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Where is the cheapest beer in Asia?

We've visited China, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Malaysia in Asia over the past 2 years. One thing that other backpackers naturally ask is how much was the price of beer in other countries.  Or put another way, where is the cheapest beer in Asia – so I can get wasted and not go home broke! 🙂

Backpacking Asia naturally involves some sort of alcohol consumption at some point or another. If you are one of those party hard sorts, your budget planning might need some focus around your ‘entertainment' portion.

Firstly I would start with saying the most expensive places in Asia to drink are Hong Kong and Malaysia. BUT there are many factors involved in the price of beer around the world. You have prices at supermarkets, local shops, hotels, bars / pubs and restaurants. Because of all these factors it can be hard working out where is the cheapest beer in Asia. But let's assume for a moment as a backpacker, you will be drinking mostly in local bars and with a meal in a budget restaurant.

Anecdotaly, when we were in Stockholm a few years ago, going out for a pint at a bar would cost upwards of £10 ($15) at times and even as high as £15 ($22)! But go into a government owned liquor store and the prices are much more reasonable and affordable. The same goes for Hong Kong, where a 7/11 will offer more reasonably priced drinks, so you can instead ‘party in' rather than flashing your wallet out in the bars. In Myanmar, prices changed only a slight amount when you bought from a convenience store / supermarket.  So drinking out there was affordable and not offering worse value for money.

Another factor to consider is just because a country is rated as having “the cheapest beer”, doesn't mean it's the best for drinking.  Life is after all, too short for bad beer, I'm not worried about paying the extra pennies for a good tasting brew, over a cheaper one.

Escapingthedesk's guide to ‘Where is the cheapest beer in Asia?'

Malaysia

Because the country is the most heavily Islamic countries in all of SE Asia (with exception of Indonesia) beer is taxed heavier than other countries and not widely consumed in certain parts of the country. Don't expect there to be drinking holes in many corners of KL except Chinatown. That's not such a bad thing as in place of that is late night street culture of Iced Tea drinking, BBQ food and Shisha smoking instead. Maybe try having a break from drinking in Malaysia, as it would be good for your liver and your wallet!

Beer in a bar down Chinatown can cost around £4 per pint ($6) out of Happy Hour and come down to maybe £2.50/£3 ($4) during.

Restaurants don't always serve alcohol. If you want alcohol they may allow BYO or better still eat at a Chinese run restaurant. It will cost roughly the same here as bars.

Thailand
Thailand is the regular backpacker retreat so you'd think the price per pint is reasonable. You'd be right, it is reasonable but not cheap like other neighbouring countries. This year the tax on beer went up as well, so beer in 2013 is even more money than 2012.

If you visit the big backpacker areas, you will pay the most per pint than other parts if the country (Phuket, Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai come to mind).

In the many Irish and British pubs and bars you will be paying maybe £2/£2.50 ($3) per pint. Sometimes you can end up paying a lot more than this, but Khao San road, this is the usual damage.

I'm not the biggest fan of drinking in Thailand, as I don't find Chang and Singha on draught to be all that nice.  Mostly also because I find a lot of places don't clean their draught pipes enough, so you get that yeasty buildup taste.  Otherwise they aren't too bad a beer to drink.  I would recommend drinking Leo when you see it available, as it's cheaper and a little better taste-wise.  I wish that there were more choice in draught ales though, as there are many British expats over here living, with lack of choice for ale's on keg or cask.  A chilled pint of Fullers Honey Dew would go down well out here!

Hong Kong

Ouch maybe is the word to describe Hong Kong. I'd rather have a pint back in old blighty! If the standard £3.50/£4 ($6) isn't enough to shed a tear, the fact the draught beers come out of taps that aren't regularly maintained or cleaned makes you feel cheated.

Supermarkets and 7/11s are your best bet for beer and offer maybe the best variety and price. But compared to the price in Shanghai at a 7/11 you are talking double the price of China mainland.  This is why incomes must have to be so high in this city.

The below represent our guide to ‘Where is the cheapest beer in Asia' and are ranked in no particular order.. These are the cheapest places to drink in all of South East Asia.

Mainland China
If I could pick up a place anywhere in the world and drop it back to England, Ningbo would be my drinking favourite.

If you ever visit Ningbo, stop by Lao Wai Tan and spend an evening bar crawling down the European style cobbled street, sampling every style of beer you could ever want to try. It's awesome. Beer isn't as cheap here as the rest of China but represents best value because of the conveniently placed Happy Hours that finish with the next bar along starting its own one. Pints can cost £1 ($1.50) for Asahi Dry or various German Pilsner on tap at happy hour. Or £1.50 ($2.50) out of happy hour.

