Gluten Free Travel – South East Asia


By clicking onto this blog you’ve let me know that you’re thinking about taking the trip of a lifetime; though it may be an extremely daunting one. Being gluten free and trying to anticipate foods from other cultures was one of the most anxiety provoking things of my life so I read countless blogs prior to my great adventure and throughout. Food is undoubtedly one of the most important things whilst travelling. Of course when your ‘Hangry’, no-one can enjoy your company and we all know the consequences of ‘being glutened’. When I couldn’t find food that fit into my dietary requirements, I struggled to enjoy the bare minimum of things. Hence, I want to create this blog post, full of helpful information, in the hopes that you can spread your wings with confidence and dodge the dreaded ‘GLUTEN’.

Firstly, the most important trick I had up my sleeve was printed and eVersions of Dietary Cards. After copious amounts of website searches, I found that having multiple different translation cards benefited me greatly. Cards that I found, ranged from free to paid and from short versions to long versions, some of which the locals didn’t understand. Personally, I mostly used the short versions. Clear, concise and to the point, which I found was appreciated; especially after being shown an extremely long winded version that they sometimes couldn’t understand. In addition to this, research for each of the different countries i.e Cambodia (Khmer), Vietnam, Thailand and Laos can be stressful when results aren’t forthcoming.

In my experience, paid cards are extremely effective and easier to use due to the fact that they are usually far more researched; but with some research before leaving, you can be just as clear and effective with the information you find for free.

In the case of Gluten free travel in Thailand, I’d like to direct you to an article written by This article has masses of helpful information. Please take a look – I made sure to bookmark it on my mobile.

CeliacTravel provides GF travel cards in 63 Different Languages.

GlutenFreeEasy – Free in 13 different languages. This particular card is fairly long winded. I would recommend this card when dining in more ‘up market’ establishments. Using this card in day to day eateries when back packing appeared to just confuse the staff.

Dietary Card is a paid service, including many other dietary requirement cards.

You can also find more links on Erin’s Gluten-Free Globetrotter Follow this link to download an app on iTunes containing various GF cards.

Legal Nomads also provide cards in many different languages. Again, this is a paid service but hear what they have to say.

I refuse to tell you that you’ll be completely safe, even when using these cards, as in my experience most of the time I had to be pretty forceful in getting staff to fully read them, instead of scanning it and saying ‘yes OK’.

Secondly, memorising key words in the language is essential in establishing communication with the staff member. This is always welcomed, even if you’re saying it completely wrong. Pronunciation is obviously key but if you’re struggling at least you should have a translation card to back yourself up. Furthermore, make sure you have google translate downloaded on your phone. You and the other person can both speak into your phone and google will automatically translate it for you. Also, through this app you can download an offline translator for the country you are visiting, meaning that 3G is not a necessity for communication.

Useful Thai Phrases

  • I’m allergic to wheat flour – ผมแพ้แป้งสาลี (Puum Paae Paeng-saa-lii)
  • I’m allergic to oyster sauce – ผมแพ้น้ำมันหอย (Puum Paae Naam Man Hoy)
  • I’m allergic to soy sauce – ผมแพ้ซีอิ๊วขาว (Puum Paae see-ew)
  • Cannot eat – กิน ไม่ได้ (Kin Mai Dai)
  • Please don’t add soy sauce – ไม่ ใส่ ซีอิ้ว (Mai sai see-ew)
  • Wheat flour – แป้งสาลี (Paeng-saa-lii)
  • Rice flour – แป้งข้าวจ้าว (Paeng-khao-jao)
  • Bread – ขนมปัง (Kha-nom-pang)
  • Maggi Commonly used gluten filled stock– แม็กกี้ (Mag-gee) 
  • Soy sauce – ซีอิ้ว (See-ew)
  • Oyster sauce – น้ำมันหอย (Naam Man Hoy)
  • Mushroom sauce – ซอสเห็ด (Si-ew hed hohm)

In Particular, I found it helpful to print screen both the translation for Wheat and Soy sauce to show shop keepers. This helped me identify fast foods that I could eat. You can tailor this to your own sensitivities.

I want to tell you that personally, I found it extremely difficult to obtain food completely free of gluten in Thailand. Mostly because of their use of soy sauce in ABSOLUTELY everything and because their Knorr Stock brand, annoyingly enough, contains wheat (UK version does not). This means most curries are off the books, due to the soy sauce that is already within the paste, and soups, unless they are created with home made stock. It wasn’t until our fourth island in Thailand after eating curry pretty much everyday that i found out this information. No wonder I was so sad and in pain. To add insult to injury even sticking to westernised foods is pretty much a no go. This is because all dishes they have chosen to represent western cuisine are also full of gluten.

Vietnam on the other hand… well, you’re in for a treat. Vietnam was the third country on our list; we had travelled Thailand and Cambodia before this. You’ll be happy to know that pretty much every thing they commonly eat is made with rice rather than wheat #score! Also, their soy sauce situation isn’t as intense as in Thailand. In Fact, the Vietnamese are very ‘give or take’ when it comes to the ‘devils sauce’.

Safe foods include their traditional Pho Ga or Pho Bo – Pho is the soup base, Ga = Chicken, Bo = Beef. Made with the most beautiful broth you’ve ever tasted. “Com” is Rice. “Nem” is Rice paper Spring Rolls. Other dishes such as Hot Pots and individual grills were also incredible. One dish that I ate for breakfast one day is one that I will forever taste on my taste buds this was Bo Ne…

A sizzling iron pan filled with two eggs and chunky beef (Bo) cooked in a gorgeous tomato and onion sauce.

Whilst in Vietnam, I used print screens of one PDF and it was all that I needed. It was provided by Nitzan R, Rehovot (Israel) – September 2006 on Follow the hyper link to view.

Finally, speak to staff at your guest house or hotel. They can either help to create your own translation card or they can take a look over an already downloaded one for peace of mind. I found that in each country people were always willing to help.

Thanks for reading. Both me and Tom hope this helps we completely understand how daunting it is. But we promise, you’ll find your feet. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to pop it on the contact form! We’re here to help if we can!   

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