Welcome to Bangkok’s Notorious Illegal Microbrewery

I’m here with a man named Wichit
Who brews his cold brews in the thickest
Away from the city, where he thinks he’s so witty, brewing beers so unique it’s a pity—
In a land far away, where cops don’t have a say, he’s a master in disguise through the day.
But at night stars be bright, when he flips his lab light, our dear man Wichit comes out to play.

Meeting Wichit “Chit” Saiklao was by far one of my most memorable experiences in Thailand. Which is odd, because it was a story we had to cover in a time crunch: we had just a few hours to find the founder of the Chitbeer brewery, on a little island in the Chao Phraya River, about an hour’s drive north of busy downtown Bangkok.

Why is he so far away? Partly because Chit is a mircobrewer—an illegal act in Thailand—who takes pride in his craft from his remote island homespun brewery. It was our job to find him and do justice to his story.

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Wichit “Chit” Saiklao, the man behind Chitbeer. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

Getting to his island, called Ko Kret, was hard enough. One could not simply cross over from Bangkok to Ko Kret, no matter how conveniently close it was. After a long ride north of the city, far beyond the metro line and along highways that bleed into the sprawling suburbs, we hopped on a quick ferry that frequently crosses from a lone particular dock beyond a temple complex. We first went to the wrong temple complex about a 10-minute walk south, and this detour (since we were pressed for time) had us all on edge.

Once we arrived on this little island of Ko Kret, I remember being shocked by how adorable it was, like a small village. It had little paved streets running through tightly knit communities and close-together homes. It reminded me of Italy, of all places, with those narrow little canals that only those tiny romantic boats can fit through.

Only this was Thailand, and this island was flooded, and there was not quite as much romantic about it.

The island was flooded, and while we knew the brewery was a relatively short jaunt south along the edge of the island, the roads were totally flooded with ankle-deep water. The only other roads detoured out into the centre of the island, and we didn’t have a map. So after walking a bit, turning around, going off in a different direction and fumbling back to the dock, we found a few locals waiting and smoking cigarettes beside their scooters. They wore orange vests, and we assumed they were moto-taxi drivers.

We asked them for directions to Chitbeer. But while Witchit is well known to locals, his bar is only open on weekends, so the cabbies kept shaking their heads, telling us no, we couldn’t go, and waving us off. Our producer had to slowly explain that he had called Wichit, we had an appointment, and convinced the cabbies to show us the way.

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The flooded alleys of Ko Kret, where the only way to go is by moto-taxi. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

They pointed back down the flooded path—but since walking through stagnant brown water was not an option, they agreed to give us a ride on their scooters. The four of us hopped on the back of four moto-taxis. I got on first, but was nervous, because their patience seemed thin and this woman was tugging on my shirt sleeve motioning for me to get on her bike. I wanted to be sure my team would follow. They did.

The feeling I had zooming through the winding road of this little island will stay with me forever. The sun was shining through the buildings and locals were hanging out their laundry to dry. I felt I had to duck strategically a few times not to clothesline myself, but in reality we weren’t going terribly fast, and there were enough corners (and floodwaters) to keep us at a stable pace. The scooters sliced through the water beneath us. Suddenly, I realized, this was pretty romantic; I remember thinking to myself, “I can never forget this.”

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We samples two Chitbeer brews: the lager and amber ale. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

Once we arrived at Chit’s, we hopped over his flooded steps and into his modest home brewery. I heard a lot about this man and how charismatic he was, but nothing prepared me for his undying passion for the industry and entrepreneurship. His brewery was small—very small—and it was also right on the edge of the water, with boats zooming past and a dock just next door.

It amazed me how much product he was able to produce from such a tiny studio. Chit—who was preparing for a TED Talk he was going to give in a few days—told me that along with brewing his own craft beers, he also had an underground brewing academy. He would teach young students the skills to brewing his beer, but most important, the skill of entrepreneurship. His ultimate goal, he said, was to have all these young passionate minds working together and expanding the brewery through alias names. He didn’t want credit—he wanted to empower people to start their own breweries across the world.

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Jess enjoying one of Wichit’s amber ales. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

His ideal world involved creating legitimate bars, legitimate jobs and promoting a local product. It was fascinating, and I dug every word.

His prized beers on tap right now were an amber lager and a very light and floral IPA. Both were spectacular and totally different from what I ever used to back home. In the short time we had to spend with Chit, he showed us an enormous amount of hospitality, giving us a full tour (which you’ll have to wait for our web series to see) and a tasting flight of his beers. On the ferry ride back to the mainland, the team was all smiles as the sun set along the river, knowing we’d just experienced something truly once-in-a-lifetime.

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