I recently spent some time in Thailand and Cambodia, which are very cool places that just happen to be far too hot. As ever on my travels, I made an effort to observe the beer scene. You may be surprised to know that beer is the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage in both of these countries. There are a few reasons for this, those being that beer is relatively cheap, wine spoils in the climate, and beer can be served icy cold. Those locals who can afford to drink, drink locally made beer.
There were many times when I felt like I absolutely needed a beer because I was so freaking hot. In Canada, we beer nerds often lament marketing that promotes subzero beer temperatures, and for good reason. In Southeast Asia, such advertisements are most appealing. Many establishments often serve beer with ice in it, which might seem sacrilegious to us westerners, but is almost necessary in the tropics. One downside is the health risk ice made with sketchy tap water poses. I chanced my wellbeing on many occasions, if only to feel a few degrees cooler for a few moments. I didn’t die once.
We mostly came across lager beer, as befitting the climate, but did see the occasional import ale from prominent beer drinking countries. I never ordered one, considering that beer quickly warms up to above room temperature within minutes, practically spewing condensation all over the place.
Most of us are quite familiar with the few Thai beer brands because we frequently come across them in western Thai restaurants. Change, Singha, and Leo rule the roost, mostly because the only competition comes from locally brewed Heineken, Tiger for India, or Beer Lao from Laos. We started off ordering regular Chang because it was the cheapest and it was cold and it didn’t really matter what it tasted like. We paid about $1 for a 330ml bottle and $2 for a 650ml bottle. We quickly tired of regular Chang (terrible tasting adjunct lager) and switched to Singha and Chang Export, which are made with actual malt and taste much better! We weren’t really saving much money drinking the cheaper Chang. Chang and Chang Export are brewed by Thai Beverage Plc and Singha and Leo are brewed by Boon Rawd Brewery, both in Bangkok. Nothing to write home about beer wise, though I’m doing it anyway.
In Cambodia, we mostly drank Angkor Lager, which is similar to Chang and would also cost about a $1 or less. I was pleased to find that Angkor brews a very tasty Export Stout, which is a very high alcohol stout. Many former British colonies brewed high alcohol stout (to prevent spoilage in the tropics, alcohol kills bacteria), but Cambodia was a French colony. I haven’t been able to figure out why Export Stout exists in Cambodia, does anyone know? The other beer available in Cambodia is Kingdom Pilsner, which was also fairly generic. Both Angkor and Kingdom breweries are located in Cambodia.
If you know nothing of Cambodia, educate yourself. The Khmer Rouge regime killed more than 25% of the population and almost all modern Cambodians are missing family members. Cambodia was a decent place before 1976 and is now one of the most corrupt and poor countries in the world. Worse, the US aided the Khmer Rouge before they took power and recognized them as Cambodia’s official government well into the 90s. Most Cambodians have lived and still live a life of poverty and terror, with no help from the west. As such, tourism is one of the biggest industries in Cambodia and Cambodians make most of the clothes you are wearing. Despite all this, Cambodians are friendly happy people. As a westerner, think about Cambodia the next time you hate your life because you’re stuck in traffic or because of something else trivial. Above all, go visit Cambodia and do some good with your extra money.