot of confusion, a growing sense of frustration (to the point of getting into a fight with this driver, which, with the language barrier is actually pretty hard to do), and of course, hunger, we ended up leaving the taxi driver where he thought the restaurant was (he didn't even give us exact change, by the way, another common quality that we picked up) and having to ask for help at a nearby hotel. Thankfully, the concierge sensed our desperation and helped us call a taxi within seconds to the restaurant. Later on, we learned that taxi drivers tend to stay local within certain districts, presumably because that's the only area that they know (without having to ask for outside help) and don't usually drive anywhere more than 20-30 minutes beyond from where you originally found them, unless it's to the airport. You can imagine our surprise after dinner, when we learned that no taxi driver was willing to take us back to our hostel. Moral(s) of the story: make sure your driver knows where he's going before you get into his car, ask the restaurant ahead of time for directions that can easily be relayed to your taxi driver, carry exact change, and learn basic Thai. The more you know. (Spoiler alert: The restaurant was able to find us one taxi driver who did drive us back to our hostel that night to whom we are immensely grateful for to this day.)
Once we arrived at the restaurant, however, our moods instantly changed. It felt a lot like we were visiting a good friend of ours for dinner — if that friend happened to be famous, had excellent taste in decor, and is ridiculously wealthy.
I don't want to say too much about the "property" because I think you should experience it the same way we did, with very little to no expectations. However, I will leave you with this phrase: I've never thought ice cubes, cucumber slices and a urinal would something I would picture harmoniously all together. (If I haven't piqued your interest with that mental image, I don't know what will.)
Anyway, back to what you're here for: the food. What we loved most about the food in Bo.lan is that, like we said, it's authentically Thai, but with a contemporary twist. I know that phrase has been used to death and it could easily sound like a cop-out, but in this case, it seems genuinely fitting.
For all you vegans out there, Bo.lan has a separate "Prix Fixe" menu specifically catered to their "jae" or "jay" patrons (about as close to the word "vegan" in Thai as possible) called the Bo.lan Botanicals menu. It varies from season to season and it's worth asking the very hospitable front desk for their current menu to see what kind of meals you're getting. Although, to be honest, the meals we received we're all beautifully crafted and tasted nothing short of delicious. A word of caution, however, since we opted for the full Prix Fixe menu, this entire dinner service lasted close to 2 1/2 hours (maybe even 3) so be sure you're prepared. They also have a more condensed version, which cuts out about three plates, which, in retrospect, might have been more manageable.
At the very beginning of the meal, we were able to meet the chef in the back of the kitchen, who had this very young but seasoned attitude about her. We ended having what I like to believe as a bonding moment with the chef as we got to know her and how she, too, spent some time in New York. We didn't know what we were more excited about: the fact that we were meeting the chef, or the fact that SHE was running this joint, along with about 10 other male sous chefs running around her. After a couple minutes of talking to her, she coolly introduced our first meal, a rice dish with a sweet local fruit that I forgot the name of, pictured above in an elegant black stone dish. (top left)
I'm not going to go through each dish because a.) there's way too many b.) you're not honestly going to remember what I said and c.) that's no fun for either one of us.
What I will say is, if you want a different, more elevated take on authentic Thai cuisine, Bo.lan is one restaurant you absolutely have to try. The menu focuses a lot on seasonal ingredients and the chef manages to incorporate several local flavors on a variety of dishes. It's one of those rare instances where in a restaurant where the menu is not exclusively vegan, the vegan options were not afterthoughts. Not once did we feel like the dishes were merely throwaways, in fact, all the dishes were more than substantial and we were stuffed by the end of this meal, and our tongues on fire. (Thais looove their spices!)
As for dessert, we had about three. While all of them were blissful in their own right, by the end of the meal, it was, frankly, a little too much for us to eat. We did manage to snap a pic of each one for your own viewing pleasure.
Besides the crazy experience we had getting to the restaurant (and back to our hostel), Bo.lan is an experience you need to try if you're ever in Bangkok. While it is more on the expensive side, it's a good change from the more traditional dining experience that you'll most likely live on when you're visiting this lively and hectic city. And as far as the taxi drivers in Bangkok, don't let our experience deter you. You'll probably have a similar, if not crazier, experience than we did. And you know what? It's part of being a tourist in a foreign city. At least, we got a story out of it.
To make a reservation to Bo.lan restaurant, which we highly recommend before going, go to their website here.
Have you been to Bo.lan as well? Did you have a similar taxi experience? We want to hear in the comments below!