Ever wonder what all those colorful drinks are that everyone is sipping on (sometimes from plastic bags) in Thailand? Like food culture, beverage culture is strong in this country and people love tasty drinks! If you're having street food, you'll likely only get to choose from water and soda, and if you're going for an alcoholic beverage, Thai beer can't be beaten. But if you want something without alcohol in it, here are some of the most popular drinks in Thailand. They tend to be very, very sweet, though, so be prepared.
You may be familiar with this Thai iced tea, it's the milky, orange drink that's often served in Thai restaurants in the United States and Europe. Inside of the typical Thai iced tea, you'll find black tea brewed with boiling water using a cloth strainer, plus some sweetened, condensed milk, served over ice with sugar and a little-evaporated milk on top. These days the reddish, orange color is the product of food coloring, though traditionally it may have come from another natural source. If you prefer your Cha Yen without extra sugar, you can ask for it "mai waan," which means "not sweet." You'll still get a little sweetness from the condensed milk but at least you won't get the scoop of sugar on top of that!
If you want the iced tea but don't want all the dairy products that are typically served with it, you can ask for a "cha manao," which, translated into English, means "lime tea." That's brewed just the same as cha yen but instead of being served with condensed milk, is served with freshly squeezed lime juice. The default is to serve it very sweet, so if you do not want any sugar, as for it "mai waan" as you would with cha yen.
Nam manao is just lime juice, water, and sugar served together. Like similar drinks you'll find in India and other countries with hot climates, it's a basic, refreshing tropical beverage. If you order a nam manao from a street vendor it's likely to be sweetened, but if you order one at a restaurant you'll be served sugar syrup on the side. Nam manao is a great complement to spicy Thai curries.
This is just fresh lime juice served with soda water and sugar syrup if you want. This is a great substitute for sweetened sodas and any restaurant in the country will serve this up.
These are usually ordered by indicating the color of the flavor you want mixed with your soda water, so, for example, if you want a cherry-flavored soda you'd order a red soda. Same goes for lime (green) and orange (orange). These are made by mixing a colored, flavored syrup into ice and soda water and are very popular, even among adults, in Thailand.
Sweet Flavored Milk
Like sweet colored sodas, these are made by mixing milk, ice, and colored, flavored syrup together. Either you love the idea or it seems a little weird.
A Few Tips for Enjoying Drinks in Thailand
Vendors in Thailand still sometimes serve beverages in plastic bags, though you can always ask for a cup if that's what you prefer. Some people find the bags more convenient, especially if you have to carry multiple drinks, but it's much easier to make a big mess with a plastic bag than it is with a cup.
If you are served a soda in a glass bottle at a restaurant, street stall or otherwise, you are not supposed to walk away with the bottle. Vendors put deposits down on the glass and will make sure they get it back before you leave.