If you are a young tourist visiting Thailand, then there’s a good chance you are looking for a night of debauchery. You’ve come to the right place. Long story short – your age won’t have a huge impact on your ability to purchase alcohol in the country.
The official drinking age in Thailand is 20 years old. However, if you’re 18 years old, you shouldn’t encounter anybody who will actually check your identification card to verify your age. The only time you will run into an issue with underage drinking is if you’ve captured the attention of law enforcement for a different reason.
If you are blackout drunk, trying to do illegal things, or god-forbid – you’re getting on a motorbike after the bar, you’ll attract unwanted police attention and will likely deserve what is coming for you. However, most popular bar districts in Thailand are accustomed to the intoxicated tourist, so you won’t run into issues very often. You’ll certainly be able to purchase alcohol if you offer a smile and have Thai Baht.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is where all the young backpackers congregate in masses to consume an unholy amount of alcohol. When you walk on the strip, you’ll instantly appreciate the shared common interest in binge drinking. It’s honestly a tad overwhelming if you’re even remotely introverted.
As you walk down the street lined with nothing but bars, the employees sit outside waiting for onlookers to glance in their direction. They all hold menus with the specials listed in big, bold letters. At the largest bar on Khao San Road, their menus are titled ‘We Do NOT ID here’. This should serve as an indication regarding how easy it will be to receive a drink.
Each US state has a different identification card and there is no way these vendors would know where to look on your card. You can buy a beer for the equivalent of a dollar and walk down the street with it, enjoying the sights (and also enjoying the savings to your pocketbook).
Popular Thai Beers
Chang, Leo, and Singha are the three most popular beers. Chang also sells water (interesting combination). Leo has a logo that looks like a leopard with cross eyes. Singha is the best – that’s not a biased perspective. It’s just the truth.
There are street hawkers who stand on either side of this walking street with ice chests full of this beer. Most don’t speak two words of English (the one they do know is ‘beer’) but these entrepreneurs know they can make a serious amount of income selling alcohol to patrons of Khao San Road. The alcohol laws on Khao San Road and various night markets are all open-container friendly.
Full Moon Party
Thailand’s Full Moon Party is a notorious tourist destination. The Koh Pha-ngan shindig goes all-night and takes place right on Haad Rin beach, once every month. It occurs on the night of the full moon (hence the name). Travelers can expect loud electronic or trance music, exciting beachside entertainment, and enough alcohol to kill a small rhinoceros.
In addition to electronic dance music and an endless supply of liquor and beer, there are also special performances that occur throughout the weekend. It’s common to see fire rope jumping and fire dancing, with wide-eyed onlookers enjoying the feat. It’s equally common to see drunk partygoers jumping into the mix so they can leap through the fire, too.
There’s a lot that can be said about Thailand’s Full Moon Party, but the easiest way to describe it is a simply mad party of epic proportions—probably the biggest you’ll come across worldwide. There is minimal (if any) enforcement of Thailand’s legal drinking age requirements. They aren’t giving alcohol to 10-year-olds there (to my knowledge), but you understand the drift. Anyone who can walk is handed a drink.
The Full Moon Party is notorious for many things – my personal favorite notorious feature of the event is surely the way that they sell alcohol. Hundreds of locals set up small stands around the island. They sell buckets of mixed drinks. Literal buckets. For $5-10 USD, you can get a bucket the size of your face filled with whiskey, coca-cola, and red bull.
More than 2 of these and you venture into dangerous territory. Don’t let the cheap price fool you, they are strong. If you do happen to drink too much in Koh Pha-ngan, they offer sleep zones around the island. They fence off a small area and fill it with bean bag chairs so you can doze off for a few hours before starting again. It’s a beautiful island.
Buckets of Alcohol
These buckets of alcohol aren’t native to Koh Pha-ngan alone. They can be found in Hua Hin, Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Phi Phi, and any other Thai city with a pulse after 10 pm. While not every bar will sell you these death drinks, the ones that do offer them sell a variety of types.
