The Cost of Alcohol in Thailand

Originally posted on July 15, 2010


I usually work in my garden early in the mornings before it gets too hot.  Often a Scotsman who lives nearby, rides by on his bicycle.  While I am hoeing away in the increasingly hot sun, he tells me bicycle riding is the only exercise he gets.  But today he has to cut it short and hurry back, he says, since today is his “drinking day”.  “What’s a drinking day” I naively ask.  “Four or five days a week I set aside for drinking”, he says, “and the other days I rest up to get ready for the next ‘drinking day’”.  “I bike every drinking day morning just to keep things in balance.” he adds.

Boy, if I could only keep to as strict an exercise schedule as that, it would do wonders for my golf game.

“So what do you do on your drinking days?” I ask.  “We start out at a nice place for brunch, mainly because their beers are the lowest priced in town.  By lunchtime I move on to meet up with my lunch buddies at a pleasant drinking-hole right in town.  Then we head on to the place we call the “Happy Hour Pub” where beers are half price until dinner time.  Of course after that we get serious.  My day usually goes from 11am – 11pm.  So you see I have to bike in order to stay in shape.”

In these blogs, I have to admit, I do give advice.  But I try not to judge, least you begin to judge me.  So if my Scottish friend is content with his lifestyle then that is fine with me.  Although his daily routine may seem a bit extreme, he is by far not alone here in Thailand in his love of the juice. Alcohol is a serious Expat (I want to say problem but since I am not being judgmental) “activity”.

I have to own up to the fact that I have been there myself.  So I know the allure of being sloshed in the tropics, surrounded by beautiful scenery, a warm climate, easy ladies, and cheap alcohol.  Those days ended with the birth of my first son.  For me, being a dad, won out over the rest.  Oh, I still have the tropics, and beautiful scenery, and warm climate.  The others, I’ll just have to remember what they were like.  And like the “road less taken” that has made all the difference.

I was out at dinner with a Brit friend and we got around to talking about a mutual acquaintance.  I mentioned that I thought he might be overdoing the drinking a bit.  I said that at  a dinner we had together he had a couple of beers and a large tumbler of Thai whisky before the meal, a whole bottle of wine at dinner, and then a few brandies afterwards.  My English friend said that, on the contrary, he didn’t think that was excessive.  He said, “Now 2 bottles of wine at dinner, that would be too much.”  Just to be nosey, and to be able to add this piece of information to this blog post, I asked him what he spent on alcohol in an average month.  “Well” he said, “if we don’t have many dinner guests then we spend only about 30,000 baht per month.”  I tried not to act too surprised since that was more than we spend on food, gasoline, and utilities combined.  But who’s judging, right?

From my deep research on this piece (consisting of a Google search on “alcoholism in Thailand” plus just looking around me) I discovered that “Alcoholism in Thailand ranks 5th highest in world”.  Except for road accidents, wife beatings, crime increase, rotting internal organs, and really, really bad decision making, maybe nothing is wrong with that.  From what I have seen, Expats living in Thailand do nothing to bring these statistics down.  I don’t really think that Thailand is the cause of Expat alcoholism though.  I agree with a recent post I saw on an Expat forum.  The poster said that he didn’t think that Thailand caused Expats to drink, he thought that people who already had a fondness for the brew simply felt very comfortable coming to live  in this environment.  They are attracted here and fit right in.

I am quite often the odd man out since I do not drink.  But on a recent visit to the hospital (Annual Checkup), the doctor met with me after all the test were in.  She was all smiles as the test were even better than the last time I was in.  “You’re 64, right?”  “Yep”.  “And do you smoke?”, “Nope.”  “How much do you drink?” she asked.  “Nothing.” I answered.  “No wonder!” she replied.

On the whole, Expat drinking in Thailand, and especially by us retirees, is really none of my business.  But when those Expats are my friends then maybe I have a horse in this race.  It would be fine if my 30,000 baht worth-of-alcohol-a-month friend was in great shape, but he isn’t.  He has more things wrong with his insides than I even knew were in there to begin with.  If he would at least cut down then maybe I would have a friend for a little longer.  Now I don’t know.

I do know what happened to my friend from the land of Oz though.  A loving husband and father, and in typical down-under fashion, a lover of beer, when diabetes came along he was faced with the choice of taking care of his health or continuing to drink his beer.  The beer won out.

I lost a friend, a wife has lost a husband, and a child has lost a father. In this case, the cost of alcohol was simply too high.