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 unfiltered tap water is generally safe. Of course, if the water is discolored or has a smell, then I'd be careful. Sometimes, I have gotten a glass, filled it with water, and looked for anything (other than the normal bubbles from filling up the glass). It is very rare that I've seen any problem.

Many homes put in a water filter at particular taps where drinking water may be consumed, and some also have an ultraviolet disinfection system whereby typically the water flowing thru is irradiated with 320 nanometer ultraviolet light to kill most pathogens.

I have accidentally drunk water from a house tap which was totally untreated, and nothing happened to me. For example, on more than one occasion, I have come back from a long trip to a country where you normally drink tap water and without thinking (especially with sleepy) just filled up a glass and drunk it and then later remembered what I did and realized my mistake. No worries, there was no effect at all which I could discern. Then again, I've lived here a long time, and I still remember my body's strong reaction to the first time I drank just thoroughly boiled water the first month I was here in 1994, not poisoning but just my body's reaction to unfamiliar benign things in the water.

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 and some restaurants will give you water that has a pale color. The coloring is due to a tea leaf, and signifies that it is boiled water.

It is common for vendors to purchase large quantities of ice rather than produce it themselves. 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 not from the ice as it was produced at the factory, and it's extremely 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

Hot Water Showers

It is conventional in Thai dwellings to not have hot water showers, though hot water showers are standard in hotels and apartments, and upper class houses and condominiums. 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.

It is rare to have a central hot water heater in Thailand. Normally, water is heated as it flows thru a pipe upon usage, by a small electric hot water heater located just before the particular tap.

Water for hand washing taps, clothes washing, etc., is normally unheated, just from the tap. Since Thailand usually doesn't get very cold, it's usually comfortable. However, many luxury homes have lots of hot water heaters which automatically turn on and off with usage, such as for washing dishes, clothes, hands, etc.

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.

Also, if you buy a water heater, you should be aware that there are two kinds of hot water heaters:

  1. Located before the on/off tap knob, whereby the hot water heater turns on and off automatically according to water flow (not pressure), and

  2. Located after an on/off tap knob, whereby the hot water heater turns on and off automatically according to water pressure (not flow).

It is important to get the right kind of water heater for a particular application. If you are not sure, then consult somebody with a technical knack.

In luxury homes, there are often the first type, which are hidden away somewhere such as under the sink or above a ceiling, and go to the hot water tap of a 2 tap mixture, whereby you don't adjust the heater settings, it's just one setting all the time and you adjust the temperature by the mixture of the hot and cold water by your 2 knobs or your swinging bar or whatever. You will more commonly see the second type of heater in less luxurious places, and located for example on the wall of your shower, whereby there is just one knob on the water tap coming from the wall, and then you can turn a knob on the water heater to adjust the water temperature. (You can also turn it on and off, but they normally turn off automatically when you turn off the tap and the water pressure drops.) I prefer the latter type because it's just easier to use, never mind a trivial difference in aesthetics.

Drinking Water Delivery Companies

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

Sprinkle (my favorite): 02-712-7272

Boon Rawd (Singha): Tel: 02-258-7711
Aqua Fresh (a U.S. owned company): Tel: 02-729-4714
M Water Co. (Sprinkle Water): Tel: 02-712-7486
Siam Drinking Water: Tel: 02-322-8565

There are surely many more...

Cost of Water on Utility Bills

Water in Thailand is relatively cheap. In general conversation, it will be stated in terms of price per "unit". So what's a unit? One unit equals one cubic meter which is 1000 liters.

The cost per unit is typically around 10 baht, but varies around the country, sometimes very significantly, such as up to around 30 baht in some places under some circumstances. The government rate for water can fluctuate, such as if there is a drought. The cost per unit is higher in apartments, but usually not in condominiums. (By definition of "apartment", one owner owns all the units and rents them all out, whereby you pay the building for your consumption, not the government. A "condominium" building has different units having different owners, like a neighborhood of houses, whereby owners pay the government directly for consumption.) Apartment buildings add some income to themselves by charging higher rates, but some of this goes into paying for the electricity to pump the water to higher floors and maintaining the entire system. In condominium buildings, these costs are included in the monthly building maintenance fee paid by unit owners, paid separately from the water bill.

In many places to help the poor and also to discourage wastage of water, the price of water increases with usage, e.g., the first xxx units at a very low price, the next xxx units at a higher price, and so on.

Water Pressure

The water pressure in most of Thailand is actually pretty low. In many Thai houses, people take showers on the ground floor, and sometimes do not shower during some times of the day due to low water pressure. You may also notice in many Thai bathrooms a large plastic water can, such as what you may buy as a main trash can or storage unit, except it's filled up with water, and has a scoop on top. This is often the shower for Thais. They let the can fill up with water over time, then when it's time to take a shower, scoop water over themselves.

In modern houses, there is normally a large storage tank outside (and more than one tank for many luxury houses), usually above the ground in a corner somewhere, but in some luxury houses it is buried under the ground, plus a pump to pump the water. The bigger the pump, the higher the water pressure, though of course, you should choose an appropriately sized pump for a house or else you can burst the pipes if you use, for example, and apartment building sized pump. The pump automatically turns on when the water pressure drops to a certain threshold, and likewise turns off. When somebody inside the house turns a tap on and off, you'll hear the pump turn on and off if you are near the pump, which is usually located adjacent the water tank.

The result is that 2 level houses typically have very good water pressure on the second floor, and even better on the first floor. For houses and townhouses of 3 or more levels, things can get a little bit more complicated.

In any case, even in a place where there is very low water pressure, water can trickle into the tank all day and accumulate, and then you use it at a high rate of consumption from the tank via the pump for brief periods.

I've never had a tank run dry at houses I've lived in with multiple occupants.

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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