“Bing-bong” the ubiquitous announcement of arrival that rings aloud with an unapologetic shrill tone. Shortly followed by a crisp, calm blast of faux-alpine air, peppered with the lingering scent of 1000 cheese and ham toasties.

Sweet salvation. And a welcome respite from the midday heat. An oasis of tranquillity can be found amongst these dinky packets, bottles and jars. Four walls of capitalist delight, where locals and foreigners alike form lines to pay for sugar-water and potato particles shaped like teddy bears.

None the less, it is quite strangely therapeutic to stroll calmly amongst the freezer boxes, dodging small children, rifling through packets of dried salted plums, whitening face masks and amphetamine-laced energy drinks. The modern-day bazaar, indeed. Except we’ve traded goats intestines for fruit roll-ups, and moonshine for rice wine.

As far as shopping experiences go, I consider Thai 7/11 to be in a world of its own. Nestled neatly amongst the convenience cosmos with your general smatter of chain stores, but somehow forever luring me back with the promise of delights untold, and tepid rotating meat sticks. Yum!

Thailand is now home to the second largest collection of this seminal brand worldwide – only behind Japan. The archetypal American convenience store has long been forgotten here, and instead has been transformed into everyones favourite snack hole/meeting place/place to stand in AC: a living, breathing, ding-donging behemoth. But, in a good way.

There’s a joke I like to tell about how if I had to get a “real job” ever, it would be working as a buyer for Thai 7-11. So enthralled I am by the mystique of this gaudy green brand, that I feel like I would make it my life’s work. To explain further – there is a lot more to this store than meets the eye. Although each store is almost identical to the general customer, there are small idiosyncrasies between the products stocked in a particular location that someone, somewhere has tailored to that particular store. “Bing bong,” indeed.

To explain further, what drew my attention to this in the first place, was when I came across a set of shuttlecocks sat proudly amongst the toilet paper in a Chiang Mai 7/11. Why? Why would anyone in Thailand need shuttlecocks, I wondered. Then proceeded a short period of my life in which I was haunted, in a respect, by badminton. It followed me, like a shadow and left me wondering how I had been so blind. I even ended up somehow living in an apartment building with a badminton club onsite. TLDR; apparently Thai people love a bit of badminton.

Among the easier-to-spot Thai 7/11 quirks are items places amongst stores within a touristic area. Small souvenirs, single-use servings, tourist sim cards. To the point where now if I go into an unfamiliar 7/11 and don’t see something I have never seen before and will likely never see again, I’m disappointed. But alas, beyond the ice-cold bottles of Chang and those delicious little banana cakes that taste like eating a cloud, Thai 7/11 has a huge underlying problem.

PLASTIC. Massive, seemingly-inconsequential use of plastic packing on basically every single item they sell. Whilst this is still relatively the norm for processed foods, there are some extremes that 7/11 goes to in the name of “convenience” that could make even the least eco-friendly among us bat an actual eyelid. Buying a bottle of water is the perfect example. Foreigners tend not to drink the tap water as its common to get sick if you aren’t used to it. So where do we get water? From 7/11 or Family Mart or any of the other typical mini-marts, and several times a day usually. But it’s not just the water. It seems to be standard for the sale of a small bottle of water (or larger) at the price point of 7 baht and up (around $0.22) you will receive your typical 500ml of bottled water and it will be served to you with a plastic cellophane-wrapped straw, all placed neatly inside a small plastic carrier bag. It’s just such a mindless waste of plastic and totally unnecessary.

To think further on why, oh why, we need would need to have every small purchase placed into a teeny tiny carrier bag, I think we need to look to the main mode of transport in Thailand – the humble scooter. Driven by practically everyone from school kids to grandmas – and often very poorly by tourists – scooters are life in this part of the world. And if you’ve ever driven a scooter you will know there isn’t much space for luggage. A small compartment under the seat, often strangely shaped and not very useful, plus two small cubby holes to the front. What all bikes also seem to have is a bag hook, which allows small bags (ideal for carrier bags) to be easily transported hands-free and with no fuss. On top of this, it’s also very common to see locals carrying a range of other goods in small carrier bags – soda, ice coffee, street food etc. The plastic carrier bag has truly found a home in Thailand, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.

7/11, I love you. You have been there for me through grazed knees on scooters, with late-night wine coolers I definitely didn’t need and even the odd emergency rain mac. But, toasties aside, the way big brands like 7/11 use plastic needs to change. Following the discovery of a dead whale in Southern Thailand in June 2018 with no less than 80 carrier bags in its stomach, action has been taken in the way of banning all single-use plastics from Thailand’s national parks (of which there are over 150!) Another action has been to hold a Thai Environment Day – this has actually been in place since the early 90s but has targeted single-use plastics more recently where no stores are to give away any single-use plastics for the whole day. But at just one day per year to may take some time to improve this issue.

You can help by refusing single-use plastics in stores such as 7/11. It’s pretty unavoidable to miss out plastics altogether in these kinds of stores, but the least we can do is try to steer these brands into the right direction. Because, you’ve gotta give the people what they want, right? And what they want is cheese toasties at 4 am, teeny bottles of iodine and clean water without unnecessary guilt.

For a closer look at the Thai 7/11 experience check out this informative video from fellow digital nomad Drew Binsky. See, it’s not just me – everyone has a soft spot for Thai 7/11. It’s not a choice; its a way of life.