The very relaxed alcohol laws of Vietnam are a bit dangerous

in life •  2 months ago 

My friends and I were talking about this the past few days and on all of those occasions we were, of course, in a bar. I don't think that being a regular at a bar necessarily makes one an alcoholic, but it certainly isn't a good place to start. The fact of the matter is that people don't generally gather by happenstance anywhere else so that is where you have to go if you want some social interaction. Lately, I have been having a falling out of sorts as far as pubs and bars are concerned because of the fact that we do the same thing in there every single day and it is, in fact, quite monotonous and boring. Last night I was in a bar with 8 other people and everyone was staring at the TV on the wall above the bar despite the fact that none of us had any interest in what was on at the time. It's just something we are programmed to do.

In my near 20 years of living overseas experience I have noticed this is a common theme among pub regulars and something I try to avoid if possible. I fall victim to getting sucked in by the television as well and I am not going to judge anyone else that does it.


The above is not an image of my own but it is synonymous with basically every expat bar that I have seen all over South East Asia and I suspect it is like this all around the world popular with retirees and digital nomads outside of their home countries. People gather at the watering holes, often without even going there with anyone and just sit and drink for hours. There is often very little sense of merriment and in my own life I sometimes wonder why the hell I am there at all. I look around and realize that I have little to nothing to say to the people that are there and the only thing we really have in common is that we are in the same bar getting drunk and many of us don't even know what day of the week it is.

While I realize that people do this in countries all around the world I feel as though there is a greater percentage of people that fall victim to this in the global expat communities and I think I know the reason why that is.

It can be boiled down to a couple of very real issues that apply to almost everyone that I have met that is a drinker while living overseas: Money and relative freedom to do whatever the hell you want.


I would say that it is evident in Thailand as well but nowhere have I ever been is alcohol-freedom as great as it is in Vietnam. While in Thailand and to a much greater degree my home country of the United States have a ton of laws surrounding booze such as time of day you can purchase, the age you need to be, and rules against public intoxication, Vietnam doesn't really seem to have any of these things in place.

As far as I can tell there are ZERO restrictions on when you can purchase or sell alcohol and many of the bars that I go to have opening hours of "whenever they feel like opening" until "whatever time of night where they feel like closing." I have never heard of any sort of restrictions about when a bar can be open or for how long in a row. Hell, there is a sports bar a block away from my condo that during high season, stays open 24 hours a day. God help you if you ever decide to wander in there for a sensible 11am drink during these times though, because the zombies who have been there since the night before are a mess by then.

Another aspect that hasn't applied to me for many years is the drinking age thing. While there is technically a law here about needing to be 18 years of age or higher to purchase alcohol, it doesn't appear as though anyone actually cares or checks to see how old anyone is. One night years ago a friend of mine and I were in the car with his young son who was probably around 8 years old at the time and we sent him in with a mission: Go buy daddy and his friend beer and some smokes, then you can also buy whatever candy you want for yourself.

We expected him to experience some difficulty in purchasing these things since he was barely tall enough to see over the counter but no, they sold all the things to him without so much as asking him who it was for. It might have had something to do with the fact that they could see us out in the truck but at the same time, there is zero chance this would have been successful in most western countries.

Basically, there are no societal controls in place to help people to not become alcoholics. If you want to wander down the street with a beer in your hand, or even while driving a motorcycle, nobody is going to stop you from doing that. Also, I have seen some people that were horrendously drunk in public to the point of making an ass of themselves and being problematic towards strangers. At no point in time did any sort of official get involved in this situation - instead, some other patrons took it upon themselves to toss the guy on the ground and threaten him until he finally agreed to wander on where he almost certainly became someone else's problem. It's the wild west in that regard and to a certain degree, I prefer this over feeling as though CCTV's and police cams are watching me looking for tiny infractions of some sort of rule that I didn't even know was a rule.

This is applicable only to the right kind of person though. I have seen many people whose lives are a mess because of the fact that there are no laws or even societal pressures to not be drunk all the time whereas this would be massively frowned upon in the country that I was born in. It's almost certainly illegal as well.

For a lot of people who have less self-control than I do having this lifestyle of drinking every day all day is also something that is not going to break the bank. Vietnam is rated as one of the cheapest countries in the world for beer prices both at the bar and in the shop. It's so cheap in fact that when I do return to USA almost everything seems dramatically overpriced.


This is not a great country to relocate to if you have some sort of problem with booze. It's far too available, far too socially acceptable, and far too cheap. I know a lot of people that struggle with alcoholism and if they were to come here, I don't think they would make it very long. In many ways Vietnam is a litmus test for whether or not you are a functioning adult because if you don't make yourself behave in regards to alcohol, nobody else is going to either. Hell, they seem to almost be encouraging it!

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So basically if you can sober in Vietnam, you can sober anywhere...

I really can't do pubs or bars. I find being there depressing. Sad even...

I think that if anyone can not drink or even if they can quit smoking, which is also allowed almost everywhere, that yes, they can do it anywhere.

It is a true test of one's willpower.