Smoking Tobacco, and Drinking Alcohol in Bangkok and Thailand

Smoking Cigarettes, Cigars and Pipes

See also : Smoking Rooms at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok

Cartoon image of smoking young woman

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 (which are not expensive, even the imported ones). 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 aks 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.
After visiting the store at Siam Paragon, we just recently realized there was another cigar shop on the second floor (take the stairs inside the Bangkok Wine Market, off Gourmet Market). This after we noticed its website by good fortune. The tobacco shop on the second floor is called Divan@Siam Paragon, and sells a good selection of Havana cigars. There are no pipes, pipe tobacco or accessories on sale. The cigars are not openly priced, which is a bit of a turn-off. Branches of the same company that runs Divan@Siam Paragon can be found at Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Cigar Shop at J.W. Marriott Hotel (Phloenchit road), at Pattaya Mariott Resort and Spa. Its cigars can also be enjoyed at bars at the Conrad Hotel and Grand Hyatt Erawan.

Enjoying a smoke at a table

A good alternative to the shops mentioned above is the Siam Havana Cigars shop at the Dusit Thani hotel. The Dusit Thani hotel is a five-star hotel located very close to the Silom MRT (subway) station. Just turn left as you exit the subway, and walk to the entrance of the hotel, the tobacco shop is right there.
Image : Can Stock Photo (with permission, copyrighted)

As the name suggests, it has a selection of Havana cigars. There is also a reasonable selection of pipe tobacco and smoking accessories. Savinelli pipes are on sale. We do not know about the prices of the Cuban cigars or the pipes on sale, but the pipe tobacco here is not more expensive than the pipe tobacco at Siam Paragon or Emporium. The tobacco wares at Dusit Thani hotel are not covered up, but openly displayed, as they should be.

Most five star hotels actually 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 sees 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 February 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.

Somewhere in the middle of 2010 the anti-smoking laws became more stringent, although just reading the new measures in the press we failed to see any significant changes.

Tip for pipe smokers :

You can find pipes and there is a fair collection available at times at the above mentioned Siam Havana Cigars at Dusit Thani. Invariably they will be highly priced, having a wide margin a consistent characteristic of Thai business models.

We found out that buying pipes on eBay or specialized websites can be much cheaper than buying them from a 'mortar and bricks shop'. It is not uncommon (postage included) to find them at about 40-45% of the local price. Whether you need to pay import taxes is touch and go though (sometimes you do, sometimes you don't).

See also : Smoking Rooms at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok

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. Sometime in the morning (the time escapes me) 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) alcohol sales are banned altogether, and drinks can not be served even in restaurants and bars (which usually 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 400 baht and upwards.
Stronger drinks like whisk(e)y, gin, vodka are quite cheap altogether. A bottle of good whisky such as Grant's or Ballantines can be had at around 600-700 baht a bottle (about 20-25 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 100 baht for just a standard local beer. This does not apply for smaller non-airconditioned bars and streetside restaurants. Nightlife venues charge around 150 baht for a drink.

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.
Prior to Songkran 2009 there was a strong movement to ban the sale of alcohol altogether during the holiday period. Surveys (as published in local newspapers) suggested wide support for such a ban. Just a week before Songkran it was eventually decided by the ad hoc government commission not to go ahead with the scheme, because it would unfavorably affect tourism.
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.