I first traveled to Thailand while living in Madagascar. Going from one tropical country to another, I figured that packing for three weeks in Thailand would be just like any other trip I had taken in Madagascar.
I was only sort of right. While my bug spray and rain jacket were essential, I brought absolutely the wrong pair of shoes, and didn’t fully think about how developed, or conservative, Thailand is (let’s just say, I wasn’t prepared for AC on busses).
Now, after having spent quite a bit of time there, my packing list is much more Thailand-friendly. So for your next trip to Thailand, use this easy guide to help you figure out what to pack for Thailand:
Slip On Shoes
You have to take your shoes off frequently in Thailand — not just for entering someone’s house or a temple, but also to go into a cafe, restaurant, shop, or massage parlor. Instead of wasting time unlacing impractical hiking boots or strappy sandals every time, pack a pair of breathable, slip on shoes.
My personal favorites are a pair of plastic jelly flats that you can find in just about every market in developing nations worldwide (including Thailand). They cost $3 – 5 USD per pair, are waterproof, comfortable, easy to slip on and off, and help me feel just a tad bit more as if I’m dressed like everyone else. American Apparel also has a similar version.
Comfy flip-flops sort of work, but will slip around in the rain. Slip on sneakers like Toms aren’t the best since they’ll take forever to dry when wet. Good alternatives are slip on sandals.
You can refill water bottles with filtered water for just a few cents in Thailand, so save some money (and space in the landfills) by bringing your own water bottle and filling up as you go. Personally, I like to travel with the Platypus 1 Liter water bottle sack, since it packs down extra small while I’m en route and is super durable.
Bug Spray & Sunscreen
You can get both in Thailand, but to avoid high prices and to make sure you have some right when you land (these aren’t “just in case” items; but no, malaria is not an issue). I’d suggest packing at least a small bottle of each before leaving.
Even outside of the rainy season, which runs from May – October, there’s always potential for rain in Bangkok. Between hikes with elephants and moto-taxi rides, you’ll want to bring a rain jacket shell with you. Rain jackets with zip slits under the arms are especially nice, since they’ll get you some ventilation while keeping you dry(ish).
Rainfly & Dry Sacs
For the same reasons, bring a rain fly for your bag as well. If you want to be super protective of your belongings, I’d even suggest packing your things in dry sacs, especially electronics, just in case.
REI has a wide selection of dry bags in all sizes and colors — I personally use the sea to summit brand the most.
Sweater or Sweatshirt
Though it’s usually hot and muggy throughout most of the country, you’ll want something warmer for the plane ride and chilly AC on busses. Furthemore, temperatures have been known to drop to as low as 68 degrees in Bangkok during the high season (December – February).
Warm Weather Clothes
Regardless of time of year, be prepared for warm (dare we say, balls hot?) and humid temperatures. A good wardrobe to travel with in Thailand would include:
- 3 – 4 t-shirts or tank tops (no spaghetti straps)
- 2 – 3 pairs of longish shorts or loose pants
- 2 skirts + 1 dress
Also keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to wear super short shorts or strappy tank tops — especially in Southern Thailand, where there’s a large Muslim population. Bangkok tends to be a little more flexible with how conservative you dress, but even so, it never hurts to play it cautious and leave the crop tops at home.
Definitely don’t pack too much. Even if you don’t want to re-wear clothes more than once, hand washed items will dry very quickly, and you can always find a laundry center to wash your clothes for you (in a machine) for just a few dollars per load.
A Sturdy Daypack
A friend of mine who lived in Bangkok for several years had her purse, a small, cross-body number, snatched off her while she was riding a moto-taxi to the airport — her passport, phone, and money still inside.
I don’t mean to scare you — it’s the only time it happened to her in two years living there (albeit terrible timing. Just, consider bringing a sturdy daypack that’s hard to rip off you or slit. If using the Outbreaker daypack, keep your valuables inside the small pocket or clip them to the clip inside the bag (backpacks are more likely to be slit, cross-body bags more likely to be snatched).
Bathing Suit & Sarong, or Quick Dry Towel
Between beaches and swimming holes, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to go swimming, so bring your bathing suit.
I’d also suggest bringing a sarong or a quick dry towel. While guys may want to opt for a quick dry towel, I personally love traveling with sarongs.
In addition to being your beach blanket and emergency towel, you can also use them as a scarf, beach cover up, extra layer in more conservative areas (like the Muslim south of the country) or impromptu bag for your dirty laundry (hobo bag-on-a-stick style).
In the northern and central parts of Thailand, there are some good opportunities for hiking and exploring jungle. Obviously, if you just plan to stick to Bangkok and the Krabi, or Phuket, beachy areas, you might not need these, but a good pair of hiking shoes are useful while in Thailand.
Definitely do NOT go for hiking boots, but rather opt for a pair of hiking sandals, like Tevas, or waterproof trail runners. I personally prefer waterproof trail runners, since they keep my feet protected while still being breathable.
Your Old Pair of Rock Climbing Shoes
Okay, not all of you will be interested in this but… Thailand’s one of the most renowned places for deep-water soloing (rock climbing without a rope over deep water). If you’re into climbing at all, bring your old pair of shoes and take a stab at it. But, then again, if you’re into climbing, you’re probably already planning on sticking a harness and 60-meter rope in your bag and heading straight to Koh Yao Noi as well, aren’t you?
Many of the outlets in Thailand are the same as those used in the U.S. and Canada but they also use outlet “type C” — the circular two-prong outlet similar to that found in much of Europe.
Just in case, it’s smart to bring a converter. If you’re trying to save room, just bring this specific converter. However, most travelers swear by a more versatile universal converter. It’s up to you.
Apps for Traveling in Thailand
Before traveling to Thailand, you might also want to think about downloading a few Thailand-specific apps. For example:
- GrabTaxi — A taxi hailing app for taxis in Bangkok. Never get ripped off by a “faulty” meter again.
- Next Station — Navigate Bangkok’s MRT (train) with this handy trip planning app.
- iTranslate — Translate signs and menus instantly with iTranslate — super handy when you know the word “larb gai” but don’t know what it looks like in Thai. Word Lens is another good alternative.
Then of course, make sure you haven’t forgotten to pack your usual hot weather travel essentials, passport, yellow card (if you’re coming from a yellow fever zone), toiletries, a camera (or your iPhone), chargers, and a good book (or your Kindle).
Don’t forget the bag! Of course you’ll need a durable, comfortable backpack to put everything inside. The Outbreaker 45 is the perfect bag for Thailand. In addition to the flexibility that it’s carry on size will allow on buses and public transportation, the high end waterproof fabric will keep the contents of your bag dry when that unpredictable afternoon monsoon rain hits.
Regardless of the time of year, when traveling to Thailand you should make sure you pack the following in addition to your usual travel essentials:
- Slip on shoes
- A water bottle
- Bug spray
- Rain gear (jacket, rain fly, dry sacs)
- A sweater or sweatshirt
- Warm weather clothing
- Bathing suit
- Sarong or quick dry towel
- Hiking shoes
Even if you forget these things, you can easily find most of what you need in Thailand — especially Bangkok Chiang Mai, and Phuket. Now, get out there and have fun exploring the beaches, food, temples, and all the wonderful people that make Thailand such a wonderful destination to travel to!
Image: Kai Lehmann (Stocksnap)