The best shoes to wear in Thailand
Whether you’re coming to Thailand for a never-leave-the-resort beach vacation, city-sightseeing or a top-to-bottom exploration…
What shoes to wear in Thailand? Whether you’re coming to Thailand for a never-leave-the-resort beach vacation, city-sightseeing or a top-to-bottom exploration – at most, you need to pack just 5 pairs of shoes to wear in Thailand.
1. Flip-flops or sandals
You need sandals that stretch
First things first. Your feet will swell in Thailand's heat. How much is anyone's guess – but expect particularly puffy feet after a long flight and then "a bit bigger than usual" for the rest of your trip. Any shoes or sandals that you try on in a temperate climate is unlikely to fit the same when you put it on in Thailand – so your sandals need to adjust as needed.
These soft and stretchy yoga sling sandals are perfectly suited to the task. They're massively popular as well – and are sooo comfy. The footbeds are made from yoga mats (and the brand 'Sanuk', loosely, means 'fun' in Thai).
You need sandals that slip on and off
The second requirement for your Thailand shoes – avoid any sandals with buckles! Why? You take off your shoes before entering Thai homes, temples, hotel rooms and many shops. For convenience, all your shoes for Thailand should be slip-on, rather than lace-up or buckled. Expect to take your shoes on and off roughly fifty times a day in Thailand – make sure it's a task that takes exactly one millisecond.
Tip: See more cultural tips for the Thai dress code – find out exactly what to wear in Thailand.
While the sandals above have an ankle strap, they're still quick to take on and off as they don't have any buckles. Also, their design – a loose, stretchy rubber – can adjust to your feet as they swell in Thai heat.
You need flip-flops
Given Thailand's heat and its shoes-off culture, flip-flops and comfy, casual sandals are the de facto footwear in Thai beach towns and tourist hot-spots. On Koh Samui, I rarely wear anything else. If your itinerary will be a loop of hotel - beach - pool - spa - food/drink - repeat, these will be your most convenient shoes for Thailand. They'll get you places comfortably, and will keep you cool while doing so. For comfort and quality, I favour Sanuk and Havaianas brands. Both styles last forever and – crucially – they don't get hot when left in the sun. Given their superior arch support, choose the yoga mat style, above, if you'll be walking a lot.
Tip: As mentioned, you'll take off your shoes and leave them outside many places in Thailand. With flip-flops, I recommend that you choose a bright colour or bold print so you can identify yours in an instant. Either flip-flops or a "flip-flop-like friend" should be the first, and perhaps only, type of shoe to pack for Thailand. Do you need others? Let's consider your itinerary...
2. Slip-on shoes
Walking shoes for hot weather
If you'll be doing lots of city walking or sight-seeing in Thailand, slip-on walking shoes are your best choice for happy feet in strong heat. For an itinerary with lots of foot-mileage, I'd recommend something like this in preference to flip-flops or sandals. These also fit the 'good in hot weather' stipulation – they have some anti-microbial sciencey magic in their fabric. They meet your 'slip-on/slip-off' shoe rules as well and – as with all shoes for Thailand – don't require socks.
Avoid blisters (& stinky feet)
To balance your new barefoot life with Thailand's hot and humid climate, consider adding some odour-fighting insoles. While the shoes above have an anti-microbial feature, if you'll be wearing sneakers, boat shoes or loafers in Thailand, take a moment to consider extreme tropical heat + high humidity + the fact that you'll be constantly removing your shoes. You are thus forewarned!
I swear by the terry cloth shoe liners as they keep your feet cool and comfortable, and can be thrown in a hot wash when needed. The anti-blister balm is a nice back-up and the strange grey pouches are charcoal shoe deodorizers to store in your shoes – both overnight and in your luggage.
Choose slip-on sneakers
In Thailand you want shoes that (1) are easy to slip on and off, and (2) don’t require socks. Any of these options above will keep your feet reasonably cool and will remain comfortable when your feet swell in Thailand's hot weather. For canvas sneakers, choose black or a dark colour as Thailand's dusty roads will not be kind to white shoes. The ventilation offered in the mesh sneakers above is an added bonus – here come happy feet!
Avoid packing shoes with shoelaces for Thailand. Why? Sheer convenience. It's customary to take off your shoes before entering homes, hotel rooms, temples and many shops. Messing around with shoelaces is a massive pain. Shoelacey-shoes tend to be hotter, too, and you'll have more fun if you're cool and comfortable.
Leave your socks at home
Do you wear shoes with socks in Thailand? I don’t. With one exception – visiting temples in strong sun – never, ever. It’s too hot. (If you’re a dedicated gym-using-person, of course, bring your gear). Instead, always choose shoes or sandals that you can wear barefoot.
Tip: See more packing tips: Your total packing list for Thailand.
Ensure they're easy to find
Flat, slip-on shoes, like boat shoes, ballet flats, loafers, etc., are ideal for your travel days and for visiting Thailand's temples, where decorum asks that you wear closed-toed shoes (see what to wear at Thai temples). As with the brightly coloured flip-flops, recommended above, choose a vivid pair of TOMs so you can easily find yours in a pile of shoes. If you'll wear them constantly, go with a darker colour – the white ones are better suited for light use around your hotel.
3. Slip-proof shoes
Quick-dry water shoes
While you might not have athletic endeavours in mind, you’ll need your shoes to help you get around Thailand without slipping or spraining your ankle. This might include hopping in and out of long-tail boats, kayaks, Jeeps and more. Any of the above will ask a bit more of your footwear than, “Please, wouldn’t you mind being so kind as to stay put and not kill me?” For boat trips or anything around the water, plan to pack a pair of shoes designed to keep you from slipping on wet surfaces.
