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In Thailand,alcohol is plentiful. Come sip a Thai Beer like Singha or Chang or Leo or Archa. Sangsom rum is the spirt of choice. For food in Thailand, consider a massaman curry, papaya salad, or tom yam soup.


Alcohol And Food


"Thailand is a very generous country. You always leave with more kilograms of fat than you came in with."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


Thailand is a very reasonable place to get plastered on alcohol.  Cocktails at street side cocktail stalls typically cost less than USD 3.  You can drink a dozen of these and not get drunk, letting you know that potency isn't a strong point with Thai-made cocktails, if they actually get made right. Then again, I've been in Western countries where I've paid USD 7-10 or more for similar drinks, and I could've still recited the alphabet backwards.

Thai beer 

This is not a place for tee-totalers

The safe bet here when ordering mixed drinks in non-luxury hotel environments is to make the order simple.  For instance, ordering a screwdriver or a gimlet leaves your bartender less room to err than if you order a Long Island Iced Tea, which they will invariably screw up.  Drinks containing 'exotic' ingredients, like Blue Curacao and butterscotch schnapps, are risky to order.  Thai bartenders will mix them with their own variations, and they probably won't resemble the drink you wanted.   If you're a tequila connoisseur, remind yourself you are very, very far from Mexico. Tequila is readily available, but usually it's not the finer resposado type nor is it 100% agave. You would have to visit an upper tier hotel's bar or an expensive import market to obtain fine tequila.

Uncle Tom vodkaFor that matter, you'd have to visit the posher places to get fine alcohol period.  In Western bars you can request top shelf liquors and pay the premium. Street side bars in Thailand won't stock Grey Goose or Gran Patron.  Imported alcohols from most countries, particularly the European Union and North America, incur a hefty excise tax and duty.  Alcohol manufactured in ASEAN and ASEAN-affiliated nations is taxed at a lower rates. Some Western alcohol manufacturers get around the high taxes to some extent by having brands manufactured under license in ASEAN countries. Gilbeys sells gin and vodka manufactured in the Philippines.  Vietnam takes it a step further and rips off the Gilbey's bottle design and logo to manufacture their own brand that is even cheaper.  Mimicking well-known Western brands is de rigeur in this part of the world. Western copyright infringement isn't something the Thai government is losing any sleep over.

Indian-made vodkas and rums are available cheaply.   If you want to step up the ladder a few rungs to get mid-range Finlandia or Absolut vodkas, distilled in Finland and Sweden, respectively, you're looking at about USD 25 per 700 ml bottle.  For a change, the duty free prices at Suvarnabhumi Airport really are a savings. There, a 1 liter bottle will run about USD 20.

Thailand wines
Made locally but priced internationally
 

 
Wine is relatively expensive, wherever it's from.  Chilean, South African, Australian, American, and French wines can be found easily, though the brand selection can be thin.  The least expensive bottles of anything passable will cost at least USD 13, probably more.  Thailand has a developing wine industry of its own.  None of these locally-made bottles would incur any duties, and yet strangely, they cost the same or more than the superior-made imports. 

The drinks of choice among Thais and resident foreigners are beer and locally-produced whiskey and rum.  With two recent price hikes, Thailand-made beer ain't as cheap as it used to be.  All the same, no one can say that paying USD 1 to 1.80 for a 630 ml bottle of beer, depending on brand, is going to break the bank. Archa, Cheers, Leo, and Chang are found on the lower end of the price scale. Singha, Heineken, Tiger, and upstart Federbr
äu are on the higher end. 

Singha is the best known internationally and the oldest brew in the Kingdom.  Chang entered the picture in the last decade and dethroned Singha as the champ, mainly because of Chang's lower price.  These two beers remain the most popular and can be found anywhere.  Common, but less common than the two champs, is Leo and Tiger. The lesser-ranked brands may be available at your local 7-11 or Family Mart or may not be.  Look closely on the beer labels, and you'll soon realize that the same breweries are spitting out high-end and a low-end offerings to cover all bases.  Tiger and Cheers are made by the same brewery, competing in different price ranges.   So are Singha and Leo, San Miguel and Red Horse, and Chang and Federbräu.

There aren't many Thailand-produced beers given the size of the country.  The microbrewery renaissance that hit Western countries in the 1990's has yet to make an impact in Thailand.  For a recent New Year's Eve party with guests from abroad, we purchased every mainstream Thailand-produced beer we could get our hands on.  A pricey brew like Phuket Beer, made by a mainstream brewery but only available in limited supply at premium supermarkets, was not considered, as most people living in Thailand have never seen it.   The amount of beers remaining under the mainstream umbrella was just twelve.  Not all from this mainstream dozen are indigenously Thai either.  They're just brewed locally so as to escape high import duties.  The most popular and expensive of these non-Thai Thai beers is Heineken.  Doug's Republic won't endorse it, but consumers around the world seem to.  The Singaporean Tiger Beer seems to be quite popular, too.  Given its average quality, one can only conclude it was Asia Pacific Breweries' deep pockets that allowed this beer that's older than Singha to spread through not just Thailand, but Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Mongolia.  Of course, Tiger, like Chang, like Leo, like Cheers, like every other beer, is a "gold medal winner."  Gold medal winning beers in Thailand are as popular and as meaningless as the terms "award-winning filmmakers." Less frequently seen, but still widely available if searched for, are Asahi and San Miguel.  We're sure they've also won gold medals.