You can choose from buckets of mojitos, buckets of sprite and whiskey, buckets of red bull and vodka, or even a bucket of a tequila sunrise. You could even make your own concoction if you pay the bartender the right price. These stands never ask to see your IDs. They’d lose business if they did!
They wouldn’t lose business because so many of their patrons are underage drinks. Rather, they would lose business because nobody at the Full Moon Party is walking around with their identification card or passport. It’d be dangerous to carry such things around while drinking so profusely. You’ll have no trouble accessing alcohol here if you are under 21.
Elections and other Peculiar Alcohol Rules
Thailand recently held their elections in early Spring of 2019. They actually did not allow alcohol to be sold throughout the country during the 2 days prior to voting. The logic was that Thai netizens would be clear minded when it came down to their decision. In actuality, it could’ve helped improve voter turnout if the number of hungover citizens was drastically decreased.
This rule was largely ignored in rural provinces where the military has less reach. However, even tourists couldn’t walk into a 7/11 during the day to purchase alcohol. This is a common finding in Thailand. The government will frequently make rules to shape the country’s alcohol sales.
The hours during which one can sell alcohol are rather confusing in Thailand. In the morning, you can only purchase (or be served) alcohol from 11 in the morning to 2 pm. In the evening, you can only purchase (or be served alcohol from 5 pm to midnight.
For some reason, these only seem to apply to convenience stores and large supermarkets. Your neighborhood mom and pop corner stores that only take cash probably aren’t abiding by these rules. Popular bar districts are almost always selling alcohol after these hours so don’t worry about the bar street closing down (unless they haven’t been paying their usual police bribes).
If you walk into a 7/11 at 3:30 in the afternoon looking for several large Changs, you’ll be out of luck. Convenient stores take these rules very seriously as the fines can become quite hefty and frequent violators could face serious prison time.
In addition to the hourly alcohol laws, there are also alcohol bans during religious holidays. This will come as a complete surprise to you as a tourist. You won’t be able to purchase alcohol during events like Wan Makha Bucha or Wan Asalha Bucha. Unless you know these dates by heart, it will be quite unexpected. However, you’ll still be able to get alcohol if you frequent the standard tourist jaunts.
Thai Drinking Culture
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that alcohol can often be consumed in public places. Open container laws are generally quite prevalent throughout the country. However, it’s crucial to understand that open container laws don’t apply to every public space in Thailand. You can get in trouble if you don’t understand this.
Never drink in a temple, a place of worship, or a public park. The public holidays, events, and occasions that call for drinking at a temple are far and few between. Public parks may seem more acceptable for drinking out in the open, but they are usually filled with bored police officers so don’t risk it. Most parks have signage to deter public intoxication of any kind.
Open container laws are quite different in Thailand (when compared to a place like Las Vegas). You can’t take your bottle of Jack Daniels into a CVS pharmacy in Thailand. In most instances, Thai people will set up makeshift tables near a shop or workplace to drink and eat food. They won’t walk down the street singing.
Most big cities highly deter this kind of behavior (especially Bangkok). Unless you are on Khao San Road or in a bar district, you will look very out of place with a beer in your hand. This behavior is somewhat acceptable on the islands assuming that you’re not making a fool of yourself.
Upscale bars in Thailand are quite different than the libations one can purchase at a Khao San Road bar. At these places, you’ll almost certainly be carded if you look too young to drink. If that doesn’t turn you away, your inability to pay for their pricey drinks certainly will. These bars refer to their bartenders as mixologists so it’s not a place to have a jack and coke bucket.
If you want to avoid the hectic nature of Khao San Road, check out Thong Lor – the hipster part of Bangkok. I personally believe that the best upscale bars in Bangkok are Salon Du Japonisant, Tropic City, Err, Iron Fairies, Havana Social, Brown Sugar, Cru Champagne Bar, and the Supanniga Eating Room Bar.
