Bangkok
4.51

One of the pioneers in the cannabis scene in Bangkok, really cool shop with super active owners in the cannabis scene. Great selection of all kind of smoking accessories and great selection of flowers

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Official HighThailand Review
Highland Café: A Cornerstone of Modern Thai Cannabis History
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4.5
Product selection
4.5
Quality Price Ratio
4.0
Staff
4.5
Location
4.5
Vibe
5.0

Location and Shop

There are few names as synonymous with the Thai cannabis experience as Highland. Highland, and its earliest incarnation Ganjachon, were amongst the earliest advocates for access to unbiased information and data relating to safe and responsible use of cannabis. Ten years after its foundation, while Highland has evolved into a brand and a business, it remains a fundamental part of Thai cannabis culture.

Today, Highland Café, the brick-and-mortar manifestation of Highland, stands in a two story shop house in Lad Prao 30 meters from the Phahon Yothin MRT station. The shop is a combination of dispensary, beer hall, restaurant and center of culture and discussion. Unique and engaging cannabis art hangs and is plastered on the walls throughout the shop’s two floors—contributing to a relaxed and comfortable but also  stimulating and thought provoking vibe. 

The ground floor is the commercial area. A range of 19 local strains are available for sale behind the cannabis bar, including higher quality traditional strains such as “Squirrel Tail” and other strains native to or developed in Thailand. At the very back of the bar a dozen craft beers are available on tap.  The usual bongs, pipes, papers, and other paraphernalia are available on shelves on the side. Branded t-shirts and other goods are also available for purchase.

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The second floor and attached balcony are laid out like an airy and artsy café. Patrons can order from the menu and sample traditional recipes using various parts of the ganja plant and drink their beer.  Smoking is not, however, permitted inside the premises. The café is conducive to relaxing and engaging with friends. There is no rush to get patrons to move on, instead there is a feeling of acceptance and belonging. A trip to Highland Café is an experience—this is a place to stay, study, chat—not grab and go.     

Highland Foundation and Advocacy

I sat down with Khun Arun “Max” Avery, one of the owners of Highland to discuss the history of Highland, its contribution to the cannabis dialogue in Thailand and the future of the industry. 

The team behind Highland initially was exposed to high quality cannabis and its medicinal potential outside of Thailand. “About ten years ago our founder [Khun Rattapon Sanrak] experienced and saw how cannabis was used for medicinal purposes in the US, how the development in different states helped create a culture and helped to instill an understanding that the plant was positive and helpful for use for medical patients. I saw the same thing happen in Canada.” 

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“When we came back to Thailand, we independently started looking at the existing regulations pertaining to cannabis use in Thailand and found that it was extremely heavily regulated with no access, no common sense. To this end our founder started ‘Ganjachon’ [which later became Highland] specifically to provide information to the public regarding cannabis. He felt that the lack of exposure and access to cannabis for medical purposes was a huge injustice. After I read some of the articles coming from Ganjachon I joined the team as well.”

 “Our team sees ourselves as group of people who want and wanted change. We were working together to advocate the responsible use of cannabis and to introduce common sense policy initiatives and suggestions. Our aim was to speak truth, through hard data and facts, social news, and research papers about responsible cannabis use. We were trying to reach out and provide the information and stories that the government was not or could not provide.”

“Each story, each message, that we delivered focused on the interest of the public, such as explanations about how cannabis alleviates the pain and effects of cancer and cancer treatment. We started getting a lot of interest from the public.  Questions such as ‘how to access and how to use cannabis’ were common. We of course could not provide cannabis, but we could provide advice about how to use cannabis in oils or teas. How to clean the leaves. The differences in strains. Safety guidelines.”

“We received a lot of positive feedback from the public. The Ministry of Health began to pay attention and listen to us and review our data to consider the effectiveness of cannabis based on hard facts and data. At the same time, the Bhumjaithai party began to pay attention to our data, facts and recommended policy regarding cannabis. They eventually adopted a common sense cannabis policy as their party platform. 

The Bhumjaithai party went on to make significant gains in the 2019 election, which placed its leader, Khun Anutin Charnvirakul, in the position of Minister of Health and Deputy Prime Minister. Khun Anutin enacted a policy removing bans on limited parts of the cannabis plant, and eventually supported the use of the entire plant for medicinal and health purposes. 

Highland Café

Highland Café was opened concurrently with the abovementioned election. “Highland Café predates legalization by over two years and when we first opened we had no cannabis at all.  The intent was that Highland Café would be a public space for likeminded people to meet and share ideas.” 

“Slowly, as different parts of the plant became legal we introduced those legal parts to the shop. For example, we introduced cannabis tea and a menu of traditional Thai dishes which use cannabis leaves as an ingredient. If you can handle spicey food I recommend that you try the Tom Seap. Tom Seap relies on the cannabis leaf for a country basil taste, the cannabis leaves are used to elevate the flavor of the soup not to get the user high.” [Note to the reader, I did indeed try the Tom Seap and it burnt every part of my body it touched—it was nonetheless delicious].

“Our café became a center which was building culture, not just cannabis culture but a culture of openness. We had stoners who would come by to see what was going on, but we mostly had people who cared about the culture itself.  Who wanted a space to speak freely.  Our space promotes people to think outside the box. We are a safe space for people to be free, to be open and laugh and nurture curiosity.  The only thing we do not tolerate is violence or harassment of our customers or staff.”

“Cannabis does not promote violent behavior or attract violent behavior. Highland Café has been here for three years, we have never had a violent incident. But in contrast, it took less than three weeks before fights broke out in a bar which recently opened in this neighborhood.  This shows the nature of cannabis versus alcohol.”

