What to pack for Thailand?
Find out exactly what to pack for Thailand to quell the panic and make your departure as easy as possible.
What to pack for Thailand?
I’ve had that melt-down in front of an empty suitcase, too. No more panic – perfect packing, here you come. Find out exactly what to pack for Thailand to quell the panic and make your departure as easy as possible. Ready? Go!
What to wear?
Start here: What to Wear in Thailand
Thailand packing 101? For all your clothing, dress code and fabric questions, please start with what to wear. You'll get head-to-toe advice on what to wear anywhere, from Bangkok to the beach, Koh Samui, Phuket, temples, to work out, dress up and more. For everything else to pack for Thailand – toiletries, shoes and perfect preparation – keep reading.
You'll want to pack mosquito repellent for Thailand, ideally a variety of defence mechanisms. Not just bug spray, but water repellent bracelets, and clever, packable devices to keep in your hotel room. You'll also want to learn about the ins and outs of using DEET versus a natural/non-toxic repellent. For a total crash course about all of the above, please see how to avoid mosquitoes in Thailand. If you're in a hurry and just want a solution in your cart, my recommendations are:
My FAVOURITE mosquito repellent
My 'ride or die' mosquito repellent for Thailand is incognito. You can buy ‘OFF!’ brand repellent everywhere (plus strong DEET products and locally made lemongrass options), but after using Incognito’s full range of products for years, this brand of repellent is my absolute FAVOURITE and a “won’t-leave-home-without-it” necessity for Thailand. Incognito's products are DEET-free, cruelty-free and they work. Note: Since the pandemic, the products have only been available on Amazon UK and Europe. For a U.S. equivalent, try Murphy's Naturals.
Mosquito repellent bracelets
For your wrist (or ankles): Genius! Mosquito-repelling neoprene wristbands and stretchy bracelets are your best 'base layer' against mosquitoes and superb backup in case you forget to apply spray repellent. Both types are completely waterproof and DEET-free. They last between ten to fifteen days – the wristband variety has refill packs available.
Clothes to pack for Thailand
The best fabrics to pack for Thailand?
Remember the climate
It’s hot here! HOT. You could quickly come to hate your favourite summer outfit when you realise it has a polyester lining and the material is too thick for the tropics. Where possible, pack linen for Thailand over any other fabric. For other occasions and itineraries, you might want wicking/quick-dry 'performance' fabric and, if you're spending any time on the water, will want some sun-safe UPF clothing as well. For more detail, please see What to Wear in Thailand.
- Wicking and quick-dry fabrics
- Skin-protecting UPF fabrics
For perfect packing, fill up your suitcase with everything linen and this dual-voltage travel steamer. I've had mine for about six or seven years and use it almost every day (see my full review, including time-saving tips for when you find yourself steaming in an airport bathroom ... happens to the best of us).
Why this steamer? It's dual-voltage – the plug fits both U.S./Canadian plugs and Thai plugs – no adapters required. It's ideal for reviving linen in a hurry, but also – bonus tip – I've found it kills some kind of dust mite that would otherwise eat me alive in Thailand. It might be a weird allergy or sensitivity but if you're the designated 'Insects Will Bite Me' representative in your family, you might find that it helps to steam your clothes to oblivion.
What fabrics not to pack?
If you can, avoid cotton and silk as they can feel sticky in heavier fabrics and hold water. The same goes for any natural fabrics such as rayon, modal or bamboo. Leave jeans and denim shorts behind, it’s almost always too hot for them. Finally, avoid anything with a polyester lining, it will cook you.
The typical Thai (where ‘typical’ excludes Bangkok bar girls) dresses modestly, often keeping knees and shoulders covered. Rules are bent for tourists – Koh Samui and Phuket, for example, are relaxed resort spots and shorts and T-shirts are the uniform. Still, a huge emphasis is placed on appearance – being clean and well put together.
Tip: For outfit examples for all occasions and itineraries, please see What to Wear in Thailand.
Choose tops made of linen, light-weight cotton or rayon. Perfect packing for women includes linen collared shirts (for sun protection), modest tank tops, T-shirts, and a light cardigan if there’s a cooler, rainy day. For men: pack T-shirts, polo shirts and a few collared options.
