Upon landing in Thailand, you’ll likely be greeted by warm, sunny weather and a serious blast of humidity.
That jumper you wore on the plane will have you sweating like crazy as soon as you exit the airport arrivals floor.
But before you tear off your clothes and go bare-chested, or put on a bikini or pair of Speedos, bear in mind that Thai culture promotes a conservative dress code in public.
With this in mind, you will need to pack clothes that help you stay cool and look casual, and conservative when necessary – when visiting cultural sites and temples.
It's not just about making sure you're not offending anyone, but also about being comfortable and not dripping in sweat.
This guide will help you pack the right attire for your trip:
You'll learn what's appropriate on the beach and in the local town, what clothes are best to wear when shopping in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and what clobber to wear in the evening when you're up for a party.
From the shops to the beach to the bar, this guide contains everything you need to know.
What to Wear in Thailand: Cultural Tips 101
Even though it's boiling hot, you may be shocked to see Thais wearing long trousers (pants) and long sleeves. Often just looking at locals makes you feel hot.
One reason for this is to cover their skin from the sun, but another is that Thai culture values modesty, along with respect and courtesy too.
Many Thais, particularly women, feel more comfortable in modest clothing. That's not to say Thai women don't love dressing up for an evening out like Western females do, but there's a time and a place.
This is certainly the case at local temples and when visiting government buildings and places considered to be of a “high level”.
Unsuspecting tourists may find themselves getting a few frowns from locals for wearing package-hugging shorts and a vest at a temple, or for walking shirtless around a shopping center.
Aim to be a traveler who’s in touch with the local customs by treating places of worship and authority with respect.
Of course this is a holiday, and naturally you'll be packing your shorts, vests, and flip flops, but you should also bring some full length trousers and a shirt or two with you – one with short and one with long sleeves.
For those staying at 4/5 star hotels, it isn't the done thing to wear a vest down to dinner in the evening, so you may need some casual garments.
For men: throw in a couple of polo shirts, button-down collared shirts, and full length cotton/linen trousers. You'll certainly need these if visiting the Grand Palace and other temples.
For women: bring along loose pants and tops that cover the shoulders. Summer dresses are great as they are versatile and can be worn in many situations, keeping you cool and looking modest.
For public places, you might choose to avoid spaghetti strap tops, especially without a bra underneath – this is a classic tourist error.
That said, you can always drape a shawl or sweater over your shoulders when need be.
All tops should have modest necklines. Too much cleavage is considered immodest, particularly on public transport.
Even though you will most likely see some cleavage on show from young Thai women, particularly in Bangkok, you won't get a pass because you are the foreigner :).
That's the way it goes!
Materials for Keeping Cool
If possible, wear clothes made from a moisture-wicking fabric; it will help immensely with the heat and humidity.
If you can’t find quick-dry, buy clothes that are synthetic-polyester blends.
Though they don’t sound appealing, they’ll be much lighter and airier than cotton, which gets soggy from sweat.
Be careful with your choice of long pants and jeans. While an acceptable form of leg wear, they can also be stifling if you’re not used to the heat. The last thing you want is a sweaty crutch and wet patches showing on your bottom.
Choose light, airy garments. Thailand gets really humid; to the point that you'll find yourself sweating just minutes after having a shower.
Keep a light top or shawl handy, though. The air-con in malls, shops, and hotels can be really cold, and coming in from one temperature extreme to another can at times make you feel feverish – especially when you're feeling jet lagged.
Before you depart on your Thai adventure, don’t forget to consider your footwear.
You should opt for comfort first and style second. After all, you are likely to be doing a lot of walking.
Some tuff rubber-soled sandal-type shoes – with good ventilation – that can easily be slipped on and off are perfect.
Instead of, or in addition to, bringing flip flops for the beach, I recommend beach shoes that can be worn around the pool, on the beach and in the water. Flip flops are good for slipping on and off but beach shoes can be kept on and tend to protect your feet better.