Barefoot aqua socks
For something even more packable, a pair of aqua socks rolls up to nothing but is great to have on hand for exploring a rocky beach. They won't take the place of hiking sandals but in many spots will be preferable to bare feet.
Sandals with staying power
Do you need sandals with staying power? Maybe – what do you have planned? Thailand is ready to offer you fantastic opportunities to explore jungle trails, waterfalls, national parks, remote temples and plenty of teeny, tiny islands. Your itinerary will determine whether sturdy sandals will be enough (or whether a light-weight but closed-toe/protective hiking shoe would be more appropriate).
Whatever its structure, it should (1) pack light, (2) provide excellent grip and (3) deal well with water (both in it and drying quickly afterwards). All of the above fit the bill perfectly.
4. Dressier shoes
Men's dressy shoes for Thailand
Unless you're going to a Bangkok wedding (in which case a suit is a suit, wear your normal dress shoes) then the easiest solution? Simply recycle your loafers or boat shoes from the slip-on shoe section. In beach towns, you can get away with nicer sandals and your dashing good looks.
Women's dressy shoes for Thailand
The packable option: If you aren't sure of your itinerary and need a 'just-in-case' option, a pair of foldable gold flats is the Thailand-loves-shiny version of the black flats every minimalist packing list advises. Do you envision yourself changing out of flip-flops into these in a hotel elevator? You wouldn't be the first – they're genuinely purse-sized.
Add a little squoosh: A little cushion insert can turn flats into a much more comfortable proposition – it just depends on your needs. Most every surface in Bangkok, for instance, is hard and unforgiving whereas an island trip might mean your shoes are discarded as soon as the party hits the beach.
Best for the beach: On Koh Samui, I pack a pair of dressier shoes for dinners at nice resorts, etc. Though, when you're dining on the beach, "dressy" can still be made of rubber. Often, gold sandals do the trick. Add a maxi skirt and no one will notice you're wearing the same T-shirt from lunch.
1) Slip-On Loafers and 2) Ballet Flats
Business trip: For daytime dressy or a business trip to Thailand, you could take either of the above routes. First, embrace colour and sparkles in a way you might not at home. The tropics give you full license to get all kinds of bright. While fabric shoes with embroidery are a bad idea for clocking actual mileage in Thailand, these would be ideal for a mostly indoors trip – conferences, meetings, malls and chauffeurs. Taking a more subdued approach colour-wise, nude perforated flats add better breathability without sacrificing dressiness.
Slides not stilettos: Can't dress up without a heel? For a thousand reasons, I urge you to choose slides and wedges in Thailand – ditch anything with a spike heel. Why? Potholes, uneven ground – even unevenly spaced staircases are surprisingly common. As with every shoe and sandal I'm recommending for Thailand – these are slip-on/slip-off.
Leave your high heels at home
Be careful! Your feet will swell in Thailand's heat so avoid anything with too many strappy parts. Ideally, your dressy shoes would also have a sturdy base and lots of breathing room. Don't face-plant in the name of fashion.
Why wedge? Unless you're an utter pro in heels, I recommend sturdy wedges as the best dressy shoes for Thailand. Whether in Bangkok or a beach town, sidewalks are uneven, lighting can be patchy and surfaces can be Teflon slippery. On Koh Samui, I can find plenty to trip over in flat shoes in broad daylight.
Check the soles: Expect to encounter at least one wet tiled floor and many marble surfaces. Both of these wedge options above have rubber soles with grippy aspects. Leave anything with a smooth sole behind – it's not your friend on this trip.
Do you even need dressy shoes to wear in Thailand? Again, it depends what you have planned. Generally not, but Thailand has great nightlife and high-end dining – with matching dress codes. You've seen or read Crazy Rich Asians – you know.
5. Rainy season shoes
If you're coming to Thailand in rainy season (that's October–December "ish" on Koh Samui), you'll definitely want to revisit the slip-proof options from above. Many Crocs shoes make ideal rainy season shoes because (A) they're all rubber – nothing to dry out, (B) they're grippy on the bottom, and (C) they're comfy. Luckily, Crocs are atoning for past clog crimes with some much more acceptable offerings.
Let the Crocs sandals above demonstrate that, in Thailand, 'rainy day shoes' can be sandals rather than rain boots. You just want something that's not going to be slippery and will stay attached to your feet. (So flip-flops are out on both counts).
As for kids, both Native shoes and Crocs are rubber and very sturdy. The Crocs clog is probably a little quicker to take on and off, but only fractionally so. For everything wet-weather, including the best packable rain jacket, see what to wear for rainy season in Thailand.
6. Barefoot and fancy-free?
A discussion of shoes in Thailand wouldn't be complete without some frank truths about ... your bare feet. Sorry, I don't like it either but needs must. Don't blame the messenger but appearance and put-together-ness are extremely important in Thailand – and you'll be spending a good portion of time bare-footed. How are they looking? Happy to endure a stranger's scrutiny? Whether you're Elle Woods booked for bi-weekly pedicures or the Cave-Man King of the Alpha Males, I merely suggest you take some time for yourself and make sure you're, quite literally, putting your best foot forward. Pick up a pumice and I'll stop the foot clichés – deal?
More Thailand questions?
Don’t forget to round out your bipedal experience with a well-earned Thai foot massage. Before that, arrive with perfect preparation. Here's how: