Jan 102012

How to pack for Thailand

We’ve had that melt-down in front of an empty suitcase, too. Find out exactly what to pack for Thailand to quell the panic & make your departure as easy as possible. Ready? Go!

What to know before you start packing

#1. Consider your hosts: The typical Thai (where ‘typical’ excludes Bangkok bar girls) dresses modestly, often keeping knees and shoulders covered. Rules are bent for tourists – Koh Samui and Phuket, for example, are relaxed resort spots and shorts & T-shirts are the uniform. Still, a huge emphasis is placed on appearance – being clean and well put-together. Do you have dress code questions? Before you start packing, quickly learn:

#2. Remember the climate: It’s hot here! Hot. You could quickly come to hate your favourite summer outfit when you realise it has polyester lining and the material is too thick for the tropics. Light cotton is the best fabric to pack for Thailand’s climate. Cotton shirts, dresses, shorts – all good.

#3. What’s possible? Any given day of a Thai vacation might include hanging out by the pool, enjoying the beach, dining somewhere nice, renting a car & hiking a waterfall, visiting a magic garden or sailing the seas – there’s lots to do. Can your suitcase handle the activities you have in mind? Be sure to pack for every possibility.

#4. Don’t be sun stupid: Thailand’s sun comes stronger than your [insert-Northern-country-here] variety. We doubt it’s much fun to fly 12+ hours with skin burnt to a lobster-red crisp. At the very least, pack a light cotton collared shirt and a hat to avoid burning. Please? For Thailand’s strong sun, ramp up your skin protection to at least SPF 25 – higher if you’re fair-skinned.

#5. Good news: Pack lightly! You can easily find a laundry service anywhere. Really … anywhere. Laundry is easy in Thailand. While Thailand’s resorts and villas have in-house laundry options, you’re bound to find a laundry shop near even the most back-water bungalow. Drop off your bag of washing and return to pick it up when instructed, usually the next day. Even your knickers come back ironed. Packing for Thailand is a matter of quality – clever fabric choices – not quantity.

#6. Planning for temples: When visiting Thai temples, both men and women should wear clothing that falls below the knee and covers shoulders (as a minimum – more details here). On such occasions, women should wear long skirts or trousers, and preferably closed-toed shoes. Good to have such an outfit in mind when you pack! Got nothing suitable? In a pinch, a pashmina can double as a cover-up.

Get organised before you pack

Packing for Thailand organisation

eBags packing cubes + Travelon packing envelopes – Never dig for your swimsuit – or a pen – again. These guys come assorted and a huge choice of colours – great if you’re sharing a suitcase!

What clothes (& shoes) to pack?

What to pack for Thailand

Below you’ll learn what women’s and men’s clothing is best to pack for Thailand, plus the right shoes and toiletries to bring with you. Choosing between two similar items to pack? Shirt A or B, red shorts or blue shorts? Choose the lighter fabric, or the more modest coverage for Thailand.


Bottoms: Leave jeans behind, it’s almost always too hot for them. Instead, pack dresses, skirts, shorts & capri pants. Avoid anything with a polyester lining, it will cook you. Where possible, choose light cotton, linen or light-weight silk over any other fabric. Hoping to enjoy a few Thai massages? Yoga pants or leggings are great things to pack. They’re comfy as pyjamas and will neither constrict you nor parade your parts mid-massage. A nice in-flight option, too!

Tops: Choose cotton! A light cotton collared shirt, tank tops and t-shirts (cotton!), and a light cardigan if there’s a cooler, rainy day.

Swim suit and cover-ups: Bikinis are fine at the beach /pool, but cover up as you leave. (Note that topless sunbathing is taboo in Thailand). As for cover-ups, pack a light silk scarf or pashmina and a wide-brimmed sun hat (local options aren’t entirely fashion-forward).


We polled our male family and friends about what they pack for Thailand. Not ones for fuss, we received this brief report:

Bottoms: Shorts, swim trunks, man-undies

Shirts: T-shirts, polo shirts


… You’re good to go.


It rains in Thailand sometimes! Ponchos are readily available and resorts have umbrellas for guest use. You might want your own light-weight, waterproof jacket, a travel umbrella or pocket poncho, especially if visiting during Thailand’s rainy season (Koh Samui’s is October through December…ish).

Shoes to pack for Thailand

Flip-flops: THE choice for Thai footwear. In Thailand you take off your shoes before going into homes and many shops – flip-flops are most convenient.

Closed-toe option: A very light-weight, closed-toe option, like slip-on TOMS, are convenient for flying, go with everything and are suitable for visiting temples. An honourable mention goes to Crocs, which are great in Thailand’s heat … but might be the ugliest things on earth.

Dressing up? A pair of nice women’s sandals or men’s boat shoes make a nice change if you want to dress up a little for dinner.

Running shoes (maybe): If you’re hoping to get a bit adventurous, bring hiking or running shoes (or at least something closed-toe and slightly protective). Remember, “it’s a jungle out there!”

Not required, ever: Socks. (Especially black socks. British Isles, this means you)

What toiletries to pack for Thailand?

