Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide to Bars in Thailand…

Dec 02, 2011 2 Comments by

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide to Bars in Thailand…

by The Guru

Many people plan to visit Thailand, often known as the Land of Smiles.  Thailand appears at first glance the most accessible of Asian countries which is why so many westerners choose to holiday here and often make their home here.  However, the culture and mentality can be very different so I will guide you through my top 10 tips for how to survive a Thai bar…

In no particular order, here are the top ten things you HAVE to know about drinking in bars in Thailand.  Although each bar is different, there are some common unwritten rules:


Types of Bars – bars are everywhere in Thailand and they range from a hole in the wall to a five star hotel lounge.  Some things are constant such as the presence of waiting staff and music but other things do vary.  The main types of bars are as follows:  hotel lounges – are high class, expensive, have smart staff, table snacks and ‘freelance’ girls (working girls); other lounge bars – can be expensive, can have pool tables, often will have freelance girls; go-go bars – have dancers hugging chrome poles in varying states of undress depending upon where in the country, will have other hostesses and will vary in price; beer bars – are cheaper, more relaxed, have no chrome poles but probably a pool table and a troupe of hostess staff.  This is a rough guide but of course each bar is different and has a purpose as bar life is very important in Thailand as source of revenue.

Buying Drinks – after all, that is why you came to the bar in the first place we hope.  Bars in Thailand do not expect you to pay for your drinks as you buy them.  They will give you a tab for the time you are there.  Some bars are exceptions and if they are very busy or very untrusting they will request immediate payment as in the West but this is not the norm.  Your bills for each drink will be either placed in a little pot or glass in front of you or will be kept behind the bar.  Either way, keep a rough track in your mind as it is common for the total to be wrong at the end and never in your favour!

Most drinks are available in Thailand but imported drinks are far more expensive.  Wine for example carries a 420% import tax so it is not cheap!  Lady drinks are those you might offer a companion who offers you company.  You are paying for her time so her drink will be more expensive as she generally takes half the value as a tip to her from the bar.


Local Alcohol – we have already, mentioned the price difference between local and imported drinks.  It is worth noting the difference between some local drinks and what you might be used to back home.  Local beer is a favourite and a bar can generally offer you Singha (pronounced ‘sing’), Heineken and some other beers like Chang, Leo or even light beers.  These can vary significantly in strength as well as taste so be warned!

Singha is full bodied, Heineken crisper, Leo cheaper and Chang often much stronger.  There is an urban myth that in the Chang factory the workers often tip a load more hops in as a joke and of course quality control is not a Thai concept.  Other local drinks are the Thai whiskeys which actually are not really whiskey but rum but the Thais tend to think of all hard liquor as whiskey to there you go.

Light Beers – there is a little confusion locally about these beers in Thailand.  In the west, ‘light’ generally signifies a low alcohol or low carb beer but not necessarily here as you might guess.  San Miguel Light is a low calorie beer with full alcohol content but this is not the case with Singha Light for example.  As San Mig is made here under licence, they were directed by the Philippine brewery but Singha being a Thai company were a little confused to say the least and took the reverse approach.  There are no clues on the labels but a night on Singha Light will leave you sober and heavier so needless to say it is not a great seller!

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide to Bars in Thailand…

Ringing the Bell – you may notice many bars with a bell in the corner or even in the middle of the bar.  Be careful not to play with it!  This is a Thai custom:  when you ring the bell, you are buying the whole bar drinks!  The exact meaning varies from bar to bar and it can mean just the staff, just the dancing girls if there are any or everyone so if you want to look flash or you are celebrating go for it but you have been warned…

Ordering Food
– one wonderful feature of bars in Thailand is their relaxed attitude to food.  Many bars have a kitchen and they will give you their menu.  If you don’t see anything appealing on the menu, they can probably rustle up most Thai dishes but their grasp of off-menu western food will probably be limited to the likes of club sandwiches.

The other option is to simply tell the bar what you want and whether or not they have their own kitchen, they will go out and find the food you want for you.  Give one of the girls a little up-front money as a sign of good faith and she will go off and order and collect the food for you.  How nice!

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide to Bars in Thailand…

Playing Bar Games – bars have a variety of styles from rustic to slick but one thing that is common to all bars is the availability of bart games.  Thais love to play and the girls or boys in the bar will quickly suck you in to extended periods of game playing with them unless you are clear you are not interested.  Games vary but common favourites are Connect4 and dominoes and the games can even stretch to Jenga.  Cards are not so common because they are associated with gambling but you can make it clear you do not wish to bet.

Be warned that your theory that you will win against the 18 year old girl in the bar because you are smarter may not turn out to be true.  The other theory of practice makes perfect is more true and after 1000s of games under her belt, she will probably win very easily!

Gambling & Smoking – hot on the heels of bar games is the issue of gambling.  It is illegal in Thailand hence the lack of casinos, online gaming and betting shops.  Somehow the lottery manages to slip through this definition but be warned that you will be arrested as a foreigner if you try to overtly gamble in a bar.

Smoking is banned now in a variety of public places and air-conditioned places.  As a rule if there is air-con, you should not smoke and the fines are 2,000 THB to you and 20,000 THB for the bar.  Of course, the police are not very consistent and are always on backhanders so who knows what would happen but the presence of an ashtray is the usual give-away.  Many go-go bars let you smoke even though it is very much air-conditioned there but they are paying the police anyway t allow the other goings on there.

Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide to Bars in Thailand…

Bar Fines – another particular custom in Thailand is the whole practice of ‘bar fines’.  Dancers, companions, hostesses, servers or indeed the manager (called a ‘mamasan’ if female and it is a bar with many girls for ‘hire’) are all available to leave the bar with you for companionship but always for a price.  Girls (or boys or ‘katoeys’ – ladyboys) can all come with you but they will normally expect a payment for their time and services and so will the bar.  The way the bar sees it, it has lost a money-earning asset and so you have to compensate them.

The  bar fine is therefore the payment to the bar to take their staff away and it varies based on the time of evening and who you wish to take.  A mamasan will be very expensive indeed as she has to run the place, followed by a showgirl early evening as she will miss shows on stage scheduled for later, but a hostess after midnight is no great loss.   In fact, many bar staff have minimum quotas of bar fines they have to make for the bar so they are encouraged to find a ‘date’.

Paying the Bill
– when you want to leave, with or without your ‘date’, you simply ask for the bill saying ‘check bin kap’ or ‘gep tang kap’ and they will add it up if you have not paid as you have gone along.  A bar fine will have been added as will any lady drinks but there should not be any other additional unless you are in a hotel bar or higher class bar where they may add a service charge.  Either way, check it and if there is a problem do not walk off without paying.  Complain on the spot but be aware that you will not win the argument if they want to dig their heels in.  There are too many stories of angry Thai men jumping out of the woodwork and setting upon a foreigner trying to leave without paying  and the police will never take your side.  Argue the point but do not argue too far…

Bars in Thailand are a fabric of everyday life and time there can be very enjoyable.  I hope this helps make yours so…

Tell me your stories! I would LOVE to hear…

- The Guru

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About the author

I have traveled and lived all over the world - 95 countries and counting! I have information you can't find elsewhere and I share it here to promote healthy discussion about the world's people and cultures.

2 Responses to “Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide to Bars in Thailand…”

  1. katalog stron says:

    Nice article! It was a pleasure to read it :)

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  2. katalog www says:

    I see that you know what you were writing about. Very nice article !

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