Khao San Road might seem like the city center of Bangkok, however, this is certainly not the case. That’s why the MTR and BTS don’t take you to the area! Khao San was only recently developed as a tourist district in what was originally a poor and somewhat gentrified part of town. The real (hip) Bangkok is spread throughout the massive city. You’ll be able to find a drink no matter where you are in the country.
The Thai Public Health Ministry has announced an intense new ban to deter smoking in public spaces. Those who smoke cigarettes will now need to be at least 15 feet away from the entrance of any large building. What defines ‘large building’? If you can’t determine whether it’s an appropriate place, just look for ‘No Smoking’ signs.
These laws certainly apply to condos, bars, hotels, temples, the few not-shady karaoke bars, salons, restaurants, schools, gyms, clinics, and more. There are new laws that also ban advertisements from mentioning words like ‘low tar’, ‘sexy’, and ‘women’.
Airports throughout Thailand have pushed an anti-smoking agenda recently, too. The smoking rooms that were once a frequent sight in airlines across the world are now banned in Thai airports.
All in all, this might negatively impact those of you that are smokers. However, from my observation, I think these rules will be positive for Thailand. It’s not that smokers should be punished or exiled.
I have seen many smokers observe different social behavior in Thailand than they would exhibit in their home country. For example, the number of drunk tourists who light up a cigarette near small Thai children, or even babies, is distressing. These laws are meant to reflect a rejection of a decade of smokers pushing the limits in Thailand. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t behave a certain way in your home, don’t behave that way in Thailand.
One of the most strict enforcement of Thai cigarette laws surely involves tourist behavior at the beach. It is now very illegal to smoke on the beach. You could be fined over $3000 USD if caught, or worse, sentenced to a year in jail.
For years, cigarette butts were the number one culprit of beach litter. They even did several surveys and found that a cigarette butt could be seen from every single spot on most beaches. The problem became unruly. The move, while it may seem harsh, is an easy step to protect the marine life of Thailand.
Drug Use in Thailand
Most people who Google questions related to drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes in Thailand, soon end up researching Thailand’s various drug laws. While Thailand is in the process of legalizing marijuana, that does not apply to you as a tourist. Out of all the cities, Bangkok takes its war on drugs the most seriously. Police in the southern islands might be a little less strict, but you will still be expected to pay a bribe of several thousand dollars if caught.
After the military dictatorship took over Thailand’s politics, the country’s take on drug laws changed drastically. Now getting caught with a nominal amount of drugs can land you several years in jail. Some Western tourists have been sentenced to 25+ years. It’s not a game to play around with when visiting the country.
Many poorer Southeastern Asian countries have experienced something of a methamphetamine crisis in the past 25 years. This is what has truly been the cause of the crackdown (no pun intended) within the country.
If you visit the country, behave with class. Don’t seek out drugs or you’ll end up with a terrible story to tell. You won’t even have anyone to tell that story to for the 5 years after you’re caught.
The southern islands are notorious for a myriad of reggae bars scattered between the different cities. These are normally pretty easy places to pick up a little bit of smoke. However, it doesn’t make your attempt safer.
Be smart. Act like an adult.
All in all, Thailand can be extremely laid back on several issues (like their respect for the legal drinking age), and they can be quite intense about other issues. It’s important to always be aware of your surroundings before saying ‘yes’ to another drink. Write down the name of your hotel on your hand before you venture out into the drunk abyss, otherwise who knows where you might end up?
Is vaping legal in Thailand?
No, vaping is not legal in Thailand and its use should be avoided at all costs when in the country. Several tourists have been arrested and face jail time due to their ignorance of the relatively new vaping-related laws. The tobacco industry works closely with the Thai government and their lobbying to delay approval of vaporizers has been met with hawkish enforcement by the police.
Where is the best place for tourists to drink in Bangkok?
Khao San Road is the most popular bar street for tourists who visit Bangkok. The city doesn’t allow cars to operate on the road so that patrons can have full access to the road of 50+ bars. Other famous places to drink in Bangkok include Silom, Thong Lor, and Nana Plaza.