Keep in mind that if it rains it may be slippery (check the weather for that time of year), and the water can come up past your ankles in some places. So don’t waste space packing too many heels or shoes that can’t be worn in a range of weather situations.
Avoid bringing shoes that insulate your feet, like heavily lined boots. Such shoes require socks, which you generally won't be wearing. Socks get very smelly in Thailand!
If you're trekking this will be an exception, but go for lightweight trekking boots if you can.
Note that you will be removing your shoes frequently, as it is customary to take off your shoes when entering Thai homes, some shops, your hotel room, and temples. So you'll want to pack easy slip-on-slip-off shoes.
While taking off your shoes is customary when entering someone's home and some shops, do not walk around without shoes on in the street.
This is a common mistake that tourists make, particularly on the islands.
The islands make you feel free and want to let go of your cultural norms, but Thai culture has specific rules pertaining to feet. Walking around the city and then entering a temple, home or shop is considered dirty and potentially offensive.
Certainly don't sit down and put your feet up so that they are pointing at people waking past or sitting opposite. Soles of the feet should remain on the floor.
Clothes for City Shopping
When shopping, adhere to the general rules of modesty and wear clean, non-revealing clothes.
Casual-cool is a good way to describe a positive dress code.
Again, just because you see a Thai person doing it, doesn't mean you should do it too.
You may see a woman wearing a really short skirt and high heels, or a man with his t-shirt rolled up to his chest to give his stomach some air, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable for you to do the same.
Ladies, wear a bra, or a sports bra if that's more comfortable in the heat. No nipple exposure please!
Men, no Euro-style shorts with your package on show. And put a top on. We don't care if you have a six-pack or not, even though I'm jealous!
Thailand Dress-Code at the Beach
Thousands travel to Thailand’s southern shores to splash in the Kingdom’s crystal blue waters, which of course necessitates a bathing suit.
You'll notice when you go to the beach that most Thais are fully clothed on both sand and in the sea.
This is quite typical; largely because they are covering up from the sun and don't want to get any browner.
You will notice that Thais tend to go to the beach after 4pm when the sun is much weaker. They think we are crazy for doing otherwise!
So, what should you wear on the beach in Thailand?
Swimming trunks or shorts are acceptable for men, and it is generally acceptable for female travelers to wear a two-piece bathing suit.
Women should try to wear suits that are not overly revealing, especially in areas of Thailand that are adjacent to Malaysia: there’s a large, conservative Muslim population there.
Thongs are generally a no-no and may attract a lot of the wrong attention.
The beach is pretty relaxed though, and no one is going to tell you off for a revealing costume.
Topless bathing is unacceptable, and certainly don't go nude!
What you really need to be aware of at the seaside is the etiquette when walking away from the beach.
Always have a cover-up handy, and never walk through a neighboring beach town without proper shoes and a sarong or t-shirt on.
The same rules apply for riding motorbikes. Visitors should never hop atop a scooter in their bathing suits or without shoes.
That said, many guys wear swimming shorts instead of trunks, which are of course fine for riding a scooter.
Either way, good etiquette is to put on shorts and t-shirt/vest when riding/walking around.
Visiting Temples & Historical Sites
If you’re visiting a temple, opt for loose fitting breathable clothes.
The general rule is that the shoulders and knees should be covered; a practice that applies to both men and women.
Women should opt for knee-length shorts, a skirt to the knee or beyond, or a dress. Leggings are often frowned upon, so try to wear flowing pants or a long skirt if you can.
Women can carry a sarong or scarf to tie around their waist or throw over their shoulders if need be.
Men should completely button their long sleeve shirts and wear trousers. Cotton or linen full length trousers work nicely, as does a long sleeve cotton/linen top, with or without buttons.
Some temples are stricter than others, and you may not be allowed to enter if you don't have the proper garb. The Grand Palace in Bangkok is a prime example of strict dress code.
Clothes for Trekking
If you’re planning a jungle adventure, you’ll need to pack accordingly.
