Open a bar in Thailand? Are you Nuts?

People get strange notions when they come to Thailand. Their buoyant holiday mood may mean that anything can seem possible. I think we all have crazy ideas from time to time and following through with these can occasionally produce remarkably good results. After all, if nobody took chances where would we be? My decision not to leave Thailand after coming here on holiday has led to so many wonderful changes in my life. In fact it was easily the best decision I ever made. On the other hand, I’ve seen people who suffered badly because of their choice to make a life in Thailand and quite a few of these individuals opened bars.

Drinking in Pattaya

Open a Bar in Thailand?

I am all for people following their dreams, but when I hear their plans to open a bar I can’t help but feel negative about the whole thing. Investing in this type of business has been the ruin of many a new arrival. There are already lots of bars closing and most won’t last for longer than a year or two – if that. There are many examples of expats who not only ended up losing their investment, but also their health and sanity.

I no longer drink alcohol but I’m not on any crusade against pubs – some people enjoy a few drinks now and again and that’s up to them. I understand the bar trade quite well because I worked in it for seven years during my late teens and early twenties. I know how tough a business it can be, and I also know that some people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near this business for their own protection. The most successful bar owners I’ve met were people who would never drink in their own pub, but you don’t see many like that in Thailand.

Yes You Can Open a Bar in Thailand, but Why Would You Want To?

There are plenty of people in Thailand who will help a fool part with their money – practically anyone can come here and open a bar. Starting this type of venture isn’t that expensive if you do it illegally, but over time it can suck you dry. The fastest to go under are those bars where the owner likes to sample their own product a bit too frequently. I’ve met some who will drink until they pass out behind the counter. It is usually impossible to predict which will go bankrupt first- the bar or the owner’s sanity and health. Then of you have the situation where the manager of the bar is the Thai girlfriend/wife of the foreign owner, and this is often the case of the blind leading the blind.

Personally I think that most people who come to Thailand on holiday and decide to open a bar are asking for trouble. I suppose I can understand why they find the idea attractive, but there really are less risky ways of making a living here. If somebody is a big drinker then they really shouldn’t even consider it.

What do you think? Am I just being unfair?

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38 thoughts on “Open a bar in Thailand? Are you Nuts?

  1. Hi Paul, In the west when you go to open a business your bank has you do a business plan. Out here, from what I’ve read, those who have never run a business before jump in blind. They haven’t done their homework to find out if a new bar is even viable. Nor have they acquired the skills to take on running a business. Some get lucky but luck only goes so far.

    A friend of the family opened a wine bar in Bangkok year before last. He did his homework and it is indeed successful.

    1. Hi Catherine, I think the bar business is tough because there can be so much temptation. In Thailand there seems to be an expectation for the owner to get drunk every night with the regulars. For some bar owners this social aspect was the main attraction to the business in the first place; owning a bar can give you a high status among other drinkers. I personally think that people who like to spend all their time drinking in bars probably aren’t the best people to be running them. Of course there are some expats that know what they are doing and do make a success of things.

      1. i think that no just thsi reason , but a friend of mine opened a bar , and of course he lose his bussiness because he didn’t knwon anything at all about it , and believe me paul , this guy are not a bad fellow ,actually i think most people try to stay in thailand whatever happens they don’t have any skills so they think to do success with a bar .
        Catherine are right when she explains a bussiness plan in europ , your banker will try to convince you about risk but in thailand , no one explain or just some clever guys that you meet into theses places who try to stealing some new arrival naive expat . i hope you will understand me , see you paul .

        1. Hi Eric, I agree with you. I’m not a fan of negativity but I agree that there should be somebody there to point out the flaws in a business plan. I think having a positive outlook is good going in to business, but we probably need to be at least aware of the dangers. I guess most of these bar owners are not bad people but perhaps a bit reckless. I have been reckless in my own life so I certainly couldn’t judge these people too harshly.

  2. Paul I think you are probably right, not that I have any experience mind. Like you say I think Thailand is a great place to get separated from your money whatever the venture.

    I’m sure there are successes but I don’t see any locally. The two foreign businesses I have seen start in Prachuap(restraunts) both failed within a year.

    In each case it was Thai female working with foreign male.

    1. Hi Mike, I met a couple of people who claimed that their bar was just a hobby; they could afford to finance it so if the business failed it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship. I think though that most people getting into the bar business in Thailand can’t really afford the gamble. The real problem is when drunks get their hands on a bar; they have a great excuse to go wild and they end up paying a hard price.

