Drinking Water

In general, people don't drink tap water, with bottled water being the norm.

While it has been reported that tap water exceeds world standards for drinking water in many parts of the city, and the Metropolitan Water Works Authority has made a strong effort to exceed World Health Organization standards by 1999, in some places the water that comes out of the tap is still questionable, usually as regards the pipe network that carries the water to some old places.

Hauling large quantities of bottled water from the store is not necessary. Large containers of bottled water can be delivered to your door on a regular schedule by water vendors. Ask your building manager, a neighborhood official, or a neighbor for information on who serves your neighborhood. In central Bangkok, you can just call the company Sprinkle at 02-712-7272, one of the best organized.

Water is usually delivered in large heavy bottles. Handling these is an issue.

Some people buy a standup water dispenser. Picking up a big bottle and putting it onto a dispenser is a challenge for a lady. The vendor will usually do so happily, but he may not be around when the bottle empties.

Some vendors offer a battery operated pump, like the one in the photo to the left, either free with a subscription or at a small price. You just replace the two D-size batteries periodically. The water delivery guy can put a few bottles anywhere in your kitchen or house that you request, so you never need to lift them, just open them and put on the pump.

Some people use water directly from the pump, but I also reuse small plastic bottles, filling them up from the pump.

Some people boil the tap water and drink that. However, you should be advised that if there are any toxins in the water, your body may still react to the toxins after it is boiled, even if the toxins are dead already. Freezing water into ice does not kill all the bacteria and viruses.

Brushing your teeth with tap water is generally safe.

When eating out, the water is generally safe. In cafes and restaurants, you have an option of buying a small bottle of water for your table or getting a glass of water without the bottle. The latter generally comes from a big bottle in the back, i.e., is the same as if you order your own small bottle. However, many street vendors will give you water that has a pale color. The coloring is due to a tea leaf, and signifies that it is boiled tap water.

It is common for vendors to purchase large quantities of ice rather than produce it themself. Ice is produced in factories that are licensed and inspected by the government. This ice is distributed to vendors all over. There are occasionally hygiene problems in packaging, transportation and storage, but it's rare that anyone gets sick from it.

Perhaps the greatest risk with water is the glass it's poured into. Is it clean?

A few Thai phrases on water:

    nam plao -- plain water (no bottle)
    nam kowat -- bottled water
    nam tom -- boiled water
    nam duem -- drinking water (could be any of the above)
    nam yen -- cold water
    nam kang -- ice
    nam rawn -- hot water
    nam un -- warm water for taking a shower (e.g., a hotel feature)
    nam sohm -- orange juice
    nam manow -- lemon or lime juice

It is conventional in Thai dwellings to not have hot water showers, though hot water showers are standard in modern condos and upper class hotels in Bangkok and some other places. If you don't like cold showers to wake you up in the morning, then you'd better check this out before settling upon a home, or else be prepared to install an electric hot water heater.

If you do install an electric hot water heater, then you should be careful about how it is installed. To assure that you don't get shocked, it must be properly grounded. A combination of a cheap hot water heater and improper grounding can lead to shocking consequences. Thailand Guru has a page on grounding, and if you aren't sure about doing it yourself, then you may hire us to do it for you.

Some water delivery companies, to deliver large bottles to your residence:

Boon Rawd (Singha): Tel: 258-7711
Aqua Fresh (a U.S. owned company): Tel: 729-4714
M Water Co. (Sprinkle Water): Tel: 712-7486
Siam Drinking Water: Tel: 322-8565

There are surely many more...

Water, Water Everywhere...

Water is one of the basic building blocks of life as we know it in this universe, and our planet has an abundance.

In Thailand, water supply is exceptionally plentiful, except in the northeast in the dry seasons. Thailand's culture has long been intimately related with water, but not in a seafaring way, instead mainly in a local transport and irrigation mindset.

The land is flat in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces, and if you just look at a map then you will see an endless web of straight blue criss-crosses, called "klongs", the Thai word for "canals". You will find a lot of canals close to your home which you may not have thought much about. They are usually very old but silted up by now, though they still have water. Countless klongs are very long, continuing well beyond the biggest maps of greater Bangkok. Just appreciating them on an ordinary map will give you a better feel for Thai culture.

For transport, Thais didn't use the wheel/horses/buffaloes/elephants much around Bangkok in the old days, compared to boats. If the old Thais wanted a "road", they just dug it, and it doubled as irrigation for crops. If the old Thais wanted a vehicle, then they just carved a canoe and paddle or pole out of a tree. If you want to see old Bangkok, then just go to some remote places on the map and take a look at the homes around the canals.

Other provinces have similar networks.

5,000 years ago, Bangkok was under water and the seaside went up to what is now Saraburi. Remote sensing technology shows a network of canals more extensive than Venice's, which dried up thousands of years ago. Moats can be discerned around them, there is previously sunken pottery in them, etc.

The Thai language is rich in water related phrases as metaphors.

In the 20th century, modern technology was applied to the waterways, for better and worse. Floodgates, pumps and dams manage the water better (but sometimes the dams pose ecosystem disasters). On the other hand, pollution has transformed so many waterways into open sewers.

Most of the drinking water in bottles comes from deep underground aquifers, and that water is very old and clean. Many communities get tap water from aquifers, but application of technology has led to local sinkhole communities and resultant flooding during the rainy season.

(The author of this article has worked with people who perform geophysical surveys to map underground aquifers in order to determine where to drill ... and where to locate those tall water tanks you see around the outskirts of Bangkok and in the provinces. They are tall to create water pressure.)

This water tank looks like a giant golf ball on a tee. In fact, it is located right next to a golf course in a nice neighborhood of luxury homes! It's surprising that they didn't paint it to look like a golf ball on a tee, e.g., with many spots using silver metallic paint. If you know someone who does that kind of paint work, then they can find the place by just driving down the Chaeng Wattana elevated expressway to Rangsit in northern Bangkok. This photo was taken from a car on that expressway. It looks even better close up from the ground, and maybe I'll go back there someday.

The photo to the left is a boring "champagne" tank. Doesn't look like a champagne glass to me...

Tap water generally comes from reservoirs and carefully chosen klongs, and it leaves the processing plant to World Health Organization (WHO) standards. However, the tap water can become unacceptable due to faults in the piping between the processing plant and your home or office.

In many parts of Bangkok, it is not uncommon for the local waterworks utility to fail to provide tap water for hours at a time. That is why many houses have a big tank in the yard. That tank is a reserve, and there is a pump which creates pressure from tank to house.

When the water first comes back on, it is often dirty for a minute or two. Here's why:

When the water stops running, if you are not prepared with an alternative water supply, then you may note that there is actually a suction in your tap. If you put your hand to the tap and turn it on, it actually sucks on your skin a little. This is because many multi-level buildings have water tanks on the roof and various levels to provide water to their residents, and water must be pumped up to the tanks. When the waterworks utility fails to deliver water in the pipes, then some of the cheap pumps don't stop pumping. Instead, they start sucking air, causing a suction in the pipes, which in turn sucks in dirt ... and bacteria ... from places where the pipes have imperfect seals or cracks. (Normally, the water pressure in the pipe keeps that inward leakage as insignificant.) The result is that when water comes again, it first washes out all the stuff that was sucked into the pipes.

There are different kinds of aquifers. Pumping out underground water can cause the surface to sink. However, some are stable, e.g., aquifers located in faults.

Below, the quality of water with depth (meters), in a place near Bangkok.

See also our page on Boat transport in Bangkok

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