Buying Alcohol in Thailand
At certain times and days, the sale of alcohol is banned in Thailand.
If sitting at a bar and enjoying a cold beer is a necessity to handle the heat in Thailand, or if the nightlife at discos and bars is a crucial part of your holiday, then you may need to plan your vacation to avoid certain days.
Thailand is a Buddhist country with Buddhist holidays and on five of them, all sale of alcohol is prohibited. In addition, there is a ban on the sale of alcohol in connection with elections, and many places more or less voluntarily choose not to sell alcohol on royal birthdays. You can read more about those days further down the page.
The government seeks to limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages by young people by prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the shops between 14:00 and 17:00 (2 PM and 5 PM); when the students get free and until they are supposed to be at home. And again from midnight to 11:00 (11 AM).
The authorities can allow the sale of alcohol after midnight in special entertainment areas, typically areas aimed at foreign tourists.
When the junta seized power in 2014, they tightened the rules to forbid the sale of alcohol near universities and other colleges - special entertainment areas may be exempt.
You may be able to buy alcohol during the forbidden time in small independent kiosks, but not in the supermarkets and the large kiosk chains such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart; here, electronic cash registers reveal both what you buy and the time.
Usually, you can buy alcohol in bars and restaurants throughout their business hours, even during the prohibited hours - unless it is one of the below mentioned days.
There are five Buddhist holidays where all sale of alcohol are prohibited from midnight to midnight. And while not all places adhere to it strictly, it does mean that discos, bars, and other nightlife close those days.
In entertainment areas for tourists, many venues will close the day before the holiday as well because they have to close at midnight anyway.
The five holidays do not fall on the same date each year as they adhere to a lunar calendar. The word wan in the names below means day.
Wan Makha Bucha falls on the day of the full moon in the third month of the lunar calendar, which occurs in February or March. In 2020 it is February 9th, and in 2021 it is February 26th.
Wan Wisakha Bucha falls on the day of the full moon in the sixth month of the lunar calendar. Usually, in May or early June. In 2020 it is May 6th, and in 2021 it is May 26th.
Wan Asaha Bucha and Wan Khao Phansa are related, and they usually fall in July. Wan Asaha Bucha falls on the day of the full moon in the eighth month of the lunar calendar. The next day is the Wan Khao Phansa, it falls on the first day of the waning full moon, and it marks the beginning of the Buddhist Vassa, also known as the Buddhist Lent. It is a three month spiritual period in Theravada Buddhism. The two days fall on July 5th and 6th in 2020, and July 25th and 26th in 2021.
Wan Awk Phansa ends the Buddhist Vassa, and it falls in October. In 2020 it is October 1st, and in 2021 it is October 20th.
For many years, it has been relatively easy for tourists to find a place that would serve alcohol on the forbidden days - typically, beer was served in a coffee cup so that passing police officers could not see the beer. It has become a little harder after the military coup in 2014 where very conservative forces took power. You can probably still find a willing seller at your resort, but you may need to work a little harder to find one.
It is not illegal to sell alcohol on royal birthdays; nonetheless, some discos, bars, etc. close on one or more of the royal birthdays.
It is not always up to the individual establishment whether they want to sell alcohol on royal birthdays. In some places, the local authorities or the police ask them to stop selling alcohol on certain royal birthdays and woe the store or bar that doesn't comply.
You risk a dry spell on the following royal birthdays, which are all celebrated as holidays:
The birthday of King Rama X on July 28th.
Queen Sirikit's birthday on August 12th.
The death of King Rama IX on October 13th.
King Rama IX's birthday (Father's Day) on December 5th.
It is mostly in the nightlife you risk a dry spell on the royal birthdays; usually, you can buy a beer or a glass of wine at a restaurant.
Elections and Places
The law prohibits the sale of alcohol in connection with both local and national elections; typically, from two days before the election.
Please note that it is the sale of alcohol that the law prohibits on the Buddhist holidays and in connection with elections; you are allowed to drink alcohol. Thus, if you are in Thailand on one of the above mentioned days, you can buy beer the day before, store it in the fridge, and then bring it to the beach or wherever you are going.
One caveat: you cannot drink alcohol everywhere. The law prohibits drinking alcohol in publicly owned park areas, in national parks, at gas stations, and in schools. The same applies to temples and other religious buildings unless the consumption of alcohol is part of a religious ceremony - for example, drinking altar wine in a church is permitted. This law applies to every day, not only the above mentioned days.