Late in the morning as the tide begins to fall, two women race to get a job done. One holds a net and the other a trash bag, and their task is to collect undegradable waste that has been washed under the stilts of the property that stands on the edge of the Chao Phraya river.
The double roof under the outdoor living space allows ventilation and prevents direct sunlight from warming the guest rooms.
That property is the Bangkok Tree House, which is honouring its promise to collect 1kg of waste for every booking made at the hotel. Located in Bang Krachao, the city's largest "lung", the hotel boasts an all-green environmental and community concept.
"We are trying to live with the environment and our surroundings," said owner Jirayu Tulayanond. He created the term CGO, short for "chief greening officer", for himself instead of CEO, reflecting the importance of the hotel's commitment to the environment and the community.
Although the property's modern look _ multi-level, vertical box-shaped units _ contrasts with the riverside wooden houses and orchards in the area, Jirayu explained every detail had been carefully designed with green in mind, except the use of the glass walls in some of the guest rooms, offering river views.
The main structures of the buildings are made of steel because it can be recycled. Parts of the property, including pontoons in front of the hotel, are made of bamboo, and the floor from wood. The lobby is decorated with bamboo hanging from the ceiling, serving multiple purposes.
Originally planned as decorative items to act as lamps and generate peaceful sounds when moved by the breeze, the bamboo has surprisingly become a home for bats after dark.
Bangkok Tree House chief greening officer Jirayu Tulayanond.
Using a natural component like bamboo can be cheaper but could pose a burden because of the level of care needed. Jirayu disagreed that it was a burden, although from time to time during the interview he had to wipe off debris that had fallen onto the table.
"You only need to learn a different way to take care of it," said Jirayu.
Unlike concrete or modern materials that require maintenance only once or twice a year, the pontoons made from bamboo tied together require regular checking to ensure the knots are tight and the bamboo is unbroken.
The initial construction costs were 25% higher than using conventional materials, but Jirayu said the investment had now paid off because the design minimised the use of water and electricity. The top of each unit is a double roof, comprising an actual rooftop and a separate ceiling for the sleeping area. This not only allows airflow between the two levels but also prevents sunlight from reaching the room directly. The flat rooftop of each room can be an outdoor living space, and a home to wind turbines and four solar panels. Alternative sources generate up to 10% of the energy used at the property.
Thanks to the careful design, most areas in the property can be turned into open-air spaces, including the lobby and dining area. Inside a guest room, air conditioners are installed only in the sleeping area. The bathrooms comprise an outdoor shower area and indoor walk-in closet and toilet.
"You don't have air-conditioners in your bathroom at home, do you?" asked Jirayu. Small details have not been overlooked. Free water in glass bottles is always available in the common fridge, reducing plastic bottle waste. Bed linen, towels and other fabrics are off-white in colour to limit the reliance on bleach. Jirayu's ultimate goal is zero waste.
He has sought out ways to reduce waste and become self- or community-reliant. They are growing their own vegetables, producing an all-purpose cleaning solution and buying locally grown fruit.
The menu is being adjusted to cater to locally available ingredients like home-grown basil leaves and locally grown coconut, mango and guava, instead of using imported cheese or vegetables.
The cleaning solution used in the property, for washing clothes, cleaning dishes and floors, is made from pineapple peel bought from the seller next door. Unlike commercially available chemical products, Jirayu said the home-made solution aided degradation in the septic tank.
Apart from this, Jirayu is experimenting with using earthworms to help break down waste, and getting rid of the excess food waste. At the moment, part of the food waste like rice is used to feed fish. Even though the hotel is being as green as it can, one problem of living by the river is the amount of trash that washes by from the city. Because littering is still widely practised everywhere in this country, all kinds of waste inevitably find their way to the hotel, from plastic to foam and from food waste to pieces of wood.
While working out a way to eliminate the foam and plastic, Jirayu found a creative way to use the reclaimed wood from the river. Already he has used it to decorate walls, and more will be turned into artwork.
Waste collection only fixes a mess after it is made. For a more sustainable solution, Jirayu came up with the concept of blending in with the environment. Every detail of the hotel has been designed to cater to the environment and surroundings.
Many hotels have worked hard to adjust or completely change the surroundings to please their guests, but Bangkok Tree House makes guests live in the original surroundings.
"Otherwise the local identity will be left out," said Jirayu.
The locality of Bang Krachao is represented in many aspects of the hotel. The food served at the restaurant features ingredients found in the local market and fruits grown in the orchards in the neighbourhood. About 80% of the staff live within a 1km radius, allowing them to either walk or cycle to work.
It would have been easier if the hotel hired better trained hospitality staff, but Jirayu explained that over-trained staff "often lost their identity" so he preferred to employ genuine people from the area. Even better, hiring local staff made it easier for the hotel to blend in with the community and make the local people proud.
Reclaimed wood is used as wall decorations.
Bamboo hanging from the lobby ceiling serves as decorative items, lamps and an after-dark bat residence.
The mirror reflects the greenness of the area.
About the author
- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai