Is It Safe to Drink from Water Refill Dispensers in Thailand?

There are many options for fresh drinking water in Thailand. One of the main avenues for obtaining fresh drinking water is going to a water refill dispenser. These machines are located almost on every street, and they dispense fresh water inexpensively and conveniently to most locals throughout Thailand.

During our stay in Thailand, WeExpats has been exploring the use of these water refill dispensers. Some expats swear by them, others avoid them like the Black Death, so we thought we would ask: do you use water refill dispensers in Thailand?

 

WHAT IS A WATER REFILL DISPENSER IN THAILAND?

Water refill dispensers, are machines that offer fresh water to the masses for a very reasonable price. For only 1 THB (which is about 1/3 of a penny), you can have water that has been filtered by a dual filtration method: reverse osmosis and ultraviolet purification. These are some of the strongest methods for attaining a level of potable water.

Meant to cut down on plastic use, while providing an inexpensive means for the population to get fresh drinking water, these water refill stations have been an integral part of Thai culture for decades. Ask almost any Thai local, and they say that the water is fine and safe to drink. Insert just one coin, and you can have about 2 liters of drinking water—really until you push the button to turn off the machine.

Internet comment threads are filled with stories of locals—and expats as well—who swear by the water that is dispensed by water refill dispensers in Thailand—using this water in their coffee, for cooking, or just drinking it straight. However others will not touch it.

 

THOSE AGAINST WATER REFILL DISPENSERS IN THAILAND:

For the most part—and by a wide margin—locals defend the practice of drinking water from water refill dispensers in Thailand. However, the opposite is true of the expat community in Thailand. Most expats seem apprehensive of drinking fresh water from water refill dispensers—preferring instead water delivery companies, or even just purchasing bottled water. Some have said that they have seen rodents and insects drinking or breeding from water refill dispensers in Thailand.

Are their beliefs unfounded?

In 2016, a comprehensive study of water refill dispensers in Thailand found that 40% of them failed to meet potable water quality standards. That’s right! Almost half of water dispensers across the entirety of Thailand were dispensing water that failed to meet the standards for potable water.

While the acid and basic salt materials in water refill dispensers in Thailand was abnormally high, the more concerning statistic was that much of the water contained too much bacteria. Deputy Director-General of the Department of Public Health, Dr. Danai Theewanda, led the study that found these concerning results. He says drinking water contaminated with bacteria can lead to digestive problems, diarrhea, and even amoebic dysentery.

According to Dr. Danai, the Department of Public Health has a strict policy toward vending suppliers—requiring water refill dispenser operators to apply for a license to run their business. However, he released a list of things that customers can look for to ensure that their water refill dispenser is safe to drink from:

  • The water refill dispenser in Thailand should be in a clean, safe environment that is far from any waste disposal area.
  • Customers should only buy drinking water from well-maintained and regularly-disinfected water refill dispensers in Thailand.
  • The water refill dispenser should have a label with a regular maintenance schedule posted, including the company´s name, and the name of the inspector.
  • The water diffuser inside the machine should be made of non-toxic stainless steel.
  • Do not drink any water that is not clear or has a foul odor.

 

A WEEXPATS TEST OF WATER REFILL DISPENSERS IN CHIANG MAI:

As we have been residing for a time in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, a few of us employees have decided to test the water from the water refill dispensers  in Chiang Mai for ourselves to see if they were safe to drink.

I gave it a go for a week straight, drinking only water refill dispenser water. I found the water outside my residence to taste somewhat like a water fountain’s water would: perhaps a bit metallic, though not unpalatable. It certainly would not have appeased a water snob’s thirst, however I never got sick.* Our CEO even gave it a go and found that the water near his condominium building was fresher tasting at the water refill dispenser near than the water he had been purchasing at 7-11.

Granted he and I are both staying in a more affluent area in the city. However, a quick glance at the water refill dispenser outside my residence shows that it has no maintenance label with a regular schedule, and the door which would protect the nozzle from rodents is almost always left open where any mouse or rat (which I have seen in the area) could get a drink.

I can’t help but think that with time, perhaps I would get sick. One way to ensure that you are safe when traveling abroad is to get expat medical insurance or travel insurance. Click here for a free quote.

Is it just a number’s game until eventually you finally get a stomach bug? Have you tried water refill dispensers in Thailand? Comment below!

 

*Edit: Three days after posting this article, I got sick to my stomach. However, this could have been also due to an article I am writing on street food in Thailand. However, doubt lingers in my mind as to the cause of my illness. 

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Comments (6)

  • Dag Wideen

    Im living here in Thailand fore 7 mounth and use the dispensers here in Hua Hin . No problem ok water, butt on the other hand i use it to my te and rice boiling. ca 3L a day and havent noticed any problem, butt the Cucumbers i got a bad stomach from .

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Thank you for your input Dag! I won’t lie, since I wrote this article, I got sick. However, I don’t know if it was from the water refill stations, or from street food for an article that I am writing on street food. So the jury is still out, haha!

      All my best, and keep commenting! We love hearing from Thai locals when it comes to their personal stories.

      Reply
  • John w

    My experience is time brings resistance to bugs.if one is successful and super careful in finding untainted water including in one’s uncooked food and when brushing teeth then one one does inevitably get sick it’s more likely to be VERY sick.
    I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a bad stomach, but it certainly happened when I was new here.
    I would however be very interested in what is in place regarding testing by the authorities of regular foodstuffs such as come from the market (and thus to eating places) vis a vis pesticides etc.

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      John,

      Thank you so much for your input. I fully agree. I have built a heavy resistance in Mexico, however I seem quite vulnerable to stomach bugs in Asia where I have no resistance.

      Perhaps we can look into the actual testing process more. That might make an interesting follow-up article. In the meantime, I am very grateful for you input and please keep commenting! 🙂

      Reply
  • Stephanie

    I have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a month now staying at a farm on the countryside. The owners get their water from a local refill station and said it was ok for foreigners to drink the water. Everything seemed fine and the water tasted fresh until recently my friend and I noticed very very little white/translucent bug in the drinking water. We been ok this whole month so we’re not sure if it’s harmless and to keep drinking the water or if we should just forkout the money to but bottled water. Have you heard of this or encountered this on your travels?

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Stephanie, yes we’ve seen some bugs in the water before. To be honest, it’s better safe than sorry. We recommend purchasing bottled water if you find larvae in your drinking water. Thanks for contributing to our discussion!

      Reply

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