Thailand’s One Finger Rule – The Plastic Bag Phenomenon

By Mark Wiens 3 Comments
The one finger carrying strap
The one finger carrying strap

One thing that’s very noticeable after spending any amount of time in Thailand is the heavy use of plastic bags – all sizes and shapes.

In fact, one of the Thai culinary life skills is being able to tie a plastic bag with a rubberband that includes a nice little air bubble at the top (to make it beautiful, of course).

This brings me to my next point: there are lots of unwritten rules in Thailand and one of them has to do with plastic bags – and though this rule goes for everything – it happens to always pop-up in the food sector.

For lack of any better ways to put it, I simply call it the “one finger rule.”

Bagged and bagged again
Bagged and bagged again

Thailand’s One Finger Policy

Whatever you purchase, no matter how big or small or what size or shape, it must be packaged in a plastic bag or wrapper to make it carry-able by just a single finger.

Now due to weight, you may or may not be able to carry it with just one finger, but it must be possible for one to carry it with just one finger.

Can you carry a bottle of juice or a cup with just one finger? Not unless it has a handle. So that’s why nearly all beverages are put in plastic bags (or sometimes one finger carrier straps as pictured at the top).

Ice is put in plastic bags, drinks are put in plastic bags, sauce is put in plastic bags, and even bags are bagged in plastic bags.

As long as whatever you sell or whatever you buy is bagged and bagged again until you’ve got something that can be carried by one finger, you’re good to go!

And you know what the funny thing is?

I’ll often go shopping at the market and accumulate a bunch of diffferent things and realize how convenient it is to have a drink hanging from one finger, some mangoes on another finger, and a few skewers of sai krok dangling from my index finger – all because the vendors followed the rule!



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  • Kalle

    2 years ago

    This might sound like a dumb question, but anyway: I’m currently in Bangkok and I’m wondering what is the normal way to eat the street food that comes in small transparent plastic bags? I see all kinds of beautiful dishes but I don’t see the customers receiving spoons etc. Should one “drink” it from the bag or?

  • Mike Curl

    5 years ago

    One of my earliest learned and still most commonly used Thai phrases is “Don’t need a bag.” While the bags can be really convenient, they are usually completely unnecessary and rarely recycled. This is one of the only things that bothers me about Thai food (as well as waiters standing impatiently over your shoulder while you try to read a menu)

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Mike, thanks for the comment. And, “don’t put it in a bag,” is one of the best phrases to know in Thai. While I do agree with what you say, living here full time it’s just about impossible to fully avoid all plastic bags as even everything to go is first put in a plastic bag. But especially when buying something from 7-Eleven I try to avoid bags altogether. Haha, I agree with the over productive waiters too!