  3. Paul, I think you are right. It’s difficult making decent money if you are the main customer.

    When I was working my way through uni I spent a fair amount of time around bars. Bars are easy money when you don’t have a profession yet (the tips can be amazing). One comes to mind – a traditional British pub serving great food. The owners would have a drink with the patrons every so often (mainly Friday nights) but that was it. I googled to see if it was still around and their daughter has taken over management. Yeah, it’s been that long (she was just a slip of a thing last time I saw her).

    But if the owners had been in the bar every night drinking, they wouldn’t have had the energy to run the business. Doing it right takes a lot of work and there are some things that you cannot delegate to staff.

    1. The last bar I worked in was in London. One of my mates was the manager and I was the cellar man – we were both drunks. We ran that bar into the ground, and I ended up homeless because I couldn’t face working there another day. I’ve no idea what happened to my mate. Any tips I got went straight down the toilet, and I didn’t draw a sober breath for the seven years I worked as a barman. I’ve no photos of that period of my life and very few memories. I did meet a few succesful bar owners – one of them was even in AA.

  4. passed through ban dung in udon the other day
    a look at the roads shows the ban against dung hasnt worked
    i also passed a “western” bar restaurant–how many weterners are there in ban dung?
    the thing i know for sure about western bars in isaan
    the beer is too expensive
    i get tonnes of agro while at a thai place i usually get none

    1. Tom I believe there are five bars in Ban Dung, four run by foreigners. The bar restaurant you’re referring to was probably Gary’s Bar or possibly Eddie’s Sports Bar. Both are very good places to visit.

      Ban Dung has its fair share of expats dotted around the district and the area has a few places of interest nearby. The temple and grounds of Kamchanod is one worth seeing.

  5. Paul I think you are absolutely right in your synopsis of western bar owners in Thailand.

    Most of us (tourists) who can’t afford to live in Thailand have at some stage of our Thailand career a dream about owning a bar in the Land of Smiles. I know I did but I quickly dismissed it as the thoughts of a fool. You need to be a certain kind of person to successfully run a bar. The big bars that I frequent in Thailand are run by westerners who basically don’t drink in their own bar or if they do it’s in strict moderation. There are the odd exception to the rule but very few.

    I look at it this way. If you haven’t run a bar in your own country then what makes you think you can make a success of one in a foreign country with a far different culture and a tongue you probably can’t understand. Many of the successful bar owners in Thailand have had profitable businesses in their own country.

  6. The most successful bar owners I’ve met were people who would never drink in their own pub but you don’t see many like that in Thailand.

    I never ever thought about that. My goodness. That just seems stupid, but what do I know. If I opened a bakery I’d probably eat my profits away 😛

    Although I do want to add that I know of a restaurant/bar that has opened up in CM by a foreign dude and Thai chick and it is very successful.

    1. Hi Lani, I think the problem with bars is that there is just so much temptation and pressure to drink. When I worked in bars you were allowed drink on duty and I was constantly drunk for about seven years. Everyone wants to buy the manager a drink and there can be a lot of pressure to say yes all the time.

  7. Hi Paul,

    It’s not only bars. I’d been coming to Thailand for 10 years before I eventually lived there for 5. I loved to eat kebabs on sukhumwit road. Every year the kebab house had new owners. So I got to build up a picture of what was happening there.

    Also, I worked with an ex bar owner from Pattaya who threw in the towel after a couple of years because he was just losing too much money.

    I actually entertained daft notions of becoming a bar owner myself! I did all the internet research beforehand. However, on my many visits to Thailand I did frequent the bar scene quite often, and always made a point of talking to the bar owners. Their often incoherent slurry rambles were not inspiring at all. I also observed the bar girls who were taking care of the cash side of things. They had more fiddles going than the London Philharmonic!

    In Nongkhai I witnessed at first hand how bar owners sat around a table all day and drunk beer amongst themselves. This didn’t seem like a life I wanted for myself, so I decided to teach instead. Much safer option!

  8. Hi Paul,

    Yes I agree with you over some problem with foreign own bar in Thailand because of pay high price – full bills like rent bar, beers, and lady bars…that’s why some of them had a little profit (money)

    Two years ago, myself and 2 deaf friends went to pub called is Bosco at Pattaya 2nd Road (Irish man own pub) We went there nearly everyday because of full irish breakfast was lovely taste, few drinks and play pool table. Two years later, my friend text me he heard thats same pub was closed down over quite and bad business. I feel sorry for him.