Tip: Choosing between two similar items to pack? Shirt A or B, red shorts or blue shorts? Choose the lighter fabric or the more modest coverage for Thailand.
The above packing examples assume you're spending a typical vacation itinerary in Thailand: a little sightseeing, some time at the beach, plus lots of relaxing (and even more eating). If you're headed off the beaten track for much of your travels, you'll want to pack 'adventure' clothes with better coverage, in wicking and quick-dry fabrics.
Swimwear to pack for Thailand
Bikinis are fine at the beach/pool, but cover-up as you leave – even for eating in beach/poolside restaurants. Note that topless sunbathing is taboo in Thailand. As for cover-ups, pack good sun coverage in the lightest fabric you can find – and a wide-brimmed sun hat. Add UPF protection wherever possible! At the very least, pack a light collared shirt and a big hat to avoid burning. Please? No wrinkles?
What to pack for lounging/yoga/massages/being lazy?
Hoping to enjoy lots of R&R and a few Thai massages? Yoga pants or leggings are great things to pack. They’re comfy as pyjamas and will neither constrict you nor parade your parts mid-massage.
What to pack for visiting temples in Thailand?
When visiting Thai temples, both men and women should wear clothing that falls below the knee and covers the shoulders (as a minimum). On such occasions, women should wear long skirts or trousers, and preferably closed-toed shoes. Good to have such an outfit in mind when you pack. In a pinch, a pashmina can double as a cover-up.
Laundry options in Thailand
Pack lightly! Laundry is easy to find in Thailand's tourist destinations, with full-service laundry and ironing at reasonable prices and usually a one-day turnaround. Drop off your bag of washing and return to pick it up when instructed, often the next day. If your itinerary doesn't afford waiting around for laundry or if you'll be packing lightly and need your clothes in constant rotation, some travel laundry soap and a hotel sink will keep you clean.
Essentials to pack for Thailand
Travel adapters for Thailand?
Do you need a travel/plug adapter for Thailand? If your plugs are British, Australian or more creative than above – yes, you do need one. Thai sockets fit two kinds of plugs:
- (A) North American with 2 flat blades
- (B) European with 2 circular pins
If your plugs are compatible in Thailand, check whether you'll still need a universal adapter for any layovers in a third country. This adaptor converts U.S. flat blade plugs to Thailand's circular pin plugs. For UK to Thailand, this adaptor comes highly recommended.
Thailand uses 220 volts, 50 Hz. If your home country uses 110 volts (U.S. & Canada), note that many items such as laptops, Kindles, cameras and mobiles are dual-voltage and will work in Thailand (220v). Check your electronics in advance to be sure you won’t need to pack a voltage adapter.
Hot weather health
It's really easy to dehydrate if you're not used to Thailand's climate – be careful! Make sure you're replenishing yourself with the salty/mineral concoctions that you need (fresh coconuts are good, too). Each tube of these electrolyte tabs has 10 tablets within, and I try to drink one tab daily when it's #$@&%*! hot in Thailand – especially if I've been active or walked around all day. They're great to drink in-flight as well – I always keep a tube in my carry-on and chug a bottle on any layover. Have I used them to alleviate hangovers? Indeed. I've tried a lot of the flavours and prefer strawberry-lemonade above all.
I've read almost every Thailand guidebook currently published and some are far more portable than others. If packing a travel guide to bring with you, Lonely Planet Thailand is a ubiquitous reference, while DK Eyewitness Thailand will delight anyone who wants to dig into Thai culture (and gets lost easily). Of the two, DK Eyewitness is my favourite for its educational content – but if you just want to find a bar in a hurry, choose Lonely Planet.
Tip: For Koh Samui – slightly biased – you'll want The Koh Samui Guide.
Not so much a tangible thing to pack, as something I recommend you have tucked in your proverbial back pocket before departure. Really, really, really recommend. I've been in Thai emergency rooms for my own injuries and those of my immediate family – REALLY recommend superb insurance.
