BANGKOK — Just a road off one the Sathorn financial district is a park with a health-conscious cafeteria, a library of wellness books, and regular free workshops.
Little-known to expats or people outside of the immediate area, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation’s headquarters, located within the Suan Phlu Park (officially known as the HM King’s 80th Anniversary Park) allows visitors to eat healthy, educate themselves on health tips at a free library, and learn about staying safe in traffic, among other activities.
Thai Health Promotion Foundation is a government agency established in 2001. Its annual revenue of about 4.5 billion baht from a 2 percent surcharge of excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol – using them to fund the ubiquitous campaigns, the taglines of which are familiar to most Thais.
“Giving Alcohol = Curse,” for example, was a ThaiHealth campaign to discourage giving alcohol as New Year’s gifts. Another well-known ThaiHealth campaign was the 2014 “Poor, Stressed, Drink Alcohol” ad that skyrocketed actor Saicheer Wongwirot to fame and sparked a meme in a land as far as Japan.
The activities are in Thai, so bring a friend along as an interpreter (if you need one), and follow this guide and see if you can spend zero baht.
The ThaiHealth building is located in the northeast corner of Suan Phlu Park – then, head straight for the information counter to check what activities are on for the day, or check their Facebook page in advance. Don’t forget to grab a brochure that outlines what activities there are for the month.
Across from the information booth is a free health check-up center: that is, a health official explains the results of a body composition scale. Non-Thais can also use this service.
The Sook (Happiness) Canteen, opens from Monday to Saturday from 8am to 6pm, though kitchens close at 3pm. The venue sells Thai food ranging from 40 baht to 60 baht, with less sodium added than in most other eateries, a lunch monitor said.
The canteen is decorated with various healthy eating tips, such as the fact that six bite-sized papaya chunks make up one serving of fruit, or adults should eat three to five eggs per week. Thais should eat a 2:1:1 ratio of vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein, respectively.
Food models of some menu items, along with nutritional info, is also on display. Guay tiew noodles are 235 calories, while boiled vegetables with chili paste are 50 calories, but have a lot of sodium, for example, and one needs to walk 140 minutes to burn off a 550-calorie dish of krapao.
One table even has a sticker asking the diner to evaluate if they are full or not to prevent overeating.
The lunch monitor recommended riceberry rice with pan-fried Nile tilapia and vegetables (70 baht, 370 calories) and the tom jeud egg tofu and pork soup (50 baht, 140 calories) when asked for a 2:1:1 meal. For the low price for relatively clean food, the fish was especially juicy.
One can view the well-staffed, reasonably clean kitchen from behind the counter.
Chicken broth, vegetables for chili dip, and chili dip are offered for free. A smoothie stall outside the canteen serves coffee and smoothies, with its menu stipulating how much syrup is added to each.
Between the cafeteria and the health check-up is the Sook Store, which sells locally-made wellness items, such as a knitted hand exerciser and herbal eye mask. Open 9am to 5:30am on weekdays and 10am to 4pm on weekends.
The second floor houses two exhibition rooms: one permanent exhibition room about ThaiHealth’s initiatives (last updated in 2015, so quite outdated), and the other is a rotating exhibition open from 9am to 5pm from Tuesday to Saturday.
Currently on display starting Wednesday is the “Traffic Detectives” exhibition, a children’s exhibition which seeks to instill traffic rules in children. The central display is a traffic accident where they have to find what caused the accident.
Helpful tour guides are on-duty to explain key traffic calamity stats, like the fact that around 15 people die on Thai roads daily, though other statistics compiled by the government put the number higher at an average of 50-55 deaths per day.
The exhibition, which use data are from the Department of Disease Control’s 2018 research, also shows that only 7 percent of children wear helmets on motorcycles, and that most accidents happen within 6 minutes of setting out from home, and in smaller roads and sois.
“A lot of parents don’t give their children helmets because they outgrow them quickly, so we want to make the kids aware of this and demand to wear helmets,” a guide said. “A lot of older people don’t follow traffic laws because they think that they’ve survived this long without following them, so they don’t want to change.”
She continued, “Therefore, we decided to aim for changing the minds of children instead.”
The exhibition will be at ThaiHealth until Feb. 15 before going to traffic accident-prone provinces in Isaan and the North.
The Resource Center is a free library open from 8am to 6pm on weekdays and 9am to 4pm on Saturdays. Books on wellness topics, both in Thai and English, are available to peruse free of charge. English books, however, cannot be borrowed, and only Thai citizens can register for a membership. Borrowing books requires a 300 baht deposit.
Those doing research on specific aspects of Thai health will be pleased at the selection, and there are even some health-related board games made by ThaiHealth for the kids.
Unfortunately, the rooftop garden isn’t a community garden, and visitors have been asked not to pick vegetables for free – but fertilizer-making workshops are occasionally held here. Check ThaiHealth’s Facebook page or their monthly brochure.
Suan Phlu Park is a motorcycle ride away from BTS Chong Nonsi or MRT Lumphini, and is open every day. The ThaiHealth building is open from 8am to 6pm Mondays to Saturdays.
This article is unsponsored and we paid for the meal ourselves.