It wasn’t the usual hangover. Not like the hundreds of ones before. After a decade of partying hard in Bangkok, British expat Tobias “Josh” Sawdon’s body finally pulled the handbrake one morning.
Following years of alcohol and drug abuse, he found himself vomiting blood on a bathroom floor.
“That’s when you know something is not right. I went straight to the hospital and was diagnosed with hepatic failure. Basically, my liver didn’t work any longer. The doctor gave me two options: stop drinking, or die,” Josh explains.
Today, after recovering from addiction and changing his lifestyle via a rehab center north of Pattaya, Josh has started a business in Phuket. The 32-year-old entrepreneur took the long way to happiness — but having found it, he wants to spread his message of compassion.
Josh tells me his story from Veganecessity, the vegan restaurant he started with his girlfriend, Fah. He speaks about his journey through “hell,” how veganism gave him a second chance at life and how his love for music tells his story. Before continuing, Josh takes a break to exchange some words with Fah in fluent Thai.
An explosion of smells
We move back in time, to when Josh’s love for Thailand started. Moving to Bangkok at the tender age of 18, he says he was awestruck.
“I was hanging out with locals all day. After six years I was speaking Thai fluently. I was amazed by the country: the smells, the tastes, the explosion of it all,” he says. “The culture and the friendliness. I never felt at home in England, but I could see how the Thai people felt so at home here. Always helping and supporting each other, it’s amazing to see”.
But the move to Bangkok had a more sinister side to it. Josh says he lived along Sukhumvit and went partying every night.
“I loved it. The partying, the drinking. I lost myself. I fell into it. I thought life was just one long party. It wasn’t just alcohol, it was lots of drugs as well,” Josh says, adding that by 2016 it had gotten really bad, as he began mistreating everyone around him. “Inside of me, I was hating myself. Even my mom told me I’d lost my way, but I didn’t listen. Looking back, I can say I was a degenerate during those years. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.”
"The partying, the drinking. I lost myself. I fell into it."
Saved by love
In 2018, a friend introduced Josh to Fah. They fell in love, and she and Josh’s mother convinced him to seek help for his addictions. Josh did two stints at the rehab center Hope in Sri Racha near Pattaya. While there, he realized how serious his problems were. “One of my friends from rehab relapsed and died after getting out. Another friend jumped from a balcony, killing himself. I’m lucky I had Fah. She helped me focus on my recovery,” he says.
The couple now has two kids together, and Josh also has a daughter from a previous marriage.
At about the same time as Josh got clean, he started experimenting with veganism. The reggae music producer known as Tony Assassin was a close friend of Josh’s and had introduced him to the concept when he was a teenager. But it was not until 2018 that he tried it himself.
“Tony was like a mentor to me. He taught me so many things. Apart from being a music producer, he was also a Wing Chun [a form of kung fu] master and vegan for 30 years. After his death, part of the reason I went vegan was as a way of honoring Tony,” Josh says.
Going vegan changed everything
Josh says he could soon feel the benefits of his new, healthy lifestyle.
“I feel like I woke up and found who I am. I became less aggressive, stopped being so angry all the time. It changed me physically as well. I used to be obese, but after going vegan and getting into a workout routine I lost 35 kilograms.”
Josh says veganism gave him optimism and the desire to make a positive impact in the world.
“I should have been dead already, but the fact that I’m not makes me think I’m meant to be here to promote veganism. Or maybe that’s just my ego!” he says laughing.
Josh’s family initially bought the space in Patong to open a small hotel, but following the Covid-19 pandemic, it became impossible. Josh and Fah decided to start smaller, with a plant-based restaurant. Josh had already started experimenting with plant-based recipes himself.
“It was as if something awoke in me, this hidden talent for cooking that I never knew was there.”
But the timing to open a restaurant was poor.
“It was very tough. We opened the restaurant at the worst possible moment. But we have many loyal guests coming in daily, and now we are seeing an increase in customers again,” he says.
If you find yourself in the northwestern parts of Phuket looking for solid vegan options, chances are you’ll end up further south, at Veganecessity, in Patong. Unlike the island’s south, the north doesn’t offer many vegan restaurants. Josh says he hopes to expand Veganeccesity and open more branches in the future.
He is also one of the owners of El Hefe, the Mexican restaurant on Sukhumvit 34 in Bangkok. They already have many vegan options.
“I recommend the vegan chili rellenos and the hibiscus tacos,” Josh says, adding that he is convinced the market for vegan products and restaurants will explode. “Look at the investors in the plant-based space, such as Bill Gates. It will just keep growing from here.”
Spreading the word
Josh praises the ongoing initiatives in Thailand to raise awareness about veganism’s benefits.
“I like what the guys from Root The Future are doing. I saw the climate clock campaign they ran on the BTS [Skytrain]. We need more stuff like that! We need more people to understand how urgent it is to shift over to a plant-based lifestyle.”
He also says meat packaging should carry warnings similar to those on cigarette boxes.
“Why should my daughter not get to enjoy this beautiful planet just because I’ve been selfish with my food choices? We need to build that understanding,” he said.
“Why should my daughter not get to enjoy this beautiful planet just because I’ve been selfish with my food choices?”
Telling his story through the music
Josh says he also re-discovered his love for music and rap during the last few years and has recorded multiple songs. In a recent song, he shared his experience with Covid-19.
“So tell me how bad is this corona sh*t, I was sick two weeks ‘til I got over it”, he raps in the song, speaking about past mistakes and how his “flow is on point, like razor blades.”
Josh says music has become the way to express himself.
“I feel like I’ve been to hell and back, and through the music I can tell my story. I want it to be positive and show that it’s possible to rap about things other than gang life and violence,” he says. “It can be about life experiences — or veganism!”
After sharing his story, Josh invites this reporter to a party at Sri Panwa, the luxurious hotel sitting high atop Cape Panwa in southern Phuket.
It is clear after meeting Josh and Fah there in the evening that the man who used to go crazy in Sukhumvit Soi 11 is long gone, but that he can still enjoy a party, even if drinking soda water.
As speakers blast their deep house beats over the bay, the vegan entrepreneur dances away, while ideas of how to spread his message of compassion circulate his head.
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