|Written by Panida Suvapiromchote|
|Friday, 03 August 2007|
| You don't have to go to fine restaurants to get serenaded while having your meal, as in Chiang Rai City, Sakchai Chankrajang, the owner of Kaffe Boran Chiang Rai (Traditional Thai Coffee) will be happy to play his guitar and sing for his customers having breakfast on the side walk near the clock tower in Chiang Rai City. This unique street cafe features an old yellow pick-up truck converted into a coffee and breakfast cooking station. Sakchai or “Lung Aed”, as the local folks call him, impressed me with the two outstanding skull rings on his fingers and the colourful bandana around his head. His dress attire was song-for-life singer style, in army sneakers and a denim jacket.|
"Sawasdee Krub, Sabai Dee Mai Krub (Good morning, How are you?)”, Sakchai greets his customers with his radiant smile. His little mobile cafe offers a wide range of coffees, ranging from 12 baht per cup for instant and traditional Thai coffee to 35 baht per serving for freshly brewed coffee. He revealed that he serves Chiang Rai coffee from Doi Tung, Doi Chang and Doi Wawee, roasted and blended Arabica with Robusta beans.
His popular breakfasts include the Khai Krata (fried eggs with ham, northern pork sausage slices, and minced pork toppings served with toasts), the American breakfast served with canned orange juice and fresh coffee at 69 baht, while Chinese doughnuts cost one baht a pair. Iced coffee is priced at 15 baht a glass for the instant, and traditional Thai versions and the freshly brewed iced coffee costs 35 baht. Hot foods which are available during the cool season are rice porridge at 20 and 25 baht, corn soup at 20 baht,Tao Huay (soft bean curd in sweet ginger tea topped with crispy Chinese doughnuts) at 10 baht.
While stopping his guitar playing from time to time in order to serve his customers, Sakchai would play on his CD boom box a selection of 1960s songs like The Bee Gees' Holiday and Massachusetts and Nat King Cole. Decorations on walls of the roadside near the coffee tables were old photos of Chiang Rai, and one of them showed Chiang Saen Town covered with snow in 1958, which to me seemed impossible as it has never snowed in Northern Thailand. He said he rotated the photos every three months, and in the cooler season, he exhibits Elvis Presley's photos. Sakchai deejays songs according to the customers age groups, and if they are in their 40s to 50s, he plays the all-time classic Thai favourite CDs of Sundarabhorn Band, Suraphol Sombatcharoen, and M.R.Thanadsri Svasti. Sakchai usually serenades his customers with English folk songs, Thai songs-for-life and country songs, and sometimes he sings according to his customers’ requests.
Sakchai, a native of Phitsanuloke, related that "I have not been to Bangkok for 28 years because I can not tolerate traffic jams”. Sakchai decided to work in Chiang Rai as a teacher and later for social development NGOs. Sakchai gradually switched from the office staff stereotype to a new look of an easier lifestyle where he has worn braided long hair for the last 7 years. Most of his customers are tourists, and the rest are local residents. One of his regular local clients, whom he refers to with gratitude, was a low-profile and generous millionaire who rode a bicycle to get around town. He helped Sakchai out of a personal crisis by lending him money to buy a used pick up truck. Sakchai needed 5,000 baht but the rich client gave him 8,000 baht by reasoning that Sakchai had had a past tough life. Sakchai paid that debt to the rich man within one month. On a second occasion, the same millionaire gave him a loan of 20,000 baht to buy a guitar and amplifier set which he has used to the present day to earn a living.
Happy and enjoying himself in his modest cafe occupation for over the last 9 years, Sakchai added that “a lot of people refer to my mobile coffee shop as "Kaffe Rod Lueang"(The Yellow Coffee Truck)”. He did not have to work extra hard for his money as he has trained his two assistants to be attentive and hospitable. The famous Thai singer, Aed Carabao, whose singing style Sakchai admired, was among the many clients who had tried and liked his soft boiled eggs. He smiled as he recalled about a kind tourist who dropped him 50 baht then quickly got on his bus. But not every client was so kind to him such as one who arrived in a large Mercedes Benz and bargained his coffee from the posted 10 baht a glass to 8 baht. Sakchai ended up by also giving that person free another two pairs of Chinese doughnuts. There was also another man who bargained his soya milk from one bag to two bags for 5 baht.
Sakchai was offered 200,000 baht from a man in Mae Chan District to sell his Kaffe business, but he turned it down, being already happy and satisfied to do his job in the “sufficient economy lifestyle”.