Legalization

“We always dreamed of weed’s legalization—and we had an understanding based on promulgated decisions that there would be no restrictions on the sale of cannabis on June 9th.  But everyone was still waiting to see what would actually happen.”

“We arranged that all the growers who we knew would deliver all available product to us a midnight between June 8th and June 9th. On June 9th we had all the cannabis delivered and our staff worked organizing, sorting and packaging only finishing at 4am the next morning. We opened our shop at 9.09 in the morning, invited all the press, stayed open and sold all stock out by 10PM the same day.”

Supporting Thai Growers and Supporting Thai Cannabis History

“We support local Thai growers. We have an everchanging menu of different strains available from small batch growers throughout Thailand. It is a must for us. There is something special about Thailand and the connection with the old local strains.  They are incorporated into the global modern cannabis culture. Many of the famous strains with sativa genetics are traced back to Thailand.”

“The War on Drugs was savage and destroyed so much. Everyone knows about the deaths and the destruction of livelihoods. But it also destroyed the history and knowledge which is native to Thailand.”

“Today we are barely able to trace most of the original strains and find the original genetics. We must look outside of Thailand for surviving genetics which may have found their way into a seed bank far away.”

“We also lost aspects of our own culture. Growing and curing techniques were mostly lost. Menus, manuscripts, ingredients, recipes of medicines mostly gone. Traditional practitioners were so scared of the war on drugs that they destroyed their own notes and recipes. These are mostly gone. A part of our own culture was literally burned.  Our farmers and practitioners used to have their own methods for curing cannabis and preventing mold and pests during the growth and curing periods. These are all gone.  We know of references to methods such as the “Three Sun Two Fog process” which was a three day, two night process of drying cannabis after wrapping then in banana leaves and honey. But we do not have the exact methods, these are gone.”

“We must remember that the war on drugs pushed many good people doing common sense things underground, making people who were just growing or using cannabis criminals and illegitimate. At the same time, it reinforced and strengthened dark elements of society—organized criminal activity.”

“Legalization legitimized, once more, a traditional part of Thai culture. Growers and users of cannabis are no longer criminals, but part of the status quo and can operate in a public and legal space.” 

“The upcoming November harvest, the first legally grown harvest, really represents a proud movement for the farmers. They are taking this forward in the right direction.”

Present

However, even with legalization “the stigma still exists. We have seen parts of the public—keyboard warriors—respond in social media with allegations of cannabis related violence, blaming cannabis for ‘driving people crazy’.  Completely ignoring—intentionally ignoring—the data and facts surrounding cannabis. They do not absorb the actual information available—until they themselves fall sick.”

Thailand is missing a crucial generation which can effectively remember legitimate cannabis practice. “The generation which was alive prior to the War on Drugs when the culture was vibrant and alive, were too young to appreciate the culture. Those who were alive and taking part in the culture and practice are not alive. That generation which was too young to appreciate cannabis practice are now old and set in their ways—they did not actually have a chance to engage in this important part of Thai culture and are generally not helping it.”

“But some things are changing and developing in a positive way. We see younger people coming into the shop with their parents—we initially assumed that the young generation was influencing or suggesting to their parents that they look at cannabis. But it is the older folks who are curious, who want to know how they can use cannabis for health purposes and who are looking for advice. We are not doctors, but we can give the most basic advice, explain how to use the flower, and give these people direction.”

Future

“If we have no setbacks from the laws and regulations, if we are allowed to practice, then we should be able to see improvement in both local strains and knowledge. We can focus on recovering old practices and medicinal cannabis use. Part of this will entail supporting local cannabis and local farmers.”

Highland continues to support “developing cannabis education focusing on common sense, basic decency, and the concept that people should not be harming themselves. We must spread safe practices and knowledge.” 

“Everything is about respect and taking care of everyone. This includes people who are not interested in cannabis.  We need to l ook after those who do not want to try cannabis. It is ok. It is their choice. No one should ever be pressured to try something they are not comfortable with. Do not let people be scared—use or non-use must be a personal choice without pressure.  People need to feel comfortable and have enough data and education to understand cannabis. Ultimately free choice is the key,  we must respect each other.”

Conclusion

Every morning I wake up grateful that I live in a country with the common sense to legalize cannabis. Every time I grind my flower, light a joint or heat up my dry-vape, I marvel at how far we have come and at the great potential in our collective hands. We are living an opportunity not seen anywhere else in Asia today. We are living an opportunity where even in the rest of the world, where cannabis is legalized or decriminalized, it is not done with as much self control, self reliance, self regulation and shared responsibility across the market and across cannabis society as in Thailand.

We have not come to this point by accident, and we have not come to this point without the hard work of others. Personalities like Soranut “Beer” Masayavanich (previously covered in our Sukhumweed review) and Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka have made it their life’s work to bring cannabis to the people and have paved our path forward. But we cannot discuss the history of cannabis in Thailand without addressing another giant of recent Thai cannabis history: Highland, its brick and mortar manifestation: Highland Café, and its partners: Chaiwat Banjai, Arun “Max” Avery, and Rattapon Sanrak. All of these people and institutions have given so much of themselves so that we can have these common sense rights and practices –that are so rare to find elsewhere.

We highly recommend visiting Highland Café—it is a great experience with quality weed and a super cool ambiance. But it is also such an important part of this history we are all sharing and experiencing. 

Opening Hours
Monday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Tuesday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Wednesday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Thursday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Friday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Saturday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Sunday
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
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