Samui Wining & Dining
Adam’s Ale

There was a time when we all drank tap-water – how times have changed

6Once upon a time … there were rolling forests as far as the eye could see. Here and there, a solid paved road, built by the insistent Romans. Beyond what few towns there were, was a wilderness of rolling green, unmapped, unmarked and largely unexplored. And water – that basic necessity of life – was free. It fell from the sky and it bubbled cheerfully out of the ground. It was a gift that everyone – rich and poor alike – had a God-given right to.


The problems didn’t begin until somewhere around the 15th century. By this time hamlets had grown into villages, villages into towns, and towns into cities. Now, all over Europe, there were tens of thousands of people all squashed into small areas. Towns weren’t planned – they just grew, like so many poisonous mushrooms. Sanitation was non-existent and waste ran into the streets. Needless to say, water sources became contaminated and people became sick. Those who could afford it drank only beer, thinking that the bad water was causing the sickness and plagues. But that was 500 years ago … and things are so much better today.


Or are they? In 2002, the American nation drank its way through six thousand million gallons – yes, six billion – gallons of bottled water. And this is in a civilised age of high-technology – where every city has reservoirs and water purification plants, and every house has clean, piped water on tap. What’s going on?


In 2003, a 14 year-old American schoolgirl, Madeline de la Cruz, caused a nationwide media reaction when she won her regional round of a national science project. She methodically and flawlessly proved that water taken from her toilet at home was actually more ‘pure’ and ‘drinkable’ than five different (and deliberately unnamed!) brands of bottled drinking water. So, when there’s perfectly good water in every home, why do people deliberately avoid this and go out and buy bottled water to drink?


Well, there are two answers to this – and one of them you won’t find on Koh Samui! Firstly, we’ve all become obsessed with ‘health’. We jog. We go to the gym. We eat sugar-free and low-fat foods. We don’t smoke. We check the cans and packets to see what additives and E-numbers they’ve got. And, in one sense, it’s a good thing – we’ve become conscious of our body and its needs. But, sadly, the whole thing is in danger of going over the top. Manufacturers are well aware of the nation’s hunger for well-being and are enthusiastically exploiting it – witness the immense selection of frozen, ready-made meals that bear the label ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’ or ‘low sugar’. But how much more healthy and nourishing it would be if you could buy a neatly wrapped one-meal pack of fresh peas, carrots and potatoes, along with a fillet of fresh fish!


But I digress. The obsession with healthy-living aside, the other reason that everyone’s hitting the water bottle is more evasive. It’s a simple enough factor, but it’s hard to know how much (if at all) it affects you. It’s ‘pollution’ – air pollution, to be specific. High-density areas like big cities have sections of light- and heavy-industry, manufacturing plants and millions of cars on the road. They fill the air with sulphides, hydrocarbon by-products, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Then it rains … and the resulting soup of dissolved chemicals is leeched into the water table, to appear later from our taps. Or, at least, that’s what we’re afraid of. And if not that, then it’s the additional chemical treatment and processing that’s applied to clean it all up for us. Either way – it’s not worth the risk.


And what won’t you find on Samui? Well, polluted rainwater, of course! The water that falls from the sky is about as pure and clean as it gets. But, unfortunately, there’s no neat and easy way to drink this, other than standing around with your mouth open in a storm. Well, actually, there is. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?) You can buy it in a bottle!


As you may have been told, it’s not a good idea to drink the tap water here. But take a look in any 7-11 – or even in the chiller of your hotel. You’ll see 20 different varieties of bottled water to tempt you. There are lots of different sizes and shapes and some look attractive and others don’t. Most of the brands you won’t recognise, but there’ll be probably a couple that you’ll know. You’ll find one with the famous Singha label on it – made by the same company that’s famous for its beer. And another one you’ll be familiar with is Nestlé. But here’s a bit of advice. They’re all perfectly safe and drinkable. And unless you have a particular fondness for one style of packaging, go for the cheapest! It’s about 6 baht a half-litre, and comes in a dull semi opaque bottle, covered in blue Thai script. Or, better still, go for the 6-litre Nestlé flagon at around 40 baht. But – if you’re staying here for more than just a few days – do what the Thai people do. Go to any of the local stores and buy the unbranded, unlabeled 30-litre opaque polystyrene bottle that costs less than 20 baht. That should last you a while.


Seventy per-cent of the Earth’s surface is water, and an adult human is made up of 60% water. It’s the most abundant substance on this planet. And, yet, it’s now become almost a delicacy, with some restaurants offering the services of ‘water sommeliers’ to advise diners on which type of water to drink with different courses. At one time water was known as ‘Adam’s ale’. I wonder which brand he preferred?


Rob De Wet


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