This article I would like to dedicate to one of the most visited places in all of Thailand. I’m not talking about Phuket or Krabi or any of the beautiful islands, I’m talking about a little grocery store with a major impact on daily life in Thailand – I’m talking about 7-Eleven.
The first time I really heard of 7-Eleven was when I first arrived in Thailand on Christmas Day in 2013. During a 13-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Phuket I eavesdropped on a conversation of other travelers mentioning it a couple of times as a possible meeting point. Back then, I had no idea what role this little grocery store plays in the Thai daily life and how well I would get to know and appreciate these shops.
7-Eleven – the center of each neighborhood
7-Eleven is part of an international convenient store chain and can literally be found at every corner in Thailand. Small, clean, and efficient – the stores are designed to meet the needs of the country. They are a major part of daily life for Thai people, the center of each neighborhood.
7-11 sells everything you need, in small portions and to acceptable prices. Food, toiletries, beer, water, soda, cigarettes, coffee, cooking spices, school supplies – you name it and for sure you can find it there! The typical Thai singing of a long, friendly ‘caaannot’ (everyone who has ever been to Thailand knows what I’m talking about and everyone else will realize as soon as you go there) simply does not exist here.
You can even buy SIM cards for cell phones, pay your electricity and water bills, you can also pay for flights which you booked online or on the phone. 7-11 then transfers funds for the bills to the utility or collector.
7-Eleven hallmark: the unique door bell
Its hallmarks are the sign in orange and green signal color which is visible from a great distance and its unique door ring as soon as someone enters or leaves the store. In fact, sometimes I feel sorry for the staff working there having to listen to this ring hundreds and hundreds of times all day long! It sometimes drives me crazy already while I’m waiting in line to pay.
With its headquarters in Tokio, Japan, the first 7-Eleven shop in Thailand opened in 1989 in Patpong Road in Bangkok. Nowadays, more than 7000 shops can be found in Thailand which makes it the third biggest market (after Japan and USA). The little stores are everywhere! In Chiang Mai, we counted once four 7-11s in eye sight in all directions.
Not 7-11 but 24-7
The name comes from the original opening hours, 7am to 11pm. Today it is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. However, not all items can be bought around the clock. There are some rather weird restrictions on the selling hours for alcoholic beverages: Alcohol is not available between midnight and 11am and between 2pm and 5pm. Whereas the first time period is understandable, this mid-afternoon ban sounds a bit odd to me. Someone told us that the original idea behind it was to stop Thai people from drinking all day. But the fact that many bars are open close to 24 hours and you can order beer whenever and as much as you want makes this closing time sound even more confusing. Furthermore, these afternoon closing hours either don’t count for all stores in Thailand or the staff can make exceptions as they like! One afternoon in Krabi we decided to have a cold beer against the heat when we just happened to walk by a 7-11 store. We decided to give it a try to buy there, just as a joke, assuming they would refuse to sell but – surprisingly – we got our beers without complaints!
Another interesting situation happened on Feb 3 as we walked into 7-11 to buy a few cans of beer for the night. We found the refrigerator containing the alcoholic beverages closed with a big lock and a sign in front telling us that due to the pre-elections the next day the selling of alcohol was restricted that night. Apparently, they want their people to be sober and not hungover when they go to vote. We needed to go to the next bar to get our beers – which was about 100m away. Now we know that this restriction before elections and Buddhist holidays is a common thing in Thailand. However, restricting it only in grocery stores while bars all around still sell doesn’t really make sense to me!
Here are just a few examples of situations when a 7-11 visit comes in handy:
- You are craving for a midnight snack on the way home but all the food places are already closed?
Go to 7-Eleven and within minutes the staff will prepare you a meal out of deep frozen food choices!
- You are invited to a party and need a last-minute gift or alcoholic beverage to bring along?
7-Eleven for sure has something for you!
- You ran out of toilet paper because your room has not been cleaned yet?
7-Eleven sells single roll packages!
- You are close to dehydration because the heat is unbearable today?
Have a cold drink in 7-Eleven and enjoy the well working air-conditioning for a few minutes – sometimes it feels like minus 5 degrees in there!
- You ran out of money and are looking for an ATM?
Just go to the next 7-Eleven store, almost all of them have at least one ATM in front.
It is almost impossible to avoid 7-11 and everyone coming to Thailand will sooner or later end up there. If you want to live like locals you have to visit 7-11 at least ten times a day to buy a few little items. Knowing that whenever you run out of something around the corner is a place to buy more just makes life very convenient. I’ve been there already three times today and it’s only early afternoon…
Have you ever been to 7-Eleven in Thailand? What is your opinion about it? Leave a comment below!