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If you’re coming to Thailand, chances are the number one thing you’re wondering about is what clothes to pack. Sure, you want to stay comfortable in Thailand’s hot and humid climate, but it’s also a country whose people (aside from its infamous bar girls and lady boys) dress quite modestly. Is it possible to stay cool and comfortable while following the “rules”? Absolutely. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring to you the dos and don’ts of what to wear in Thailand.
We’ve briefly addressed what to wear in Thailand in our Tips for Visiting Thailand for the First Time post, but since it’s such a hot topic and Thailand’s high season is in full swing now, we were inspired to dedicate an entire post to it.
Let’s be honest: Thailand usually turns a blind eye to foreigners’ clothing choices, so on the surface there seems to be no clear-cut rules on how to dress.
However, there are definitely clothing trends that are acceptable and others that just won’t do, and that is something we’ve deduced simply by observing what the locals wear. Plus, we can confidently say that your appearance has an effect on how you’re treated in Thailand, so choosing to dress tastefully and appropriately goes a long way.
What to Wear: Everyday Outfits
Thailand is hot, sunny, and humid! You’ll sweat no matter what you wear. But before you go tossing in any ol’ sleeveless or see-through shirt and those booty shorts in your suitcase, here are some tasteful suggestions.
Do bring hot weather clothing
Guys, the best thing to wear in Thailand are polo shirts, button-down collared shirts, and golf or Bermuda shorts. Even good quality t-shirts and cargo shorts will do. Packing a pair of semi-casual pants will come in handy for an evening out.
Ladies, definitely pack skirts, shorts, summer dresses, and tasteful tops. These can be either flowing or fitted but should be of good quality. Shirts should cover your shoulders (to the edges) and have a semi-high collar line. We don’t mean turtlenecks, but your cleavage shouldn’t be showing. Sheer or lacy fabric is a good way to stay cool, but be sure to wear a camisole or slip underneath.
Don’t wear revealing clothing
For men, don’t wear sleeveless muscle shirts or singlets (especially ones that show your man nipples) or walk around with your shirts unbuttoned.
Ladies, don’t wear tank tops and avoid spaghetti strap shirts completely unless you are wearing a cardigan or shawl draped over your shoulders. Leave the dangerously short (high?) Daisy Duke shorts at home, too.
And pleeeaaase, pleeeease don’t show your cleavage. We can’t stress this enough.
You may find yourself walking a lot before you get comfortable using the local transportation. The more comfortable and easier to wear shoes you have, the better.
Do wear comfortable, preferably water-resistant shoes
Comfortable shoes are a must. Since it rains often in Thailand, anything made of rubber or a plastic composite is a great choice. Flip flops are totally acceptable but flat, slipper-like shoes are much more convenient. The latter protects your feet from street grime and there are no laces to wrestle with when taking off your shoes.
Always take your shoes off before entering someone’s house or a temple. If you will see piles of shoes outside of an entrance way, that’s a dead giveaway to remove yours, too.
DON’T walk around barefoot, and pass on the high heels and boots
Ladies, although you look cute in your high heels, you may simultaneously break an ankle and knock out a few front teeth as you faceplant on Thailand’s generally sad excuse for sidewalks. If you absolutely must wear heels, go with low wedges or espadrilles to give you a bit more surface area to balance on.
It’s best not to use hiking or combat boot and socks for everyday shoes. Your feet will cook to death and could possibly develop a mad case of athlete’s foot.
Lastly, do not walk around barefoot. Some free-spirited individuals like to connect with Mother Earth and in some countries it’s ok (maybe? which ones, we don’t know), but not in Thailand. Bringing city grime that’s been collecting on the soles of your feet into a Thai home or business is offensive.
Thailand is famous for its gorgeous beaches, but make sure to cover up appropriately as soon as you’re off the beach!
Do wear bathing suits on the beach and cover-ups in town
Although Thais are often fully clothed at the beach, it’s alright for foreign guys to wear only swim shorts and for ladies to wear two piece bathing suits. Just makes sure this is at the beach and not while you’re walking down Main Street.
When you step off the sand and start to venture into town, grab a beach cover-up. Ladies, this means wearing a sarong or wrap that covers your chest and midriff and guys should grab a t-shirt (nothing sleeveless) to wear over your swim trunks.
There are tons of shops in Thailand’s beach towns selling airy cover-ups and wraps. They’ll also have lots of sunglasses and big floppy sun hats to protect you from the sun when you need them.
Sarongs are perfect for covering up your bathing suit, drying off, protecting your skin from the sun, and stretching out on the sand. These elephant sarongs are a great fit for Thailand’s beaches.
Don’t walk around town in bathing suits or go topless
A quick glance around and you will never see a Thai person walking down the street or riding a motorbike in a bathing suit. Nor will they ride around barefoot. Wearing a bathing suit into town without a cover-up is a big no no and makes Thais (and conscientious expats) uncomfortable. This especially holds true in non-beach towns such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai!
The only area in Thailand we would say to be more conscious about your choice in bathing suit is in the deep south where Thailand neighbors Malaysia. This region is populated by conservatively dressed Muslim communities and its considered disrespectful to walk around with your booty jiggling in a thong bikini or your package, eh hem, on display in a Speedo. There you will see Thais, both men and women, wearing what looks like a wet suit.
Also, it is completely unacceptable to sunbathe topless in Thailand.
If there is one place where both men and women must dress appropriately, this is it. Otherwise, you risk offending the locals in their place of worship.
Do cover up your shoulders and knees
Men are expected to wear conservative collared shirts and shorts that come to the knee, although pants are preferred. T-shirts are ok, but a dressier shirt, whether short-sleeved or long-sleeved, is preferred.
Women must cover their cleavage and shoulders and wear pants or skirts that are at least knee-length. One of the best pieces of clothing you can pack is a shawl because you can wrap it around your waist or drape it across your shoulders and chest if you are visiting a temple.
Chances are you’ll see a monk at a temple. Monks are highly respected, so keep your head below a monk as you pass by them (duck a little if you’re tall) and do not touch them (especially women).
Don’t dress immodestly
Men shouldn’t go to a temple in a sleeveless shirt or a shirt that’s been left unbuttoned and revealing their chest or belly. Don’t walk in with really short shorts, either.
Women will not be allowed to go into a temple if their shoulders, thighs, or cleavage is showing.
Most of the popular temples provided visitors with free wraps just in case you’ve not covered up enough.
Choosing an outfit based on fabric rather than cut is the best way to stay cool and comfortable.
Do bring lightweight clothing made of quick-wicking material
Natural fabrics such as silk and linen are wonderful to wear in hot climates. Also, some synthetic or semi-synthetic polyester blends are known for being sweat-wicking and quick-drying. They usually stay wrinkle free after packing and washing, too. These are the best! Cotton blends are ok, too, as long as the material is thin.
Stick with clothing that have darker color shades or patterns. Light or bright-colored will easily show dirt. That’s hard to avoid between the constant sweating, stains from Thai food splatters, and the general grime on most surfaces.
Don’t bring jeans or clothes made of 100% cotton
Thais wear jeans, but it’s safe to say that most Westerners aren’t acclimated to the heat and will be waaay too hot. Jeans also take a long time to dry on a clothesline and are heavy in your suitcase. 100% cotton shirts take a long time to dry compared to shirts with cotton blends. They also wrinkle easily and don’t always keep you cool. Leather (faux or real) will give you rashes in places you don’t want.
The general idea of cleanliness is important in Thailand, and that applies both to what you’re wearing and your body.
Do wear clean clothes and shower often
Always be presentable! Wear fresh clean clothes everyday and smell fresh (or neutral).
You can easily find laundry facilities in Thailand. Either your hotel or guesthouse will offer those services or there will be coin operated facilities down the street. Worst comes to worst you can wash your clothes in your sink with a bag of powdered detergent from any 7-Eleven.
Practice good hygiene habits by taking a shower at least once a day (if not twice, even if it’s a quick rinse!) and doubling up on the deodorant. Also, use baby powder to keep your skin dry! Our favorite is the Snake Brand Prickly Heat. Sprinkling a little of it all over your body will prevent heat rashes.
Don’t wear dirty clothing or ignore strong body odor
Don’t wear clothes that are worn out, stained, or holey. Toss them and go to a Thai market and buy a few cheap replacements if necessary.
Smelling bad is considered impolite so don’t go more than a day without taking a shower. Whatever the reason – the heat, last night’s booze fest, or the garlic and cumin in Thai cuisine – chances are you’ll have a funk going on. Don’t ignore it. Go buy deodorant in any of the thousands of 7-Elevens.
Classy and Comfortable is the Way to Go
If you lean towards the modest, classier outfits and clothing made of airy and quick-wicking materials, you can dress appropriate and comfortably. After all, what to wear in Thailand is probably the most important bit of information you’ll want to know as you’re packing your suitcase for your upcoming trip.
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