Of all the iconic pilgrimages backpackers from generations past and those to come, no country may captivate the imagination quite like Amazing Thailand. Like it was just yesterday, I remember the first time I stared down infamous Koh San Road like I was staring down the barrel of a gun – life flashing before my eyes, questioning everything I’d known to be true. Hell, Thailand imprinted so hard on my wanderlust-filled soul that the namesake of our company is even inspired by the place.
It’s a land of beaches, temples, jungles and a cosmopolitan bursting at the seams. That means, among other things, when it comes to packing for “The Land of Smiles”, just board shorts or a bikini, although certainly on the list, just won’t cut it.
What to Wear in Bangkok
Oh sweet “City of Angels” – a perfectly chaotic place full of contradictions. From street food to posh rooftop bars, air-conditioned mega malls to dank and/or floating markets. From the heat of the day to the heat of the night, “and then we sweat” is a sentence that you can place anywhere on a trip to Thailand and you will be correct.
But just because its 100 degrees with 100% humidity, it doesn’t give you cause to go out in your board shorts, bikinis and tank tops. Your clothing should be as dynamic as the city you’re in, so when you criss-cross from Temples to Tuks Tuks to Patio Bars, (and whatever else you get up to) you’re ready. Despite Snake Wine shots, Ladyboys and Patpong, like many Asian countries, Thailand is modest and conservative in its attire. Want respect, better service and less attention? Dress accordingly.
Bangkok: What should men wear?
- This means dress shorts (pants at night) with Polo’s or button down shirts…short or long sleeve will do
- Up your flip-flop game with a cool lightweight sneaker, boat shoe, or something comfortable with a rubber sole
Bangkok: What should women wear?
- Cheeky personality…great! Cheeky shorts…not so great
- Dresses, skirts and shirts that cover the shoulders top the list, and cleavage should be saved for… we’ll that’s up to you!
- Bring that scarf and keep fabrics flowy, sheer and lacey with a slip or camisole underneath
Pro Tip – Mosquito wristbands don’t look that bad paired back with your other travel accessories. Also, wearing dark colours isn’t always the worst things. They’re more forgiving to the glorious back sweat and inevitable food stains.
Bangkok: What not to do
Okay, you want to wear Thai pants, Same Same Shirts and Beer Singlets… do it…AT HOME! Sorry, that was a bit harsh and yes, I had my very own Thai Pant phase. They’re comfy and roomy, but nothing screams “I’m foreign, please increase my cab fare”, other than a Tilly Hat, knee-high socks and vest, than Thai Pants.
What to Wear to the Beach and Beach Towns You’ll Visit
After a week, be it Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan or wherever, you’ll feel so at home on the beautiful beach towns of Thailand that all inhibitions will wash away with the tide. Oh yes, the white sand beaches with perfectly arched palm trees and azure waters may very well be the best in the world, and until you’re going for a dip, it’s likely as hot as the Thai curry is spicy.
Swim shorts and bikinis are A-OK on those sandy toe days, but once you’ve left the beach it’s time to cover up. See locals wearing bikinis in town? We like to think you’re in-town attire should match the glimmering eye of the meditative wâi (the palms-together Thai greeting). That is respectable.
Beach towns: What should men wear?
- This means you should put on a polo or T-shirt with your shorts.
- Flip-flops are okay during the day but we’d recommend shooting for a boat shoe (no that doesn’t mean a croc) if you’re going out for dinner at night.
- Lightweight long, cooling sleeves are great to help keep the sun exposure at bay as well.
Beach towns: What should women wear?
- Cover-ups when off the beach are your best friend, and great for sun protection too.
- A Jennifer Aniston (think Friends) hat can be a lifesaver
Pro Tip – Last time I was in Thailand the lower half of my legs were so badly eaten that it looked like I had dengue fever. Bug spray works but I switched to a lightweight pant and no show socks. People thought t I was dumb-shit-crazy but my legs thanked me.
Beach towns: What not to do
Remember that time you didn’t wear shoes when you headed down to the local watering hole back home? Of course you don’t – because you wore shoes. Not only is disrespectful (beach town or otherwise) it’s downright gross and dangerous.
And if you’re into that…don’t go topless. Not that there is anything wrong with it…but this ain’t the place.
What to wear to Religious Monuments or Temples
Button up! Although a religious monument is a “sightseeing” activity to you, it’s an important part of a locals daily life and belief system. So just like mama used to make you dress up for church on Sunday and twist your ear for being naughty, you should act accordingly here.
Religious monuments: What should men wear?
- Skip the Simon Cowell two-button chest pubes display and button up. If you can’t bring yourself to wear a button up anywhere else in Thailand do it here, and if visiting a local’s home
Religious monuments: What should women wear?
- Bring a lightweight scarf to cover your shoulders and chest
- Wear a dress or skirt Dress that hits below the knees
Pro Tip – Get yourself some slip-on shoes and no-show socks. You’ll be asked to remove shoes so it’s nice to not have to untie, and having socks underneath is an added bonus.
