Buying Takeaway Alcohol in Thailand - Plan Ahead!

I live around ten kilometres from my nearest supermarket, and with a bicycle as my only transport, tend to make a morning of a shopping trip, following a nearby game of badminton beforehand.

If I'm planning to buy alcohol, it needs to be a morning trip, rather than a mid-afternoon one, to get around one of Thailand's peculiar liquor laws. The sale of alcohol is only permitted between 11.00 am and 2.00 pm and from 5.00 pm – midnight.

While my local 7-11 sells alcohol, the supermarket has more than the usual mundane Thai range of three beer varieties - Leo, Chang and Singha. Wine is highly taxed here, and also better off bought from a vendor with a bit of scale.

No problems so far as I set off on this warm sunny morning of Monday, February 22nd, 2016. I enjoy a great 10km morning ride, then an exhausting, but fun hour of badminton. Time for shopping before the lengthy pedal home. Having not made my badminton/supermarket excursion for over 2 weeks, I have a few things to buy, not least some imported wine.

The liquor corner is well stocked with a good variety of imported beers, wines and spirits. There's usually a well-dressed attendant just for that corner (alcohol is a regular supermarket item, unlike in Australia, where sales restrictions and segregation to staff "trained" to sell alcohol responsibly applies). The dedicated Thai attendant is no doubt justified, both to give personal service in selling these much higher ticket items, and also to keep an eye out for theft, in what measure for each I can only speculate.

On this day however, I am greeted by a rope cordoning off the whole area, and a sign in both Thai and English, explaining that today is Makha Bucha Day*, and therefore no alcohol sales are allowed.

  Pic: Dear Our Valued Customer - You won't be drinking wine tonight

Pic: Dear Our Valued Customer - You won't be drinking wine tonight

Since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) a.k.a. the Thai Army took over the running of the country in May 2014, it has been trying to crack down on the hitherto intractably lax enforcement of many laws, with mixed results.

When I lived in Bangkok a few years ago, some retailers followed the 2-5pm sales ban, while others didn't. If you found yourself shopping in that pesky afternoon dry period, and wanted a beer or two for the evening, you'd slip into a quiet privately owned store, rather than one of the chains, and invariably exit with the required liquid goods (liquid gold?) in your hand.

I dare say that is still the situation, however the government does seem to have put a stop to the more overt retailing during blackout periods. For example, a certain well-known Bangkok imported goods retailer was, until the change of government, able to sell alcohol (largely to foreigners) during blackout periods, an inexplicable exemption from the law.

  Pic: Time your shopping trips carefully if you want to buy grog

Pic: Time your shopping trips carefully if you want to buy grog

Prohibition for bars and restaurants also seems to be more strictly enforced now. At least one retailer in Surin yesterday was taking the ban in their stride by offering free soft drinks with meals for Makha Bucha day.

Completely dry days on Buddhist holidays, plus the usual blackout periods on all other days shouldn't ruin visitors' holidays. With enforcement of these rules on the increase, take note of your Thai Buddhist holidays, blackout periods, and plan ahead if you want to drink.

 

*Makha Bucha is the full moon day of the third lunar month, when 1,250 enlightened but unannounced disciples visited and were then ordained by the Buddha, ten months after his own enlightenment. It is commemorated in Thailand by making offerings at temples, and clearing the mind as one walks around the temple holding lit candles.