Smoking Tobacco, and Drinking Alcohol in Bangkok and Thailand
Smoking Cigarettes, Cigars and Pipes
If you arrive as a tourist in Bangkok, you may initially be puzzled as to where to find cigarettes or tobacco. The reason is that tobacco wares are not allowed to be displayed in public and no advertising is allowed. Smaller shops will usually sell cigarettes. Most convenient places to buy tobacco are the 7-Eleven convenience stores scattered around Bangkok. The cigarettes are located just behind the counter, but as I mentioned, you will not actually see them displayed and must ask for them.
Image : Can Stock Photo (with permission, copyrighted)
Not quite sure why anyone would want to smoke cigarettes, but for the more serious smokers you will find tobacco wares (cigars, pipe tobacco) at Siam Paragon and Emporium. The shops that sell tobacco are called Bangkok Wine Cellar (they mostly sell wine and spirits). There is one located on the 5th floor (next to the Gourmet Market) at Emporium Shopping Center, and another one (a bit larger, maybe somewhat more choice) in the corridor left of Gourmet Market at Siam Paragon (located at the basement level floor). The pipe tobacco and cigars are not openly visible, so you have to ask to see the wares.
Now (actually this occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic time), in an effort to make smoking look less and less pleasurable, packaging has again been modified. It took about 3 months to do so, and in that time pipe tobacco was not available at the few outlets remaining (so also no revenue from the high taxes, we think they must be surely needed). Strangely enough, from the outside, the tobacco pouches look about the same as before. A large picture covers most of the outside, depicting some dreadful disease, attributed to smoking. So far so good. For opining the tobacco pouch, you need at least a good pair of scissors, to go through the various packaging layers. Reaching the inside, it is CLEAR THAT THE PACKAGE IS OPENED, PART OF THE ORIGINAL CLOSING LID HAS BEEN REMOVED. It is not possible to close the pipe tobacco pouches after opening them, you will have to put them in some plastic bag or so, to avoid the content drying out. But what is worse, since the package has been opened, the least we can say is that this is unhygienic, and not supposed to happen. It also suggest that tampering with the content is possible (we had the impression some tobacco had been removed in one tobacco package we bought). LET'S JUST SAY : TOBACCO PACKAGES SHOULD NOT BE OPENED, JUST AS MANY OTHER ITEMS FOR HUMAN ORAL CONSUMPTION (like most packaged items in supermarkets, most medication you buy at pharmacies etc.).
A few months back, we noticed tobacco was sold at the same shops mentioned above, and it was not possible to see the brand or type of tobacco from the outside. The only way to figure things out at the time, was to scan the barcode, and then identify the tobacco brand on the computer terminal. The lenght people will go to annoy other people, has no limits.
A lot of cigar and tobacco shops seem to have disappeared the last few years. They have gone broke or have given up, likely because of ever more stringent regulations.
Image : Can Stock Photo (with permission, copyrighted)
A good alternative is a cigar shop located at Peninsula Plaza. this low-rise shopping plaza is located in between high-class hotels on Rajadamri road, just a few hundred meters from the Chitlom BTS station. This tobacconist was earlier located at Dusit Thani Hotel, which is now being destroyed to make place for an newer edition.
There is a reasonable selection of pipe tobacco and smoking accessories. Savinelli pipes are occasionally on sale. We do not know about the prices of the Cuban cigars or the pipes on sale, but the pipe tobacco here is expensive, just like at Siam Paragon or Emporium. Also also here (since beginning 2020) it is not possible to see the tobacco wares through the window or door anymore, everything is covered up, but the name clearly will indicate (we do not recall it now) that it is a tobacco shop (located on the mezzanine floor on the right side of the building).
By the way, if you are interested in what can be called 'European-style kitchware from last few centuries' Peninsula Plaza is a place to be.
