The first 2 years I lived in Bangkok I didn’t dare to touch a drop of the stuff that came out of the tap…
But then I did a little research. And what I found was interesting…
Can you drink tap water in Bangkok? Yes, you can. The water is perfectly safe to drink, having been certified as such by the World Health Organization since 1999.
It is held to the same standards as those of richer Western countries like the USA, Germany, Australia among many others.
That means that you do not need to boil it or treat it in any way first. It’s suitable for brushing teeth, making coffee or anything else you might use water for in a developed country.
But that’s not what everyone thinks who lives here! Thais and expats alike. So I did a bit more digging into the reasons behind this…
Can You Drink Tap Water In Bangkok?
In short, yes you can. It’s as safe and clean as any other developed city where you might feel more comfortable drinking it.
The organisation in charge of providing water to Bangkok is called the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority. It’s a branch of the government that was put in place by King Rama V over 100 years ago. From their website:
MWA’s water supply at presently (2011), almost 100% of Bangkok’s population receives reliable, safe tap water through the state-run utility.
Personally, I’ve been drinking Bangkok tap water for over 2 years now with no ill effects and I know plenty of people who do the same. (And you can rest assured that if I suddenly come down with cholera or something, I will come back and change this article!)
Actually, according to the MWA, around 5% of their customers drink straight from the tap. That might seem low but is high enough that any major issues with the water quality would surely have been detected by now.
Can You Drink Tap Water In The Rest Of Thailand?
If you’re travelling outside of Bangkok, I recommend not drinking the tap water. It’s probably safe in some areas but not in others. The problem is that it’s difficult to find information on it. Like Bangkok, ask most Thais and they will advise against drinking the tap water regardless.
The rest of Thailand’s water is supplied by the Provincial Waterworks Authority. While the organisation has claimed that tap water is safe to drink in all of Thailand, there are not the same guarantees on its website as the MWA.
The best information I could find from them is the following quote.
PWA is strongly determined to improve the quality of its product and has thus launched the “Potable Tap Water” project due to the occasion on which His Majesty the King’s birthday returned to its 72nd anniversary in 1999. In this connection, PWA has coordinated with the Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health in order to develop the quality of the water supply so that it is clean, safe and drinkable right from tap, with an aim to enhance the public’s quality of life through having clean water for both drinking and non-drinking purpose at an inexpensive price, only 1 satang per liter
Essentially, this states that clean and safe drinkable water is an aim rather than something they are providing right now. My advice? Steer clear.
You might wonder why one city is capable of producing potable water but the rest of the country isn’t.
Well, Thailand faces similar problems to many western countries in that once the wealth began to accumulate in one city, it creates a runaway feedback effect.
In much the same way that wealth and jobs are disproportionately concentrated in London or Toronto, Bangkok is far, far wealthier than the rest of the country. The term for this is a “primate city” and Bangkok is one of the most extreme examples on the planet.
What this means for the water supply is that in Bangkok, there is enough wealth flying around in the form of taxes that they can invest in the infrastructure more. In other provinces, not so much.
I’ve even heard of stories that in certain rural areas, water often comes straight out of the tap with a musty brown colour!
You can read more about the problems Thailand is facing due to water here. The article states that the country will have real ‘water scarcity’ problems by as early as 2025!
What Does Bangkok Tap Water Taste Like?
Here’s a glass of authentic tap water pulled straight from the faucet of my Bangkok condo. Intrepid readers might like to guess the neighbourhood in the background!
How does it taste? Well, I can’t distinguish it from bottled water at all. Pouring straight from the tap, it has that same clearness that you get from bottled water. this is all backed up by the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority who have done taste tests that demonstrate that the majority of people cannot tell the difference.
It also doesn’t have the weird ‘hardness’ that makes water taste a bit funny. For example, I think the water in London tastes really bad from the tap. I believe it is because it is ‘hard’ water rather than ‘soft’ water. Either way, I’m much happier having a glass of Bangkok’s finest H20 than the stuff from London.
Do Thai People Drink Tap Water In Thailand?
The simple answer to this is yes and no. It comes down to the fact that Thailand is a large country. There are 70 million people here, all who occupy different strata of the social milieu.
If you ask a well-to-do Bangkokian Thai, they might baulk at the suggestion of drinking from the tap. I have a friend who tries to convince his ‘hi-so’ Thai girlfriend to just use tap water and she has none of it.
Bottled water is widely available in Thailand and considered cheap for most Bangkok salaries. You’re looking at 7 baht for a typical 500ml bottle of chilled water from a 7/11 which is around 21 US cents or 15p in pound sterling. Other drinks are cheap too. A can of coke, a carton of coconut water or a bottle of iced tea won’t be breaking the bank at 15-30 baht apiece.
On the other hand, if you ask a maid/cleaning lady who scrubs floors for her 9,000 baht per month, I doubt she spends much of that on bottled water. And if you go further afield to the smaller cities and provinces then you’re more likely to find Thais who drink from the tap.
As I mentioned before, it’s around 5% of the people in Bangkok who do drink water from the tap. There are no estimates I can find on the rest of Thailand.
Why Do People Think You Can’t Drink Tap Water?
The tap water in Bangkok is clean and drinkable, but 95% of the city’s inhabitants choose not to. I believe there area few factors that explain this.
1. It’s Southeast Asia. This little part of the world is commonly seen as rich in culture, ripe for amazing travel, but desperately poor. This is true to a large extent but ignores the fact that the region has big disparities in wealth and living standards.
Ask any Thai person and they will tell you that they see themselves as the ‘rich man’ of the area in comparison to its neighbours. Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia all have had problems over the last few decades that have left them some of the poorest places in the world.
Thailand, by contrast, has experienced excellent economic growth for decades. That manifests in an improvement in living conditions, one of those being tap water that is safe to drink.
2. The Khlongs. If you’ve spent a little time in Bangkok then you will not have missed the sight (or the smell…) of the Khlongs (คลอง) that run through the city. A Khlong is the Thai word for the canals that used to make up an important part of the city’s transport infrastructure. These days they are left in disrepair and are used as all-purpose refuse and waste dumps. Here’s a photo of one that runs around 10 minutes away from my condo in Asoke.
They look disgusting and smell disgusting. They’re a real blight on the general charm of the city and give people a bad impression about the quality of the water in Bangkok. I think that the reason I never drank tap water in my first 2-3 years here was due, at least in part, to these smelly backwaters.
3. General attitudes toward travelling. Stay at any hotel in Thailand above the hyper-budget level and you will get given two free bottles of water per room. This seems to be a standard in many countries, including developed ones. I guess that it’s a cheap way of adding a little bonus to the room. But on the negative side, it definitely gives the impression that you should be drinking bottled water in Thailand rather than tap water.
The world might even be better off without the millions of extra plastic bottles that end up in the ocean each year because of this.
4. General lack of trust in government. Thailand has big problems with corruption. It also has a military junta for a government. For these reasons and more, many Thais simply do not trust any state-run authority. The MWA can claim it has perfect water quality, but can it be trusted?