7-Eleven stores are the most popular convenience stores in Thailand. They are on every street corner (there are five within two blocks of my house) and are open 24 hours a day. At any time of the day or night, you can go to a 7-Eleven and somebody else will also be shopping there.
In the mornings in Bangkok, the 7-Elevens are packed full of people. I often stop in on my way to meet a friend for breakfast and there are usually at least 15 people in line at the same time.
As you probably know, 7-Eleven used to be an American company. Then in the 1980s, the Japanese company Ito-Yokado bought a controlling interest in the company so, for all intents and purposes, 7-Eleven is now Japanese. Since Ito-Yokado took over control of the company, they have expanded enormously and are now in 18 countries. Thailand has the fourth largest number of 7-Elevens behind Japan, the US, and Taiwan. There are almost 6,000 in Thailand alone and more than 2,000 of these are in Bangkok. But how do they differ from 7-Elevens in the United States?
In Bangkok, the 7-Elevens are not usually connected to gas stations. They are stand alone stores that concentrate on food, drinks, DVDs, CDs, phone cards, alcohol, magazines and other items. When you walk in the door of a store in Thailand, they look pretty much the same as in the US but the similarity stops there.
The Food at a Thai 7-Eleven. Other than a few things like Snickers and Mars bars, you’re not likely to see any American food here. Thai 7-Elevens carry Thai food and that is very different. For a typical snack at a store in Thailand, a Thai will buy a drink box of soy milk or fruit juice, a shredded pork with salad cream sandwich or a packet of dried seaweed or dried squid.
Mama noodles are also popular and are a good deal for a quick lunch. Thirty five cents will buy you a pot of noodles which you just add hot water to in the store, and then stick in the spices and chili that come with it. Stir it around, let it sit for two minutes and, voila, lunch.
You can also find Dim Sum (steamed Chinese buns), Pork Burgers, tons of different types of Thai Hot Dogs, Toasted Sandwiches, and Bread stuffed with Custard or Red Bean. All sound weird to a Westerner but most are delicious and cheap. They also have frozen dinners (all typical Thai food of course) and shelves of packaged snacks and breakfast pastries. Thailand is also much cheaper than the US, so the average snack at the 7-Elevens here is 30 cents.
Drinks at a Thai 7-Eleven. As a convenience store, drinks are one of the most popular items here. They sell the usual bottles of water, Coke, Pepsi, beer (both imported and local Thai beer), coffee and fruit juices. The similarities stop here though. In many of the stores, you cannot find straight black coffee only the Thai coffee, which is pre-made and sweetened with condensed milk and sugar. They do sell Slurpees and Big Gulps but the flavors are usually different than in the US. They will normally have Coke flavor but will also have a Mango fruit juice mix, a Thai lemonade mix (saltier and sweeter than in the US), Loganberry and other juice mixes.
The stores also have many ‘box drinks’, as Thais love drinks in little boxes. Each box holds enough for one person and comes with a straw. Soy milks are popular, especially those mixed with juices (my favorite is one mixed with carrot juice and berries), green tea drinks are one of their top sellers, and blended milk drinks also sell well. Add in the boxes of sweetened, unsweetened and flavored coffees and you’ve got tons of choice.
Paying Bills. Unlike the US, the 7-Eleven in Thailand is also the place you can pay most of your bills. They handle bill payment for the electricity company, the phone company, the gas company, UBC cable and satellite TV and a host of others. I often pay my cable bill here as it saves me a stamp and is closer to my house than going to the ATM machine, where I can also pay it.
CDs, VCDs and DVDs. 7-Elevens in Thailand always have a great selection of CDs and DVDs to buy. They’re cheap and, if you’re bored at any time of the day or night, you can run down to the 7-Eleven and buy a movie or CD. Just make sure if you buy a Thai movie, stick to the DVDs and check if they have English subtitles before you buy. The VCDs don’t usually have subtitles but, if you can understand Thai, they are a great deal at around $2.50 per movie.
7-Eleven Trading Stamps. Every time you make a purchase at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Thailand, they give you little stamps. You save the stamps on stamp cards and can then trade them in for items or for money off your next purchase. Or, if you’re feeling generous, you can donate them to one of the local Thai temples that have stamp boards at the 7-Eleven and the monks can use them for any purchases they might want. You can also save them up and ‘purchase’ electronic items, beauty supplies, watches, auto supplies and a myriad of other things from a 7 Catalog.
Store Counter Service. Usually, when I’ve gone to a 7-Eleven store in the US, my items are thrown at me and my total is barked at me. In Thailand, every time you go in to a 7-Eleven store, you are treated as a valued customer. You are given a wai (the Thai form of greeting where the hands are raised in a prayer like position), you are treated respectfully and always thanked for coming. 7-Eleven clerks in the US could learn a lot from the Thai staff.
All in all, you will find 7-Elevens in Thailand to be a comforting presence. Even if they’re not the same as in the US, they’re still convenient to shop at, their prices are low and they have a huge selection of items. So, the next time you’re in Thailand, head for a 7-Eleven and try something new. You might be surprised at how much you like it.
For one of the best videos I’ve seen on 7-11s in Thailand, check out this one below. Recently filmed by two American sisters. As obsessed with 7-11s as I am, they’ve done a great job capturing what it’s like at 7-11s in Thailand (note the gaggle of Thai school girls behind the American while she’s talking, they’re in just about every 7-11 in Thailand!) and picked out some of my favorite snacks to eat – including the pandan-stuffed bun, which I eat at least six of every week, and have done for 10 years!
My sister and I are mildly…ok, wholeheartedly obsessed with 7-11s in Thailand. You can buy anything: drinks, magazines, cosmetics, lightbulbs, toilet paper, etc. You name it, 7-11 most likely has it. With 3 on every corner, it’s comparable to Starbucks in the US. And yes, you can buy several varieties of coffee too (hot and cold) in 7-11. We often go in to cool off from the humid temperatures, purchase a cold beverage, and buy something new and fun to try. 7-11s are fun for the whole family! When in Thailand, do not skip the opportunity to hang out in these amazing stores of convenience.