Shanghai has maybe the best drinking culture in the country (or maybe biggest problem!) because of Pudong and it's main trade being finance / banking. I guess where there's bankers, there are places to de-stress. Probably also explains the proliferation of massage parlours scattered on every street corner, along with a 7/11.

I love the fact in Shanghai they are big on Japanese food as well as their beers! Japan has some of the best lager beers brewed in the world. They have great taste and are at the standard European strength of 4.5/5% ABV. In a 7/11 you can pick up a can of Kirin Ichiba or Asahi Super Dry for just 40p.. Yes that's right an almost full pint can of imported beer costs 75cents. Getting that stuff on draught in England (if you can find it) costs £6 ($9) a pint.

If you eat in a restaurant you can usually get a big bottle of ice cold local beer at maybe £1. The stuff is usually weak at 2.5% but compliments Chinese food better than a European lager would do. When you go out drinking with the Chinese, this stuff also stops you getting too wasted as the Chinese do like to knock back the beer!

China is maybe one if the cheapest places in Asia to drink. They also don't heavily tax foreign imports, and locals love European beers. So it's weird when you find a pint of Fullers Ale or Guinness on draught, cheaper than England!

Vietnam
Beer is generally served by the bottle and unlike its neighbours, serves beer in the smaller variety of bottles.

A bottle can set you back… 50p(75 cents) in a bar. My favourite beer is definitely Hanoi, a smooth tasting lager with a good balance of malt and hops. Refreshing and enjoyable. If you want to ‘go local' you can drink by the glass from keg on some streets, especially up in Hanoi. A glass might set you back 15p (22 cents), so it's definitely the cheapest country in Asia by a long shot!

I recommend the drinking culture in Hanoi over Ho Chi Minh, purely because I liked the North more than the South.  The bars are not overpriced in Hanoi and with the exception of a few places not full of loud, obnoxious young ‘backpackers' on their summer vacation.

Laos
In Laos the mainstay beer available is Laos Beer. If you like Tiger, you will like this. It's a watery pilsner, similar to serve cold lagers elsewhere in the world. People like it, I get it.. But it's not a good beer in MY opinion.  (If you see rice as an ingredient in beer, its not a good thing).

Expect to pay maybe £1($1.50) per bottle in bars and restaurant are a bit more expensive. I'd comment on the other beers available, but they are more expensive and if anything worse. Laos isn't a good drinking country in MY opinion and is better for it's very healthy (mostly vegetarian) food.  Or the very cheap buckets of Laos Laos Vodka! 🙂

Cambodia
Yes you can get cheap beer, but the areas you will likely visit will overcharge you for their local Angkor beer. Similar to Laos, tourist areas well travelled will charge you a premium to get drunk (spirits are always the exception of course).

Prices are similar if not the same as Laos and beers just as watery as it's northern neighbour.

Myanmar (Burma)
Oh Myanmar Lager, how I love you so.

In downtown Yangon, you can't walk far without bumping into a beer station full of the local red faced men, watching the football on a new flat screen LCD in a maybe dingy 100 year old building. It says a lot about a countries beer drinking culture when the supermarkets sell crisps and snacks that promote themselves as “the perfect accompaniment to a beer”. This country really does the whole drinking scene well.

Grab a plastic chair, make a kissing noise to get the waiting staff attention and make a hand sign to symbolise large and ask for ‘Myanmar', pronounced ME-anmar.

You'll be served an ice cold large bottle of the country's favourite (sometimes it feels like their only) brew. If it's a good beer station, they will give you a frozen traditional British half pint glass and pour your first glass. This costs 1200-1600 per large bottle. So roughly £1 ($1.50) for a pint and a half.

The locals here drink beer topped with Whiskey. Sometimes they sit there with a bottle of whiskey to enjoy during the evening. I don't know how they put it all away! If you find yourself a good beer station, the staff will be young and attentive. The idea is to never let you have an empty glass. Not out of cashing in on you, just politeness.

Drinking culture here is the closest I have been abroad to a pub in England. They do food too and it seems sometimes the only place you can get a decent meal!

If you are really strapped for cash, try their infamous Mandalay Beer. If you are lucky it won't have any sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This beer is actually enjoyable on occasion. If you like marmite or bovril, you will know what I mean when i say it's very yeasty! The stuff comes in at 6.5% as well, and I don't think it's all that accurate of reading.

That concludes are beer guide to Asia.  We plan on updating this article with more countries as we continue exploring Asia.  Thanks for reading ‘where is the cheapest beer in Asia'.  If you found this useful, please feel free to share it via the options below!

About Darryl Hall (85 Articles)
Darryl left the shorelines of England in 2013 to study and travel in China and South East Asia for a year. Darryl is a co-founder of escapingthedesk.com, a travel blog with the aim of sharing travel tips, country & city guides for other backpackers. Visit my Google+ page.

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