Cheers Across Southeast Asia: From Beers To Buckets
Crack a Chang and settle down, because this short guide to some of Southeast Asia's top hotspots for a refreshment in the sun offers some great insight into the culture between the Indian Ocean and the East China Sea…
How to say cheers: chon gaew
Where to go: It's no secret that Thailand is one of the party meccas of Southeast Asia. Known for its all-night blowouts on the sands of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, the hedonistic islands of the Phi Phi archipelago, and even the more Rasta-infused evenings of towns like Chiang Mai and Pai in the north, the whole country pulses to a lively beat (and that's not even mentioning wild Bangkok and Khaosan Road!).
What to order: Thailand is known as the home of the bucket cocktail. This much-talked-about concoction that sees Red Bull (or often cheap energy drink knock-offs) mixed with other soft tipples can come in a whole host of different shades. Some can be tasty, like the vodka version, while others are downright formidable, like the local Sangsom (rum?) mixture. Just be sure not to knock back too many of these bad boys – they are famous for beguiling drinkers of all weight classes. Other popular Thai drinks include Chang and Singha beer. The latter is for the flashpackers (it costs 10 THB more), while the former is emblazoned on vests from Bangkok to Pai, and means dealing with the infamous Changover the morning after! You've been warned.
How to say cheers: leuk dach
Where to go: Cambodia's main sights – the temples of Angkor Wat, the Royal complexes of the capital in Phnom Penh, and the beaches around Sihanoukville in the south – have given rise to a clutch of major tourist towns. These, in turn, have incubated their very own bar streets and nightlife centers. That means you're bound to find all the raucous parties you could want in places like Phnom Penh, on the famous islands of Koh Rong, and in the historic hub of Siem Reap.
What to order: Beer, beer and more beer is the name of the game in the country with some of the lowest drinks prices in all of Southeast Asia. The reason? Well, oddly enough, the Cambodian government has lead a campaign to get the people here to guzzle more of the beige stuff, evoking a duty to the nation and a need to raise greater revenues from alcohol sales. It seems as though the appeals to duty-bound drinking is working, too, because you're likely to spot plenty of natives sipping a brew or two, even before midday. Oh, and funnily enough, two of the most popular beers of Cambodia bear the name of the country's top sight: Angkor.
How to say cheers: Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo
Where to go: With no minimum age limit and most beers selling for wallet-bolstering prices, it's hardly a surprise that Vietnam comes up trumps as one of the region's most imbibing countries. It's almost not worth the effort to list the top places to drink, because virtually every town that peppers the great bend of Indochina has their very own bia hoi shacks (roadside stalls selling cold draught beer). However, standout partying cities include the two big players of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, the temple town of Hue, the booze cruise mecca of Nha Trang, the colonial UNESCO destination of Hoi An, and the islands around the south coast.
What to order: Even though bucket cocktails and international booze is slowly making more of a cameo on the Vietnamese drinking circuit, it remains all about the cold beers here. Saigon Beer, Tiger Beer, Larue and Hanoi Beer are just some of the popular labels, but it's likely you'll be drinking the brand that's produced in whatever town you're in – yep, there are that many breweries in Nam'!
How to say cheers: tepuk tangan
Where to go: Indonesia has a notoriously strange relationship with booze. Being the most populous Muslim nation on the planet, it's hardly a surprise that things can be a little tricky if you're after no-holes-barred imbibing. However, there are some enclaves where it's totally accepted and it will feel just like being back in Thailand. These are mainly in the popular tourist areas of Bali (especially Bali, on account of its adherence to Hinduism), Lombok, international Jakarta, the Gili Isles, Yogyakarta and the like.
What to order: With international spirits like vodka and gin trickier to come by in this country where drinking is frowned on by so many, beer has long taken center stage. Thankfully, there's one beer label that can stand up to all others in Southeast Asia: Bintang. Yep, this frothy creation of fresh and refreshing hops is the go-to tipple for all traveling around the islands of Bali and Lombok and elsewhere. You might also be tempted to sample a local rice wine known as arak. Our advice: don't. You never really know the strength of it, and it's nowhere near as tasty as our friend, the classic Bintang!
How to say cheers: Zoo siab
Where to go: Laos is no stranger to the drinking life. According to official stats the people here consume some of the highest annual quantities of beer in the region. Now we're not sure if that was before or after the "Golden Age" of Vang Vieng's tubing scene, but it's an impressive result nonetheless. And even while the river parties of that jungle town have been closed for good, places like Luang Prubang and Vientiane continue to throw some pretty raucous shindigs!
What to order: BeerLao is the national brew. The recognizable can design has actually catapulted the brand into the limelight – apparently us backpackers like those printed vests. That said, the taste is great too, and the price is almost ALWAYS attractive enough to get you cracking one and sipping. Aside from the beer, there's the ubiquitous local "whiskey", which can usually be purchased for as little as $0.20 a bottle (yes, that does read 'bottle'), and a wide selection of red wines – you can thank the French colonial history for that one!
If you've got any useful info to add to this small guide through the drinking hotspots of Southeast Asia, we'd sure love to hear all about it in the comments below. Or, if you're ready to crack your own beers and hit the tropical region of the world, check out LBW's range of awesome trips there.