Star Bung – More Bung for your Baht.
The green signboard proudly pinned to a wall on Phra Athit Road in Bangkok caught my eye. The O.K Star Bung name and the long-armed man on the logo rang a loud bell. Bits and pieces of a newspaper article came flashing back to me as I read the menu hanging from the vendor’s cart.
My mouth uttered “coffee, please” but my head thought “are you THAT guy?”
The early morning sounds woke up from all directions; motorbikes and horns danced around loudly in my ears, people talked, music played and food sizzled. I watched the vendor as he perfected my coffee, swooshing it around from one container to another; back and forth, back and forth. He added the well-known sweet Carnation milk to the paper cup and put it on the counter. Taken aback and full of wonder I stirred the cup and walked across the street to Santichai Prakan Public Park.
I sipped my coffee with a view of the Chao Phraya River and watched the water taxis speeding up and down before Google confirmed my thought of “THAT guy”.
“THAT guy” is Mr. Damrong Maslae, also known as Bung. “THAT guy” is the man who appeared in news articles in 2013 because Starbucks decided to sue a coffee vendor in the streets of Bangkok for £6,000 for a logo that infringed on their intellectual property rights. “THAT guy” is a father of six. “THAT guy” has been serving coffee for 17 years.
I could feel my blood boiling as I became an upset sweaty mess while reading the articles. The most ridiculous part was that Starbucks said “the likeness of the two logos could make customers believe they were buying Starbucks coffee when in fact it was from Star bung”.
Somewhere between the boiling blood, the ridiculous Starbucks assumptions and my sweaty mess I realised that I never took my wallet out while buying the coffee. I realised that I got my coffee, took my coffee and walked away without paying.
I jumped up, walked as fast as my two legs could go and found Mr. Bung’s surly face behind his cart and a security guard with an even surlier face behind him. I apologised about 27 times, paid for my coffee, gave Mr. Bung a tip, got a smile, ordered another coffee, got another smile, asked about the Starbucks ordeal and got more smiles.
I took my iced coffee and sat down at one of the two chairs next to Mr. Bung’s cart just in case I forgot something again. I watched how the locals came up to him every now and then for a refreshing drink, how tourists stopped for something cool. I watched how he called the squirrels and how his face lit up when the squirrels fetched their coconut snacks. I watched as he proudly pointed to his old logo while showing one of his many new logos. I watched how he perfected his coffee from one container to another; back and forth, back and forth.
I watched “THAT guy” day after day as he became my caffeine fix.
“THAT guy” is the one who will give you more Bung for your Baht.
“THAT guy” is the one selling cheaper and better coffee than Starbucks. He is the one who forgives and forgets, the one who silenced the rip-offs and scams with sincerity.
“THAT guy” and his story became the highlight of my time in Bangkok, because this is why I travel. I travel not to tick things off a list, not to see a “must see” or do a “must do”, but to hear and experience something and someone different. This is why I travel, because “travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard.
Do you want to visit O.K. Star Bung?
Of course you do. Starbucks might have the aircon, but O.K. Star Bung has the caffeine. Go to Phra Athit Road to the fort, Pom Phra Sumen, and walk in the direction of the Grand Palace away from the fort, cross the road at the first pedestrian crossing after the fort so that you’re opposite the river. O.K. Star Bung is less than a minute’s walk from the crossing.