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After completing my Thailand trip, I decided to compile a list of packing tips and cultural considerations that I learned during my travels.
So, before I started packing for my trip (waaaay before), I googled like a madwoman: “thailand packing tips”, “packing lists for thailand”, “packing tips for women + thailand”, etc. A lot of the posts that I found ended up being pretty useful. However, now that I’ve completed my trip, I still think there were a few things missing from my search that I would have liked to know beforehand.
Case in point, the inspiration for my title: SANITIZING WIPES. I already planned to bring some on general principle (long-haul travel = prime opportunity for germs and colds), but luckily, my parents reminded me to pack extra. Needless to say, they definitely came in handy. After visiting Thailand, and seeing how few places had soap (or running water, period) in the bathroom, I have to admit: I’m giving some mental side-eye to the people who didn’t even mention wet wipes or hand sanitizer in their packing lists. Hmph.
That said: here’s a compilation of sorts. Below, you’ll find four categories: what to pack (some common-sense things, others I just found to be handy), what to leave, some common Thai phrases, and a few taboos to avoid at all costs if you’re trying to be ~cultured~.
*Note: Some of these packing tips will apply more to girls than guys.
– Wet wipes and tissues. I will say it again: Wet wipes and TISSUES. The majority of the bathrooms that you encounter will have no toilet paper, and very rarely have soap. Just save yourself any potential headache or illness, and pack both of these items. They’re so tiny, they’ll fit anywhere.
– Medicine: Even if you think that you won’t get a cold during your trip, or that you have a strong stomach, this is another set of items that take up such little space! I recommend bringing some essentials: Day/NyQuil, cough drops, allergy tablets, Immodium, Tums/Rolaids, and Ibuprofen/Advil.
– Clothes that you don’t care about: Two clothing items that I did not bring on the trip were a pair of shorts and a shirt that I didn’t mind getting messed up (like old athletic shorts and a tank top). This was really just an issue when it came to our paint party in Koh Pha Ngan; however, I purchased an Intro Travel shirt that I ended up wearing as a dress. So, this tip really just applies to those of you who are planning to do a lot of messy activities where your clothes might get stained, if you don’t feel like buying more clothes during your trip.
– Trainers: Although many people talks about how you can wear flip flops or sandals everywhere in Thailand, you never know when you’ll have a long day of walking or when you’ll need to have your feet covered. So, be sure to pack a pair of running shoes – or better yet, just wear them during your travel days and save yourself the luggage space!
– Sunscreen stick: I didn’t mention this in my carryon packing post, but this little sunscreen stick by Neutrogena was a LIFESAVER. I also brought a facial sunscreen because I have sensitive skin that’s prone to breakouts; but I used the Neutrogena stick every day for my body, and occasionally for extra face protection. I kid you not, I didn’t get a sunburn even once during the entire trip.
And in case you were thinking it (be honest): no, this wasn’t just due to my melanin levels. I actually do get sunburnt pretty easily on my forehead, nose, chest, and shoulders – but I managed to avoid any of that on this trip! Considering how close Thailand is to the equator, that’s a miracle.
– Travel pillow: For long-haul flights, trains, ferries, and bus rides, I highly recommend bringing a travel pillow. I used to use U-shaped pillows, but I found them to be a bit too bulky to carry around; plus, I could never get comfortable because I felt like my neck was being pushed forward. Instead, I bought a TRTL pillow for this trip, because it uses a wire-frame coated in blanket-material to properly support your neck for sweet dreams and ultimate comfort. I’m happy to report that after one use, I finally fell asleep on a flight for more than just an hour! Even better? It’s pretty damn compact and packable.
– Light jacket and/or travel scarf: Despite the hot weather, the temperatures on buses, trains, and ferries can get pretty cold. Be sure to pack a lightweight jacket for your journeys that will involve A/C. I already had a scarf that I wore to get to Thailand, since it was cold in Cincinnati; but if you want to skip packing a scarf, you can definitely buy some for cheap in Thailand!
– Sarong: On a whim, I decided to pack a sarong (basically a long piece of fabric used as a swimsuit cover up) since I read one or two posts that touted its multiple uses. This actually ended up being a great – and easy – piece to pack! Mine was one that I’ve had for many years, and it was colorful enough to go with all of my swimwear, long enough to be tied up as a dress or skirt, and light enough to dry relatively quickly after getting wet. If you don’t already own a sarong, you’ll probably be able to find a cheap one in Thailand. But if you do own one already – throw it into your suitcase!
– Waterproof phone case/lanyard: I thought that most travelers would have a waterproof lanyard like mine, since they’re pretty easy to find (in my experience) and pretty reliable (thus far). However, I was one of the only people who had one on the tour! Basically, these lanyards have a waterproof case attached that will fit your phone and maybe a card or two, depending on the size.
Once you seal the bag with the locking mechanism, your phone is good-to-go and safe *to a certain depth*. Since these are pretty inexpensive, I definitely err on the side of caution and float on the surface for the most part. But, I haven’t had any problems yet, and I’ve used these for years!
– Tablet or laptop: I brought my tablet to Thailand, thinking that I would need it to do some work, research, or maybe a bit of writing…and only used it ONE time throughout my entire 18 days in Thailand. On the other 17 days that I didn’t use it, however, I felt its unnecessary weight on my back. Moral of this story: unless you are actively planning to work remotely while on your trip, just leave the tablet/laptop and use your phone for small tasks. Hopefully, you’ll be too busy relaxing and exploring the beauty of the country to do work anyway!
– Extra cameras/supplies: As last-minute additions, I brought my old point-and-shoot camera plus its charger, a lens kit for my phone, a tripod, and more. You want to know how much I used those? Approximately zero times! When you’re actually in the moment and capturing moments during your trip, simplicity will be key. Unless you’re really into photography, just bring your phone (and a GoPro if you have one, for action shots).
