Travelling with Allergies in Thailand

Food Floating Market Thailand

Travelling internationally can be daunting for those with allergies.

Factors such as language barriers, foreign environments, and exotic foods create difficulties when you’re trying to avoid allergic reactions.

It’s no secret that Thailand is one of the top international playgrounds for Aussie travellers, so we thought we would offer some advice for allergy suffers looking to book a getaway in Thailand.

Every year, many Aussies experience allergic reactions while holidaying in Thailand. However, there are a number of ways you can greatly reduce the chance of a reaction happening to you. To help you out, we have created this helpful guide to travelling with allergies in Thailand.

While these tips should go a long way to helping you avoid allergic reactions ruining your holiday, it’s always a smart idea to purchase comprehensive travel insurance should you require overseas medical treatment while in Thailand.


Food Allergies, Thailand

Food Allergies

Some of the most common allergies are related to the foods we consume. Let us look at some of the most common food allergies and how you can avoid them while in Thailand.


Peanut Allergies

The Thai people love to use peanut oil in many of their recipes, which can be a nightmare if you need to avoid ingesting peanuts.

Many Thai dishes, especially salads, use peanuts as a garnish, or they may be used for making special sauces.

For your reference, some of the most common dishes you will want to avoid are pad Thai, a stir fried rice noodle dish, as well as Massaman Curry, which contains peanuts in the curry sauce and the well-known satay marinade/sauce.

Peanuts may also be found in papaya salads, som tam, tapioca dumplings, and rice flour crepes.

While it may be easier to have these meals prepared without peanuts in restaurants, you should avoid ordering these items unless there is a clear understanding between you and the waiter or chef that you have a severe peanut allergy.

It’s best to avoid trying to explain this to street vendors, who often don’t adhere to as strict of standards as finer restaurants do. You’re also more likely to encounter a language barrier with street vendors as opposed to restaurants, making it more difficult to convey your allergies.


Gluten Allergies

People often associate gluten allergies with not being able to eat bread only, but having a gluten allergy can substantially limit the types of foods you can enjoy.

This can be difficult to explain to restaurants who may not know the extent to which gluten can be found in many food items. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.

Many of these ingredients are used in chips, cereals, biscuits, confectionery, ice cream, sauces, pastas, and of course breads. While you should be able to enjoy many of the rice dishes available in Thailand, you must be cautious of sauces such as soy which can contain wheat.

Many meat dishes in Thailand also use soy as a marinade and soy is also found in many Thai soups, curries, and noodle dishes. Once again, it is better to stick to restaurants as opposed to street food if you are a celiac or are gluten intolerant. Restaurants may even offer gluten-free soy sauce, so you can enjoy majority of the dishes.

You can also find several varieties of gluten-free soy sauce in local Thai supermarkets, which can be handy to carry with you to add some flavour to dishes.

If you are severely allergic to gluten, make sure the chefs wash their utensils or woks before preparing your meal, so as to avoid cross-contamination.


Dairy Allergies and Lactose Intolerance

While those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance must avoid milk and dairy products made from animals, they can usually enjoy milk alternatives such as almond milk or soy milk.

Another option is coconut milk, and a lot of Thai cuisine thankfully uses coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. However, some dishes, which may seem safe, will contain traces of cow’s milk as well such as some coconut ice creams, sweet coconut bread dip, and Thai-style coffee with milk.


Shellfish Allergies

Shellfish, especially prawns (shrimp), often find their way into many Thai dishes.

These include pad Thai and tom yum soup. You may also want to stay clear of ordering curry, as shrimp paste is often an ingredient found in curry paste.

If your allergy to shellfish is severe, be sure to once again watch out for cross-contamination when it comes to chefs cooking in the same pans or woks that prawns were previously cooked in.


Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand

Environmental Allergies

Those susceptible to hay fever could at times suffer from allergies depending on what is in bloom.

Thailand has a variety of exotic plant life you may not be used to, therefore packing hay fever medicine such as Zyrtec or Claritin may help to alleviate symptoms.

Those sensitive to air pollution may also experience difficulty breathing at times in certain areas of Thailand due to high levels of pollution.

If you find you are having difficulty coping with the outside air, try spending more time indoors to see if symptoms ease or pick up a dustproof surgical-style mask which can usually be found in local Thai pharmacies.


Thai Allergy Translation Card

Translation Cards

Often, travellers with food allergies also find it helpful to create a translation card that states in the Thai language what food allergies they have.

These cards may also have pictures that show a wheat or peanut symbol with a red “x” through it to further get the point across. Keep this card handy for when you choose to eat at restaurants, as you can simply hand it to the chef or waiter and confirm they understand.


Tour Guides, Thailand

Inform your tour guide or fellow travellers of your allergies

When travelling with others, it is important to not only tell them what allergies you have, but also what symptoms they should look out for and what medical attention is required if they notice you experiencing an allergic reaction.

Let them know if you are carrying medication which can help alleviate symptoms or possibly save your life such as EpiPens you may have with you. 

Places: Thailand