Thailand; a country bursting with exotic flavors, spectacular scenery, and jam packed with adventure. From forests and cities, to beaches and resorts, Thailand has everything to offer for the excited, adventurous tourist. But, how does one keep kosher in a country as remote and removed as Thailand? Well, beyond the unique traveling experience, Thailand is one of the premier locations for kosher travel worldwide. If there’s one thing that’s not lacking in Thailand, it’s kosher food.
Kosher life in Thailand is unlike any other. The cities boast a large variety of restaurants, grocery stores, and catering services. However, it wasn’t always like that. “It’s not even comparable to when we first moved here,” said Mushka Kaltmann, daughter of Thailand’s head Chabad shliach, Rabbi Yosef Kantor. “Our home used to be the bakery, restaurant, catering company, and Chabad House. We’ve definitely established a kosher presence here in the past twenty-two years.” Today, kosher food is in high supply. There are restaurants and grocery stores in several of the major cities, including Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Phuket. Kaltmann, who recently got married in Thailand, had over six hundred guests at her wedding, which was catered by The Kosher Place, the local restaurant in Bangkok. Talk about a turnaround!
On average, the Shabbos tables across Thailand service over one thousand Israeli backpackers, tourists, and locals. “Many of these people would not be part of a Shabbos service otherwise,” one local related. “It’s incredible to see Israelis, who spent their whole lives enveloped in Judaism, finding themselves spiritually in Thailand. I guess anything is possible!” A shochet is brought in from Israel once a month to take care of the high demand for meat and poultry. Shluchim from several neighboring countries also receive their food supply from Thailand’s kosher sources.
Like many of the other events that take place in Thailand, Pesach is a sight to behold. Reservations and preparations for the seder begin months in advance. People travel to Thailand for Pesach from all over the world. Some of the sedarim mainly serve Israeli backpackers and tourists, while others are set up for local families. “For a couple of years,” Mushka related, “Chabad of Ko Samui hosted Yom Tov on the beach because none of the venues were big enough.” Matzah and wine are shipped from Israel by the tons. Preparations for the seder take place at The Kosher Place. These days, many of the Chabad Houses are better equipped, with halls that can seat up to seven hundred people at a time.
Jewish tourists travel through Thailand year round. One Israeli couple that has been traveling to Thailand for business for over ten years, related their unique and enjoyable experiences in the beautiful country. “The only thing I bring with me from Israel is a specific brand of coffee for my husband,” she boasts. “We go every six months or so, for a month at a time.” For the couple, a professor, and her husband who works in the jewelry trade, Thailand has everything to offer. While she travels around the country, lecturing and teaching, her husband visits various jewelry stores and trade shows, which come through the country several times a year. “I always say that the month we spend in Thailand rejuvenates us for the rest of the year. It is one of the easiest places to keep kosher.” With just a rice cooker and a steamer, they turn their temporary living space into a five star restaurant. With the wide availability of exotic fruits and vegetables, one will never go hungry. “You can say shehechiyanu almost every day! I’ve never walked through the marketplace without finding a fruit that I had never seen before.”
While some tourists make their home in one city during their visit, many others are constantly on the go. “We never sleep in the same city for more than a day at a time,” one tourist shared. “There are kosher resources available in almost every city, but just in case, we always pack extra food with us before we leave Bangkok.” Many of the restaurants will also deliver or ship food to different locations around the country, where food may be harder to come by. “I’ve traveled through most of Asia, and Thailand is undoubtedly the easiest place in Asia to keep kosher,” another tourist shared. With a statement like that, it leaves one wondering: Why not pick Thailand as your next travel destination?