What toiletries to pack for Thailand

sensitive sunscreen // natural bug spray // Germ-X wipes // flat-pack toiletry bag

A blanket tip for toiletries: if you have a specific product for any purpose, bring it. If you’re flexible with your bits & bobs – if sunscreen is sunscreen, and toothpaste is toothpaste – buy in Thailand.

To avoid mosquito bites: You can buy ‘OFF!’ brand repellent in Thailand but for effective, DEET-free protection try Beat IT! All Natural Deet-Free Insect Repellent. British readers: try Incognito Natural Anti-Mozzie spray and a Mosquito-Go-Duo plugged in at your hotel room.

What’s hard to find in Thailand? Pack your own brand-name cosmetics, electronic toothbrush heads, tampons, deodorant (only roll-on and antiperspirants are available) and Western product ranges of shampoo (locally available products are for Asian hair).

Bring your ‘eco’ toiletries: If you have sensitive skin or are environmentally-minded, also pack your ‘green’ toiletries – there’s next to no availability of such things (outside expat centres of Bangkok). Pop them into 100 ml travel bottles & you’re sorted.

Beware of buying whitening cosmetics: Whether it’s sunscreen, moisturiser or cosmetics – many products sold in Thailand have whitening ingredients, even in the brands you recognise from home.

Pack your special sunscreen: Thai shops stock predominantly Nivea and Banana Boat brands, in a limited selection of SPF numbers. Sensitive skin or choosy about fragrance? Pack your own supply. Even the standard drug store brands are likely cheaper at home than in Thailand (where they know you need it!).

Required medicine/general ailments: Thailand’s chemists/pharmacies are very well-stocked and many speak English, but you might find comfort in the things you know. If you’re travelling widely around Thailand, consider a lightweight first aid kit for minor scrapes or blisters.

For the plane and general travel: Once we researched germs on planes we wished we hadn’t. Purell travel size hand sanitizer + Germ-X antibacterial wipes put a stop to germ-phobia, and hopefully E Coli!

Electronics to pack for Thailand

Thailand uses 220 volts, 50 Hz. If your home country uses 110 volts (U.S. & Canada), note that many items such as laptops, Kindles, cameras and mobiles are dual-voltage and will work in Thailand (220v). Check your electronics in advance to be sure you won’t need to pack a voltage adapter.

Electronics to pack for Thailand

Sockets, plugs, power adaptors: Thai sockets will fit two plug types. Pictured above: (A) European with 2 circular pins and (B) North American with 2 flat blades. Brits, Aussies and others in countries with creative plug shapes might need a socket adapter. To use British electronics in Thailand: PortaPow USB Universal ChargerUK to Thailand travel adapter.

Charging your phone/tablet? If you’ll be hours or days between safe or convenient places to charge your phone or tablet in Thailand, this external battery charger is both genius and tiny: Anker® Lipstick-Sized Portable External Battery Charger.

Packing your carry-on for Thailand

What to pack in your carry-on for Thailand

sleep mask // J Pillow travel pillow // earplugs // compression socks // TSA carry-on pouch // Tumi international carry-on

The double-duty bag: If you have a bag that will serve double-duty as a carry-on, then a  day or beach bag in Thailand, so much the better! Otherwise, if you have a long journey or multiple connections – wheel your things to Thailand.

Staying comfy: Chances are, you’re facing a long flight to Thailand. Besides suggestions to pack snacks, load up your Kindle and drink lots of water – sleeping is the fastest way to get to Thailand. The J Pillow travel pillow is the strangest shaped pillow you’ve ever seen and yet… it just might be genius. Pair it with a Bucky 40 Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask and some earplugs to ensure total separation from every discomfort of flying.

Printed e-ticket: Do you have an e-ticket with connecting flights? Be sure to print your flight itinerary, including the booking reference (or download it somewhere obvious on your phone or iPad – don’t just leave it in your email). You’ll need it to get your onward boarding passes printed at a transfer desk. (Especially important if you’re using more than one airline!)

What’s in your wallet? Thai Baht. Baht is the only currency accepted in Thailand (no US dollars), so check your bank’s international service fees before departure. There’s no need to travel into Thailand with Baht, unless you’d find it more convenient. International ATMs are very readily available all over Thailand (including at Koh Samui Airport, in the arrivals area). Perhaps exchange a small amount before you leave or at your home airport as a nice back-up plan? (Note that many small restaurants and beach cafés are cash-only).

Review your pre-flight checklist

The contents of your suitcase: Will your clothes and shoes allow you to try everything, stay cool, and keep your naughty bits put away? Then you’re ready to roll. Do you have any lingering questions or confusion? If so, see the What to Wear in Thailand series.

Is your suitcase safe and secure? A TSA-approved luggage lock is just common sense (as is setting every lock you own to the same code). To make it miles easier to find your identical black suitcase, consider the vivid ELASTRAAP luggage strap and/or Bucky Identigrip Handle Wrap.

Let’s make doubly-sure: you have travel insurance, right? You can buy extremely reasonable travel coverage online in seconds and it’s highly recommended.

Are you ready to enjoy the vacation you’ve been waiting for? Whether you’re headed to Koh Samui tonight, next week or next year The Koh Samui Guide will make sure you step off the plane to a perfect vacation.