More than anything, make sure you're covered for all your intended activities (especially the bashy-smashy ones like Muay Thai) and double triple quadruple check your coverage for requirements about scooters or motorbikes. (You'll more than likely void any insurance if you're not wearing a helmet or have had a drink ... or, my preferred method, just don't ride scooters). Skimp on any aspect of your trip preparation but not this.
Toiletries to pack for Thailand
More mosquito protection
Mosquito repellent ... loofah?!
Must-have soap: Another necessity from Incognito – their anti-insect loofah soap. Fun fact – mosquitoes love sweat mixed with dead skin cells. This might look like a strange and extravagant thing to suggest for your Thailand toiletries – but it's a crucial part of my 'no mosquito' kit. The loofah itself is perfectly travel-sized and has a bar of anti-mosquito soap within. I pack one of these for every Thailand trip – the soap within lasts me about two weeks using it for two showers a day, and then I use the loofah for months afterwards just adding a little Dr Bronner's.
For your hotel room: If you like the sound of non-toxic + no mosquito bites (and love a bit of travel tech), either of these tools are non-toxic and portable. Incognito's room refresher is a chemical-free alternative to mosquito coils and lasts about six weeks. I've tried it myself and like the smell – it's nice but not too strong. There's nothing inside to spill so it's easy to chuck in a suitcase. I haven't tried the mosqui-go duo myself though can verify that it will plug directly into Thai plugs (although recently's it's been unavailable – perhaps a supply chain thing).
The best sunscreen for Thailand
Lobster-red foreigners are a source of constant amusement and confusion to Thai people – a far wiser population that knows it should avoid the sun.
Commit this to memory: Thailand’s sun comes much stronger than your [insert-Northern-country-here] variety.
Need proof? The World Health Organization uses a UV index to measure potential skin damage – anything over 6/10 is considered high. Bangkok doesn't fall below an eight, ever (and often falls off the end of the chart at 12+).
Don't mess around with the sun in Thailand – and take even more caution when you're near water (or anything reflective, like a glass table top). I only pack SPF 30 and higher (and this is almost always paired with a UPF top and a big sun hat).
What I use:
- Face: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
- Body: Sun Bum Original SPF 50
- Body (if wearing white): Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 and Blue Lizard SPF 50
- Lips: Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25
Wearing white? Reef safe?
For an explanation of reef-safe vs reef-friendly, chemical vs mineral sunscreen, once again see What to Wear in Thailand. Note that mineral sunscreen, such as Blue Lizard, doesn't stain white clothes and is considered "reef friendly" as required in Thai national marine parks.
Pack your special sunscreen for Thailand
Thai shops stock predominantly Nivea and Banana Boat brands, in a limited selection of SPF numbers. Recently there's been limited availability of "reef-safe" sunscreen in high-end hotel gift shops and health shops, but they're not widely found.
Sunscreen tends to be expensive in Thailand (on Koh Samui I've found it ranges from 150-300% above Amazon prices). It's imported, and they know you need it. Sensitive skin or choosy about fragrance? Pack your supply. Note: I've never seen my favourite brands, Coola, Supergoop and Sun Bum, for sale anywhere in Thailand. If they're your preferred sunscreens as well, definitely bring them with you.
Lip tip: As a quick update, I've been using myself as a "lip sunscreen guinea pig" and really like Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25, more than Sun Bum's option. Though the SPF is fractionally lower (SPF 25 vs SPF 30), it seems to have more staying power and lasts longer. (Sun Bum's tastes good, so you end up licking it off).
Caution! Beware of accidentally buying skin-whitening cosmetics in Thailand. Whether in sunscreen, moisturiser or makeup – many products sold in Thailand have whitening ingredients, even the brands you recognise from home.
Your hair vs Thai humidity
Hair, humidity and packing light: Locally available shampoo/conditioner is usually formulated for Asian hair. As a two-in-one and a mosquito-fighter, this citronella hair and body wash is ideal for packing light.
If your hair goes frizzy in humid weather, note that Thai people don't tend to suffer this problem and you won't find much to remedy it (other than maybe a hat and a strong slick of coconut oil). Sun Bum's anti-frizz oil to the rescue.
