Show Me a Sign

A dirt-cheap place for vegan noodles in Thailand gets the vegan signage it deserves.

While hanging out in Chiang Mai, Thailand last month I suddenly found myself hungry. I had only been in town a couple days and didn’t yet have a good handle on the local vegan scene, so I checked Google and it turned out there was a vegan place called Ming Kwan within a ten minute walk. I strolled on over to check it out, and could tell right away that the thing to get was the khao soi—a curried noodle soup. They throw some yellow Chinese-style noodles into a bowl, add a spicy opaque reddish broth with some nice-sized chunks of tofu that have a meaty grain to them, and then they toss in a handful of deep-fried noodles. Once they hand you the bowl, there’s a condiments table where you can add some hot red pepper paste, chopped fresh cilantro, pickled vegetables, and squirt on some lime juice. It’s either a gigantic snack or a slightly light meal. Here’s what it looks like:

Curried Vegan Noodles

Curried noodle soup (khao soi) at Ming Kwan vegan restaurant, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The whole thing sets you back 35 baht, which is worth $1.02 USD as I publish this. Sometimes when you travel you find a major score, and this place definitely qualified. A couple days later, I invited my friend Tune out to join me for noodles. Nothing beats treating someone to lunch when the cost is barely a dollar. Tune liked the place as much as I did. She’s a lifelong resident of Chiang Mai but had never known about the restaurant. Now she goes there whenever she’s in the neighborhood.

While Tune and I were eating, she asked me how I found the restaurant. I told her Google brought me there, but that I’d actually walked right past the place the day before and hadn’t had any idea it was a vegan restaurant. That’s because it basically had no signage. Check this out:

Original Ming Kwan sign

That yellow strip below the orange awning was once a nylon sign with red printing naming the restaurant. The original bright red lettering had long ago faded into oblivion thanks to the relentless Thailand sun. I guess when you sell big bowls of noodles and tofu for only a dollar, there’s not a lot of money left over to pour into marketing.

Sitting there with Tune enjoying our lunch I remarked on how much business the restaurant must be losing thanks to its lack of signage. And then I said: “You know what I want to do? I’m going to buy this restaurant a sign that prominently has the word vegan printed on it.”

Tune said she’d help, and next thing I knew she and the restaurant owner were standing in front of the restaurant talking in Thai about my offer to buy them a sign, and figuring out the logistics. Like every other project I’ve ever been involved with, it was going to be tougher than it first appeared. The sign was going to need three different languages on it. It had to say “Ming Kwan” in Thai lettering. It had to say “Ming Kwan Vegan Restaurant” in English. And it needed the Chinese character for vegan.

Tune helped me find a Thai display font to use for the sign and she emailed me the text in Thai, and we then found the Chinese character as well through a Google image search. Next I went onto Fiverr and within an hour I found a guy in the Dominican Republic named Yesua who, for just $11, was willing to create a 3.2 meter by 30 centimeter banner design that would feature the necessary Thai, English, and Chinese text plus a nice piece of noodle clip art.

After some back and forth, four days and eleven dollars later we had our design. I ran the design past Tune and the restaurant owner to get their OK, and then approved the design, tipping Yesua $5. Here’s what he created:

ming-design

Next, Tune made some phone calls and found a local company willing to print our banner onto vinyl, and punch in five grommets for hanging, for just $5. So we emailed the design to the printing company and drove out later that day to pick it up. This was my last full day in Thailand so we headed back to the restaurant shortly before it closed to hang up the sign. Here I am with an employee of the restaurant, standing on a chair and hanging it with twisted wires. A few times a year I’m reminded that I should be grateful that I don’t support myself doing physical labor, and this was one of those moments.

hanging-sign

And here is the sign hanging in its new home:

finished-sign

So that’s all there was to it. I may not have the time or ability to run a vegan restaurant but for a tiny investment of time and money I was able to get a great little vegan spot in Thailand the signage it needed.

This was a small, fun project that only took about two hours of my time to help coordinate, and only cost me $21 total. I couldn’t have done any of this without Tune, since I don’t have the knowledge of Thai to communicate with the restaurant owner or to figure out how the sign’s text should be handled. But that’s what friends are for, and Tune was as excited to see this restaurant get decent signage as I was. We celebrated our accomplishment with a bowl of curried noodles.

Ming Kwan restaurant is in the old city section of Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you want to learn about all the great vegan options the city has to offer, visit VeggieInChiangMai.com.