What to pack for Thailand: 7 essential items to take on your travels

A trip to the hot, humid Land of Smiles demands careful preparation

What to pack for Thailand

Whether you’re a sunseeker looking forward to tropical beaches, or a culture vulture after full immersion in Buddhism, ancient ruins and dazzling royal palaces, Thailand has something for you. However, any trip through the Land of Smiles demands careful packing because of its heat, humidity, and the sheer variety of its landscapes. You may find yourself among the skyscrapers and shopping malls of Bangkok, or backpacking through its hills, on a long-distance train, lazing in a resort, or snorkelling across a coral reef. 

Another complication is that Thailand is a more conservative country than many Western tourists believe. When you enter a Buddhist temple, always cover your shoulders and knees, and that advice applies to everywhere in the more conservative south of Thailand. Just because it's a holiday destination it doesn't mean Westerners can ignore local sensibilities. 

With that in mind, and with an appreciation of the weather (if you’re travelling in summer, watch that monsoon!) here’s what you need to consider before packing for a trip to Thailand:

1. Sun protection

Whatever time of year you visit Thailand, be prepared for a fiercely strong sun. Sunbathing is something to be done in the early morning or late afternoon, but even then it is recommended to wear a sunscreen offering SPF50. 

A sunhat (many offering sun protection, such as the Tilley Hats T3 Wanderer) and sunglasses are an absolute must, but don't be tempted to buy a pair of Ray Bans from a market stall in Bangkok. They are not going to be the genuine article and won't give your eyes the all-important UV protection.

2. Flip-flops or slip-on shoes 

Everyone in Thailand seems to wear flip-flops, and it's highly likely that you will too. For the traveller, there are two reasons to keep footwear to a minimum. If you are bound for beach destinations such as Pattaya, Hua Hin, Koh Samui or Krabi, the reason for flip-flops are obvious. 

However, if you're passing through Bangkok, a visit to its iconic Buddhist temples – Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Emerald Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Kaew) – you're in for a day of taking your shoes on and off. Slip-on shoes are the answer, and make it quicker to get through airport security, too. 

The exception is if you are planning to go hiking among the hill tribes of northern Thailand's Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai regions, where you'll need sturdy hiking boots. 

3. Bug spray

There's an easy way to ruin your trip to Thailand, and that is to forget to pack some insect repellent. You don't need to purchase it before you go – some decent brands are available in branches of Boots in Bangkok and elsewhere – but it's wise to go prepared since dengue fever is endemic in Thailand in both urban and rural areas (the risk to tourists is low, but go prepared). \

Something containing DEET is the most effective; yes, a 'maximum strength' 50% DEET bug spray like Jungle Formula Maximum or Pyramid Trek 50 might be slightly unpleasant to wear and will sting your skin, but it works all day. 

Be wary of 'natural' insect repellents containing citronella, cedar, and lemongrass, which is a short-term and only mildly effective solution. When you're surrounded by a million buzzing mosquitoes, you'll be glad you came prepared. 

4. Quick-dry clothing

Thailand is hot and humid, and seconds after you've showered and dried-off you're likely to be wet with sweat. There is no easy answer, though there are a number of fabrics around that wick sweat away from your skin. 

Don't expect miracles, but travel shirts like the Columbia Mens Silver Ridge II and Craghoppers Nosilife can keep you drier, while merino wool layers such as the Icebreaker Tech T Lite and Royal Robbins Merinolux Tee are also effective sweat-wickers. 

This kind of gear can be expensive, but it has the added advantage of drying very quickly, which means you can travel ultralight. It's also worth considering buying underwear with similar specs, such as the Icebreaker Anatomic or ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer underwear, which dry in hours. 

5. Travel towel

However you plan to travel around Thailand, you may not have much time to wait around for towels to dry. If you're backpacking, you'll be on the move too much, and if you're in a resort, you'll want that towel dry for your next dip. Cue the quick-drying 'travel towel', which is specifically designed for those in a rush. 

6. Small umbrella 

Thailand is best visited in winter and spring when it is at its driest. However, most Brits visit in August and September, which are its wettest months. You can thank the monsoon for that, though usually it merely means afternoon showers. That makes a small umbrella (often known as a hiking umbrella or travel umbrella) very handy. Compact enough to shove in a back pocket or stash in a small bag, it can really help during a sudden downpour, but it's just as valuable if you have to take a long walk during the midday Sun. 

7. Snorkeling camera

While diving requires qualifications and training, anyone can go snorkelling. From Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao to the less visited Koh Ngam Yai and Koh Lan, snorkelling over coral reefs – sometimes very close to the beach – will quickly get you thinking about how you get photos of the colourful coral and tropical fish. 

Many action cameras are either natively waterproof, like the GoPro Hero 7 Black, while others come with waterproof cases. Compact 'travel' cameras like the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5, Nikon CoolPix AW130 and Canon PowerShot D30 are also waterproof, while you can give you phone the ultimate underwater protection using the OverBoard Waterproof Phone Case

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance journalist, copywriter and author with 20 years' experience. He's written journalism for over 50 publications and websites and, when he's not writing, spending most of his time travelling – putting the latest travel tech through its paces.