Insect/mosquito bite relief
Zapping mosquito bites: Admittedly, using the Zap-It device for the first time is scary – are you going to Taser yourself? Fear not – I've tested it for you. It's the slightest little pin prick – a 0.0001 on the pain scale. Does it work? Yes – I think so! It can get pretty addictive. (bite away® is the U.S. equivalent).Hydrocortisone: As for the appearance of bug bites? To take the red out, pack a tube of hydrocortisone. Mosquito bites in Thailand tend to go bright red (much redder than those I've experienced in the States, although they don't itch as much) – I use hydrocortisone to reduce the redness otherwise they last for nearly a week.
Hot weather back-up
These coconut refresher wipes are a good backup to keep in your carry-on or day bag – reminding you at least 239 times in this post – it's insanely hot in Thailand.Deodorant? Yet more mosquito warfare, with 100% natural ingredients. Note that North American-style deodorant is hard to find in Thailand, availability is mostly spray or roll-on antiperspirant (with limited selection). Another tip? The fewer scented products you use, the less appealing you'll be to mosquitoes. I like this unscented crystal deodorant and it lasts for ages.
Healthy face vs heat and humidity
Keep your face happy: To keep your face happy in Thailand, you might consider packing a konjac sponge. A what?! Here's what (and why). If you're not used to tropical heat or humidity, your face might thank you for this magic little sponge. This little guy helps my face to breathe a little easier, and feel much cooler, especially as sunscreen and sweat get involved.
The ultimate 'just in case'
Very Bad Situations: Pharmacies are extremely easy to find in Thailand but ... there are "occasions" when you need "Multi-Symptom Relief", and you need it immediately. We've all seen Bridesmaids. I don't like this discussion any more than you do ... but let's agree this is a wise thing to keep on your person at all times. Avoiding eye contact and moving on...Gin-Gins: I also like to keep a few Gin-Gins chewy candies in my bag (more accurately – a few in every bag) ... something about the ginger just makes me feel better if I'm ever feeling "bleh". I use them kind of like the My Big Fat Greek Wedding dad uses Windex. Sore throat? Gin-gins. 20% hungover? Gin-gins. Crack-of-dawn wake-up call? Gin-gins. In-flight meal is never getting served? Gin-gins. You get the idea.
Women's toiletries for Thailand
Razors and razor blades: For women's razors especially, don't expect to find much product choice in Thailand. Expect to find one or two disposable varieties, not a whole aisle! Disposable Bic razors are pretty easy to find – less so options at the higher end of the quality scale. If you're getting OCD about packing light, don't miss these tiny travel razors.
Makeup to pack for Thailand? Good news for lazy girls: less is more in Thailand’s heat.
See my tips for makeup in the tropics, plus tried-and-tested favourite makeup for Thailand. They’re all non-toxic and 100% cruelty-free.Tampons/feminine products? Tampon choice is usually limited: "A or B". If you particularly love your brand, bring it with you. All I can offer is that, in places such as Koh Samui, you don't get much choice in feminine products – come prepared.
Jetlag remedies: I recently got desperate enough to try melatonin to combat jet lag and found that it worked well for me (however do your research before taking any kind of supplements). In the same vein, this homoeopathic jetlag remedy has great reviews – you chew one tablet at take-off and another at landing.
Puffy eyes: For most of my readers, it's at least a twenty-hour flight to Thailand (or flights, many plural flights). While hand sanitiser currently tops the list of carry-on toiletries, these eye patches are wildly popular. They come in packs of four or eight – just pop them on ten minutes before landing (right around when they're announcing the local weather in fifty different languages) and bingo! Who's not a zombie? You're not a zombie.
Motion sickness (ferries, buses, etc)
Boat trips, bus trips and more: Either Sea-Bands or Dramamine (or both) are ideal to have as a just-in-case. If you're planning boat trips in Thailand but "never get seasick" ... note that ocean conditions can change quickly and what looks like a calm day from, say, a Koh Samui beach can get choppy as you head into open water towards, perhaps, Koh Tao.
