Bangkok’s Death Cafe: Come for coffee and a coffin

CNN  — 

Could you pass the coffin test?

Take off your shoes, climb into a Buddhist coffin and relax on your back on soft padding as a wooden lid slides over you.

Now stay inside for three very dark minutes.

“When you are actually in the coffin, it feels like you are dead!” Tammy, 15, tells CNN Travel as she emerges from the long rectangular box.

“It’s comfortable, but I couldn’t sleep in there or relax, because I feel that I’m dead. Death is that feeling when you think that you will lose everything that you have today, and that feeling when you won’t be alive, and not be able to see your mom and dad tomorrow.

“I’m still freaking out,” Tammy nervously laughs. “I felt like I just don’t want to be in there anymore.”

Experience “death awareness”

Bangkok’s new Kid Mai (“Think New”) Death Cafe is a Buddhist “exhibition,” luring you with cookies and icy refreshments in exchange for a “death awareness” experience that could possibly change your life.

Many customers freak out and refuse to get in.

Others timidly agree.

Three minutes later, they appear shaken, stirred, terrified, relieved or blissful.

This trendy, informal, shaded outdoor courtyard cafe also features a small fish pond, a Buddha statue and modern, mostly black, decor.

If you didn’t know its grim purpose, you might think the life-size skeleton sprawled on a sofa is a leftover Halloween gag.

Not all customers have the courage to lie in a closed coffin.

But no one laughs when they see the white coffin on a raised platform next to the cafe’s tables.

Adorned on the outside with traditional gold-colored angelic spirits, the white coffin is open, awaiting its next human – for free.

Assistant professor Veeranut Rojanaprapa created this cafe for his current PhD thesis in philosophy and religion at Saint John’s University in Bangkok.

Veeranut says the topic of his thesis is “how to decrease greed, how to decrease the corruption index, and how to increase the transparency [accountability] index in Thailand” by utilizing Buddhism in a country with a 90% Buddhist population.

The cafe was created as part of Veeranut Rojanaprapa's PhD thesis on philosophy and religion.

“Our Lord Buddha taught often about death awareness and he said when one thinks and is aware of his death, he will decrease the ‘me’ inside his mind and he will decrease greed and decrease anger,” Veeranut cheerfully tells CNN Travel.

“If you think that tomorrow is your death day, and you will die tomorrow, everybody will not use their valuable time to revenge his enemy, or use his brain to think about how to be corrupt, or how to get more money.

“He will use those six or seven hours of his life to do good, to go back to his family, to hug with his daughter or son, and to do the thing he wished to do in the past and still does.”

Veeranut asks customers to write in the cafe’s notebook about their death awareness experience, and design their own funeral – which the cafe is also willing to host – by selecting a coffin from a photo album.

Gesturing toward the skeleton made of resin, he says you might regret delaying your dreams and best intentions, because one day “you will turn into being a skeleton like him.”

Angie, a 20-year-old Thammasat University student, suddenly plunks herself down on the sofa and poses, so her friend can photograph her next to the skeleton.

But she is not going inside the coffin.

Angie, a customer of the cafe, says she doesn't want to go in the coffin.

“No, because my mom does not like it. She will be unhappy if I go in the box,” she tells CNN Travel.

Even with permission, Angie says she wouldn’t climb in.

“I am afraid. I don’t want to go into the box because I don’t want to die now.”

Death-themed beverages

The Kid Mai Death Awareness Cafe’s grand opening was on March 1, says manager Trynh Phoraksa.

“We also host activities about Buddhism and religion, taught by a Buddhist monk,” she says, pointing to large rooms behind the cafe.

These events, which attract up to 200 people, are supported by Thailand’s Buddhist Baan Aree Foundation.

“This room is for elderly activities, like teaching Chinese, Japanese, English and [computer] tablet and drawing, for free,” says Trynh.

“The most popular is the Chinese class. A Chinese person who can speak Thai is the teacher,”

The cafe’s modestly priced menu includes death-themed coffee drinks, such as the “One Year Left” latte, “One Month Left” mocha, and the “Last Day” espresso.

The cafe’s most popular items, however, are the four tall, sweet, icy, dessert drinks named “Born,” “Elder,” “Painful,” and “Death.”

A 10% discount is offered to customers who agree to lie in the coffin.

Customers who endure the coffin test are given a 10% discount.

CNN Travel samples “Death” and discovers a cold, delicious, strong chocolate treat with whipped cream.

“We also make death cookies – black cookies – to give to the guests. We have many types. The cookie itself is charcoal, and we put a topping of white chocolate and a chocolate scoop,” says Trynh.

Getting there

From the BTS Aree station, use exit 1, then walk toward Victory monument about 40 meters. The cafe is on your right.

Advisory: May not be suitable for children 12 or younger.

The Kid Mai Death Awareness Cafe, 1191 Phahonyothin Road , Bangkok; Open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; +66 065 095 6959