The Thais love their hard liquors, particularly Sangsom. Distilled from sugarcane, Sangsom is a rum, not a whiskey, although people often refer to it as whiskey. Sangsom tastes nothing like the fine Scotch whiskeys your grandparents drank (or wished they drank) or the Caribbean rums we're sure you do drink.  Sangsom dominates its market niche, with more than 70% market share in the "disgusting whiskeys of Thailand" category.   A 750 ml bottle sells in a supermarket for around USD 7 to USD 9.  A smaller-sized 300 ml bottle is also common.  Similan and Sangthip are better rums and cost about 10% more than the ubiquitous Sangsom.  In a bar, you'll pay double.  

The real whiskey is made out of rice.  In Laos, they call this white alcohol Lao Lao. In Thailand, Lao Khao. It's bad in any language.



Food in Thailand

Doug's Republic is not a site that enjoys repeating information you can easily find elsewhere.  We could go over the most common dishes you'll find, but we know you could find that out anywhere.  We limit the discussion here to the basics.

Thailand does have its own unique and varied cuisine, so tasty and balanced that it's achieved fame around the world.  Galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chilis, and fish sauce contribute to its signature flavor.  That food offers spicy soups like tom-yam; hearty and healthy salads; noodle dishes; rice dishes; and southern curries that have no relation to anything you'd try in India.


Need a handy Thai menu you can use anywhere in Thailand?  Our portable menus give the name of the dish in both Thai script and in English and then describe what the dish actually is in English.  With our menu in Thailand, it becomes irrelevant if a restaurant has a menu in English or understands English.  Just point to the Thai script for the dish you desire.  Click on the menu page to enlarge and print.  Although the prices on our menu hail from 2005, once converted into Thai currency at today's rates, they will still seem ultra expensive next to what you will pay in the Kingdom. Thai menus
 

In the small villages and in sparsely touristed Isaan, Thai food is all you'll find.  However, in areas where more foreigners have settled, the dishes from these settlers' homelands follow.  Italian restaurants set up by Italians are quite popular in all the common tourist locales.  It is rarely difficult to get your mouth on a USD 7-9 wood-fire oven pizza.  Japanese restaurants are popular.   Big communities of Koreans mean Korean restaurants where you can feel like you're still dining in Korea. Indian, Middle-Eastern, German, and Scandinavian food is also to be found.  Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Patong Beach in Phuket have varied restaurant scenes.  Bangkok has an international food scene to rival the breadth and depth of what you could eat in Sydney, New York, or London.

 
Come and get it!

Special Diets

Everyone is on the gain weight diet here.   You just don't know how much you'll be gaining.

There will be those among you who come to Thailand with special dietary restrictions, like vegetarian, halal, kosher, low sodium, high sodium, extra sugar, no sugar.

For those on kosher diets, you're out of luck, mates.   There are Chabad Houses in Bangkok and Chiang Mai catering to the endless supply of Israelis flooding into the nation.  Outside those regions, if you're on a strict kosher diet, it's raw fruits and vegetables.  Halal practitioners have it easier.  About 80% of Thailand's three southern provinces are Muslim.  Only 8% of the country as a whole is Muslim.  This insures that Muslim meat-based cuisine is around to titillate your Islamic tastebuds in most city centers.
Those hellbent on sticking with their special diets will find a vegetarian diet should encompass their own restrictions and usually suffice. Strict kosher practitioners still won't go for vegetarian food in a conventional restaurant, as the kitchen will have non-kosher meats grace its plate and utensils, and milk and meat products won't be separated. This shouldn't technically be an issue at a vegetarian restaurant, designated with the Thai symbol at left. Although calling these restaurants popular would significantly be overstretching the case, there seems to be at least one in any place that would be classified as a real town. Usually, but not always, the food is pre-made, laid out in trays, and you pay a price based on how much food you have spooned onto your plate.   To keep afloat in vegetarian-averse Thailand, some of these restaurants offer interesting combos. One, in my town, metamorphosizes from vegetarian by day to a seafood restaurant by night. Another, located in a popular tech mall in Bangkok, offers veg food out front, but in the back, everything from pig intestines to chicken feet is available.  Look for this symbol on maps on Doug's Republic to find the rabbit food.
Rabbits (or vegetarians) come hither

Ethnic Food Tax

A relevant thing to bear in my mind during your stay is what we call the Ethnic Food Tax.  This is not an official tax.  It's a reality charge.  You'll quickly discover that most any time you order food that's not Thai, you pay a premium.  Sometimes, the costs seem justifiable.  If you want a pizza, the cheese is most likely imported. Ingredients at an Italian restaurant that are readily available in Europe are not so easy or as cheap to find in Thailand.  Swedish, German, Spanish food -- it's all on the higher side over here, although once converted back into your own currency, it'll still appear very reasonable.

