Behind the Smile, the story of Lek, a bargirl in Pattaya

The Story of Lek, a Bar Girl in Pattaya
'Daddy's Hobby'

Drinking Alcohol In Thailand

drinking alcohol in thailand

I read somewhere once that a lot of Asians are allergic to drinking alcohol. Well, all I can say is that either there are a lot of sick Asians every morning or that they don't live around where I live.

When I think about my years in Thailand, I suppose a few international truths stand out: women tend to drink less than men and older women might not drink at all.

A few years ago, my wife's mother, a Thai, was in her early sixties and had never tried an alcoholic drink in her life. Then she met me. Now, she likes Bailey's Irish Cream and she likes red wine, but she would never buy any and has only drunk the 2-3 glasses that I have given her.

This is quite normal for women of her generation. They wouldn't smoke either, although smoking among men and women in general has fallen incredibly. When I moved to the village seven years ago, ALL men smoked and one woman that I knew of. Now I know only two male smokers and the same woman.

Children under 15 are not well-known for drinking alcohol in Thailand or smoking - at least I have never seen it, although who knows? They can be sneaky, kids, eh? Every man I know drinks and so do most (50%+) of the women, but not every day. Men tend to drink after work every day.

Maybe the working day for women doesn't stop when it gets dark. There could be something in that.

Society, earnings, costs - everything - is changing very quickly in Thailand (maybe in Asia as a whole). People are becoming more Westernized, prices are rising and so are wages.

As a snapshot in time, we could say that a farm labourer, an office dog's body or a typical low-earner might earn $300 per month for a 40-60 hour week. So, say 200 hours at $1.50 per hour.

Examples of drinking alcohol in Thailand are: men usually drink 'lao khao' - 'white spirit', (but not what we mean by white spirit) which is 40% alcohol. There is also 'lao phra' - 'jungle spirit' - which is a sort of pocheen (home made) and there is a milder-tasting 'lao daeng' - 'red spirit'.

Lao khao costs about $4 a bottle, lao phra about $3 and lao daeng about $5. Three or four people share a bottle, taking it in turn to drink an inch from a small 'thimble' glass, before refilling the glass and passing it to the left.

The shot is drunk at whatever pace the drinker wants, but if it takes too long a comment may be made as sometimes there are 8-10 people waiting for their turn.

Beer is quite strong by Western standards. I drink Acha 5.4%, which costs $1.30 for a pint bottle, but Thailand's most popular beer by far is Chang (Elephant) Beer 6.4% at $1.50. Three or four years ago, Chang was $3 for three bottles.

So beer is very expensive in comparison. Most women will drink spirits, but prefer beer if they can get it - it makes them seem more Western, more sophisticated.

I really couldn't count how many times a month men say to me: "Drinking beer, eh? I drink whiskey at 40%. How much is beer?"

They know full well how strong it is, but they do not say it nastily.

Drinking alcohol in Thailand is mainly done at home, not in bars, but those who do go to bars (city-dwellers, perhaps), like vodka, tequila, whisky, Kalua, Mai Thai and B52's.

by Owen Jones



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