On my first trip to Bangkok, Thailand I was mesmerized by the sheer number of Swensen’s ice cream parlors throughout the city. On excursions outside Bangkok, I was blown away even more to see Swensen’s ice cream parlors in every Thai city and town I visited, and in every place each of these ice cream parlors was packed to the gills with Thais. When I moved to Thailand a year later, I realized quickly, not only is Swensen’s popular in Thailand, it’s actually the most popular ice cream parlor in the country and there’s no surprise as to why.
The History of Swensen’s – Swensen’s is actually an American ice cream chain, one I’d never heard of when I lived in the US. It opened in 1948 but, as I hadn’t ever lived in a city that had a Swensen’s ice cream parlor, I wasn’t familiar with it. Swensen’s first ice cream parlor opened in Bangkok, Thailand 24 years ago. The company now has more than 200 shops with more opening every year, and controls a 75% share of the entire Thai ice cream market.
Why Is Swensen’s So Popular in Thailand? – The obvious reason ice cream is so popular in Thailand is the intense heat. With an average temperature of 85-95 degrees all year round, Thailand is one of the world’s hottest countries. It’s also why Thais (and foreigners who live or travel here) consume so much ice cream, but why Swensen’s?
Simple. The cheap price, the huge variety of choices and the taste. At Swensen’s you can buy an ice cream sundae for as cheap as 29 baht (less than $1), there’s at least 100 choices on the gigantic menu, as well as many ways to mix different ice cream flavors. Then add in the great taste, and lots of toppings and Swensen’s in Thailand couldn’t help but be a winner.
Thai Swensen’s ice cream parlors also concentrate on the dine-in experience, whereas many ice cream parlors in Thailand mainly target take-away ice cream buyers.
Who Eats Ice Cream At Swensen’s? – The main market for Swensen’s is the teenage and young adult crowd, with families a distant second. Most Swensen’s ice cream parlors begin to fill up by 3pm, after the high schools close for the day, and by 5pm when the universities are done too, you’ll be hard-pressed to get a seat.
Thais as a culture don’t drink alcohol when it comes to going on dates and few Thai women drink it at all, although that is changing. So, for a Thai teenager or young adult, an ice cream date with his girlfriend or a group of friends is extremely popular. Not only is it fun, and a cool place to hang out, it’s cheap too.
The Flavors and Choices At Swensen’s – Not a huge ice cream fan when I lived in the US, since I moved to Thailand I’ve become a Swensen’s convert. Not a week goes by I don’t visit Swensen’s at least once, and it’s usually the choice for dessert with friends after dinner at a local restaurant. There are at least four Swensen’s locations within walking distance of my house and many more a short subway ride away. So why pay a high price for dessert, when I can get a Swensen’s cone for 75 cents, or a full ice cream banana split sundae for less than $2?
The flavors at Swensen’s too are a draw for me. I love chocolate chip, rum raisin and anything with pecans and Swensen’s serves up a number of flavors that include these ingredients. The taste of the ice cream isn’t too sweet, it’s also creamy and light and a Swensen’s ice cream sundae goes down a treat with a hot latte, which they also serve and, yes, they’re delicious.
So the next time you’re in Bangkok, Thailand or in just about any other city in Thailand, don’t miss popping into a Swensen’s for dessert or a snack. Not only is the ice cream delicious and cheap, it’s also an amazing Thai cultural experience, as you’ll never see this much mass ice-cream adoring in your life, nor as many young folks all in one place having innocent fun.
Swensen’s in Thailand – Minor Food Group