However, for some cuisines, the Ethnic Food Tax doesn't appear to make sense.  Indian food should cost around the same as Thai.  All the spices that can be ground into a curry powder blend and the raw materials to make Indian breads are available in Thailand.  A few Indian restaurants offer vegetarian dishes for as cheap as USD 1.50/dish.  This is a rarity. Most of the time, you'll pay at least USD 4 for a dish. That's cheap in Western terms, but expensive in Thai ones.  Middle Eastern food is another one where you'd think Thailand's agricultural raw materials would furnish almost everything required to make it, with little need to import special ingredients. 

You're going to want a change from Thai food from time to time. Be prepared to pay relatively more for it.  American fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC, which offer low cost food in the West, enter the market in the mid-range in Thailand.  For the cost of a Whopper Meal in Thailand, you could have ordered a plate of pad thai, a Thai salad, sticky rice, and a beer and still saved money.  One scoop of Häagen Dazs ice cream in Thailand surpasses the cost of a Thai curry and several soft drinks.  Dining at Pizza Hut can be more expensive than a proprietor-owned Italian restaurant serving wood-fire oven pizzas.  A single piece of chicken at KFC will be equivalent to a plate of Isaan chicken wings.  Foreign franchise restaurants, particularly the famous American ones, seem to be able to cash in on their names and be seen as treats for the locals rather than the fast food mills they truly are.  Therefore, they can successfully price themselves higher.

Imported Food Items



Many people who've not ever been to Thailand mistakenly consider it an undeveloped land of deprivation. Thailand is better thought of as a developing nation, and in some respects, even as a developed nation.  What it definitely is NOT is a free-trade nation.  Duties on many things, in particular food stuffs, are high.  Most short term visitors won't ever need to go near the imported food items, but if one is living or staying here for any length of time, on occasion foods from home will be purchased.  A small list of American-manufactured products is shown below, with the U.S. dollar prices of the products in Thailand and in the United States.  When different sizes of the product are available in each country, the American price was normalized to conform to the American export size to make an apples-for-apples comparison. You can note where the two countries had differing sizes when we list the difference as "cheaper per slice" or "cheaper per ounce."  When the products were sold in the same size in both countries, we merely say "cheaper by X%."   One immediately sees that living the home-life in Thailand costs a hefty premium.   Prices and exchange rates are valid as of February 2009.


Product  Thailand food prices Prices of food in Thailand  Price Difference
Florida's Natural Fruit Juice (Orange/Grapefruit/Lemon), 16 oz  0.93 2.43 62% cheaper per ounce in USA
Kraft Mozarella Chef, 8 oz 3.49  8.54 59% cheaper per ounce in USA
Kraft Hi-Calcium Singles, 12 slices  1.59  3.97 60% cheaper per slice in USA
Philadelphia Cream Cheese, 250 grams  3.04 3.83 21.5% cheaper per gram in USA
Velveeta, 8 oz  2.12  6.71 68% cheaper in USA
Cap'n Crunch, 16 oz  4.23 8.71 51% cheaper in USA
Häagen Dazs, 1 pint  4.23 9.40 55% cheaper in USA
Betty Crocker Super Moist Chocolate Fudge Cake mix, 18.25 oz  2.11 3.77 44% cheaper in USA
Honey Nut Cheerios, 12.25 oz 4.23 6.57 36% cheaper per ounce in USA
Betty Crocker Fudge Brownies, 18.3 oz 2.28  3.83 40% cheaper per ounce in USA
Doritos Nacho Cheese flavor 2.52  3.29 23% cheaper per ounce in USA
Ben & Jerry's ice cream, 1 pint  4.23 8.54 50% cheaper in USA
Pepperidge Farm soft-baked Chocolate Chunk Dark Chocolate Brownie cookies, 8.6 oz 2.65 3.49 24% cheaper in USA
Prego traditional pasta sauce 2.43 4.14 41% cheaper per ounce in USA
McCormick spices  Rosemary, 0.35 oz  1.38 2.63 45% cheaper per ounce in USA

Local Food Items

Below, we list locally-manufactured items you're extremely likely to buy while you're visiting.  We have left the prices in baht due to the heavy fluctuations of the baht vis a vis major currencies.  If we listed the prices in USD or GBP, they could vary by 15-20% depending on the exchange rates.

Product  Price (baht) 
Coca Cola, 330 ml  14
Local oranges, 1 kg  35
Fruit juice, from concentrate, 1 liter 33-60
Instant noodles 12
Chocolate bar (Cadbury, Van Houten, Dove) 30-35
Iced coffee 35-40
Packet of snacks  10
Bottled water, 1 liter  8-12
Sushi, 1 piece from stall  10
 

 Check the exchange rate of the Thai baht
Select a currency and click SUBMIT to see how many Thai baht that currency buys

 

 

 


 

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Insights From A Travel Mastermind

 Thailand has a lot of alcohol choices. There are twelve mainstream Thai Beer brands. Singha, Chang, Leo, and Archa are part of the 12 corp. Sangsom is the most popular Thai-made rum. Enjoy food in Thailand like massaman curry, papaya salad, and tom yam. Mmmmgood.