– Any type of skin makeup: In this case, I’m talking about makeup that will inevitably melt off your face with the heat. That includes foundation, concealer, bb cream, and the like. Trust me: I brought small amounts of concealer and bb cream “just in case” I broke out or needed some coverage. The one or two days that I attempted to use them, they were decimated by sweat within an hour. Just embrace your natural beauty, girl! *An exception to this tip would be light blush or highlighter, as that will just enhance your inevitable vacation glow.
– Water shoes: I brought these with me on the trip and, although they did come in handy for a few excursions, you’ll probably be fine leaving them at home unless you’re going to be doing a lot water-based activities. For example: hiking waterfalls, where you need shoes that are a little sturdy but able to get wet without being ruined. Otherwise, don’t bother packing them.
– Sun hat: Before the trip, I bought a wide-brim, supposedly “packable” sun hat because I’d heard how intense the sun is in Thailand, and wanted my neck and shoulders to be covered. While this was true, what I also realized upon arriving to Bangkok is: tons of tourist shops sell a variety of hats for very cheap. Honestly, I kind of wish I bought one in Thailand and then ditched it, because mine is already falling apart after that trip. Then again, that may be from rolling and packing it so many times…
– Dry bag: This was another purchase that I made in my quest to be over-prepared for Thailand, but I found that many tourist shops also had dry bags for sale – especially once you get down to the islands. That said, you should bring a dry bag if you already have it – but if you don’t, just purchase one in Thailand as you need it.
– Nice bras/clothing: This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t bring any nice bras that you don’t want to get sweaty or messed up. Personally, I chose to bring shirts and tank tops that let me #freethenipple for a good portion of the trip; but if that’s not your cup of tea, then at least bring an older bra that’s seen better days – that way, you won’t care if it gets messed up along the way.
Same goes for clothing, such as wrinkle-prone blouses and trousers, nice dresses, heeled shoes, etc.. Unless you’ll be staying at nice resorts and frequenting fancy restaurants or nightclubs, you won’t need any of the aforementioned items.
– Mini-steamer: In line with the above advice, I saw some travel blogs mention packing a mini-steamer. Again, if you’re going to be doing a lot of sightseeing and moving around, I would simply pack clothing that won’t wrinkle too easily! A mini-steamer is super convenient, but it just adds more bulk to your bag. However, if you’re going on a luxury trip and dressing to the 9’s, then by all means: get steamy.
Although Thai is definitely a challenging language to learn – as an English-speaker, at least – one of the most helpful things that I learned for conversation was what to add at the end of my greetings in order to be polite (and also to make the most sense).
For women, be sure to add “kâ” to the end of words; and for men, add “kráp” (which sounds more like “káp” since the “r” is muffled). Example: Sawa-dee-kâ or sawa-dee-kráp is a polite way of saying “Hello” in Thai in a feminine and masculine way, respectively.
Here are a few more common phrases below. Simply add kâ (f) or kráp (m) to the end, and you should be golden.
Lah-gorn = “Goodbye”
Kor-toht = “Excuse me” or “Sorry”
Korp-khun = “Thank you”
Mâi-bpen-rai = “You’re welcome”
Mâi = “No”
Châi = “Yes”
In addition to these greetings, here are a few more words that I picked up just for fun:
Wat = “Temple”
Koh = “Island”
Baan = “House”
I’d like to wrap up this post by identifying some cultural taboos, most of which I learned from my tour guide – but you may not be aware of them unless you do some research beforehand.
Without further ado, avoid the following behaviors:
– Touching the top of someone’s head, as the head is regarded as the most sacred part of the body and doing so would be a demeaning gesture.
– Pointing at anything with your foot or showing the soles of your feet since, conversely, that’s considered the dirtiest part of the body.
– Handing over money that is crumpled up. Thai people have a very high regard for their king(s), and his image is on most – if not all – of the currency. Instead, smooth out bills and give money with your right hand to demonstrate a high level of respect.
– Taking pictures/selfies with your back facing a Buddha statue. I actually did this on our first day in Bangkok, and didn’t realize it was disrespectful until coming across an article later on (gah!). It’s tempting to take photos with awesome Buddha statues in the background, but – if possible – try to stand next to the statue instead to be a little more respectful.
– Wearing skimpy clothing to temples. You would think that this is an obvious one, but I remember seeing two (tall, striking) women at a temple in Chiang Mai who were in shorts and tank tops, and seemed confused and/or angry that they couldn’t get into Wat Doi Suthep. If you’re visiting a temple – especially as a woman, because we’re shameless seductresses of course – be sure that you’re covered from your shoulder-CAPS (a.k.a. not just a sleeveless blouse) down to your knees.
To save myself some headache and also withstand Thailand’s heat, I often wore a lightweight maxi-skirt, tank top, and lightweight – but not see-through – scarf over my shoulders. Simple, versatile, and modest enough to go into a temple.
– Flushing toilet paper (I know). Unless you’re in a nice restaurant or hotel, you will probably find that most of the bathrooms in Thailand are very simple and clearly do not have a robust plumbing system. Please, for the love of whoever would have to deal with the clogged pipes: put your TP in the wastebasket that’s always provided next to the toilet. I know, it’s gross and takes some getting used to – but just think of it as forgoing indoor plumbing for a bit in exchange for gorgeous nature, food, culture, and experience. 🙂
I hope that some of these tips prove to be helpful for your own trip to Thailand; or at the very least, hopefully you learned something new and interesting. If you’re a frequent traveler yourself, be sure to drop your top 3 travel essentials in the comments!