Danish bakeries. You can find them all over the world. So why write about this guy, Kai, who together with his Thai wife over the past eight years has established a Danish Bakery in Nongkhai, the Northeastern bordertown between Thailand and Laos?
Well, read on.
I first met Kai years ago on Kata Beach in Phuket. At the time he, among others, helped the since then deceased Mads Fly run his restaurant “Den danske kro”. I remember that it puzzled me, why this guy, Kai, was so moody all the time. But as the years went by, I eventually forgot all about him.
The overnight train from Bangkok arrived Nongkhai ten minutes ago. I am already sitting in a tuk-tuk on my way to meet a baker called Kai. At this point I have no idea that the Kai I am going to meet later this morning is the in fact the very same Kai I met years ago in Phuket. And then again not the same man at all.
An early customer is already seated in front of the restaurant, which it turns out to be, when I arrive. Sniffing the homely smell of freshly baked bread, I put down my luggage in a corner of the restaurant and ask the early bird – in Danish – if it’s OK if I join him. He nods and I find out, that he is British. Well, he got my point.
“Is this your first time here,” he asks, throwing a glance towards my luggage.
“Yes. And my first visit to Nongkhai as well,” I confirm.
“Then you have indeed found the right place!” he says. “We have other farang places here but this is definitely the most successful!”
Two cups of coffee later, the Englishman has left and I am still sitting here, watching the stream of guest coming and going while waiting for the baker to show up. Some come by motorcycle, giving the impression that they have lived here for years. Others come by foot or step down from tuk-tuks. The place is filling up.
I have just enjoyed a piece of Danish pastry when he arrives, says hello and looks around for a chair to pull over. That’s when I sense that I have seen this man before.
“Yes,” he confirms. “It was down in Phuket. It seems like ages ago! You were there with your wife. Weren’t you on bicycle from Indonesia on your way to Bangkok?”
“Yes! And you were the guy who helped Mads Fly when he was ill,” I exclaim, suddenly remembering it all again.
My plan was to stay for a in Nongkhai week or two, interrupted only by a few days in Laos, so the interview can wait. We talk about the old days and common acquaintances from that time and finally he gives me directions to where I can find some nice, inexpensive accommodation within walking distance from the bakery.
When I come back two hours later, Kai is busy.
“My ‘old lady’ has been away for a week and I’m afraid it will be another few days before she is back from her vacation with her family. You know, when she is here she interferes in everything, but when she is away you realize how much you need her,” he says.
Before she left, she arranged for a friend to stand in as manager of the six young girls working in the bakery. She is a relative to his wife and also married to a Dane, but a very different kind of woman, wearing high heels and heavy gold necklaces.
“It must take strong muscles in the neck to carry that much gold around,” I joke and notice that these days Kai can actually smile and share a joke. Here, in his own bakery on Meechai Road close to the banks of the mighty Mekong River, Kai is clearly a much happier man than the one I met in the mid 90’s in Phuket.
At that time, Kai lived alone with his small son who never saw his mother, Kai’s wife at the time. When he was close to the bottom of his life, he met his current wife Meow. She helped him pull himself out of his depressing situation.
“My life simply couldn’t get any worse. I just had to get out and away from Phuket. So all three of us packed up and moved almost as far away, as we could get,” Kai recalls.
When they arrived Nongkhai they absolutely knew nobody. In one of the moving boxes, Kai found a Danish cooking book. Down the road there was a little shop for rent.
“At the time there were not half the foreigners in Nongkhai than what you see today. But I thought there was no harm done giving it a try. So I read the recipes and baked my first ever dark rye bread. That was the start of Danish Bakery.”
The first customers were pleased and came back. Sometimes they brought along people whom they had never seen before. So the small shop soon got too small and the bakery moved to its current location.
“When we started up here, the shop was only open in the front. But the landlord saw that we were decent people, so when I asked for permission to tear down the wall on the side of the building it took him ten seconds to say “Go ahead!”. He is simply the best landlord you can imagine,” says Kai.
The landlord even prevented a competing restaurant from opening up next door. Some gold diggers thought they could open up a restaurant next door and steal half of Kai’s customers. What they didn’t know was that the owner of that building was also Kai’s landlord.
“He told me about their plan and that he had rejected their offer. “Why?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “Right now, one of my tenants is running a profitable business which is also one of the best restaurants in town. If I allow a competitor to open up next door, I am stuck with two tenants struggling to survive. Why should I shoot myself in the foot?”
So thanks to his landlord’s down-to-earth business logic and his own hard work, Kai and his wife are clearly thriving in Nongkhai. The family lives in typical Thai style upstairs in the same building as the bakery. Downstairs, the bakery has expanded out on the footpath in front of the building as the kitchen actually takes up more space than the restaurant area.
Twice a day, a buffet is set up. In the morning with everything you can dream of in terms of American, European – and of course Danish – breakfast. Late in the afternoon, the buffet offers Danish, international and Thai food.
If you cannot find what you are looking for here, Kai also has a comprehensive menu to choose from. And if you are a backpacker looking for someone to explain to help you get a visa for Laos, your Danish Baker can also help you with that!
Translation: Gregers Moller
Kai also has a website! Click on