If you are rolling your own cigarettes, there is a tobacco shop located on the ground floor at Silom Complex (where Central Department Store is) on Silom Road. From what I found with an internet search, the shop had a good selection of pipe tobacco. When visiting just recently, we noticed this must have been in the past, because there was hardly anything available, and the staff did not seem to be interested in selling it either. But you may check it out if you roll cigarettes, the shop is called Sessions Bangkok. Interesting, on a later short visit, we noticed a fair collection of quality pipes (including Stanwell and Savinelli), so if you need some replacements, check out the wares (and the prices).
Five star hotels often will have a small shop where you can also buy tobacco wares. I noticed that these shops are allowed to display tobacco for sale.
Smoking is prohibited in restaurants and public places in Bangkok. Smoking is allowed outside buildings. For example, if you are a smoker and visit a Starbucks for your morning coffee, you may want to select one that has an outdoors section (although nowadays it seems Starbucks itself seems to disallow smoking even in its outdoor areas).
When you visited bars before, well you would have seen the reason why smoking has been banned in most places, and gets such a bad press. The bars were filled with smoke, and any visit may have had you coughing for the next few days. In our opinion, if smokers would have been more self-restraining, things would not have developed as far as they have now, with smokers being treated almost as bad as plain criminals.
As of 2008, there is a smoking ban in airconditioned bars and night clubs. Up to then, bars and nightlife entertainment venues had been exempted. Most bars and pubs implement the new anti-smoking rules, but not all.
Drinking and Buying Alcohol
Drinking alcohol is still allowed in Thailand. However, you can not buy alcohol at all times of day. Shops like supermarkets and 7-Elevens are not allowed to sell alcohol between 2.00-5.00 P.M. and after midnight. At 11 A.M. sales are permitted again. As far as we know, you can drink alcohol all day though in restaurants and bars.
On some days (religious and national holidays, election days, Corona Lockdown) alcohol sales are banned altogether, and drinks can not be served even in restaurants and bars (which often close on these days anyway).
Wines are invariably priced high. Even table wines that would be sold at less than 100 baht a bottle in Europe, cost 500 baht and upwards.
Stronger drinks like whisk(e)y, gin, vodka are a better deal. A bottle of good whisky such as Grant's or Ballantines can be had at around 800-900 baht a bottle (about 25-30 US $).
Most supermarkets will sell wines and spirits. Beers and mostly local brand alcohol is available at 7-Elevens (prices are about 20% higher than at supermarkets though). By the way, Thai brandy (sometimes called whisky or rum) is actually quite tasty and very cheap.
Drinking beer or other alcoholic beverages in bars and pubs in Thailand is not cheap. Often you will need to pay in excess of 150 baht for just a standard local beer. This does not apply for smaller non-airconditioned bars and streetside restaurants.
Drunk driving is a major problem in Thailand, and thousands of people are killed each year because of it. Most victims (and perpetrators) are 'low-class' motorcycle drivers, and little is done to enforce existing laws, and/or to improve drivers' conduct. Invariably, each year around New Year and with Songkran (the Thai New Year) there will be temporary campaigns to limit the number of road deaths. Unfortunately, the value of life in Thailand is rather low, and therefore little is done to preserve it.
The laws to curb drunk driving are actually there, more effort is necessary to implement them, together with an educational campaign to suggest to the young Thai males that driving drunk is not cool or virile.
During Covid-19 lockdowns and semi-lockdowns restaurants and eateries could only operate at certain times. Often it was not allowed to serve alcohol with food. What we noticed is that a certain subgroup of Thais have an alcohol problem. When they can not sit down at outside eateries and drink after their food, they congregate around certain convenience stores, and spend quite a few hours drinking mostly beers outside in small groups. Off the main roads, quite a few convenience stores have ample space to sit on and around the pavement. Most of these 'drinkers' arrive by motorcycle, and we can only imagine in what state they drive home. In a way, it would be wise to allow eateries to allow alcohol either, or disallow the selling of all alcoholic drinks at convenience stores.