cleantech insights

A Thirsty Tourist in Thailand


I spent Thanksgiving week traveling through Thailand.  It was my first trip there, and hopefully not my last – the country is amazing!  I love the people, the culture, the food, the views….and the free bottled water?  Yes, you read that correctly – free bottled water.  In Thailand, it is standard to receive 2-3 complimentary bottles of water in your hotel room, despite assurance from the government that the tap water is safe to drink.  As most tourists do, I erred on the side of “better safe than sorry”, and took the bottled water.  Though I must admit, I was somewhat ashamed to do so.

Isn’t the tap water in Thailand subject to WHO guidelines for drinking water quality, which would ensure that I am protected from harmful contaminants?  Doesn’t the organization pride itself on “producing international norms on water quality and human health in the form of guidelines that are used as the basis for regulation and standard setting, in developing and developed countries world-wide”?  Indeed it does, but I overlooked the difference between a guideline and a requirement – an extremely important distinction.  Guidelines are mere recommendations or targets that help ensure the quality of drinking water if followed, while requirements are legally enforceable standards that must be fulfilled by water suppliers.  The concept of establishing requirements is definitely in effect in Europe (European Drinking Water Directive) and the USA (Safe Drinking Water Act), but I knew of nothing similar in Thailand at the time.  Consideration of the above logic gave me the first reason to accept free bottled water in Thailand.

A second reason lies in the likelihood that the existing water infrastructure is in poor condition.  Thailand, like many other Asian countries, is facing severe water stress and deteriorating quality of local water sources due to rapid growth in population, increasing urbanization, and agricultural and industrial expansion.  Coupled with extreme droughts and severe flooding, water networks are being forced to handle intermittent water supplies, unequal water distributions, and fluctuating water pressures.  As a result, underground (“invisible”) pipes are corroding and bursting in a country with insufficient financial resources to track, locate, and fix problem areas.  The idea of a neglected water network that may be introducing new contaminants to the treated water rushing through its system left me questioning the quality of Thailand’s drinking water and searching for more water bottles.

I’m not saying that drinking the tap water would have ruined my trip, but I am saying that I wasn’t convinced enough to take the chance.  There were too many amazing things to do and see…

Arti Patel is a guest blogger for Cleantech Group.  You can email her at:


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