Misc. toiletries to pack
Travel soap and hand sanitiser: Another note for minimalists – Dr Bronner's is ideal for travel shower soap – it dilutes 4x. If you prefer to keep things eco and avoid chemicals, you probably already know and love Dr Bronner's. If it's new to you, know that you can use it for everything – both shower gel and hand soap. As for 'flavours', I like the mint because it's cooling in Thailand's hot weather. The eucalyptus, tea tree oil and unscented versions would also be ideal for insect-proofing yourself.
Required medicine and general ailments: Thailand’s chemists/pharmacies are very well-stocked and many speak English, but you might find comfort in the things you know. If you’re travelling widely around Thailand, consider packing a lightweight first aid kit for minor scrapes or blisters. (I'd also recommend taking a basic first aid course ... but that's another subject).
Toothpaste: You'll easily find Crest, Colgate and the gang but 'Whole Foods-y' products can be hard to find in Thailand. Also pack dental floss (and, for longer trips, replacement toothbrush heads). Meanwhile, I just discovered that Jason toothpaste comes in travel size.
‘Green’ or natural toiletries? If you have sensitive skin or are environmentally-minded, pack your green or natural toiletries for Thailand (there’s some availability in expat centres in big cities and/or locally made products with Thai labelling, but you’ll probably be happier with your selections).
Shoes to pack for Thailand
If you’re headed to a beach vacation, flip-flops and slip-on sandals are THE choices for Thai footwear. In Thailand you take off your shoes before going into homes and many shops – you'll find anything else really inconvenient to constantly take on and off. If I had to pick from the entire shoe universe, these slip-on sling sandals above are my absolute favourites for keeping my feet happy, safe and comfortable on Thailand’s sidewalks and beaches.
If you’ll be doing a lot of walking/sightseeing, you might prefer a sturdier sandal – just be sure it’s easy to slip on and off. Velcro-strapped Tevas, for instance, are far preferable to sandals with buckles or complicated fasteners. Double-duty for a beach vacation? The straps dry quickly.
If you’re hoping to get a bit adventurous, in this category you’ll want to pack something sturdier than sandals – something that will stay on your feet. Thailand has so many gorgeous places to explore – but they’re often views you have to earn.
Even the “getting there” (jumping on/off ferries and long-tail boats) will be safer in a slip-proof water shoe or hiking sandal than a flip-flop. Depending on your itinerary, a sturdy water shoe might be sufficient or you might prefer something closed-toe and protective. Remember, “it’s a jungle out there!”Also remember to check reviews for where you're staying: is the beach rocky or is there coral offshore? If so, a pair of water socks are ideal to add to your shoe packing list.
Slip-on walking shoes
If you plan to do a lot of walking in cities (sightseeing in Bangkok or Chiang Mai night markets?), you’ll want also want to pack a closed-toe pair of walking shoes for Thailand. If you’ll be visiting temples, these are more appropriate to wear than sandals. So what’s best? A light-weight, closed-toe option is convenient for flying, goes with everything and is suitable for temples.
Make sure to choose shoes that are breathable, with holes and ventilation everywhere – exactly what you want in Thailand’s climate. Again, your shoes should slip on and off rather than lacing or buckling.
Walking shoe tips for Thailand: Be sure to avoid white shoes as dusty Thai roads will dirty them in seconds flat. Not required, ever: socks. (Especially black socks. Britain, this means you). Instead, use odour-fighting shoe liners: they’re paper-thin and have charcoal and baking soda to absorb odours and keep your feet dry and comfortable. Sometimes, you can beat nature.
Dressing up? A pair of nice women’s sandals or men’s boat shoes make a nice change if you want to dress up a little for dinner or a night out. Are you not sure about the ‘dressiness’ required of your itinerary? Compare and contrast my recommended examples for what to wear in Bangkok versus a Thai beach town – easy.
If you can’t be parted with your heels, pack wedges for Thailand (instead of spike/stiletto heels); this is a country with plenty to trip over. Make sure your shoes can be adjusted for size or easily slide on (like those pictured above), as your feet will swell in Thailand’s heat.
