If you live in Bangkok and adore cats but can't have one in your apartment, you've probably been to one of the pet cafes that dole out feline fixes for the domestically destitute. But why stop at cats? Admirers of other animals must be suffering the same yearning for furry friendship.
So now we have bistros full of dogs and even bunnies. You have a coffee and a cuddle just the same, but this time it's with a husky, for example, at Neverland Siberians on Soi Ari Samphan 2. It's a breeding farm that welcomes visitors with snacks, Japanese-style desserts and various beverages.
Chotiros Ratanabirabongse has bred huskies there for 12 years but only opened the coffeeshop last December. She figured it would be a great place for dog fanciers to meet and share ideas, and where people buying her puppies could learn about proper care.
"I always have to ensure that my customers really can love a Siberian," Chotiros says. "They come from a cold climate, so they have a thick coat, and the coat has to be kept it clean to block bacteria. These dogs are also independent, so you have be prepared for that too." The response has been heartening: The cafe's Facebook page had 25,000 followers within weeks of the opening and you really need to book a table in advance to get the most fun out of the "playground".
Shaded by tall trees, the bistro resembles a greenhouse. Up to 50 people can eat inside or outside while cooing over 20 Siberian huskies and a "token" Shih Tzu-Spitz hybrid. The fenced-off playground is open twice each afternoon, at 12.30 and 3.30.
Before entering, you have to swap your shoes for slippers and wash your hands. Chotiros introduces her lovely pooches one by one, explaining the kind of pampering they prefer. Then you get two hours of meet-and-greet, ample time for a few selfies with your favourites.
As far as the (human) food is concerned, Neverland has four set menus, ranging in price from Bt275 (S$10.60) to Bt429 and all including cake and a beverage. Chotiros recommends the Spaghetti with Spicy Shrimp Paste and the Fried Rice with Holy Basil and Crispy Fish. The dogs don't seem to mind their visitors going off to eat, and they don't try and mooch.
Nor do the rabbits at the Lucky Bunny Cafe on Lat Phrao Soi 101. It's the ground floor of Gullayanee Jiamsinkul's home and the 20 little hoppers are all her pets.
"It was my daughter's idea," says Gullayanee. "She'd been visiting the cat cafes around town. The bunny cafes in Japan are quite popular and I always wanted to have rabbits, so we started with six and learned how to raise them, and now we're confident enough to be able to pass on our knowledge."
She keeps a diverse stable. You've got your Holland Lop with the dangling ears, your irresistibly tiny Netherlands Dwarf, your Mini Rex with springy fur, some with amazing markings, some with extraordinary personalities. They're all bouncing around in a separate area, pining for your company while you dine elsewhere, again indoors or outside among the shrubs trimmed into bunny shapes.
A visit costs Bt150. No more than six guests at a time are allowed in the rabbit den, where each of the residents has its own cage. You get 20 minutes and the staff keeps a close eye on things. The rules are strict for the sake of the bunnies' health - wash those hands but keep them off the babies altogether unless you get special permission. No feeding allowed.
It all seems rather tightly controlled, but the regulations are understandable and, meanwhile, some of the critters will put on a show for you. The trained rabbits can jump a miniature fence, walk on their hind legs, push around tiny shopping carts and ring a bell. That last one means your time is up.
Yes, you can buy a rabbit, or, if pellets throughout the house pose a problem, just buy a rabbit-theme ceramic or stuffed doll or a pillowcase or T-shirt. And, if you already own a rabbit but can't take it on vacation, Lucky Bunny will take care of your pet.
The beautifully decorated Caturday Cat Cafe joined the pubs and restaurants of the Coco Walk complex five months ago. Movie director Paween "Goff" Purijitpanya of studio GTH simply ran out of room at home for his growing herd of cats, and meanwhile the photos of them he was uploading to Instagram were drawing thousands of admirers. So he and his brother decided to open a public cat lounge. "This is the perfect location, with easy access to the BTS. It's really convenient for people living or working downtown."
You should know the drill by now: shoes off, hands washed before entering the "living room" for full feline immersion. More than 30 cats await your stroking amid cartoon murals and a kitty dormitory that looks like a wall of television sets.
There's an Exotic Short Hair, a Persian, a Bengal, a Scottish Fold and a Munchkin from Russia, plus several million toys to get their attention. They eat kibble. You get to eat the likes of Thai-Tea Crepe Cake with Thai tea sauce (Bt138) and Bacon Cheese Spring Rolls (Bt128) and sip a Hot Cafe Latte (Bt88).
The merchandise on sale is amusing. "Most of our cats have funny faces," says Paween. "It's part of the cafe's character. And we've designed souvenir mugs, plates, key rings, scarves and bags to match."
Paween reckons there are more cat bistros than ever in Bangkok now because there are more cat lovers. It's not easy running such a place though, he warns. "You really need to love this kind of work. And you have to pay careful attention to the cats' health, both mental and physical."
As if actress Nla "Petch" Aurthaveekul and her friend Korbua "Yean" Songprasert didn't already know that when they opened the Purr Cat in a charming house on Sukhumvit Soi 53 last year. The place looks like it came out of a romantic novel, with a shady English garden, vintage furniture and paintings on the walls.
"I love kittens!" Petch mews. (We'd guessed as much on arrival.) "I started out with a boutique selling cat clothes and collars that Yean and I made. When she graduated from university we decided to open the Purr Cat Cafe as a hip hangout for cat lovers."
The cats certainly seem to like the place. Everything is immaculate. They've got their own salon and presumably can have anything from Petch and Yean's shop for free.
Shoes off, hands washed and off you go for some "hello, kitties!" Here, though, you can dine among them, at oak tables, while the animals perform acrobatics on a small wooden bridge. You can take along your own cat, but you'll be shown to a private dining room so there's no "trouble" with the resident pussies.
Among the 20 cast members of this version of "Cats" is a Persian, a Chinchilla, a Maine Coon and shorthairs of the American, British and Exotic varieties. They will pretend not to watch while you enjoy French pastries at prices ranging from Bt65 to Bt150, or maybe a couple of warm brownies with green-tea ice cream for Bt120.
FOLLOW THE FUR
>>Neverland Siberians is at 153 Soi Ari Samphan 2 and open daily from 12.30 to 8.30. (090) 101 9669; "Neverland Siberains" on Facebook
>>Lucky Bunny is on Lat Phrao Soi 11, Yaek 28 and open daily except Monday from 10.30 to 8. (085) 195 5465; "Lucky-Bunny-Cafe-Restaurant" on Facebook
>>Caturday Cat Cafe is in Coco Walk on Phyathai Road and open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 9 and Saturday and Sunday from 11. (02) 656 5247; "CaturdayCatCafe" on Facebook
>>Purr Cat is on Sukhumvit Soi 53 and open Tuesday to Thursday from 11 to 8 and Friday to Sunday until 9. (02) 108 3604; "PurrCatCafeClub" on Facebook.