    My english bit ok, I hope you can understand it:-)

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for your comment. I remember seeing that bar – I’m Irish so I recognised the name. Opening a bar is going to be a bit of a gamble anywhere, but in Thailand even more so. I have no problem understanding your English 🙂

  9. tks paul for your response , i thoughts about an another one fellow guy i met in bangkok , closer from MBK he’s french so sorry ifi only meet just french compatriot , (kidding i met peolpe from evrerywhere ) . this guy was working as chef ‘cooker on a cruising boat , i had opened a pizza restaurant , ,because cheaper , and actually thai people like only these meal from westerner countries . therfore , i explained althought he did his best plan he got some trouble to deal his job with thai . Thai love a sanuuk way , as wrote BRUNTY into his blog kids prefer to play and run some entertaiment instead to work .
    This french guy had tried to learn thai , and be patient with them but may be somthing different between us to deal bussiness , he got a lot of trouble with his thai’employee . i think do a bussiness abroad require to living a couple of months to figure how this country and culture does . get some skills are not enought to meet success in this land of smiles . but we agree people are too much reckless and hurry to run thier bar . ( i loved your title for this post … are you nut ” ) see you paul

  10. hi guys,thx for the advice,i just start to think about run a small bar business in Bangkok lately,but seems very hard to me,after i hear of some “bad experience own a bar in BKK”,my thai’s friend call me and ask do i interested on this business?, he’ll be a partnership with me,do i still consider on this or just give up… pls. guys give me more advice, before i go into it.

  11. Oh wow I have met so so many older men from countries like the UK, Australia and the US who have opened bars and suffered terribly with alcoholism. I have met so many who have become miserable and bitter as they are ‘trapped’ in Thailand with thier bar.

  12. Oh seriously We’ve satisfied thus countless old guys via nations around the world such as the BRITISH ISLES, Sydney as well as the PEOPLE who may have popped cafes and also endured terribly along with alcoholism. We’ve satisfied countless who may have turn into unhappy and also sour when they are generally ‘trapped’ within Thailand along with thier club.

  13. Hi Paul,

    I have recently been considering looking into buying a beach bar in Thailand with my wife. We are both British and in our 30’s and want to start a new life in more relaxing lifestyles instead of the hustle of London. I do not pretend that running a bar on the beach will still be a very busy and sometimes stressful life but it can’t be worse than London?? I hope!!!

  14. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for demystifying the process/possible traps etc of buying into a bar. I’ve just returned from a holiday in Thailand and was looking at businesses for sale over there…

    Could you recommend a business or work in Thailand (other than the obvious teaching english) that would be a ‘safer’ bet?

    1. Hi Camo, it’s a tough question for me to answer because any business is going to be a huge risk if the person isn’t suited for it. I suppose the best thing is to work out what you’re good at and decide if there is a market for this in Thailand.

  15. Live in cheaply in Thailand while running a business with an online presence that earns dollars or euros from people anywhere in the world – good idea.

    Buying a bar in Thailand, relying on local customers spending baht and having to deal with shady local figures – bad idea.

  16. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your insight on the matter, as someone who thinks that owning/running a bar in Thailand sounds like fun it was interesting to read some different views.

    In your original post you mention that you can think of far better ways of making a living in Thailand and so I am interested in finding out what you would say the most viable alternative to a bar would be?


  17. Hey for what its worth, you are retiring overseas for low stress, low cost fun living right? So why would you want to work 60-80 hours a week when you could just draw on your investments and play golf. Retirement is meant to be a reward for a life of work 🙂 My wife is a Filipina and even she agrees with me, business and family never mix 🙂



  18. Great article Paul.

    There are a 101 ways to make money in Thailand with a small investment that can turn out great. I’ve lived on Sukhumvit from 2012-2015 and the amount of bars that open and close each year is crazy.

    Seems every week a new bar is opening and closing in Thong Lor.

  19. Hi Paul,

    Can’t find anything here to disagree with you. I have had a long time dream to open a bar in Thailand, but from the evidence I have seen,the ‘cons’ far outweigh the ‘pro’s. If I had the financial support to open one, then it would be one with a difference, a Jazz and Blues (not live, but on CD and DVD) bar with a Pizza oven. I’m sick of the same bars playing the same horrible music that the bargirls insist on being played, and a bar with Jazz and Blues, (and good pizza) might be the remedy for many a jaded farang.

  20. Paul,

    I’m trying to understand your correlation of Thailand and a bar owner who is an alcoholic. Drinking your profits away is a problem anywhere you can open a bar, not just in Thailand.

  21. I agree with everything that’s been said about owners drinking in their bar, how bad it is for their bodies, health and their business. About 2 months ago I bought a functioning Ago go that has been open several years. I do go to my bar occasionally. I don’t hang out there. I bought it as a way to make more money. I have a manager I trust to run it. When I go I buy my drinks. I pay the customer price so If I don’t have the money on me I don’t drink. Also I’ve taken the advice to never sample the merchandise. It can cause problems with the staff, they can lose respect and it can harm to the bottom line of the business.

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