What to Wear in Thailand
Thailand, you hot, humid, glorious goddess. You are equal parts beautiful and messy, wild and prudish, sublime and exhausting.
I fell in love with Thailand from the first day, despite the intense embrace of humidity that greeted me like an old friend. From the beautiful chaos of Bangkok to the peaceful mountains to the incredible landscapes of the countryside, Thailand is a mix of old and new.
The city of Bangkok is a mish-mash of crazy shopping, delightful temples, and a welcoming culture. They love tourists as long as they respect their traditions! But I guess the same is true in just about any part of the world.
Chang Mai seemed to be a bit more ‘Americanized’, where the younger locals are fashionable yet still modest in their dress. There is a large expat population here, and I found evidence of that throughout the city in the way of familiar retail stores and fast-food restaurants.
Weather in Thailand
There are generally two seasons in Thailand: wet and dry. The southern part of the country is more tropical, so it gets far more moisture than the north. You want to wear clothing that’s light, airy, moisture-wicking, and yet not too revealing. This is a country where modesty will take you a long way. I swear by the fashionable and versatile scarf, or sarong. Ladies, take one with you wherever you go. Switch it up and have 3-4 different sarongs or other cover-ups on hand during your trip.
I’m one of those people that start getting uncomfortable at the first sign of humidity. One thing I noticed was that many Thais will wear heavier clothing during even the hottest days such as denim jeans and light sweaters, and not seem to break a sweat. Why? Because they are used to the heat and humidity. And because most locals are more modest in their dress.
June through October is the rainy season in Thailand. While it doesn’t rain all day, the sky will open up many afternoons, so this is where dressing in layers really pays off. During the wet season, a long-sleeve shirt or light cardigan to throw on will work.
For late nights/early mornings and changing weather, dress in layers. Also, if you will be taking any kind of public transportation, such as buses and ferries, they are usually pretty-well air-conditioned, so long sleeves or light jackets are good. Indoor public areas like your hotel or shopping malls will usually run their air-con full blast.
What to Wear in Thailand: Ladies
In addition to sarongs and other cover-ups, wear light cotton dresses. Maxi dresses are ideal. They will keep you cool and when that occasional breeze graces its presence, you will be thankful for the ventilation. Leggings are a good option to wear under skirts and dresses when you need to be more conservative. T-shirts and tank tops are perfectly alright, as long as the tanks are tasteful and show not a hint of bare cleavage.
High heels don’t really have a place in the streets of Thailand unless you are going to a fancy evening event. Flip-flops are okay but you’ll want to protect your feet from street grime, so wear comfortable flats or breathable walking shoes. The same is true for the guys.
What to Wear in Thailand: Guys
The same type of fabric holds true for men: lightweight breathable cotton, linen or synthetic fabrics. Jeans are acceptable, but they tend to be heavier and not as breathable. They will take longer to dry out in Thailand’s humidity. A pair of smart-looking casual pants is ideal for evening.
The big cities such as Bangkok or Chang Mai have streets that are dirty and grimy, especially in the hot, humid climate. Ah, such is true for just about any big city! So, err on the side of wearing darker colors to help hide grime, sweat and any food stains you might suffer from eating at one of the awesome street food vendors. And make sure your clothes start clean and fresh every day! Trust me, the humid climate will make quick work of your outfit by the end of the day. Laundry can be done at your hotel or at a local launderette for a song. Stay fresh!
Welcome to the Jungle
For hiking out in Thailand’s jungle areas, wear long-sleeve cotton or linen, moisture-wicking multi-length pants and a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots. Footwear should have a good tread on them. During the rainy season, cover as much skin as possible with your clothing, as mosquitos and even leeches can be an issue.
On the Beach
When it comes to the beach, what to wear in Thailand is a little more obvious. One-piece bathing suits and bikinis are okay on the beach. Wearing just a bikini top with your shorts and skirts in town…not so much. On the street, you still want to be somewhat conservative, lest you bring unwanted attention or unapproving stares. Wear hats if you are privy to sunburn. Wide brims are good to shield the eyes and neck.
At a Temple
Ladies must have their shoulders covered, and either wear pants, or a skirt at least knee-length. Bring that shawl or scarf! Men should wear collared shirts. All temples prefer that men wear pants, but knee-length shorts are also acceptable. Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, because you will be leaving them at the door! This is also true when you enter a local’s home. Please treat their culture with respect, and they will be your forever friend.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok has a particularly strict dress code. Everyone should have their chests, shoulders, and arms completely covered. Long dresses or loose trousers are required. Leggings are a no-no.
Out on the Town
Many nightclubs and rooftop bars (of which there are many!) have a certain dress code. Nice shoes (ladies, here is where you can wear those heels if you must!) long pants or dresses are encouraged. No hats, flip-flops or tanks, please. Be sure to check with the establishment beforehand if in doubt.
Thanks for reading and check out some of our other Travel Advice articles.