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 (and by ‘typical’ we preclude all Bangkok bar girls) dresses modestly, often keeping knees and shoulders covered. Rules are bent for tourists – Koh Samui, for example, is a relaxed resort island 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 what to wear in Thailand.
#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. (Are you coming to Koh Samui? We cover every interest in The Koh Samui Guide).
#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: Laundry is easy. 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). 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.
What clothes (& shoes) to pack?
We detail below 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.
Get organised before you pack: eBags packing cubes (U.S. version) – Never dig for your swimsuit again. These guys come in a 3-piece set and a huge choice of colours – great if you’re sharing a suitcase!
WOMEN’S CLOTHES TO PACK 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.
- Yoga pants or leggings – 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 – Bikinis are fine at the beach /pool, but cover up as you leave. (Note that topless sunbathing is taboo in Thailand).
- Cover-ups – A light silk scarf or pashmina , and a wide-brimmed sun hat (local options aren’t entirely fashion-forward.
MEN’S CLOTHES TO PACK FOR THAILAND?
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 (Amazon’s UK Swim Store and U.S. Swim Shop have roughly 1 million options suitable for Thailand)
- Shirts – T-shirts, polo shirts
- … You’re good to go.
DO YOU NEED RAIN GEAR FOR THAILAND?
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).
WHAT SHOES TO PACK FOR THAILAND?
- (1) Flip-flops: Havaianas Top Flip-Flops are our favourites –they’re the most comfortable, clean up like new and last forever. Flip-flops are THE choice for Thai footwear. In Thailand you take off your shoes before going into homes and many shops – flip-flops are most convenient.
- (2) Closed-toe options – 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.
- (3, 4) 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?
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.
PREVENTING MOSQUITO BITES?
But of course. Learn how to avoid mosquitoes in Thailand and, if you think you might be a particularly tasty specimen, consider packing some mosquito repellant.
- For effective, DEET-free protection try Incognito Natural Anti-Mozzie spray (UK) or Beat IT! All Natural Deet-Free Insect Repellent (U.S.).
- The Mosquito-Go-Duo (a plug-in for your hotel room) is extremely popular for travel, too.
- Harder 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.
- 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.
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, 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.
SOCKETS, CHARGERS, POWER ADAPTORS
Thai sockets will fit two plug types. Pictured below: (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.
For British electronics: UK to Thailand travel adapter (set of 2)
Packing your carry-on for Thailand
The right documents: A dedicated passport travel wallet puts everything in its place, nice & safe. 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!)
The perfect laptop backpack: STM Impulse Backpack (UK version) – If you have a carry-on bag that will serve double-duty as a day or beach bag – so much the better! As we always travel with laptops and misc. gadgets, we like this little beauty. It’ll stay shut on the X-Ray machine and under a plane seat, and expands considerably when required. With tons of pockets and compartments it works as both a tech-heavy carry-on and day-trip bag around Thailand.
What’s in your wallet? Thai Baht. Baht is the only currency accepted (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).
HOW TO STAY COMFY IN-FLIGHT
Chances are, you’re facing a long flight to Thailand. Do you get bored easily? Then let’s think about in-flight comfort.
Stay hydrated: foldable, rollable 0.5L Anti-Bottle (U.S. version) – just carry your empty, flat-packed Vapur bottle in your carry-on through security, then top up with water at airport drinking fountains. It’s perfect if you plan to buy bottled water after security and then find yourself running for the gate. (And, used in-flight, you’re less likely to spill it than a plastic cup).
Sleep soundly: Hearos Xtreme Protection earplugs (UK version) – What screaming baby? For us, comfortable ear plugs can mean the difference between sleeping in-flight and not (We ‘discovered’ the Hearos brand at a concert and use them on every flight. Similarly, noise-cancelling headphones make a long flight a lot sweeter – but do they make bad movies better?
Review your pre-flight checklist
So, do the contents of your suitcase ensure that you can try everything, stay cool, and keep your naughty bits put away? Then you’re ready to roll. 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.