Last Updated on June 8, 2023 by Ellen
Last Updated on June 8, 2023 by Ellen
Happy trails and more beer. It’s my travel motto. And part of my dream life as an early retired, global, slow traveler, is to drink beer wherever I am on the planet.
Not surprisingly, my beer consumption increases with the outdoor temperature. There’s nothing better than an ice cold beer – or four – during an afternoon on a blazing hot, sunny beach.
But just like back in the USA, the tab for enjoying my beer drinking hobby can really add up. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for the best price/size/quality deal on beer.
After living and drinking in hot, humid Southeast Asia for more than three years, I feel like somewhat of an expert on beer – specifically, beer prices – in the various Southeast Asian nations.
Southeast Asia cheap beer report
What follows is what I’m calling my “Southeast Asia Cheap Beer Report”. Hopefully, readers will find it handy when figuring what enjoying cold brews is going to cost them on a vacation or trip or while living in the area.
First, a disclaimer of sorts: I am not a beer snob. I don’t require high-quality, exquisite tasting, specialty brews.
Sure, I like those. But back in the USA, I mostly drank Labats and Budweiser and Coors – whatever was on sale, maybe some Heineken or Sierra Nevada product for a special occasion, or some Natty Light or Keystone when I was just sweaty and thirsty. Anyhow, my taste and approach in Southeast Asia is similar. I basically drink whatever mass- produced, middle-of-the-road, local favorite is cheap.
Further, I do not seek out the cheapest places to buy from. No doubt, one could inquire and locate and make a special trip to a certain store to save some money (which I did do at home). But I’m traveling without a car in places where I can barely communicate – so my purchases were all at nearby convenience stores and groceries. Also, my review focuses on regular size, single-serve, containers. Buying the larger liter-size bottles or by-the-case would result is savings.
As I write this, I am in the Philippines. And that means drinking Philippines-based San Miguel beer.
Here, I’ve been getting 500ml bottles San Miguel product for 51 Philippine pesos ($1.02) or 330ml cans for 40 pesos (80¢). That is pretty close to the bottom when comparing prices in the region. A can of San Miguel cost .80¢ here in the Philippines.
If you are wondering, there are imported brands available at larger grocery stores most anywhere around this region. I frequently saw Heineken and Guinness and even Budweiser being sold. The price for those cans was usually 50%+ more than the local brews.
Southeast Asia cheap beer breakdown: Singapore is the loser!
One place I hardly drank any beer was Singapore. I’m comfortable saying the beer there is some of the highest priced on Earth.
As you can see in the included photo, 500ml cans of beers ranged from about 5.50 to 8 Singapore dollars ($4 to $6) EACH! San Miguel (the Philippine brand) can be seen in the bottom right corner – priced at 5.70 SD.
The explanation is taxes. Singapore has decided to generate revenue with very high taxes on alcohol products. A secondary reason is likely to discourage drinking and hopefully minimize the negative behaviors and societal problems associated with excess alcohol consumption.
It appears to have worked. Singapore is a thriving, clean, crime-free, and prosperous place – although, like beer prices, the system of cameras monitoring the populace of the small city-state is unparalleled.
Further, despite the taxes, alcohol sales are robust and before we left Singapore we were told the taxes were going to be raised again soon.
Incidentally, the cheapest beer I did have in Singapore was at the “hawker centers” — big outdoor food courts that are common. Food vendors at those places were selling 630ml bottles for about 6 Singapore dollars ($4.50).
The next highest-priced place for beer in our Southeast Asian travels was nearby Malaysia. As a Muslim nation, where drinking seemed to be accepted but discouraged, it’s not surprising Malaysia also taxes alcohol highly.
A single 500ml can of Carlsberg or Tiger beer was 15 to 20 Malaysian ringgit ($3.50 – $4.50) at most convenience stores. Thankfully, the nearby Tesco superstore sometimes offered 4-packs of 330ml Skol cans (a Carlsberg brew) for 24 ringgit ($5.40).
I also stumbled across what some might say is the cheapest beer store in Malaysia in George Town, Penang. There, the Antarabangsa (International) Beverage store would sometimes have 500ml imported brands for 7 or 8 ringgit ($1.50 – $1.80) and 330ml cans for as little as 5 ringgit ($1.20).
As a distributor, Antarabangsa apparently handled many odd brands and often had excess inventory to get rid of at their small retail counter. The place was a dump and the selection unreliable, but the price was right and in the evenings, dozens of beer drinkers from around the world would sit at tables in the street out front and have a small party. Great fun!
Indonesia & Thailand
Indonesia – another Muslim country – is next in the descending beer price order of SE Asian countries.
In Indonesia, I regularly bought 500ml cans of Bintang Draft at the western-style Coconuts supermarket for 35,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $2.25). And 630ml bottles could be had for 45,000 rupiah (about $2.90).
Next on the list: Thailand – where either 500ml cans or 630ml bottles of Thai favorite Chang or Leo beer cost 50 to 55 Thai Baht ($1.65- $1.85).
Cambodia had very cheap draft beer. Many bars and restaurants had signs out front in English advertising .50¢ draft beers. The mugs were small and the draft wasn’t always too cold or tasty, but the .50¢ price worked to get people in the door – including me.
Otherwise, I drank a lot of 330ml cans of Angkor beer which cost about $1 each at carry-out stores.
Southeast Asia cheap beer: Vietnam wins!
Finally, the winner of my cheapest beer in Southeast Asia prize: Vietnam!
One of my favorite beer experiences was sunning on a rented beach chair in Nha Trang and being served ice cold, 450ml, returnable bottles of Saigon beer for 20,000 Vietnamese dong (.65¢) each!
At stores all over Vietnam, 330ml cans of Saigon cost .55¢ to .60¢ each.
Another interesting thing to note about beer costs across SE Asia — prices are usually very similar in restaurants. That is to say, the price markup on beer is small. Unlike in the US or other western countries, where a beer could cost $5 to $10 with dinner — beer on a restaurant menu here might only cost .50¢ more than the grocery store price. As a budget beer-drinking traveler, I love that!
Finally, also note that unlike western countries, drinking beer in public is fairly common – and never a problem. Drinking on any beach is OK and quietly sitting in a park or plaza or outside a place selling beer and drinking is accepted.
Very rarely will there be a posted sign saying ‘alcohol prohibited’. And I’ve never seen any ‘problem’ concerning authorities – except for empty bottles, cans, and trash.
Of course, there are other Southeast Asian countries that we have not yet visited like Laos and Myanmar and Burundi. I don’t have knowledge of the beer prices or policies in those places.
Bottom line, beer prices and ‘attitudes’ around Southeast Asia – with the exception of Singapore – seem pretty reasonable. Furthermore, the beers are all good, easy-drinking, and satisfying — similar to what I get at home. And while I really like the low prices in Vietnam and the Philippines, I’ll gladly pay the higher prices and taxes in the other countries just to be able to sit in all the hot, sunny, exotic locales and have another cold one.
As always, happy trails and more beer. Life is now!