I’m from the northern Midwest…which means that my cold-weather wardrobe is on point, but my summer clothes are somewhat lacking. That means that every time I pack for Southeast Asia, I’m left wondering what to wear in Thailand or Malaysia or Singapore.
Now that I’m in my 30s and not backpacking, I care more about what I pack for Thailand. After all, I’m not doing the whole hostel/sweaty buses/buckets on the beach thing — I’m spending more time in nicer restaurants and airport lounges, and the sloppy backpacker thing isn’t going to cut it. So on this trip to Thailand, I spent lots of time observing Thai people and tourists to see what they’re wearing. Hopefully, this will help me (and you!) avoid panic-packing down the road.
Thailand is like anywhere — you’ll see a huge variety of clothing. Your destination matters; the Thai islands tend to be more relaxed, while Bangkok is more sophisticated. Chiang Mai is somewhere in between, but it’s getting so trendy that it’s closer to Bangkok’s style.
Packing for Thailand: Things to Consider
First of all: don’t panic about what you’re going to wear in Thailand. If you’re short on time, just grab the clothes you’d wear to any hot place in your home country. You’ll be comfortable and cool, and that’s mostly what matters. Seriously — it’s so much better to be comfortable and confident in what you’re wearing than to be stylish. So if you love those quick-dry travel clothes, by all means, wear them!
If you have a bit more time — and I suspect you do, since you’re researching what to wear in Thailand — here are some lessons I learned from my month in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in early 2019.
Want to save money and avoid Airbnb nightmares in Thailand? Here are my top 3 Tips for Traveling in Thailand.
Just to give you a little context about how I approach packing — when I pack for a trip outside of the US/Canada/Europe, I like to stay pretty low-key. Being a blonde makes me stand out as it is, and I don’t like to wear anything that’s going to draw negative attention. (Or aggressive tour operators.)
It is HOT: Thailand is hot. Often, oppressively hot. Like, walk outside and start sweating instantly kind of hot. As you’re packing, look for clothes that keep you cool and reasonably covered (see next section). I found jeans to be unbearable in Bangkok, but the Thais don’t seem to notice — I always marveled at the number of people wearing jeans and long-sleeve shirts in 95-degree heat!
Err on the Side of Modesty: Thai women tend to dress fairly modestly. We’re not talking oppressively modest — shorts and tank tops were everywhere — but you won’t see a lot of cleavage or butt cheeks hanging out of shorts. (Unless maybe you’re in the red light district.) I saw quite a few tourists dressed like that, and I always felt a little embarrassed for them.
Don’t Go Too Casual: A great many Thais tend to look neat and put-together when they’re out in public. In high-end shopping malls, you’ll see lots of designer looks. This is especially true in Bangkok, but it’s always nice not to look too rumpled in the rest of the country. Shorts and t-shirts? Sure. Sloppy sweats or ratty jean shorts? No!
Remember the Temples: If you’re planning to go in any temples, you’ll need to cover your shoulders (and possibly your knees). At the Grand Palace in Bangkok, for example, they make women wear these terrible loaner shirts if they aren’t adequately covered (see the picture at the top of this post). Bring a scarf and wear a long skirt!
Things to Wear in Thailand
I had a suitcase full of summer clothes when I landed in Bangkok, and these are the things I wore most in Thailand:
- Sandals with sturdy soles. The Thai sidewalks are rough, and I broke my flimsy flip-flops in a week. I like these Dansko sandals because they have a tiny wedge and they’re cute enough to wear with skirts. I also bring these Nike foam flats for around the Airbnb or to the beach.
- Breathable walking shoes: Outside of the city, you’ll find a lot of dirt roads and nonexistent sidewalks. I found casual athletic shoes like this to be the most comfortable for any sort of hike or long walking days.
- Sleeveless knee-length dress: The easiest thing to wear. Keep in mind that if your thighs touch, you’re going to want some sort of lightweight bike shorts underneath. (I bought these slip shorts and they are AWESOME.) It is hot and humid, and this will help you avoid some serious chafing. Trust me.
- Midi-skirt: They’re not as hot as maxi-skirts, but they’re perfect for temples and they’re easy to dress up and down with a tank top.
- Lightweight pants: Preferably, crops, but really, any length will do. These are a great alternative to jeans, and they’re comfortable in the heat. I love these lightweight joggers (which would look super cute in Bangkok).
- Sarong: Use it on the beach, wear it as a scarf to cover up in temples.
- Sweater/light jacket: You’ll need it for planes and freezing buses
- Cute sleeveless tops: Bring a whole bunch! They don’t take up much space, and they’ll dress up all of the bottoms above.
So, a note on shorts: I don’t wear them. I look ridiculous in them. But if you don’t, bring them! They’re perfect for the heat. Just stay away from the kind where your ass shows.
Things NOT to Wear in Thailand
- Traditional Thai fishermen’s pants. They’re in the markets everywhere, but you will look like a fool wearing them as a tourist.
- Anything that shows off too much cleavage
- Those ridiculous “travel” clothes. You know, quick-dry everything, lots of pockets, and the sun-blocking button-ups you can get from Columbia. You will 100% look like a 60-something tourist.
- Jeans. Leave them at home. You’ll barely wear them. Bring leggings for the plane.
- Swimwear away from the beach or the pool. Please don’t be one of those tourists wandering around the interior of the island in a bikini top.
Again: don’t worry too much about packing when you’re traveling in Thailand! Stay comfortable and tasteful, and you’ll be confident — and more important, cool! If you have any other tips for what to wear in Thailand, leave ’em in the comments!