Be sure to bring good hiking or trekking shoes/boots that have a deep tread. The Thai jungle is often wet from rain, and you don’t want to slip.
Be sure that your boots are lightweight and easy-dry. Pack long socks that will cover your ankles and shin skin.
Keep in mind that sandals and other open style footwear are a bad idea for even light trekking, since they allow easy access for hungry mosquitoes and leeches, not to mention that any exposed skin may be hurt on hazardous terrain.
Though it’ll likely be humid, your best bet is to hike in sports leggings, long pants or light sweatpants.
It’s also wise to bring along a poncho or raincoat in case of a sudden downpour. Always carry mosquito and bug repellent on a jungle adventure.
Clothes for the Bar & Disco
If all you’re after is a cold beer at the end of a hot day, you can relax because most casual bars in Thailand don’t have a dress code.
Of course, a fancy hotel will have a dress code, and “hi-society” bars and clubs in areas of Bangkok like Thong Lor will do too.
Regardless, you’ll want to make sure that you’re seen in a good light and that you're being respectful.
Choose tops with sleeves and bottoms that extend to the knees.
Wear shoes, and make sure you’re showered, even after a long day of exploring in the sun! Thais tend to take at least two showers a day, so make sure you aren't the one smelly foreigner :).
If the venue is a fancy one in the city, you can bet that there will be a dress code.
Men should shy away from wearing vests, shorts, or flip flops.
Both men and women should eschew athletic wear and choose footwear other than sneakers.
Baseball hates usually aren't allowed, and the same goes for sandals and open-toed shoes.
General Footwear Tips
While they may not be everyone's cup of tea, Crocs are a lifesaver in Thailand.
Lightweight, comfortable, waterproof and bacteria free, they’re pretty much the optimal shoe for a climate like Thailand's.
For those who don't like the clog style Crocs, men can choose from a loafer style and women can even pick up Croc ballet flats.
You don't have to pay the expensive price for the original Croc brand either. There are a number of Croc-like shoes available in markets all across Thailand that will do the job.
The reason I suggest Crocs is because you won't want to wear socks in Thailand, but when you wear trainers or shoes with a thick lining, without socks the shoes will start to smell because of the bacteria that builds up in the heat.
The key is comfortable and breathable, and to avoid any shoe that will make your foot sweat and smell.
Your feet will definitely thank you!
10 Essentials for Your Packing List
- A good pair of breathable walking shoes that you can slip on and off
- A versatile and non-wrinkly shawl
- Loose, breathable pants (linen is a great option)
- Sunglasses and a sun hat
- Men: A polo top or collared shirt
- Women: A beach coverup or sarong
- Quick dry t-shirts for hot days
- A poncho or a raincoat: you can also buy cheap ones in Thailand from 7-Eleven
- Mosquito repellant
10 Tips You'll thank Me For
- Remember that you are a visitor, and therefore you should act politely and respectfully. Sometimes that means dressing the part, even if you see others doing the opposite. Set the example, don't follow the crowd.
- Avoid immodest outfits in cities and rural towns.
- Always bring sufficient covering when visiting sacred and holy sites.
- Beware of mosquitoes: They are especially active at night, so take care and use spray on bare arms and legs.
- Shower regularly: the Kingdom is hot and humid and you’ll likely get sweaty and stinky after a few hours of exploration. Thai culture appreciates cleanliness and good hygiene.
- In addition to frequent showers, use anti-perspirant.
- Prepare for the sun: the sun in Thailand may be much stronger than what you’re used to. Bring along a hat, sunblock, and shades to keep cool.
- Avoid moisturizer! It can block your pores and make your skin sweat even more.
- Opt for light makeup that won't sweat, drip, and stain your clothes.
- Do laundry frequently: There are many self service laundromats in Thailand, but you can also get it done cheaply and reliably through your guesthouse or hotel. Take advantage of these services and wash your clothes often – or they will smell!
Tips to Start Planning Your Trip Now:
Book Your Flight
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Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
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