Carry-on and useful extras
Electronics to pack for Thailand
Taking your phone to Thailand? This waterproof phone case not only saves your phone from accidental swims (and surprise storms) but transforms it into an underwater camera (up to 100 feet deep).
Portable phone charger? If you’ll be hours or days between safe or convenient places to charge your phone or tablet in Thailand, an external battery charger is both genius and tiny.
Rain gear to pack for Thailand
Packing for Thailand’s rainy seasons (which happen at different times of year in different parts of the country) is a whole different ball game. If you’re travelling during rainy season, learn what to pack for this wetter and slightly cooler time of year.
As for ‘regular rain’, do you need rain gear for Thailand? Possibly – it rains in Thailand sometimes! Ponchos are readily available at convenience stores like 7-Eleven and resorts have umbrellas for guest use. If you’re backpacking or will be spending most of your time ‘out in the real world’ you might want your own lightweight, waterproof jacket, a travel umbrella and/or a pocket poncho.
Luggage locks and more
Seen Bridget Jones 2? Lock your luggage. Use a TSA lock on anything with a zip.
What’s in your wallet? Thai Baht. Baht is the only currency accepted in Thailand (no US dollars), so check your bank’s international service fees before departure. There’s no need to travel to Thailand with Baht unless you’d find it more convenient. International ATMs are very readily available all over Thailand (including at Koh Samui Airport, in the arrivals area). Perhaps exchange a small amount before you leave or at your home airport as a nice backup plan? (Note that many small restaurants and beach cafés are cash-only).
Packing your carry-on for Thailand
New York to Phuket? 20 hours, minimum. Sydney to Samui? Nearly 12 hours. So let’s assume, wherever you’re headed in Thailand, you have a l-o-n-g flight ahead of you. (It’s worth it!) Good news, though: with a little preparation you’ll easily sleep on the plane, pass the time quickly and arrive still feeling like a human being. Here’s how:
How to sleep on your flight?
The fastest way to get to Thailand? Sleeping! Three things make the difference between sleeping on the plane or not: a good travel pillow, quality ear plugs and a blackout sleep mask (that doesn’t cut off circulation to your ears). Speaking of circulation, compression socks can stop your legs and ankles from inflating to elephant size on a long flight.
Coming from winter?
You might find that an extra fold-up bag, like a Baggu, is handy for carrying your plane snacks and, later, discarding winter coats/sweaters when you arrive in Thailand
Tip: In January 2020 plastic bags were banned in all major chain stores in Thailand (including 7-Eleven). You can buy the stores' reusable bags at checkout, but a Baggu folds to nothing and is pretty indestructible. If you're looking forward to shopping in Thailand, a larger fold-out duffel bag gives you mega buying power.
Safeguard your water supply
Ever been on a flight where turbulence prevented them from serving water (let alone food) for most of an ocean-crossing? Never again. A travel bottle pays for itself after 2 or 3 refills from an airport water fountain (as opposed to buying mega-bucks airport bottled water). As for the flight drink? I like electrolyte tabs (both for flying and extra-hot days in Thailand).
Other than loading up an iPad with all of Netflix, for added cultural savvy, consider a novel set in Thailand. These are my favourites.
Twenty+ hours later...
And >drumroll< here’s the genius finale. Arrive in Thailand (perhaps with a change of shirt and underwear if your bag has the space), find an airport bathroom and enjoy a total refresh before stepping out into your vacation. All the waiting is finally over – Thailand, here you come.
Are you packed for Thailand?
What’s on your itinerary? Any given day of a Thai vacation might include hanging out by the pool, enjoying the beach, dining somewhere nice, renting a car & hiking a waterfall, visiting a magic garden or sailing the seas – there’s lots to do. Can your suitcase handle the activities you have in mind? Be sure to pack for every possibility.
Let's review the contents of your suitcase. Will your clothes and shoes allow you to try everything, stay cool, and keep your naughty bits put away? Then you’re ready to roll.
- Dress code and fabrics: What to wear in Thailand
- First time to Thailand: 10 mistakes to avoid
- Avoid bites: How to avoid mosquitoes in Thailand
Sources: World Health Organization – UV Index