In parts of Southeast Asia, “happy” pizza and smoothies have long been the domain of cafes in low-rent backpacker towns. But last month, following the latest update to the country’s evolving drug laws, Thailand got its first legal weed restaurant, where cannabis-laced cookies were on a not-at-all-secret menu.
Situated riverside in Prachinburi province, two hours from Bangkok, is Ban Lao Reung, or “House of Storytelling,” a cafe in a refurbished Thai-Chinese-style home. As we kicked our shoes off and walked in, a group of a dozen or so suspiciously chill senior citizens strolled out, looking deeply relaxed as they scattered across the lawn.
The restaurant offers a relaxing setting to match the effects of the food. Photo: Laurel Tuohy
As it continues to expand its medical cannabis industry, Thailand declassified all parts of the cannabis plant — except the high-THC seeds and flowers — from the list of Class 5 controlled substances. This means that now, residents and visitors can possess non-flower or non-seed parts of the plant for medicinal uses, but it’s still not legal for anyone but authorized facilities to grow or distribute them. Previously, the stems, leaves, and roots were considered in the same way as the buds by authorities.
A staff member prepares drinks with fresh cannabis. Photo: Laurel Tuohy
In keeping with the new regulations, Ban Lao Reung cooks with only the leaves of the plants, which contain much lower levels of THC. This provides a different experience to cannabis cooking and restaurants in other parts of the world, where the intention and result is often deep impairment. But if you can’t get totally high, why cook with weed? According to manager Amara Akamanon, what they want to do is educate the public by introducing weed in a moderate way. They hope this will help remove some of the stigma that still surrounds the plant.
“In the past, older generations thought it was bad because they saw people that did nothing all day after they smoked. These days, if you’re moderate about it, if you know more about it, and if society knows more about it, it can be good. It can help with pain and with dealing with emotions,” diner Aop Boonomol told VICE.
The restaurant is owned by the nearby Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, a leading center of traditional medicine, vocal advocate for reform in domestic cannabis laws, and home to the country’s first official weed therapy clinic. It’s for this reason that the restaurant can operate, since it’s under the auspice of a medical facility and considered an arm of their community and charity work. It’s also the reason the prices are so low, with no dishes costing over 200 Thai baht ($7) and most costing under 100 Thai baht ($3). Though the law has declassified parts of the cannabis plant, it has not enabled regular citizens to privately grow or profit off it yet, though applications will be accepted for cannabis business licenses starting Jan. 29.
In flavorful dishes like red curry shrimp, the taste of the weed is undetectable. Photo: Laurel Tuohy
Akamanon said that a typical meal served at the restaurant contains less than 1 percent THC and will provide a happy and relaxed feeling rather than the full-on high usually experienced from other edibles.
The restaurant has an extensive menu filled with well-prepared Thai classics including krapao, nam prik kapi, red and green curries, mango sticky rice, and more. All dishes — except one page of weed-forward ones — can be ordered with or without the weed. The typical dish contains five to seven leaves which, without the odiferous buds, has a flavor that all but disappears into the food. If you’ve never tasted, seen, or smelled fresh cannabis leaves, they bear little smell or taste resemblance to the buds. They taste fresh and grassy, not unlike a weak parsley.
The weed menu contains some not particularly inventive dishes like Happiness Krapao, a spicy basil stir fry; Giggle Bread, toast topped with ground pork and cannabis leaves; and Weed Tempura, fried cannabis leaves served with a side of spicy mango salad and described on the menu as “food that will give you fun.”
Weed Tempura allows diners to see exactly how much they are ingesting. Photo: Laurel Tuohy
Good Mood Pizza is their most popular cannabis-laced offering. It arrived at our table as a large slice of bread topped with veggies, hot dogs, crab sticks, sauce, and cheese. The flavor of the “pizza” was nice, although it would have been improved by being an actual pizza, an idea that seemed reinforced by the hulking pizza oven inexplicably sitting a few feet from our table. In the “pizza,” Akamanon explained, the weed takes the form of crumbled dried cannabis leaves mixed into the sauce with oregano.
Cannabis is paired with hotdogs and crab sticks at Ban Lao Reung. Photo: Laurel Tuohy
Among the highlights was the delicious and refreshing Lala Thai Tea, a highly Instagrammable soda drink that arrived on a tray with a glass of ice topped with a cannabis leaf. At its side were three shots and a bottle of soda water, allowing guests to choose their own sweetness, fruitiness, and weed-ness.
Though the drink is always served, the sugar syrup flavor and fruit used may change depending on what’s available. On the day we visited, it contained sour passionfruit, tea leaves, cinnamon sugar syrup, and liquified weed leaves.
Mixing the drink elements yourself lets guests control the taste. Photo: Laurel Tuohy
So, does the food provide a buzz? It does, albeit a light one. After two hours at the restaurant eating, talking, and taking photos, I found myself squinting slightly and feeling loose, sleepy, and jovial.
Akamanon said that the hospital undertook this project with the hope that guests will leave with a new perspective on weed, lessening the long-held idea in Thailand that it is “bad” and contributes to “laziness.”
She personally wants to share her knowledge of cannabis, how to cook with it, and the idea that it is neither inherently good or bad, but a tool that might benefit many people that are suffering from physical or emotional ailments.
“Use it correctly and it can be good for people, good for health,” she said.
Ban Lao Reung is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Anyone can eat in the restaurant, but it requires guests to show an ID proving that they are over 25 to order cannabis cuisine.