February 20th, 2015

Heading to Thailand? Don't Forget Your…

Choose wisely when prepping for a trip to the Land of Smiles by knowing what to wear when visiting its awe-inspiring wats, pristine beaches and bustling big cities.

Sa-wat-dee! So, Thailand is on your 2015 travel itinerary? Wise choice! The Land of Smiles will greet you with an even bigger grin if you come prepared. Pack your passport, of course, but it is what’s inside your suitcase that will make all the difference.

Cities

In cities as large as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and as quaint as Lopburi and Mae Hong Son, the Thai people dress neatly and fairly conservatively. Generally, it’s best to follow suit, while remembering that the climate will be much more tropical than you’re accustomed to. The bigger and more touristy the city, the more likely the less conservative summer wear won’t raise an eyebrow. But in smaller towns it will, so keep either shoulders or knees covered at all times.

For women, that might mean pairing a tank top with a maxi skirt, or pairing a short dress with a light shawl. On Khao San Road in Bangkok and other well-traversed traveler hotspots, the dress code is more “anything goes.”Though, backpackers who stroll the streets topless (ahem, men) or in bikini tops (ahem, women) still receive a well-deserved stink eye from locals. It’s always best to be respectful of other cultures and cover up. When it comes to what’s on your feet, some high end restaurants and bars in Bangkok don’t allow flip-flops, so pack footwear accordingly if you plan to hit the city’s more refined and reputable hotspots.

Beaches

Aside from the more conservative Muslim islands in the deep south of the country, Thailand’s islands and beaches have a far more relaxed dress standard than the mainland. Short-shorts and tank tops will not be out of place in islands like Koh Samui or Phuket, and unless your toes are in the sand, it’s best to throw some sort of cover up on when strolling the streets—even if it’s for a quick Singha beer back at your hotel bar.

While it is perfectly acceptable for Westerners to wear bikini beachwear while sunning and bathing, many Thais will swim in shorts and tee-shirts. Also, topless tanning is frowned upon and will likely welcome unwanted attention.

Temples

Large, heavily touristed temples such as Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok have strict dress codes that require legs and shoulders be fully covered for both men and women. While this standard might not be explicitly stated in other temples, heeding it is always appreciated and will earn you respect from locals who might be too polite to say otherwise.

That said, men should pack at least one pair of long pants and a sleeved shirt, while women should pack at least one full-length skirt or pair of pants, and a sleeved shirt or shawl. For women who are packing light, another option is to bring along a sarong that can double as both a temple skirt and a beach sheet. They are lightweight enough to throw in your bag in case of spontaneous wat wanderings.

Pack shoes that slip on and off easily, as you’ll have to go barefoot every time you enter a temple. Unless you want to be doing a three-legged dance trying to unhook that strappy sandal every time you approach a sacred space, flip-flops or something similarly easy to remove like Toms are probably your best bet.

Did we miss anything? What would you add to our Thailand packing list?

Alexandra Baackes is a traveling writer, designer, and underwater videographer. She is currently in her fourth year of living as a full-time nomad. Follow along at alexinwanderland.com.

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