Also to keep in mind… Thailand’s southern neighbour Malaysia is a Mulsim country. In the deep south, Thailand is spotted with conservatively dressed Muslim communities. In these regions you should take further measures to cover up and dress #respectfully.
Out the back of the beach hostel, a cold shower awaits. Take it! Smelling bad is impolite. You can wash your beach clothes here and hang to dry. Otherwise, each and every place we’ve ever been has inexpensive laundry services. Just beware…the last blue shirt I had washed in Thailand came back nearly white – but at least it no longer stank!
Pro Tip – Remember that scene in “Chef” where Jon Favreau and his son are driving the food truck through the heart of Louisiana and someone says “I’m putting a little cornstarch on my huevos”? No? That’s okay, the point is, baby powder or some prickly heat powder to dry things out may come in handy!
What to wear in Thailand in the Wet Season
Officially, Thailand has three seasons… Hot, Wet (monsoon) and Cool.
Hot Season runs March through June, with April and May being masochist level Khao Pad Nam Prik Narok Hot… Wait, what? Oh, that just translates to chilli paste from hell!
Monsoon season begins in June and ends in October. Then it’s cool for a few months. Definition of cool is around 28 degrees Celsius in the south, but venture north and “it feels a tad chilly” wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Although the little proverb “when it rains it pours” origin can’t be traced, it might as well be to Thailand. Fuck…is all I can say. One second it’s sunny then big, mean-ass looking rain cloud open the floodgates and within minutes the streets are filled with 2 feet of water.
Pack more substantial sandals or rubber shoes that don’t mind getting wet. Fabric based shoes get wet and stay wet for days so as much and flip flops may not cut it in some of the slick conditions.
Ponchos are great…and even the garbage-esque cheapo rain slickers can get you by in a pinch. If you want to bring a sustainable raincoat, just make sure it breathes, because if it doesn’t, you’ll sweat underneath like a college wrestler trying to cut weight.
Wet season: What should men wear?
- Wear pants with cinched cuff at the bottom. That will remove the worry of a the hem dragging in puddles (ladies, feel free to wear this style pant as well).
- Remember my mosquito story – even more applicable during this season. Long sleeves and layers are a good bet. It’s not cold, but it gets windy.
Wet season: What should women wear?
- Wind means dresses may not be the best bet and wet means bugs are out in full force. Adopt the same style of pants we recommend to the guys – those with a cinched cuff at the bottom
- Dark colors protect against splashing mud and see-through fashion faux pas!
Above all – quick dry clothing is your saviour and packing an umbrella wouldn’t hurt either.
Protip – The rainy season occurs at different times of the year in different parts of Thailand, so be sure to read up on that before you go!
Don’t – Bring white…I think you get why!
Best times to visit Thailand, by region
Andaman Sea / Phuket / Krabi / Khao Lak – November to May
Gulf Coast / Samui / Phangan /Kho Tao – April to October
Outside of these times, there may be some bargains to be had if you are prepared to put up with the risk of rain!
One last point on Fabric: Natural vs. Synthetic
I love linen and natural fibers in a place as hot as Thailand. Polyester is getting better and better but feels hot and sticky in the intense heat and humidity. Rayon (aka Modal) and light cottons are nice as well. Come wet season, you can plan to bring a few more technical synthetic pieces that dry quickly and layer these with your basics.
Tips When Shopping
- Moisture Management: look for UV protection and anti-odour clothing (because sweat stinks when it drys)
- Pick up a water roof phone bag; no-show socks and some rubber shoes that still look nice (aka not a water shoe)
Thailand Packing List
- 2 pairs of pants
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1-2 sets of swimwear
- 2-3 button up shirts (short or long sleeve)
- 2-4 basic t-shirts/tanks tops
- 1 light sweater
- 1 waterproof jacket or poncho (extra light jacket is optional)
- 1 pair of sandals or 1 pair of flip flops (season depending)
- 1 pair of shoes (running or otherwise)
- 1 pair of boots (if you know you’re hitting up a jungle)
- 1 hat
- 1-2 pairs no-show socks
Women – add the following:
- 1-2 scarves
- 2 cover-ups
- 2-3 travel dresses
- 1 pair of high heels (if you like to wear them out at night)
Men – add the following:
- 1-2 polo shirts
- 1 lightweight, long sleeve shirts with sun protection
Okay… all this packing talk has given me a mean hankering for a spicy Thai curry meal washed down with a Singha, later to be washed down with Samsung Thai whiskey, mixed with 7-Up and barely legal quantities of Red Bull in a bucket. Thought I was done? Nope, then some greasy, yet perfectly sauteed street noodles, another Singha (okay this point it’s probably Chang) with french fries, and still later a crepe dripped with nutella and sweet condensed milk. Did I mention to pack a digestive aid like probiotic? Maybe a little pepto? …heaven forbid some imodium?
First-time traveller? Check out our guide on how to travel alone for the first time!